To You I Give Myself, For I Am Yours: Erotic Performance and Theatrical Performatives in As You Like It
"To You I Give Myself, For I Am Yours": Erotic Performance and Theatrical Performatives in As You Like It
L. Wofford, Susanne University of Wisconsin, Madison
More than almost any other of Shakespeare's comedies, As You Like It is the play of proxies, of actions enacted in or undertaken by an alternative persona. Whereas in The Comedy of Errors Shakespeare's Adriana says, "I will attend my husband … for it is my office / And will have no attorney but myself" (5.1.98-100),1' in As You Like It one can woo, marry, and even die by attorney—indeed, at least in the case of wooing and marrying one not only can but must, or so the play suggests. This essay explores the effect of using a proxy on the performative language necessary to accomplish deeds such as marriage, considering first the purposes of the erotic performance of Rosalind/Ganymede, especially the question of whether it serves to ward off threats to the comic ending, and if so what those threats may be.
The emphasis in Shakespeare studies of the last decade or so on social structure, and its connection to the sexual politics implicit in As You Like It, has led to a concern not only with the attitudes a play may express or represent, but also with the extent to which a play acts as an agent in society (in Shakespeare's own or in ours) either to change beliefs and social possibilities or to reconfirm them. In his 1981 essay "'The Place of a Brother' in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form," Louis Montrose suggested some avenues by which to pursue the difficult project of discussing how theater as an institution may act: by providing "compensation," serving as a "projection," and mediating ideological contradictions, he argues, the play performs valuable psychological and ideological work. Since it both reflects social conflict and provides "a theatrical source of social conciliation," the play serves a social function, in this case, to provide apparent resolutions that confirm or strengthen the patriarchal order.2
Many political interpretations, however, have tended not to discuss how theatrical language may gain the power ascribed to it. If it indeed has the power to act beyond the boundary of the stage, perhaps that action can be understood better through an examination of those speeches that have such power invested in them linguistically—illocutionary and perlocutionary speech acts in general and, in particular, performative utterances that, by definition, participate in social action such as the performing of a marriage. The question of how marriages should be arranged and who had the right to perform them was, of course, a matter of much argument in early modern England.3 Plays such as As You Like It, with its invocation of the wedding performative ("I take thee Rosalind for wife" [4.1.137]) and its potentially subversive representation of a wedding onstage (a wedding which is not "true"), may in fact be participating in a complex way in a cultural debate about the power of fathers and of the state to control the language that gives such actions a social reality—in other words, that makes the language truly performative. Shakespeare's theater contests the control of the performative utterance by the crown, implicitly claiming for itself the right to do things with words.
These issues can best be addressed through strategies of close reading sometimes sidestepped in criticism that defines its aims as explicitly political or sociological.4 Without closer attention to the workings of language and to rhetoric, such political readings risk duplicating the older thematic approaches they first set out to correct, except that they place a different set of themes in the critical foreground.5 To focus on the rhetorical structure and social force of words uttered in a play is, in contrast, to link a concern with the play's assertions about gender and cultural authority to the kinds of power such assertions have. Moreover, close reading is essential to criticism that aims to indicate the participation of a text in its culture's ideological work, or that aims to find those moments of fissure and disruption where the text marks the limits to the culture's attempts to resolve social and moral contradiction.
