Uncolting Falstaff: The Oats Complex and Energy Usage in 1 Henry IV

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Putting a green twist on an old Marxist formula, this ecomaterialist study of mobility in the Shakespearean history play aims to “follow the energy.” The chorographical scope of the Second Henriad reflects the growing sophistication of transportation networks in sixteenth-century Britain. Although road-building played a crucial role in the formation of modern nationhood, Shakespeare reminds us that the movement of goods and persons was literally fueled by oats and other crops, the availability of which was subject to the vagaries of the English climate. As a player who was part of the vagrant economy and the son of a provincial Ale-taster who would have helped regulate energy costs, Shakespeare would have been well aware of the nation’s growing reliance on affordable fodder.
Composed during a period of dire scarcity triggered by the Little Ice Age, Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV traces a link between political and ecological instability. Its subversion of chivalric heroism initiates a corresponding interrogation of the horse’s role in a postchivalric society, raising prescient questions about the ethics of transportation. In the context of a late Elizabethan energy crisis exacerbated by surging demand for fuel due to a boom in personal transit, the insistent critiques of Hotspur’s and Falstaff’s overreliance on horse-power pack an ecocritical punch.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-99
Number of pages18
JournalShakespeare Jahrbuch
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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