The Ethics of Eating Animals in Tudor and Stuart Theaters
Leinwand, Theodore B
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A pressing challenge for the study of animal ethics in early modern literature is the very breadth of the category “animal,” which occludes the distinct ecological and economic roles of different species. Understanding the significance of deer to a hunter as distinct from the meaning of swine for a London pork vendor requires a historical investigation into humans’ ecological and cultural relationships with individual animals. For the constituents of England’s agricultural networks – shepherds, butchers, fishwives, eaters at tables high and low – animals matter differently. While recent scholarship on food and animal ethics often emphasizes ecological reciprocation, I insist that this mutualism is always out of balance, both across and within species lines. Focusing on drama by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and the anonymous authors of late medieval biblical plays, my research investigates how sixteenth-century theaters use food animals to mediate and negotiate the complexities of a changing meat economy. On the English stage, playwrights use food animals to impress the ethico-political implications of land enclosure, forest emparkment, the search for new fisheries, and air and water pollution from urban slaughterhouses and markets. Concurrent developments in animal husbandry and theatrical production in the period thus led to new ideas about emplacement, embodiment, and the ethics of interspecies interdependence.