Waterscapes of Desire: Composing with the Elements in Early Modern Drama and Travel Writing Open Access
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My dissertation argues that waterscapes of the early modern period - rivers, glaciers, monsoons, and swamps - form fluid networks in which the human and nonhuman mix. Early modern writers demonstrate how the human body is intermeshed with the liquid environment. Examining works by Walter Ralegh, William Shakespeare, François Bernier, and others, I attend to what water, in its diverse forms, does: streams drift, ice slips, rain precipitates, and mud bogs. The author flows with wet things and attains new material embodiments. Water suffuses the compositional process as a result. In their encounters with water in global contact zones, early modern travel writers composed waterscapes differently from those who stayed at home. Ralegh's experience with Guianan waterfalls that "drew me on" introduces a genre of literature unlike poetry devoted to the Thames. Contemporary drama tests the remarkable agency of water that travelers describe: when the first scene of Shakespeare's The Tempest calls for "wet" mariners to appear, for example, their entrance signals an oceanic ecology in which the human and the nonhuman are co-implicated. Watery bodies materialize in the playhouse. The significance of this project is twofold: in extending the work done by early modern ecocritics such as Steve Mentz and Robert Watson, I focus on waterscapes as sites of constant creativity; and I analyze the imperial and often violent histories behind waterscapes, especially when divisions between the human and the ecological are imposed. Early modern authors questioned such divides. Drama and travel writing of the period - Ralegh's Discoverie of Guiana, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, and more - helps us imagine ethical ways to reconceive the relationships between humans and nonhumans in our own geopolitical time.