As England saw a shift from medieval to early modern, it also saw a shift in representations of enclosed natural spaces, particularly forest spaces. Within the tradition of idealizing Nature and representing it as a space separate from the court, the medieval period saw the forest as a pleasance. Enclosed spaces were to be avoided as a source of bountiful pleasures that would distract from heavenly pursuits. The forest, among other natural spaces, was an entirely separate space, creating a binary between civilization and natural spaces. This binary was often seen as dangerous as the watchful eye of the court could no longer monitor people or their activities in these natural spaces. In Heldris’ Roman de Silence, Silence is raised in a pleasance. While her childhood home contains many pleasures, it is shown to be nothing more than an illusion, a mirror to her false gender identity that could not be maintained.
On the other hand, the early modern period represented the forest as Arcadian, an unspoiled wilderness. Similar to the medieval pastoral, the Arcadian space was a source of pleasure and escape from the court; however, it was no longer entirely separated from the court. Instead, the court was transposed onto the forest, making it a place of performance and exploration rather than a place of concealment. By substituting a forest space for the court, the landscape became a transformative space where the court could be reimagined, restored, or even instrumentalized just as Nature itself was instrumentalized. For Rosalind and the rest of the court as they are transplanted in the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the forest is just another court, but one where experimentation is possible. Rosalind is able to transform the world around her by adopting the role of a man to explore her own role in the court and how that role might transform if she is not limited by the constraints society put on her and other women. In the natural spaces of Silence and As You Like It, the shift from pleasance to Arcadia, separation to translation, becomes a shift from an unknown and dangerous wilderness which can serve to undermine the court and primogeniture to a controlled courtly environment where the known world can be transformed and disputes of inheritance can be resolved.
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