My use of the terminology of performative utterances comes in part out of a critical engagement with J. L. Austin,6 whose theories most notably exclude precisely the kind of language under study here: "A performative utterance will, for example, be in a peculiar way hollow or void if said by an actor on the stage, or if introduced in a poem, or spoken in soliloquy.… All this we are excluding from consideration."7 Austin excludes such "parasitic" or "etiolated" examples of the performative because they meet neither the first condition for all performatives—that the act be a conventional act understood as such by all parties—nor the condition of sincerity, for performative expressions onstage cannot be thought to be meant seriously by the speakers. It is precisely these conditions, however, that one might interrogate in order to consider the value of the theatrical performative, and, more precisely, in order to find a language to describe how power is appropriated or challenged in a given society. This essay briefly reconsiders not just the felicity conditions. Austin lays out for successful performatives but also the ways in which they are ideologically constrained.8
The speech acts Austin describes in How to Do Things with Words take place in the context of what appears to be a completely static and unchanging society: his is a synchronic analysis (though he makes convincing diachronic arguments elsewhere). Certain people—judges, for instance—are described as possessing the institutional power to perform particular speech acts. Those speech acts are considered more dubious if others try to pronounce them; but Austin is not engaged in describing how one might question the source of that institutional power or the ways in which new institutions might take on such power. Thus, Austin requires for a felicitous performative that "the particular persons and circumstances in a given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked" (p. 34), without analyzing the ways in which such people come to be "appropriate." The word he uses to describe inappropriateness is "incapacity," yet he limits his account of this incapacity to stating that the person was not "duly appointed." Austin's concern is to show that there is no such thing as unconstrained intentionality, as he sees whatever power may arise from such utterances as institutionalizations of linguistic commitments, and the power they commit us to. Nonetheless, he is not directly concerned with the ways in which institutions gain power, nor is his theory about the regulation of action by law or by authorities; rather it treats these questions as an extension of linguistic commitments that precede any individual intention. His taxonomy of speech acts thus needs to be extended if one wishes to describe how the power to perform a given speech act is instituted or modified in society. Since Shakespeare's plays are filled with examples of moments when characters either lose or claim for the first time the capacity to perform certain speech acts, they call for some theorizing about the origin of this "capacity."
Austin's first requirement—"There must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect" (p. 14)—presents similar problems, especially with the question of the meaning of the word "accepted." If it means more than simply "conventional," then it raises the difficult question of the extent to which people affirm a given legal or social custom. The example he picks here is telling: "Consider 'I divorce you,' said to a wife by her husband in a Christian country.… In this case it might be said, 'nevertheless he has not (successfully) divorced her.… We do not admit any procedure at all for effecting divorce—marriage is indissoluble.' This may be carried so far that we reject what may be called a whole code of procedure" (p. 27). It is not surprising that Austin's difficult case comes from the debates about who controls and defines the limits of marriage. His example could be interpreted differently, as describing how social or institutional shaping of meaning may eventually be changed if "we reject … a whole code of procedure." The question arises how to adjudicate moments when the linguistic commitments implied in performative utterances conflict with legal or governmental regulation, or when the institutional constraints on meaning conflict with other kinds of conventional constraints, such as moral ones. Austin describes how a performative may fail because of social constraints or law, but he does not explicitly focus in How to Do Things with Words on those explosive cultural moments when the felicity conditions of a performative utterance are challenged and perhaps redefined. It is precisely such a moment that As You Like It is concerned to dramatize—"There's a girl goes before the priest," as Rosalind will put it in act 4 (4.1.131-32).
The question of what is the "accepted" procedure and who is the "proper" person to perform it leads into historical obscurity and to a (logically) ever receding origin, for Austin does not discuss who has the power to make the speech act "I appoint you as someone who has the power to use the performative in this case," or "I appoint you as someone who may appoint her as someone duly appointed to use the performative in this case." The moment of empowerment precedes his theory just as the struggle against disempowerment seems to fall beyond its purview. His examples thus consistently evade any explanations that might concern those moments of self-instituting power, or any case in which there may be a contest of power.
Austin's concern is to a large extent with the given, then, and not with the origin of the system, and yet he does seem to imply that the origin of such "capacity" is in language itself and the way people use language, rather than in the codifications that make legal regulation possible. He imagines that institutions determine meanings, and that meanings and successful performatives do not take place as an instance of individual free choice or selforigination. But the range of these institutionalizations of linguistic commitment is large, and the theory leaves open the possibility that differing conventions defining the capacity to utter successful performatives may conflict. Thus, the operative phrase in many of his examples is "it might be said"—but how, one may ask, is it determined whether or not "it might be said"? In this essay I extend Austin's theory in ways that I believe are in sympathy with his project, though not articulated expressly within it.
Austin's exclusion of theatrical language fits well with the way his theory, as worked out in How to Do Things with Words, necessarily marginalizes those moments in which cultural conventions and social expectations are being challenged or reshaped, for art defines one of the cultural spaces in which such challenges are stated and such changes are given palpable form. A theatrical performative presumably functions on at least three levels: within the play, a performative utterance is understood to have its conventional force,9 while the audience understands the staged speech act as a representation of a performative utterance. It does not have a direct power outside the action of the play. The same language, however, pronounces simultaneously a second-order performative, in which the play or the theater as institution claims the right to speak with performative power: "I, the theater, appropriate the power to appoint those who will have the power to say 'I do,'" or "I, the theater, name myself as an institution that has the power to use the performative," or even "I, the theater, appropriate the power to take cultural action." Through its own focus on the kind of validity Rosalind's similar use of the performative may have, As You Like It provides an exemplary text for considering the ways in which the play and popular theater more broadly may contest the implicit claim of the crown to be the sole arbiter of who is the "proper person" to pronounce a culturally powerful speech act.
