Hortus Conclusus Soror Mea, Sponsa: An Ecoconscious Analysis of the Hortus Conclusus in Richard II and The Two Noble Kinsmen


Many of Shakespeare’s plays—Hamlet, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen to name but a few—are populated with almost as many flowers as they are populated with people. The botany frenzy ignited by the Victorian period drove swaths of scholars to write about the myriads of trees, shrubs and flowers that grow all throughout the Bard’s canon. Similar environment- and nature-focused essays were crafted well into the 1980s. Nature-focused texts such as Sidney Beisly’s Shakespeare’s Garden (1864), Leopold Grindon’s The Shakespeare Flora (1884), Alan Dent’s World of Shakespeare: Plants (1971) and Lucile Newman’s “Ophelia's Herbal” (1979) analyze the environment in Shakespeare’s works, but according to contemporary academic taxonomy, these texts are not ecocritical in nature.  Simon Estok asserts that texts which deal with the environment, but are not “ecologically revolutionary, or explicitly geared toward effecting change in the way we think about and produce the environment” are not “properly ecocritical” (Estok quoted in Jones 349). Gabriel Egan exemplifies Estok’s concept of a revolutionarily geared ecocriticism in his book Green Shakespeare: From Ecopolitics to Ecocriticism. Eagan’s 2006 monograph takes a presentist stance when approaching Shakespearean analysis. Egan’s ecocritical readings of Shakespeare’s plays focus on extorting contemporarily applicable environmentalist morals that will change the way we think about the world we inhabit. In “Recent Ecocritical Studies of English Literary Renaissance” Karen Raber articulates her wariness with regards to this presentist approach to ecocriticism, which she believes distorts early modern scholarship because “ecopolitics can tend either to erase inconvenient aspects of past ecological thought or to view that past with an overly critical and dismissive eye’’ (168). Raber is not alone in her wariness, Sharon O’Dair is equally mistrusting of presentists, who she casts as goal-oriented non-scholars “who don’t really know any history, they’ve just picked up bits and bobs from Natalie Zemon Davis and Christopher Hill’’(470). I concur with those weary of presentist analyses that distort facts in an effort to promulgate ecodogma.

         In Sharon O’Dair’s 2008 essay on the current state of Shakespearean ecocriticism she purports that there are currently two antithetical streams of ecocritical analysis. The first stream she identifies as the presentists; O’Dair does not supply the second stream with a name. I, however, would like to coin this second stream of ecocriticism as the “ecoconscious” stream. The presentist stream is epitomized by Simon Estok and Gabriel Eagan, both of whom believe that ecocritical texts are defined by their telos; according to these presentists the goal of ecocritical scholarship is to spur changes that will reshape the way we think about the imperilled twenty-first century environment. Robert Watson’s monograph Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance exemplifies the ecoconscious stream of ecocriticism in its exploration of how people in the past “came to care, in politically and intellectually responsible ways, about present and future life on this planet as a collectivity’’(5). Heidi Scott is another ecocritic aligned more with an ecoconscious approach rather than a presentist approach to ecocriticism. In her article, “Ecological Microcosms Envisioned in Shakespeare's Richard II”, she analyzes “Shakespeare’s intelligent use of nature’s systems as complex metaphors for human situations” (Scott 267). In sum, ecoconscious critics are concerned with illuminating a historically apt picture of how writers such as Shakespeare understood their own environment, while presentist ecocrtics are concerned with catalyzing environmentalist activism.

