Michael Drayton and the Invention of the Disaster Epic: Eco-catastrophe in the Late Poems

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This chapter reappraises Drayton’s neglected disaster poetry by situating it in the context of plague outbreaks and recurrent dearth triggered by the meteorological turbulence of the Little Ice Age. More importantly, it reads Drayton’s late work not merely as elegies for the degraded natural world but also as literary critiques of Cavalier poetry and Stuart drama as anthropocentric and thus incapable of depicting environmental crisis, akin to Amitav Ghosh’s denigrating the realist novel as unable to tackle the enormity of climate change.

Drayton’s late poems appropriate Judeo-Christian eschatology to pioneer the genre of the disaster epic that still underlies much environmental literature (especially cli-fi) to this day, Todd A. Borlik contends. Admittedly, Drayton’s catastrophilia confirms the misgivings of ecocritics, such as Garrard, Goodbody and Kerridge, that apocalyptic imagery incites as much schadenfreude as concern, and it also betrays the aging writer’s anxiety about the posthumous survival of his own literary works. Yet Drayton’s self-portraits of poets as doom-peddling prophets, afflicted with what psychologists now call the Cassandra Complex, bespeak his genuine fear that anthropocentric literature is powerless to avert an eco-catastrophe.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Experience of Disaster in Early Modern English Literature
EditorsSophie Chiari
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781003273134
ISBN (Print)9781032225722
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2022


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