The term ‘Gaia’ owes its origin from James Lovelock’s contention that the Earth’s self-regulating system itself create a sustainable life to co-exist on the planet and it is hereby, this principle of self-regulation that decides the fate of life to exist on other planets. According to James Lovelock, Gaia constitutes “a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback of cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet” (10). Gabriel Egan, a Shakespeare scholar, tend to revisits the Elizabethan worldview within the core of Gaia and establishes the conclusion that the Gaia Hypothesis generates a contribution to better the Elizabethan notion of homogeneity and order and the belief in a structure that binds living matter (flora and fauna) and non-living matter (rocks, oceans, and the atmosphere) (‘Shakespeare and Ecocriticism’). But the Gaia Hypothesis offers an insightful picture in the postmodern world, by implying a Transcendental idea and a means of sustaining the awareness of our being to grasp securely in the earth and the universe, the awareness of not being lonely nor for ourselves alone, but that we form an integral part of mysterious entities against whom it is inappropriate to speak irreverently. In Martin Ogle’s discussion of the value of the Gaia Hypothesis in the twenty first century, this fact is invariably located and the role it may contribute towards spreading a sense of ecological and environmental awareness. Divine respect for mother Earth and celebration of the supreme power of nature to bring forth the harmony channelize the play ‘As You Like It’ to the literary realm of Ecocriticism and also to Gaia Hypothesis too.
Ecocriticism emerged as a holistic approach in 1990s in USA and UK, and William Rueckert was the first thinker to use the term ‘ecocriticism’ in his essay ‘Literature and Ecology: An experiment in Ecocriticism’ (1978), which denotes the application of ecological concepts to the study of literature (18). Rueckert was followed by Cheryll Glotfetty who in her work ‘The Ecocritical Reader’ (1996) broadly defines Ecocriticism as the study of relationship between literature and the physical environment thereby heralding an ecocentric approach in literary discourse. Derived from the Greek word ‘okios’ which means ‘ house’ and ‘ kritis’ meaning ‘to judge’. Ecocriticism, according to the ancient Greek mind, points to a sacred place where the human, natural and cultural phenomenon are all found in an ‘integrated relationship’. And as the civilization and culture progressed, this harmonious relationship was broken and increasingly vitiated by industrial, technological advancement and human greed for notoriously exploiting nature and environment for human consumption. According to William Howarth (1998:163) the Greek emphasis on ‘sound judgement’, and the healthy nexus of human, natural and spiritual elements in a ‘household’ can be extended to interdisciplinary approaches to ecocriticism that involve, physical sciences, social sciences and humanities with emphasis on eco-philosophy, psychology, feminism, geography and even political mode of analysis bringing thereby to the fore the hegemonic outlook of the modern and post-modern man. Such an approach is already spearheaded by Glotfelty in her comparative perspective to ecocritical discourse: “Simply put, ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earth-centred approach to literary studies” (1996:xviii).
Ecocritics, firmly believe that literature constitutes a significant and effective means to encourage people to handle environmental problems and natural degradation since human beings forms the planet’s only literary creatures (1996:228). Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ published in 1962 played an prominent role in the passing of Wilderness Act in the USA in 1964 (Opperman, 2006: 5), which provides ample amount of fact that literary works which deals with ecology and ecological problems speak louder than scientific information. By doing this, Carson overall achieved a remarkable turn in establishing fruitful merging between scientific discourse and literary discourse in her work ,written within the mode of a fairy tale by elucidating literature and literary works itself possess great potential to change ‘ego-consciousness’ to ‘eco-consciousness’ (Love, 1996: 232). Driven by ego-consciousness and anthropocentrism, Human being has put himself in the centre, which has brought immense destruction of the world in addition to colonialism and capitalism that accelerated after the Scientific Revolution and industrialization. It has so far prioritized man’s profits and interests and religion at last has provided the necessary justification to establish man as the most superior and privileged being caused man to turn a blind eye to nature and natural degradation.
Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, can be satisfactorily analysed in the light of Ecocriticism and Gaia hypothesis. Ecocriticism examines the relationship between literature and ecosystem implies a systematic ecosphere in the ‘environment’, where the biotic and abiotic elements sustain together, hereby maintaining its sustainability in the society among people, animal and other abiotic elements of Nature. The biotic elements such as land, water, fire and air and the abiotic elements such as human beings, animals, birds and plants work in healthy relationship thereby pointing to the continuation of a sound and balanced ecosystem. In Shakespeare’s plays like ‘As You Like It’, deposed Duke Senior who is not yet killed but banished, moves to the forest which stands in direct contrast to the corruption of the courtly world. Duke Senior’s words itself describes his life in the forest are evidence enough: “And this our life exempt from public haunt, find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” (II,I, 15-17).
