Lettuce Entertain You: Floral Agency in Ralph Knevet's Rhodon and Iris
Keywords:Ralph Knevet, Rhodon and Iris, allegory, floristry, early modern, floriculture, ecocriticism, theatre studies, agency, affect, drama, critical plant studies, performativity
This essay investigates the performativity of plants in Ralph Knevet’s Rhodon and Iris, a play that was written and performed for a feast held by the Norwich Society of Florists in 1631. The play explores at least two forms of performativity: the first is the act of staging plants for a theatrical performance, where vegetables present their virtues through floral allegories that are enacted by human players. The second form is the way plants affect and are affected by their environments, particularly as theorized by Michael Marder and Mel Y. Chen. In Rhodon and Iris, these two dimensions work together to produce a form of floral agency that decenters the human. The essay explores how floral agency collaborates with literary narratives when beings perform for plants (within a history of floral celebrations), as plants (embodying plants as allegorical figures), and with plants (floral characters using plants as ingredients in cosmetics, poisons, and antidotes). Knevet uses literature to articulate a unique plant philosophy that challenges divisions between art and nature and among literature, philosophy, and science. Rhodon and Iris thus illustrates the many ways that theatrical performances and printed playbooks, and even printed herbals and herbaria, responded to and shaped the performativity of plants.
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