In interpreting the erotic performance of Rosalind, I consider the ways in which acting can effect a cure, or, to put it another way, the extent to which performance itself takes on performative power. Apotropaic signs or gestures and other representations intended to ward off evil themselves fit the felicity conditions for a performative utterance in all but one sense: the immediate addressee cannot be named as a person who could be judged to recognize or to fail to recognize the conventionality of the acts. They indicate, then, why the presence of the audience of those who can understand such conventional and social force is essential to the "success" of protective signs, for the audience is the addressee of the "serious" second-order performative at issue in the case of ritual or of theater. Thus, Austin's assumption that the audience, "overhearing" (as it were) the speeches made onstage, will always remember that these actions are neither "serious" nor "sincere" is belied in the case of apotropaic representation, the function of which is clearly "serious" in Austin's sense, although independent of an individual subject-enunciator and a self-conscious addressee. A study of the social force of theatrical language can thus link the theory of performative utterances, to which I return explicitly in the final section of the essay, to the dialectic of protection and contamination that studies of ritual, as well as the documents of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century debate about the theater, have led us to see at work on the Shakespearean stage.
EROTIC PERFORMANCE AS CURE
In Shakespearean comedy, enacted scenes often serve an apotropaic function: they work to ward off the danger that they represent, the representation itself ostensibly protecting the fictive characters (and by extension the actors and audience) from the dangers that usually give the plot its interest. This is notably true in such plays-within-plays as "Pyramus and Thisbe" in A Midsummer Night's Dream, where the latent tragedy in the story of the four lovers is represented in unintentionally comic form, in order that such a tragedy might be averted. It might be said to be a generic characteristic of comedy that it allows this warding-off function to appear successful, but such plays also generate a dialectic of protection and contamination, to the extent that the enacted scene or representation may express an unspoken threat or complication, inadmissible by the plot but significant nonetheless for the play's cultural force. These admissions are acknowledged by critical insights such as that, for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the play within the play may express the nightmare or tragic aspects of the main action—aspects ostensibly dismissed by the comic conclusion.
As You Like It speaks of "curing" an "infection" ("Why do you infect yourself with them" [3.2.111-12]) rather than of warding off an evil—an infection associated with the disease of love and manifested in bad love poetry and in the lovers' tendency to literalize Petrarchan conceits—witness the debate between Phebe and Silvius (act 3, scene 5) about whether or not eyes are murderers.10 The actions of warding off and curing are related but distinct: that which needs to be "cured" cannot be precisely the same as that which needs to be warded off, for in the latter case the threat is only potential, and the play need never openly acknowledge its efforts to protect against it. The need for a displacement from the infection that must be cured to the threat that must be averted is indirectly admitted when Ganymede describes the "cure" s/he has in mind: by playing what s/he considers the woman's part, Ganymede explains, "I drave my suitor from his mad humour of love to a living humour of madness, which was, to forswear the full stream of the world and to live in a nook merely monastic. And thus I cured him" (3.2.405-9). This claim understandably provokes Orlando to say, "I would not be cured," and indeed the play does not intend to lead the principal characters to the monastic cell (or to the cave of the convertite). Since Rosalind, if anything, wants to test Orlando's love, not cure him of it, it can be argued that neither of them is in fact engaged in a curing. Interpretation has emphasized the importance of Rosalind's teachings, and of her weaning of Orlando from his narcissistic love—"as loving yourself than seeming the lover of any other" (3.2.373-74)—but whether Orlando changes very much remains in doubt. Such "curing" of the "infection" of lovers' clichés takes a second seat to the more difficult task of warding off the threatening images that Rosalind enacts in the wooing scenes, images that would truly dispel any possibility of a comic ending. The circularity of such imagery of "curing" is enacted in the chiasmus of "his mad humour of love to a living humour of madness": if this is to be the result of Ganymede's erotic performance, the play wants nothing of it. The pretense that this performance is all a cure for love, then, may serve rather as a figure for the kind of warding off or protecting against contamination that may be under way. The mirroring in the chiastic phrase strengthens the warning conveyed by the words ("to a living humour of madness") that such a "cure" may be more contaminating than beneficial, and figures the dialectic of "curing" and reinfecting which will engage the action in the courtship scenes.