         This essay takes an ecoconscious approach to analyzing two of Shakespeare’s plays: King Richard II and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Both plays contain scenes that allude to the medieval enclosed garden, the hortus conclusus. The concept of the hortus conclusus is derived from a line in the Song of Solomon[2]. The line in Latin reads “Hortus conclusus soror mea, sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus,” which translates in English to “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up ” (4:12). The image in the Song of Solomon of “the enclosed garden, shut off from the earthly world” is “symbolic of virginity, and all its plants testify to the purity of the virgin’s enclosed womb” (Ostovich 23). By the fifteenth century the hortus conclusus was an emblematic attribute and a title of the Virgin Mary (Jones 355). For the past five centuries virgins and enclosed gardens have become conjoined twins, for our cultural history has made one image synonymous with the other. Women and nature have been historically bound through the iconography of Nature who has been traditionally personified as a woman[3], but within the trope of the hortus conclusus it is a girl that is bound by iconography to nature. Throughout this essay I plan to explore the intersections between the subjugation of nature, in the form of the enclosed garden, and the subjugation of girls in King Richard II and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

          The pith of my argument centres on Shakespeare’s derogatory portrayal of the traditional, impenetrable hortus conclusus. In The Two Noble Kinsmen the impervious hortus conclusus it is not a paradisiacal reprieve from a tainted world, but a restrictive space that perpetuates subjugation. The impenetrable hortus conclusus is depicted as a stilted unfertile locus, while penetrated the hortus conclusus in Richard II is rendered a fecund space that endows its uncloistered girl, Isabella, the opportunity to become her own agent. Despite the fact that in The Two Noble Kinsmen there are no men who trespass into Emilia’s enclosed garden, the very architecture of the space allows the two Theban cousins to objectify Emilia from their prison cell-enclosed vantage point. In Richard II a number of common men have penetrated the enclosed garden and it is because of their presence that Queen Isabella obtains the necessary information that endows her with sufficient agency to catalyze Richard into action. An ecoconscious reading of the text reveals that Shakespeare and Fletcher’s negative portrayal of the hortus conclusus in The Two Noble Kinsmen is perhaps a reflection on the evolving status of the garden in Elizabethan England; for, gardens were becoming heterogeneous spaces that promoted dialogue and provided private privacy for subject formation, thus to portray a garden as a space of protective purity was an outdated concept.  

         Judeo-Christian mythology has established a four-millennia-old history whose very beginnings are rooted in the image of the enclosed garden, Eden, with the pre-sin Eve at its centre. Gardens and the notion of paradise are not only conjoined by mythology alone, they are also tied etymologically. The word paradisederives etymologically, through Greek, from the Persian pâlïz and suggests an ‘enclosed park, orchard, or pleasure ground’” (Jones 353). The image Eden, however, evokes conflicting emotions, for while the proto-Hortus Conclusus is an idealistic paradisiacal utopia that can possibly be recuperated and thus evokes hope in the form of redemption, it also simultaneously alludes to the fall from grace, which evokes feelings of isolation and loss. Interestingly, the negative connotations associated with gardens seem to have dissipated by the early modern period. These negative nuances of immorality, alienation and loss seem to have been pushed outside of the protective garden walls. In “The Garden and the Scene of Power” Laura Verdi asserts that the primitive sociopolitical function of gardens is “founded essentially on an obsession with limits (spatial and cosmological). This logic is intrinsic in gardens, a model of rationality that is sacred, limited, and protected: in short, Apollonian logic.” (367-368). According to Verdi, within the confines of the garden Nature is tamed and made elegant,” while the forests and deserts outside of the protective garden walls are places that “are inhospitable to humanity…where the impulses of an entire collective conscience skulk” (363). Thus, the garden represents order achieved through subjugation, while unsubjugated nature outside of the enclosure is representative of libidinal chaos.

         During the Elizabethan period gardens were cultivated for aesthetic reasons, but they were also cultivated for pragmatic reasons such as to provide private spaces as well as homeopathic cures. Thus, while on a macro level gardens represented the subjugation of nature, on a smaller scale plants represented the subjugation of the body’s rebellious humours. For, plants were commonly used as medicinal cures, which restored order to the chaos of the human body. The medicinal importance of plants contributed to making the cultivation of gardens one of the defining characteristics of the Elizabethan landscape. Sidney Beisely observed that the “plague epidemics and other debilitating diseases required people for their own safety to know as much of therapeutic plants as was possible” (quoted in Newman 228). People were ravenous for botanical knowledge, which explains the glut of herbals published during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Herbals were typically large illustrated tomes that detailed plants’ medicinal uses, plants’ growing climate, plants’ flowering period and plants’ folk names. The first true British herbal that fit this description was printed almost forty years before Shakespeare was born (Richard Banckes' 1525 Herball). The popularity of herbals, however, exploded during the Elizabethan era. Five major herbals were published during Shakespeare’s life time: Turner (1568), Gerarde (1597), Batman (1582), Langham (1579), and the Grete Herball published by Treviris, issued in ten editions between 1525 and 1560.