The Gaia principle of the unity between all components of life on Earth is apparent in Duke Senior’s words. Away from the restrictions of the courtly world and the complications of the realm of politics, Duke Senior lives in peace and the four love stories introduced in the play that flourish with the four couples: Orlando and Rosalind, Celia and Oliver, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey get married in the final scene of the play. The festivity at the end of the play re-emphasizes the sense of harmony as, suggested in Duke Senior’s commentary on life in the forest. It is quite similar to the effect Gaia has regarding maintaining order and balance, love in ‘As You Like It’ which is a healing power; a force , bringing happiness into people’s lives. The forest is also a nourishing place, where people are fed literally as in Duke Senior’s invitation to Orlando to “Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table” (II, vii, 105) and in Amiens’s intention to seek the Duke because “his banquet is /prepared” (II, v, 60-1). On the spiritual level, in the forest “The sight of lovers feedeth those in love” (III, iv, 53). The Food imagery in ‘As You Like It’ is quite significant as it raises the issue of sustenance and survival.
The act of progression from the realm of the courtly world to the magical forest in ‘As You Like It raises’ the issue of the antithesis between nature and culture which is an important concern within the framework of the Gaia Hypothesis. In the context of writing and establishing the play on stage during the Elizabethan times, although modern London was luring people from rural areas with the work opportunities it offered part of “urbanity itself was a powerful counter-current in imaginative identification” (MacLean et al.5). This was translated into the habit of having a house in the country, away from the filth and the diseases in the city (5). Therefore the pastoral retreat from city life was key motif in Renaissance poetry (Garrard, Ecocriticism, 33). Helen Cooper argues that “The essence of the pastoral mode is the search for an ideal; but not an escapist one’ (8). In ‘As You Like It’, the forest becomes the ideal dwelling place of those who have problems in the courtly world and are looking for respite away from the evils of the palace and the circles around it. The forest provides them with a safe haven where regeneration and self-regulation are possible as they are in a context similar to Daisyworld. The model of the Daisyworld introduced by Andrew J. Watson and James Lovelock “is a cloudless planet with a negligible atmospheric greenhouse on which the only plants are two species of daisy of different colours. Where one species is dark – ground covered by it reflects less light then bare ground – while the other is light and reflects more than the bare ground” (284). T. Lenton in his ‘Gaia and natural selection’, Nature 394 (1998) further describes this model as follows: “Daisyworld is an imaginary gray world orbiting a star like our Sun that gets more luminous with time. The world is seeded with two types of life, black and white daisies. These share the same optimum temperature for growth of 22.51C and limits to growth of 51C and 401C. When the temperature reaches 51C, the first seeds germinate. The paleness of the white daisies makes them cooler than their surroundings, hindering their growth. The black daisies, in contrast, warm their surroundings, enhancing their growth and reproduction. As they spread, the black daisies warm the planet. This further amplifies their growth and they soon fill the world. At this point, the average temperature has risen close to the optimum for daisy growth. As the Sun warms, the temperature rises to the point where white daisies begin to appear in the daisy community. As it warms further, the white daisies gain the selective advantage over the black daisies and gradually take over” (817).
The balance between white daisies and black daisies is further reflected in the balance created in the play when enough positive power associated with good, justice, comradeship, love, and solidarity is built up in the forest. The realm of the courtly world, where negative vibes reside, becomes weaker with only Oliver and Duke Frederick remaining there. They cross the border between palace and forest with the intention of killing Orlando and Duke Senior respectively. However, both are affected by the milieu of the forest and are changed because of their exposure to its positive vibes. The forest then becomes a milieu where people become better as Oliver admits: ”Twas I; but ‘tis not I . I do not shame, to tell you what I was, since my conversion. So sweetly tastes, being the thing I am” (IV, iii, 137-9).
This initial change comes after Orlando rescues Oliver from the lioness that was about to attack him. Finally, the forest is a condition that contributes to the restoration of order and balance as seen in Duke Senior’s restoration of his throne. Duke Frederick, who comes to the forest with the intention of killing Duke Senior, meets with a religious man and: ‘After some question with him, was converted both from his enterprise and from the world: his crown bequeathing to his banish’d brother, and all their lands restor’d to them again that were with him exil’d’ (V, iv, 168-172).
Along with the restoration of Duke Senior’s throne comes there affirmation of the Elizabethan worldview with the King at the top of the political structure. The forest environment has a major effect upon the characters. Through relations with the world of nature, man becomes more in contact with what matters most in life. Love and justice emerge triumphant at the end of the play. The interconnectivity between man and nature which provides scope for reconciliation and regeneration replicates the self-regulation law upon which the Gaia Hypothesis is established. The characters that move away from the courtly world to the realm of nature go through self-cleansing processes that stave off negative energy and evil powers and strengthen positive energy represented in love and justice.
The world presented at the end of ‘As You Like It’ is better than the world described at the beginning of the play. The atmosphere of conspiracies, insecurities, and grievances dominating the early part of the play is subsumed gradually as characters run away from the restraints and complications of the courtly world into the forest; a free magical environment where they become reconnected with the biosphere.. It offers human beings the chance to reconnect with nature; it enlightens and enriches their souls. Similarly, ‘As You Like It’ strongly affirms the view that there is no hierarchical dualism between nature and culture. Instead both are interconnected and interrelated. The beauty of the forest in ‘As You Like It’ and its spiritual and healing power bring about change in people and in social and political relationships.