In the case of As You Like It, the erotic performance of Rosalind/Ganymede as Rosalind indeed seems to ward off several threats to her promised union with Orlando. Given the allusion to the Ganymede story in her selfnaming as male, readers have responded to the not-so-submerged homoerotics of her performance as marking one such threat. The enactment of a homosexual wooing scene—if it works successfully as an apotropaic representation—may thus seem to ward off, by representing it, the danger that either lover might actually be attracted to the "wrong" sex and thus make the comic conclusion of marriage impossible. Indeed, the play does seem concerned to break the close, passionate ties between Rosalind and Celia ("never two ladies loved as they do" [1.1.112]; "whose loves / Are dearer than the natural bond of sisters" [1.2.265-66]; "We still have slept together / … And whereso'er we went, like Juno's swans, / Still we went coupled and inseparable" [1.3.69-72]), whereas it favors and advances the apparently homoerotic tie between Orlando and Ganymede, finally concluding in the traditional marriage pattern in which the women's friendship is subordinated while male bonds are reaffirmed (ties between brothers and between suitor and father). Especially given the use of a male actor to boy Rosalind's greatness, critics have seen the play as expressing an unacknowledged but powerful homoerotic aesthetic, if not desire. The breaking of the close bonding of women in the affirmation of a patriarchical order which is itself dependent on an unacknowledged homoerotic bonding between male characters could be described as constitutive of comic closure in Shakespeare—exemplified, again, in A Midsummer Night's Dream.11
If this model is correct, it applies in a somewhat unusual way to As You Like It, where the enactment of what appears to be a homosexual liaison becomes the means to the concluding marriage, as if to literalize and radicalize the pattern. Here homosexuality is denied only at the last moment—or, indeed, made a central component of the resolution—so that the erotic performance seems less to ward off the threat of a homoerotic block to the marriage than to indicate the way in which this marriage system depends precisely on such ties between male and male. The homoerotic performance, then, functions apotropaically at the level of plot—the marriages are not undermined by the homoerotic subtexts thereby engaged—while at the same time it represents the play's unadmitted but (at the level of plot) fundamental allegiance to such ties between men.12
The principal threat that is warded off by Rosalind/ Ganymede's erotic performance is of a different nature. What Rosalind/Ganymede acts out specifically are the vagaries of a woman being wooed or a woman won: s/he stresses the stereotypical attacks on women that characterize the literature of misogyny.13 Functioning in an apotropaic manner, then, the play put on by Rosalind/ Ganymede could be said to avert the threat that Rosalind herself, once married, will play any of these stereotypical female roles so threatening to men, including most notably that of the scold (the woman who talks too much, who develops a kind of female eloquence in order to extend her power), the flighty, changeable woman with no constancy, and the woman who cheats her husband (especially sexually).14
The allusions to what we might call homoerotic subtexts serve rather to define this other female threat more clearly. In describing the attire she will wear as Ganymede, Rosalind somewhat improbably says that she will carry "a boar-spear in [her] hand" (1.3.114). Although this part of her disguise never appears again, the allusion suggests that the boy Ganymede is also the boy boar hunter Adonis, and leaves open to question whether Rosalind/Ganymede will be wounded by the boar or, in a rewriting of the myth, be victorious over it. In Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, in either case, Adonis is clearly a young man who, like the Bertram of All's Well, scorns love, especially, by implication, love of women: "Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn" (Venus and Adonis, 4). The overpowering, maternal Venus of the poem makes heterosexual seduction into something closer to incest than to love, and female desire into a destructive force that, like the boar, wounds men.
Rosalind/Ganymede's erotic performance may serve, then, to distance or at least contain the threat of this powerful female figure, a threat that is indeed of significance to a play in which a woman takes control over both her own marriage and the resolution of the plot. The unacknowledged force of this female threat also explains in part the many allusions in the play to cuckoldry, which, according to a strict reading of the plot, should not be at issue here. One of the scenes in which Rosalind/Ganymede most explicitly lays out the threat posed by the uncontained, powerful woman begins with a series of exchanges about cuckoldry:
Rosalind. I had as lief be wooed of a snail.… For though he comes slowly, he carries his house on his head; a better jointure I think than you make a woman. Besides, he brings his destiny with him.
