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date: 23 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Tracing a tendency in early modern culture to work through questions of human difference with reference to plant life, this essay explores moments in Shakespeare’s corpus that lean on the motif of grafting to signal the merits of England/Britain as a hybrid nation whose imperial strengths derive from its ability to mingle aspects of different cultures, languages, and peoples. I first read a series of horticultural tracts to demonstrate a widespread tendency to privilege the hybrid attributes of grafted fruits over a plant’s ‘natural’ offspring, before turning to an analysis of Henry V and Cymbeline. In these two plays I locate a shared interest in the practice of grafting as a trope for England/Britain, one that emphasizes the nation’s hybrid origins as its defining strength. Both plays challenge endogamy as a principle for England/Britain, urging instead the dynamic exchange of qualities figured by the graft.

Keywords: grafting, hybridity, embodied difference, racial difference, mingling, endogamy, exogamy, imperialism, nation formation

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