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Reflections on Earth Day & Shakespeare's Birthday

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Apr 22, 2021 at 08:13 PM in Cymbeline and the World

It is an auspicious coincidence that Earth Day and Shakespeare’s birthday fall back to back on the calendar every April. Today, we arrive at Earth Day 2021 after a tumultuous year, in which Covid-19 and its accompanying political crises have reminded us exactly how interconnected our local environments are with the rest of the globe. 

Reflections on Earth Day & Shakespeare's Birthday

The UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference, originally set for November 2020, was cancelled due to the pandemic (it has since been rescheduled for November 2021). Lockdown orders and the changing routines of human life had an immediate effect on the environment. At first, many rejoiced at the immediate lessening of commute pollution—the clearing waters and returning dolphins of the Venice canals, for instance—but many of these effects were either overstated, or later debunked as the year went on. And as lockdown orders ease or weaken across the globe, this ecological respite has proved to be temporary, with climate scientists now informing us exactly how humans’ reactions to the pandemic will actually be detrimental to the planet.

Still, the anxieties of this pandemic and everything we have learned about viral transmission have served as reminders of how quickly human actions ripple out across the globe. And for environmentally-minded Shakespeare scholars and theatre artists, including members and collaborators of the Cymbeline in the Anthropocene team, the ecological and social impacts of Covid-19 have resonated deeply with the stories we tell with Shakespeare’s texts. 

Just today, Cymbeline in the Anthropocene was featured in an article on Shakespeare for All, in which first-year Harvard University student Nancy Lin discusses a number of initiatives using Shakespeare to motivate environmental action. Harvard lecturer Jeffrey R. Wilson later tweeted a thread linking to the initiatives Lin discussed, which is how Cymbeline in the Anthropocene was brought into the conversation this morning. Lin points to the work of Adeline Johns-Putra on climatic fiction; some earlier work by Shakespeare in Yosemite’s Katherine Steele Brokaw and Paul Prescott; and a video by UK-based organization The Climate Coalition that re-dedicates Sonnet 18 to the planet itself. 

Also featured in Lin's article is a video produced by Shakespeare’s Globe in 2019, in which members of The Globe Ensemble recite Titania’s “climate change” speech from Act II, scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “We see the seasons alter,” recite the players, as images of industrial pollution, drought, and diminishing ice caps intercut the speech’s prophecy of climatic chaos, storms, and pestilence.  

As Lin writes, “Shakespeare gives climate activists what statistical data lacks—a writer’s touch and an artist’s gift for persuasion.” Imbuing these familiar plays with ecological urgency helps audiences, artists and scholars alike feel personally invested in efforts to dismantle the systems that continue to harm the planet, and harm us. Lin again, on the power of these stories: “we feel more profoundly than we think—are innately more receptive to story and emotion than to statistics. Quantitative analysis can lose an audience’s sense of comprehension and empathy. But Shakespeare’s stories situate ecological terrors in the context of our everyday lives.”

Alongside other ecocritical Shakespeare projects, Cymbeline in the Anthropocene will continue our Earth Day reflections and actions tomorrow, on Shakespeare’s birthday, as well as year-round. Join us this weekend for several free events celebrating this confluence, beginning tomorrow, as detailed below…

Shakespeare’s Birthday Bash

April 23: A live-streamed celebration by the Willow Globe company (see the image below for themed cocktail recipes!) on April 23rd at 14:00 BST on the Shakespeare Link Youtube channel, which you can access by clicking the link below. 

Globe 4 Globe: Shakespeare and Climate Emergency

April 23-24: Shakespeare’s Globe and the University of California (Merced) presents a free, virtual symposium on “Shakespeare and Climate Emergency,” featuring many more Cymbeline in the Anthropocene collaborators and colleagues—including a keynote address by our very own project leader, Randall Martin. Follow this link for more details, and this link or the image below to register!

Cymbeline in the Anthropocene wishes our readers a thoughtful and inspiring Earth Day, and a happy 457th birthday to William Shakespeare. Celebrate with us on social media @ecocymbeline on Twitter and Instagram, or by using the hashtag #CymbelineAnthropocene.