Orlando. What's that?
Rosalind. Why, horns—which such as you are fain to be beholding to your wives for: but he comes armed in his fortune, and prevents the slander of his wife.
These lines laugh ironically at the very activity undertaken by Rosalind/Ganymede, for her performance could also be described as arming the participants against their fortune and preventing the slanderous accusations of cuckoldry. The play plays with the possibility that such enactment (including apotropaic replaying through witty analogy) can actually ward off such a fate, and suggests that another way to read the seasons of love correctly ("men are April when they woo, December when they wed" [4.1.139-40]) is to be forearmed against fate by wit—that wit has an apotropaic function.
Wit is indeed the central culprit in Rosalind/Ganymede's pseudo-indictment of women. The discussion of a woman's wit centers on its power to find excuses to cover sexual wandering but serves also to suggest the ways in which the play's own ambiguities are implicated in the discussion of the threat of adultery. Rosalind first presents a woman whose wit (and, by extension, whose self) cannot be contained:
Orlando. But will my Rosalind do so?
Rosalind. By my life, she will do as I do.
Orlando. O but she is wise.
Rosalind. Or else she could not have the wit to do this. The wiser, the waywarden Make the doors upon a woman's wit, and it will out at the casement; shut that, and 'twill out at the keyhole; stop that, 'twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.
The double reference at the beginning of Rosalind's speech—"to do this" refers both to the changeable roles that Rosalind/Ganymede claims women perform and to the performance at hand—alerts us to the application of this wafting wit to the play's own status. The description of wit escaping enclosure through any and all available exits reflects uneasily similar descriptions of the deeds of witches, a repressed figure of female power, whose souls were said to leave their houses through the windows or chimneys, spending the night far from their bodies. Here, however, the wit of the passage turns on whether the body is imagined to follow:
Orlando. A man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say, "Wit, whither wilt?"
Rosalind. Nay, you might keep that check for it, till you met your wife's wit going to your neighbour's bed.
Orlando. And what wit could wit have to excuse that? Rosalind. Marry to say she came to seek you there. You shall never take her without her answer, unless you take her without her tongue. O that woman that cannot make her fault her husband's occasion, let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it like a fool.
The excuse that Rosalind puts in this imagined woman's mouth works in two quite contrary ways: the intended joke is evident, but behind it hover several suppressed homosexual scenes. Since neither the husband nor the wife could be imagined to go to the neighbor's bed if both neighbors were in it, the scene must be reimagined twice, producing either the image of two women or of two men in bed—two men if one imagines the wife coming to meet her male neighbor and finding her husband there instead; two women if the wife's wit is not to be at fault ("she came to seek you there" suggests that it must be the neighbor's wife with whom the wife is dallying, or else she herself has imagined a scene of two men). Rosalind/Ganymede's imagined excuse hints, then, at a different waywardness (or wisdom?) from that of the simple sexual betrayal of cuckoldry jokes, and it also comes to serve as a figure for the workings of metaphor (and dramatic figuration), connected here as always with promiscuity, and specifically with the threat of cuckoldry.15 Wit involves, then, the capacity of one meaning to move from its proper "house" to a neighboring "house," where it makes new combinations that are "improper." But a woman's wit specifically claims to be going after the man, going to the nearby house "to seek [him] there," and thereby leaving no one "at home" in his or her own "proper" house at all—or else the man's efforts to seek out the woman in her improper relation, to contain or control it, itself results in a similar "improper" stance, for again no one is left at home in his or her own bed. The project of control itself leads to impropriety.
If this "waywardness" is to be warded off, then, the play will have to make some fast turns, for the very capacity that allows the woman to escape confinement and that poses the greatest threat to the husband (cuckoldry) is intimately connected to metaphor, and to the imaginative doubleness that characterizes all of the playacting scenes (and, by extension, all theater). By virtue of its wit, the erotic performance of Rosalind/Ganymede is thus threatened by the very figure that it at a different level works to ward off—the figure of the powerful, "improper" woman who will dominate and cuckhold her husband. The language points to an unending oscillation between protection and contamination, between apotropaic representation and the return, in imagery that bespeaks a submerged ideological assumption, of that which was averted. If this warding off is fictionally successful, then, it is so only at the cost of implicating the play's symbolic action in a related, "female" metaphoric impropriety.