         The early modern era was a period of scientific revelation and political revolution; ultimately, it was a period of quick-paced change wherein the relationship between people and their environment was being redefined dramatically. Mark Jones asserts that “[t]hese developments were at times inscribed in the physical organization of the landscape itself, most notably in the cultivation of gardens…[which] remained an essential feature of the age” (351). In her essay “Illicit Privacy and Outdoor Spaces in Early Modern England,” Mary Thomas Crane proposes that the historians who have linked the development of subjective interiority to increasing possibilities for domestic privacy in the early modern period have been mistaken. While she concurs that early modern spaces were in the midst of transforming—withdrawing chambers, closets, private bedrooms were all new to the era—she is adamant that new interior layouts did not provide truly isolated spaces, and thus did not provide “places for the new ‘individual’ subject to create itself” (Crane 4). Spaces such as closets were not truly private because of the bevy of servants that worked in noble houses. Ubiquitous servants meant that so-called private spaces were never truly secluded and never truly private. Such a lack of privacy in the aristocratic early modern household is exemplified in Hamlet, where spying behind arrases is the norm and privacy is the exception.

         Crane agrees with literary critics that the early modern period did birth the individual subject; she, however, believes that it was spaces such as gardens that provided adequate privacy for subject formation. According to Crane, gardens offered

enclosed spaces which seem to have been less ‘open’ to the observation of servants and other household members than the inside of the house. Private gardens represent a space that blurs the distinction between concepts of inside and outside; indeed, gardens share terminology with new private interior spaces such as chambers and closets: ‘bowers’ and ‘cabinets’ could be found in both house and garden. Many large houses designated a ‘privie garden,’ close to the house and containing enclosed spaces such as bowers, arbors, and covered walks. Derived from the medieval tradition of a hortus conclusus. (5)

The same privacy that allowed for self-reflection and the formation of the interior subject also provided a space for illicit activities such as sex.{C}{C}[4]{C}{C} Crane sums up the situation eloquently, explaining that “[a]longside the developing sense of privacy and interiority that brought subjects under the disciplinary scrutiny of the patriarchal household, early modern people also had desires that drove them outdoors, away from enclosure and surveillance.” (Crane 17-18). An interesting paradox develops during this period. For, while gardens were associated with order and purity they were also spaces where carnal desire could bloom.

         One might think that the hortus conclusus was a relic with little emblematic power by the late-sixteenth century, for it was predominantly a medieval trope. The image of the hortus conclusus was, however, reinvigorated during the Elizabethan period. Roy Strong observes that Protestant England, freshly alienated from Catholic Italy by Henry VIII, was uncomfortable with the worship of the Virgin Queen, which prompted the Elizabethan cult to recast the hortus conclusus of the Virgin Mary “as the symbolic garden of Elizabeth of England” (49). Elizabeth was identified with the eglantine rose, such imagery “identified the queen with the Golden Age and eternal spring, while it also echoed and replaced the symbol of the hortus conclusus or enclosed garden of the Virgin Mary” (Bushnell 118). Elizabeth’s appropriation of the Mary cult enacts a synthesis of sacred and secular elements, strengthening her position as queen by aligning her rule with the godhead, not through political decrees (i.e., divine right), but through divinely inspired imagery (i.e., proto-propaganda).

