Compare and contrast the characters of Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It.
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Rosalind is the central focalizing character, the one through whose focus the audience evaluates events in As You Like It. Rosalind has high moral and ethical integrity and responds to the unjustified villainy of Duke Frederick by taking control of her situation and escaping to another kind of life. It is important to note that Rosalind's escape isn't a reckless flight of uncontrolled fear. On the contrary, it is reasoned flight based on logical principles with a reasonable expectation of a safer living situation.
In Arden forest, she shows herself to be powerful and knowledgeable, which give her a position of authoritative command. However, she never sheds her tender womanly feelings and ideals even while she is taking charge and helping others to solve their problems.
Celia shares Rosalind's moral and ethical integrity and the two young women are very much alike in spirited youthfulness and sincerity. Yet a change comes over Celia once she and Rosalind get to Arden forest, she traveling as Aliena (derived from "alienated") and Rosalind traveling as Ganymede. It is Aliena's task, as it within her financial means, to purchase a cottage and set up housekeeping for herself and Ganymede, and she doesn't seem all that keen to do it. Correspondingly, from that time on, Aliena fades into the background of the story while Ganymede becomes the more clearly centered focus.
In the final scene, when Rosalind and Celia change back into their own identities by changing back into their own clothes, Rosalind shedding her male's clothes and Celia shedding her female householder clothes, they are wed and a party of celebration begins. There is no evidence to say whether Celia ever reclaims control over her own experience and expression of liveliness or whether the retired, retreated qualities of Aliena become a permanent fixture, possibly for Rosalind too, as newly established householders in marriage.
Rosalind starts out with a secondary role demonstrated by the fact that Celia is the one who verbally encourages Orlando while he is wrestling Charles. After Rosalind is exiled by the Duke, she takes charge and makes decisions for her escape to Ardenne Forest and for her safety, plans for which encompass Celia who chooses to go into voluntary exile with Rosalind.
In Ardenne Forest, Rosalind, as Ganymede, a name taken from Greek mythology, is in the male position that is free from anxiety and worry because she is dressed as a man. Rosalind's natural superiority of mind is given full play in her interactions with Silvius, Phoebe and Jaques. One wonders if she would have so bold in speaking her mind and giving instructions if she were still clothed as a wealthy woman.
Though Celia dominates at first, she slips into a quieter, supportive role when she and Rosalind enter Ardenne Forest as Ganymede and Aliena, a role that is necessary to insure their continued safety. Nonetheless, even this quiet role is a powerful one. It is she who buys the cottage and sets up housekeeping. However, since her role and power are quiet and in the background, there is less to say about her.
Comparing these two women brings up the obvious questions of women's safety, women's wit and intelligence, women's ingenuity and capability, and women's friendship. In all of these Celia and Rosalind have equal concern and equal measure. In fact, in regard to safety, they take turns with Celia being protective of Rosalind in the beginning of As You Like It and Rosalind, disguised as the man Ganymede, taking over the protecting role while in Ardenne Forest.
Other less obvious questions are also brought up. One of these questions is the relationship between public power and voice: Can you only have public power if you have the right to speak up, as a man does, as Ganymede does? Another is the value given to silent private power: Is quiet (voiceless) private power of equal value as public power? Another question is whether suppression of the voice (the right to speak up on any or all topics in any or all places) correlates to the suppression of intellect and personality?
(It is interesting to note that some contend that once the women are in Ardenne Forest they are safe and the need for their disguises is dissolved, however, this is an illogical assumption. As we can be see from the play, there are frequent male travelers, there are whole bodies of male exiles, there are poor people who might look kindly at sharing wealth without being invited to do so by way of stealing. There is no reason to think that Shakespeare believed Rosalind and Celia would be safe as women once they were in Ardenne Forest.)
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