Rosalind/Ganymede goes on to evoke a rather disturbing image: the only way to control such a woman is "to take her without her tongue." In one sense, this "taking" is precisely what cannot and does not happen here—Rosalind is never to be without her tongue—and yet "Rosalind" only gains her tongue with her disguise, as she becomes Rosalind/Ganymede. She loses her tongue as she relinquishes her disguise: except for the Epilogue, she has no lines after she has given herself to father and husband, and the previously marginal male characters such as the Duke Senior step forward to take command and finish the action. The lines evoke the alternative story of Philomela, a woman who was literally taken without her tongue and who found nonetheless a way to describe her victimization. If her erotic performance wards off the figure of powerful female language by evoking it, it also presents the threat that this enactment will become contaminated with what it represents—that Rosalind will become this dominating woman—at which point the only way to control her would be "to take her without her tongue."16
This line also resonates in surprising ways with the cultural ideal of woman, which was, after all, one of silence.17 Rosalind/Ganymede's joke creates a literalized version of this ideal: women should be without tongues; they should all always be taken without their tongues. The literalization makes evident the way in which this "ideal" depends on a lack or an excision, which might be considered a female version of castration, a cutting off of that defining and "improper" thing ("improper" in being associated with the woman's wit). Rosalind/Ganymede's erotic performance serves to ward off the threat of the excision, for as long as s/he is a man, s/he does not need to fear the loss of her tongue. In this latter case, the performance averts the threat in a paradoxical way, for by becoming a man, s/he becomes a "man" without his sexual parts. The hovering sense of the youth as castrated man is brought out in the allusion to the Adonis story, for the wound that the boar leaves in Adonis' "thigh" can be interpreted as a castration wound. Again, the enactment that wards off this threatening alternative becomes itself contaminated by that which it is designed to avert.
The doubled imagery of excision or of castrating wounds—the excised tongue for the woman, the wound of Adonis for the boy—suggests that the roles of Ganymede and Rosalind have become inseparable. The same threat presents itself in both cases, and the question remains whether Rosalind can succeed at averting it through this performance. The doubled threat of excision suggests, then, that although Rosalind thinks she has freely chosen the role of Ganymede and can drop it at will, she in fact becomes contaminated by what it represents in ways that the play measures. Moreover, women who must act as men to have a voice have effectively lost their tongues as women. The character Rosalind as a woman loses her tongue during the scenes in which she must speak as Ganymede even as she averts the threat of the "roaring" or witty woman. The dialectic of protection and contamination leaves the social actor nowhere to stand in gender terms. Being either one gender or the other would leave one open to this threat, so the only solution—the only performance that can be apotropaic—is to remain both genders at once.18 Indeed Rosalind/Ganymede is in many ways both, and she sports a male tongue in a female body. The many unaswerable questions and comments about identity made in the playacting scenes point to the play's uncertainty about Rosalind/Ganymede's gender: "And I am your Rosalind" (4.1.61); "Am I not your Rosalind?" (4.1.84); "By my life, she will do as I do" (4.1.150). The play needs to reaffirm a form of enacted gender undecidability to avert the threats to the desired ending that it itself evokes. The only way for Rosalind not to become the kind of woman s/he enacts is never to be only a woman, while to the extent that she becomes fully a woman in the conclusion, her erotic performance cannot be seen as successfully apotropaic. As You Like It can perhaps be distinguished in this way from a tragedy such as Macbeth, in which the unspeakable threat, suppressed and repressed in various ways by the protagonists, may well be precisely this undecidability of gender."19 The comedy seems, in contrast, willing to countenance such a doubleness, or in any case requires it for its erotic performances to have their desired end.20
This doubled gender in its turn defines the self as already troped, already a performance. The self protects itself by enacting an "other" that also "infects" it or parasitizes it, gaining and losing a tongue in the same moment. This troped self suggests not only that the "I" can never be neutral in phallocentric discourse—for the woman has no unified position of "I" from which to speak—but indeed that the female "I" always must be double in precisely this way, both and yet neither alone. It also suggests why the stage provides a particularly complex space within which to consider the rhetorical status of the "I," most notably whether and how it takes on the status of a figure, since all identities onstage are proxy identities, and yet the gender of the actor—the actor's body—as well as the gender of the character remain crucial determinants of this proxy self.21