         In Elizabeth’s appropriation of the Mary cult to her own public image, England became the enclosed garden and at its centre was the infallible virgin queen, Elizabeth I. In Shakespeare’s King Richard II the same metaphor is used by the fourteenth-century characters who refer to England as a “sea-walled garden” (3.4.34), a “demi-paradise” and an “other Eden” (2.1.42). The Arden edition’s editor Charles Forker argues that the garden scene (3.4.) is “strategically placed” at the middle of the play in order to reinforce the “symbolism of England’s earth into a national emblem, projecting an ideal nature, fertility, happiness and political-moral order through the comparison to Eden, yet commenting pointedly on the corruptions of Richard’s misrule through the horticultural details” (69-70). The garden that is England is unhealthy and “full of weeds, her fairest flowers chok’d up, / Her fruit-trees all unprun’d, her hedges ruin’d, / Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs / Swarming with caterpillars” (3.4.43–47). Both Heidi Scott and Madhavi Menon agree that the garden metaphor acts as a gloss for the state of England; both scholars, however, take antithetical stances with regards to what makes Richard an inadequate gardener. According to Scott, King Richard’s gardeners articulate what is necessary to maintain an ecosystem, which is to “to keep the isolated system at a high-energy input state” by weeding out unwanted growth of weeds that would leech the energy from fruit-bearing species like the apricot (268). Both Scott and the King’s gardeners conclude that Richard is an impotent gardener because he has failed to “[k]eep law and form and due proportion” in his “sea-walled garden” (3.4.41-43). Instead of keeping law and order, Richard has allowed “Bushy, Bagot, and their complices, / The caterpillars of the commonwealth” to flourish while the commonwealth suffers (2.3.165-166). Menon, conversely, reads King Richard to be an over-zealous, compulsive gardener because of his efforts to get rid of both his “enemies and his friends: Mowbray is banished so he can no longer remind King Richard of his crime, and Bullingbrook so he cannot challenge him for it. In the play’s dramatic structure, King Richard’s mistake, far from being insufficiently bloody-minded, is to have been far too ruthless.” (663). Neither Scott’s conclusion nor Menon’s takes into account the incredibly well-tended and well-ordered garden that stands at the epicentre of the play’s turmoil. For, in a play peppered with metaphors of unhealthy gardens, what does it mean for said play to be constructed around an exemplar of a healthy, ordered garden?

         At the epicentre of the play’s political chaos is an enclosed garden that is a microcosm of order. King Richard is perennially cast, by his own gardeners and by academics such as Scott and Menon, as a bad gardener, thus it is not surprising that the nation’s gardener is absent from the play’s only garden. Instead of the King, the only characters permitted into play’s sole “semi-paradise” are servants, gardeners and the ten-year-old Queen Isabella. In “‘Here in this garden’: The Iconography of the Virgin Queen in Shakespeare’s Richard II” Helen Ostovich claims that “[o]nce Shakespeare places Isabella within a model garden in which planting, flowering, and fruition are unseasonally simultaneous, it is virtually impossible to dissociate her from spiritual values traditionally understood in a hortus conclusus” (24). Roses were emblematic attributes of both the Virgin Mary and Queen Elizabeth{C}{C}[5]{C}{C}, which is why it would be logical for Shakespeare to describe Isabella as a rose, as he does Emilia in The Two Noble Kinsmen. In Richard II, however, it is not Isabella who is equated with a rose, but Richard. In their final scene together Isabella refers to her husband as her “fair rose” (5.1.7). Isabella’s comment is made ever more significant because of the play’s dearth of actual floral references. The garden allegory stipples the entirety of Richard II, even Bolingbroke’s closing statement carries the agricultural rhetoric beyond the Plantagenet line, when he laments that blood from Richard’s death “should sprinkle me to make me grow” (5.6.46). Despite the ubiquitous gardening discourse, the only two flowers mentioned throughout the entirety of the play are the rose (5.1.7) and the violet (5.2.53), both of which are only mentioned once.

