Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Game Laws: more "contested terrain"

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In Ch. 3 on the Game Laws, Manning states: "The Game Laws... rested upon two rather dubious assumptions: that hunting, the most universal of all sports, one of the most common varieties of social intercourse, and one of the most persistent expressions of culture in every society with its rites of passage and highly emotive bonds of fraternity, could be and ought to be restricted to a privileged few. The second assumption was that deer and hare, which the common law regarded as ferae naturae – things of pleasure rather than profit and upon which no value could be placed in an indictment at common law – could be stolen. This legal absurdity was so apparent to lawyers that, when they drafted statutes in Parliament or framed indictments and informations in courts of law, they understood that only the circumstances in which a deer or hare was taken could be made a crime – not the act itself." (Manning (1993), Hunters and Poachers: A Social and Cultural History of Unlawful Hunting in England, page 59)

Perhaps it's no surprise that enforcement of the Game Laws was sporadic, and that Robin Hood became a popular hero.

In previous posts, we've seen nature preserves as wildlife sanctuaries (Quimby's property in Maine) and as sacred groves (Ch. 10 in Pan's Travail). From this week's readings on the Game Laws, royal forests and deer parks were another way to cordon off "nature" under certain circumstances. How do these different approaches to nature preserves relate to the different meanings of "nature" we've discussed? What different values, meanings, or states of "nature" might have been relevant to the supporters of Game Law or forest law? To those opposed?

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