The Tree of Life and Arboreal Aesthetics in Early Modern Literature  book cover
1st Edition

The Tree of Life and Arboreal Aesthetics in Early Modern Literature

ISBN 9781032017860
Published October 28, 2021 by Routledge
246 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

The Tree of Life and Arboreal Aesthetics in Early Modern Literature explores the vital motif of the tree of life and what it meant to early modern writers who drew from its long histories in biblical, classical and folkloric contexts, giving rise to a language of trees, an arboreal aesthetics. An ancient symbol of immortality, the tree of life was appropriated by Christian ideology and iconography to express ideas about Christ; however, the concept also migrated beyond religious doctrine. Ideas circulating around the tree of life enabled writers to imagine and articulate ideas of death and rebirth, loss and regeneration, the condition of the political state and personal states of the soul through arboreal metaphors and imagery. The motif could be used to sacralise landscapes, such as the garden, orchard or country estate, blurring the lines between contemporary green spaces and the spiritual and poetic imaginary. Located within the field of environmental humanities, and intersecting with ecocriticism and critical plant studies, this volume outlines a comprehensive history of the tree of life and offers interdisciplinary readings of focus texts by Shakespeare, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Aemilia Lanyer, Andrew Marvell and Ralph Austen. It includes consideration of related ideas and motifs, such as the tree of Jesse and the Green Man, illuminating the rich histories and meanings that emerge when an understanding of the tree of life and arboreal aesthetics are brought to the analysis of early modern literary texts and their representations of green spaces, both physical and metaphysical.

Table of Contents

List of Figures



  1. Arboreal Aesthetics: the Language of Trees
  2. The Garden of the soul: George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and the tree of life
  3. Political gardens: Shakespeare and the tree of life
  4. The Tree of Life in the Country Estate: Aemilia Lanyer
  5. Andrew Marvell and the forest of the mind
  6. The Sacred Orchard: Ralph Austen and the tree of life
  7. Conclusions

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Victoria Bladen teaches in literary studies and adaptation at The University of Queensland, Australia and has twice received a Faculty Teaching Award. Her publications include six Shakespearean text guides in the Insight (Melbourne) series, including The Merchant of Venice (2020) and Much Ado About Nothing (2019), and five co-edited volumes, including Shakespeare on Screen: King Lear (2019), Shakespeare and the Supernatural (2020), and a special issue of Australian Literary Studies on Afterlives of Pastoral (2015).