         As I articulated earlier, gardens are nature structured, ordered and subjugated. Gardens are representative of the taming of the collective id by the collective ego. If the virgin at the centre of the hortus conclusus is traditionally emblematically linked to the rose, what does it mean if she if that link is broken? In Richard II that very emblematic link is broken, for it is not Isabella who is described as a rose, but the King. Richard is portrayed as the subjugated, impotent ruler who is incapable of action. The Coventry lists scene (1.3) establishes Richard’s preference for pomp and ceremony over action. His deferral of action is made clear when he throws down his warder in an effort to stymie the confrontation between Mobray and Bolingbroke. Throughout the play Richard fails to take action, unlike the usurper Bolingbroke. By transferring the traditional associations of the rose, which would have been implicitly associated with Isabella, onto King Richard, Shakespeare deconstructs the traditional associations of the hortus conclusus. The image of the hortus conclusus implied that the girl at its centre was the locus of subjugation. In Richard II Isabella is the catalyst that motivates Richard’s sole moment of active rebellion against the usurpers. It is Isabella that imparts onto Richard the notion that a king should not die “transformed and weaked” (5.1.27). According to Isabella, a true king should die like “The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw,/And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage/ To be o’erpowered”(5.1.29-31). Charles Fokker agrees that Richard’s violent resistance in 5.5, when he attacks Exton in a final moment of insurrection, “conforms to the Queen’s idea of how a king should die” (473). The ten-year-old Isabella, is not subjugated by her status as a girl or her position within the garden, she is instead the locus of power that propels Richard to action (although belatedly).

         Helen Ostovich approaches Richard II as triptych, wherein the central panel of the garden scene (3.4) is used to contextualize an earlier (2.2) and a later event (5.1) featuring Isabella. Ostovich argues that Richard II is purposefully structured to allude to the Wilton diptych in an effort to encourage the play’s audience to engage with the play as a work of sacred art. The Two Noble Kinsmen mirrors Richard II’s triptych structure. The central panel in The Two Noble Kinsmen is also the garden scene (2.2), wherein Emilia, as the virgin at the centre of the hortus conclusus, is emblematically linked to image of the rose; Emilia even tells her handmaid that a rose is the “very emblem of a maid” (2.2.137). The lifecycle of the rose is presented as a triptych. A thornless rose is presented budding in the Boy’s wedding song (1.1), blooming in full in the garden (2.2) and dying at Diana’s altar after it is plucked by the invisible hand of the chaste goddess (5.1). From Emilia’s perspective, the rose is a locus of agency that “paints the sun/ With her chaste blushes,” rather than the usual idea that it is the active sun that gilds the passive rose (2.2.139-140). Emilia’s desire to link the rose with agency rather than subjectivity is, however, quashed by courtly domestication. For, as a member of the Athenian court and no longer an Amazon, Emilia has no “base briars” to lock her “beauties” behind in an effort to protect herself from unwanted advances (2.2.142-143). A domesticated rose is defenseless, for “their sharp spines [are] gone” and it is this defenseless quality that makes a rose all the more beautiful according to courtly standards (1.1.1). It is not until the final act, where the rose, symbolic of Emilia’s virginity, is plucked by Diana, that Emilia is able to understand that she has no agency, for she is no longer a thorny Amazonian warrior, but a defenseless subject of royal decrees.

         The walled garden (2.2) in Shakespeare and Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen is uncannily similar to Isabella’s garden (3.4) in King Richard II. Both Emilia’s and Isabella’s enclosed gardens allude to the hortus conclusus, both are populated with men and both host phallic “apricock” trees at their respective centres. The main difference between the two gardens is that Isabella is aware of the men who toil in her garden whereas Emilia is left unaware that she has just ignited a familial rivalry that will ultimately subjugate her, reducing the once fearsome Amazon into an acquiescent housewife. Emilia’s exposes the impotency of the impenetrable hortus conlususes, for the supposedly protective wall fails to protect its valuable virgin cargo. In The Two Noble Kinsmen it is the very structure of the enclosed garden that provides a space for the Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite, to fall in “love” with Emilia. Palamon and Arcite are Theban prisoners whose cell looks down onto Emilia’s garden. It is the architecture of the garden that allows the cousins to objectify Emilia with their male gaze. The cousins are incapable of interacting with her, but the structure of the space feeds their perverse lovesickness, for they are able to romanticize Emilia without the stain of reality to ruin their imagined perfect woman.

