In the Shady Wood
- The Shakespearean Forest by Anne Barton
Cambridge, 185 pp, £75.00, August 2017, ISBN 978 0 521 57344 3
Anne Barton delivered the lectures on ‘The Shakespearean Forest’ that form the basis for this, her much anticipated last book, in Cambridge in 2003. The Clark Lectures were themselves the product of an extended reflection on the significance of Shakespeare’s imaginary woodlands, developing and expanding material from earlier lectures and essays. As Peter Holland’s eloquent afterword reminds us, Barton’s interest in the topic had first been excited by her reading of Ben Jonson’s Robin Hood play, The Sad Shepherd, for her monograph on Shakespeare’s great rival. Given this history, it may seem surprising that The Shakespearean Forest is not a longer book, but Barton became almost blind as a result of macular degeneration and was forced to abandon her work. When she died in 2013 it remained incomplete and its publication has been a labour of love for her executors – above all Hester Lees-Jeffries, who undertook to edit the surviving manuscript. Tactfully reordering and even rewriting a little where necessary, Lees-Jeffries has added a fine introduction, ‘Into the Woods’, pieced together from Barton’s draft original and from portions of a discarded chapter; she has also appended a comprehensive bibliographical essay of her own, bringing the reader up to date with the large amount of related material published in the decade since Barton abandoned the project. The result, aside from a rather skimpy and careless index, seems as finished as anything that Barton published in her lifetime.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
[*] Bloomsbury, 256 pp., £14.99, September 2017, 978 0 7156 5223 0.
Vol. 40 No. 7 · 5 April 2018
Michael Neill’s recollection of his father playing Schubert’s Erlkönig on his old 78s reminded me of my father playing and singing this chilling song in the 1940s in Sheffield (LRB, 22 March). Never having seen anybody’s father riding a horse, I unconsciously assumed the father in the song was riding a bicycle (I had seen several doing this, though none of them carried a frantic child), and despite the absurdity of the image and the illustrative gallop of the piano accompaniment, I have never quite lost the sense of the presence of a bicycle. This has in no way lessened the impact of the music or the dramatic intensity of the words. Is this how incompatible notions such as ‘Brexit will set us free and make us rich’ or ‘The right to carry arms makes US citizens safe’ are formed and held?
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Vol. 40 No. 8 · 26 April 2018
Michael Neill treats the words forest and wood as semantically interchangeable (LRB, 22 March). Yet in Shakespeare’s time the two still had distinct senses. Wood is a near homophone of wode (‘mad’) and, as Neill points out, Shakespeare plays on this in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Demetrius feels ‘wood within this wood’. Euphony and alliteration give us the wildwood, the earliest use of which recorded in the OED is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. A wood is a place of wildness, where madmen and outlaws tend to hide. Forest is, etymologically, the antithesis of woodland: it is a controlled space, usually requisitioned by the monarch and held as a game preserve, carefully nurtured, its uses licensed and its privileges guarded. Wood is of Old English provenance, forest of French, and it was the Normans who requisitioned the territories that would form the New Forest and the other medieval hunting grounds of England, which were intended for the pleasure of the few. (There was plenty of woodland in Ireland, but no forests of medieval date and name, as Spenser knew well; there are more than two hundred occurrences of the word wood in The Faerie Queene, and only twenty of forest.)
Forest is cognate with the Italian fuori and both derive from the Latin foris, ‘outdoors’ or ‘outside’, understood in terms of city walls and gates. Outside the gates is where one ‘dis-ports’ oneself, hence the word sport, whose etymology is still clear in the Spanish deportivo. Outside the gates one engages in the chase and in those pastimes which, being subject to rules, are known as games. The hunt is the chase, and what is hunted will be named for the rules, as game: ‘We have had pastimes here and pleasant game,’ quibbles the princess in Love’s Labours Lost.
It might be argued that the existence of Robin Hood, an outlaw who makes his home in Sherwood Forest, robs these etymological distinctions of any value. Certainly his legend has helped to transform our sense of the forest, leading to the modern conflation of forest and wood. But in Shakespeare’s plays the distinction remains: in a wood there is no law, and in a wood near Athens wild things happen, while Birnam Wood defies nature. By contrast, in the Forest of Arden all that occurs is of human devising.
University of Copenhagen