The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April 1999 V98 I2 P193
The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April 1999 V98 I2 P193
The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April 1999 v98 i2 p193
The Slain Deer and Political Imperium: As You Like It and Andrew Marvells “Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn”. Fitter, Chris.
Abstract: William Shakespeare and Andrew Marvell demonstrated sympathy for cruel treatment toward animals in their work. Shakespeares As You Like It and Marvells poem “Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn” protested the noble privilege of deer hunting. Shakespeare had to carefully construct his lament to pass the censor while remaining political protest, and Marvell showed his opposition to the new Stuart hunting legislation.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1999 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Levi-Strauss argued long ago in his celebrated Savage Mind that, for humanity, animals constitute bons a penser: that by preliterate mind and modern alike they are apprehended primarily not in terms of whether they are good to eat but as “food for thought.” Human classification of animal types and of the structural relations between them, that is to say, functions as a symbolic field of cultural self-definition and self-meditation. In the English Renaissance, so strong a sense of affinity prevailed that animals might sometimes be put on trial. As Keith Thomas points out in his fascinating study Man and the Natural World, English settlers in Massachusetts executed dogs involved in cases of bestiality; dogs caught “poaching” were hanged; Elizabethan sailors took revenge for injuries received from sharks by catching and torturing shoals of fish.(1) Animals whose lives interweave closely with human ones at the physical level may even become, in Levi-Strausss phrase, “metonymic humans”;(2) and thus select animals in Renaissance England received human names.(3) Curiously, however, while dogs and cats were given only semi-human names, and the case varied with horses, creatures cast in roles of heroic dominion such as falcons, and bears featured in baiting, were given fully human ones. Given, then, humanitys deep-seated drive toward mapping human relations onto the animal kingdom, it is scarcely surprising to find that in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, as widespread reaction grew against an increasingly absolutist monarchy and its doctrine of unmitigated sovereignty by “divine right,” anti-authoritarian sentiment emerged also in contemplation of human relations with animals. A new sensitivity toward “tyrannical” dominion over “inferior creatures” was articulated above all in relation to the traditional “royal” pastime: hunting.

At length for glutton taste he did them kill: At last for sport their sillie lives did spill. But yet o man, rage not beyonde thy neede: Deeme it no gloire to swell in tyrannie. Thou art of blood;joy not to make things bleede: Thou fearest death; thinke they are loth to die. A plaint of guiltlesse hurt doth pierce the skie.(4)

Upon the pathos of abused animal innocence there came to settle political connotation; and we shall see that both Shakespeares treatment of the “gored native burghers” of Arden in As You Like It and Andrew Marvells “Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn,” by addressing the victims of hunting, the traditional aristocratic addiction par excellence, summon critique of political imperium. Fastidious lyric feeling for violated animal innocence contradicted, however, that suppressed and restless urge to enjoy the hunt oneself, which had for centuries been the commoners perspective on this seigneurial monopoly, and which had long issued in the running class warfare of deer poaching. Both perspectives in this deepening Renaissance ambivalence toward deer slaying were thus political. In the domain of hunting, both antipathy and popular engagement, both pathos and poaching, afforded a coded language of political protest, since both perspectives challenged the structure of power by which an elite reserved right of huntsman slaughter. As You Like It, we shall see, dramatizes both perspectives–elegiac tones of protest, along with exultation in outlaw hunting–perceiving the tactical potential of each for smuggling oppositional allusion and feeling past the Elizabethan censor. As an exclusive seigneurial ritual, the pursuit and slaying of deer by lords may easily become, in the imagery of commoners, a language of oblique commentary on the use and abuse of power; and Jaquess lengthy lament on the dying deer in As You Like It generates allusion, we shall suggest, to the recent violence of the authorities against satire and satirists, and even perhaps evokes the fate of Thomas Nashe. Marvells densely evocative narrative

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