         The two cousins impose a glut of culpability onto the unaware Emilia. They accuse her of being at fault for their smarting love pains, despite the fact that she is completely unaware of their presence. In the face of being a locus of subjugation, Emilia does her best to shed the bonds of hegemonic male domination. She continually repudiates the gender roles of the Petrarchan system by repeatedly reminding all who will listen that it is not she who is spurring these cousins to action. When her Hippolyta attempts to shame her sister for not stopping the feuding between the two cousins, Emilia reminds Hippolyta that it is “The misadventure of their own eyes kill 'em,” and not her beauty (3.6.188). The Petrarchan system puts Emilia into a double bind that positions her as an agent that ignites the Theban cousins; in reality, however, Emilia is a powerless subject of this tumult. While Emilia has enough agency to rebuke the Petrarchan conceits imposed upon her she is unable to stop the feuding between the cousins. Perhaps if Emilia had been aware of the cousins’ removed presence in her garden she could have stymied their love interest and would have been able to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. Ultimately, it is the very architecture of the hortus conclusus that seals Emilia’s fate.

         For any reader or playgoer fooled by the false sincerity of Arcite and Palamon’s conceits, Shakespeare and Fletcher make it evident that the Theban cousins’ “love” is not motivated by pure intentions. Despite all their endless pronouncements of love, the two cousins are still just bawdy boys driven by carnal lust. If one were to take the garden scene (3.4) in The Two Noble Kinsmen as an allusion to Eden via the genealogy of the hortus conclusus, it is most fascinating then that Palamon wants to play the role of both tempting serpent and forbidden fruit:

…would I were,
For all the fortune of my life hereafter,
Yon little tree, yon blooming apricock;
How I would spread, and fling my wanton arms
In at her window; I would bring her fruit

This passage is a thinly veiled bawdy comment, wherein Palamon is dressing up the fact that he wants to have intercourse with Emilia. His supposed courtly love is nothing but a veneer for his lust, which is obscured by fancy tournaments and eloquent wording. In Douglas Bruster’s essay, “The Jailer's Daughter and the Politics of Madwomen's Language,” he states that “[i]t seems significant that no character [other than the Jailer’s Daughter] in The Two Noble Kinsmen uses any form of either cock or prick or any words that contain them” (281). Unfortunately, Bruster’s thesis is completely derailed because of his failure to note Palamon’s ribald metaphor. This is a grievous error, for if one fails to take the bawdy language shared by the Theban cousins and the Jailer’s Daughter into account they might miss the connection between the Jailer’s Daughter and the Theban cousins.{C}[9]{C}  The primary difference between the two gardens of The Two Noble Kinsmen and Richard II is that Isabella is aware of the men who populate her garden, while Emilia is naïve to the men that populate hers. In Richard II it is the male gardeners who are unaware of Isabella’s presence. Why Isabella is not abreast of the political turmoil is never made clear; however, by engaging in the girlish activity of eavesdropping she is able to procure the information that is denied to her. Within this passage it is clear that Isabella does not passively overhear the gardeners, she actively seeks out information:

But stay, here come the gardeners:
Let's step into the shadow of these trees.
My wretchedness unto a row of pins,
They'll talk of state; for every one doth so
Against a change (3.4.24-28).

The Queen actively seeks to procure political information by employing girlish strategies. Isabella’s deceitful method is not in line with the representation of a subjugated girl that tacitly obeys instructions. Within the garden, Shakespeare presents the girl as a locus of power, for by employing girlish tropes to retrieve information, Isabella becomes more aware of the kingdom’s situation than the King himself.           


