Teaching Timon of Walden
Many ecocritics would agree that the classroom remains the most viable forum for integrating scholarship with activism. For those committed both to “greening” the humanities and sustaining Shakespeare’s prominent niche within them, there remains an urgent need to develop approaches to teaching Shakespearean drama in what Lynne Bruckner dubs “the ecotone.” Since 2009 I have been assigning Timon in a 300-level undergraduate course entitled “Shakespeare’s Greenworld.” Much of the syllabus seeks to anchor the plays in the actual environmental muck of the early modern world. In conjunction with our reading of As You Like It, students stroll through the woods of Arden in the company of Michael Drayton, and learn about deforestation and the wool trade in the English Midlands. Reading Hooker’s homily to natural law alongside Donne’s First Anniversary, the class can gauge the shattering impact of the Little Ice Age and Copernican astronomy on the World Picture in King Lear. Before embarking on The Tempest, we explore secondary texts on the oceanic sublime, the ecology of the tropics and the East Anglian fens, and the unholy merger of magic and Baconian science. But the most electrifying segment of the course by far has been that devoted to Timon of Athens. I present the tragedy in a defiantly transhistorical fashion, by asking students to read it alongside extracts from Thoreau’s Walden.