Women, Nature, and Ben: An Ecofeminist Critique of Ben Jonson’s Poetry
A strictly feminist reading of Ben Jonson's poetry would do well to be labeled as nothing worse than tedious. Jonson consistently disparages women and praises men throughout his verse. A conservative poet writing in a time characterized by a patriarchy far more strict than today, Jonson naturally tends to place women beneath men in the social hierarchy. But simply echoing social, patriarchal attitudes towards women is not enough for Jonson. Jonson blatantly attacks women throughout his verse for their lack of strength, intelligence, and, most importantly, virtue. As Douglas Lanier points out, feminist criticism of Jonson has been scant because "Jonson's is a misogyny so conventional and overt that it has made him on matters of gender politics a figure relatively easy to shrug off as uninteresting" (18). Feminist criticism of Jonson, alone, lacks depth of insight -- the answers are so blatantly obvious, little examination of his verse is required. Jonson's misogyny, however, becomes far more interesting when it is viewed in conjunction with his treatment of nature. Throughout his verse, Jonson applies much of the same rhetoric to women as he does to nature, drawing stark parallels between the two that are indicative of the larger, cultural linking ofboth women and nature that was occurring in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Examining such parallels between the treatment of women and nature is the realm of the ecofeminist critic. Ecofeminism, a critical perspective which embraces the union of feminist and ecological concerns, encompasses a wide array of strategies: from liberal to radical, practical to theoretical, historical to cultural. Each ofthese wide-ranging perspectives share one thing in common: that by examining the similarities between the domination of women and nature, we can perhaps gain some ofthe understanding necessary to end the oppression of both.