  Gardens, and particularly the hortus conclusus, have a rich, complicated history that is deeply embroiled in the British collective conscious. The fecund, variegated history of the hortus conclusus endows it with the potential to evoke a plethora of allusions including the simultaneous fall and redemption of Eden, the purity of the Virgin Mary, man’s subjugation of Nature and the chastity of Queen Elizabeth. The pragmatic uses of gardens—as a private space for plotting, reflecting and copulating—seem to be diametrically opposed to their allegorical virtues. Shakespeare exploits this powerful paradox to endow agency onto the girls at the centres of the enclosed gardens. I propose that Shakespeare deconstructs the hortus conclusus in two ways. First, by endowing girls with a rebellious agency that is antithetical to the symbolism of the enclosed garden. Second, by allowing men into the inviolate gardens.

The early Church Fathers made “obvious allegorical identification of Mary’s inviolate womb with the sealed garden of the Song, penetrated only by God” (McLean 130). The wall around the hortus conclusus was supposed to be a “closed gate, through which only Christ could enter,” but numerous men including gardeners and servants penetrate the garden in Richard II. It is because of the men in Isabella’s garden that she able to glean information about the commonwealth’s state. Had Isabella not been able to obtain said information then she would not have been able to give the King her final motivational speech; a speech that endowed Richard with the energy to die a lion and not an anemic rose.       


In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari work toward a definition of girlhood; the duo expand the constrictive traditional category of girlhood by asserting that “girls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere” (277). Deleuze and Guattari propose that girlhood is not a finite state based on age, sex, and virginity; instead, it is a state of movement, flux and plasticity, a state of “becoming-woman,” and they assert that this is “the key to all the other becomings” (277). An ecoconscious approach to analyzing The Two Noble Kinsmen and King Richard II reveals that portraying the traditional enclosed garden in a negative light is not to deride girls who opt for chastity over libidinal urges. To portray an inviolate, static hortus conclusus as a negative locus can be read as a meta-social comment on those members of society who refuse to adapt and still cling to the past, like the Theban cousins in The Two Noble Kinsmen who would prefer to battle to the death blindly in the courtly tradition with the unfortunate Emilia as their causality. For without movement, without growth and without evolution there is stagnation and ultimately, death.


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[1]{C} In his article “Some Versions of the Hortus Conclusus in Elizabethan Landscape and Literature,” Mark Jones states that there has been “a lack of bona fide ecocritical work” in Renaissance and early modern studies before 1999 (Jones 349).

[2]{C} Also called Song of Songs or Canticle of Canticles.

[3]{C} See Pierre Haddot’s The Veil of Isis for an in-depth history of the figure of Nature icnographized as a woman.

[4]{C} A number of Shakespeare’s plays locate sex or the possibility for sex outdoors. Plays that locate the outdoors as a carnal space include A Mid Summer’s Night’s Dream (“One turf shall serve as pillow for us both, / One heart, one bed, two bosoms, and one troth” (2.2.41–42)) and Measure for Measure (the bed trick, which takes place in a “garden circummur’d with brick” (4.1.28)).


[5]{C} Teresa McClean observes “with the cult of the Virgin and the rose growing to include such a wealth of symbolic meanings and flowers, it was not long before Mary began to be hailed as the Flower of Flowers. Nor was it long before she figured in many stories of saints’ lives, especially those in which she intervened directly to help her faithful, taking the form of miraculously appearing roses” (131).


[6]{C}Roses their sharp spines being gone,/ Not royal in their smells alone,/ But in their hew” (1.1.1-3).

[7]{C}It is the very emblem of a maid./ For when the west wind courts her gently,/ How modestly she blows, and paints the Sun,/With her chaste blushes!” (2.2.137-140).


[8]{C} “[Here the hind vanishes under the altar: and in the place ascends
a rose tree, having one rose upon it.]

…but one rose:
If well inspired, this battle shall confound
Both these brave Knights, and I, a virgin flower
Must grow alone, unplucked.

[Here is heard a sudden twang of Instruments, and the rose falls
from the tree (which vanishes under the altar.)]” (5.1.165-168)


[9]{C} For more on the connection between the Jailer’s Daughter and the Theban cousins please see “Genealogy of Girls in Theban Narratives: Emilia, Emelye, Emilia and the Jailer’s Daughter” (2012) by Caroline Aksich.