"THERE'S A GIRL GOES BEFORE THE PRIEST": THEATRICAL PERFORMATIVES
The principal performative speech acts of As You Like It are the vows taken in the betrothal and wedding ceremonies (though Jaques, too, as we shall see, has his performative moment). The moment in which Rosalind gives herself away both allows the play to end and poses a number of difficulties about what kind of action this troped or doubled self can take. Rosalind reenters the scene with Hymen, and immediately turns to her father and says, "To you I give myself, for I am yours" (5.4.115). This line might not seem problematic, were it not repeated immediately in ritual fashion to Orlando. Giving herself to her husband apparently entails giving herself to her father, and vice versa: although Rosalind earlier had commented, "But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando" (3.4.34-35), now the two seem to imply each other, her relation to each being defined in identical terms. The line conveys something different in each case, something centering on the status of each "I." To what extent "is" Rosalind her father's? The line might be read as meaning "to you I give myself, for I (the possibility of being an I, or being a subject, especially the subject of a performative utterance) am yours," a reading marking the marginal position of the female subject in patriarchal discourse. This position is indicated by a simpler thematic interpretation: the only kind of performative that Rosalind as woman can utter is to give herself away to the men who already possess her. The statements is in effect a kind of tautology: if I am yours, then there is no sense in which I am actually "giving" you something you did not already possess. Rosalind's performative utterance can thus be seen as an affirmation of her father's control of her. The repetition of the line—to father, to husband—might thus seem to emphasize what has already been argued in other contexts, that the marriages at the end of such comedies reinforce a restrictive patriarchal order and reinscribe the otherwise rebellious females within it. The repetition also gives an incestuous cast to the final resolution, pointing to the structural dependence of patriarchy as a system on the incestuous doubling of father/husband.22
As we know, however, from research on the capacity of children to decide whom to marry, the power Rosalind appropriates here is certainly significant. Not only does she select her own spouse, using the structure of the drama to ensure that her father will not object, but she gives herself away. The play comments on the unusual nature of this move in the person of Sir Oliver MarText, who, uneasy about the projected marriage of Touchstone and Audrey, reminds Touchstone, "Truly she must be given, or the marriage is not lawful" (3.3.63-64). Agnes Latham, the editor of the New Arden edition, has pointed out that "Christian marriage required no more than the consent of the two persons concerned," though the custom of "giving in marriage" went back to Saxon times and had its roots in the patriarchal system (p. 134). Rosalind's failure to fulfill this custom seems to go unnoted in the ending of the play, but MarText's comment certainly helps to underline the unusual power exercised by a woman in this final scene—and thereby, perhaps, to emphasize as well the ways in which the comic ending may resemble the structure of wish, dream, or desire. Rosalind's power is real, then, even if it is carefully circumscribed by the fact of male possession and priority.
Moreover, the fictional context gives rise to the question whether the enacted marriage vows of Orlando and Rosalind/Ganymede can be understood to have performative force. 23 Both of the characters know that they are only "playing"—that they are not speaking "seriously" in Austin's sense—yet for both Rosalind and Orlando the scene seems to mark a shift in their relation and an end to their "courtship." In addition, a performance can complicate the scene by raising questions in the audience's mind of whether Orlando has begun to suspect the "true" identity of "Ganymede." If this enacted performative of act 4, scene I is only fictional, and does not carry performative force, it undermines Rosalind's concluding performatives, which also are theater, after all, suggesting perhaps a woman can speak only in troped performatives which indicate the secondary nature of her power to accomplish deeds in the world, especially with words (while she still has her tongue). And yet, the play seems to affirm the performative force of such enacted vows, as if to emphasize that troped performatives nonetheless carry cultural force, and may be the only performatives that most subjects can pronounce.
Rosalind "is" Orlando's in another sense too, then, for in act 4, scene I the same ceremony that will conclude the play is enacted as part of the erotic performance of Rosalind/Ganymede. Thus Rosalind has already given herself to Orlando:
Orlando. I take thee Rosalind for wife.
Rosalind. I might ask you for your commission; but I do take thee Orlando for my husband. There's a girl goes before the priest, and certainly a woman's thought runs before her actions.
These enacted performatives indicate that the performative that closes the play—"To you I give myself, for I am yours"—was already in effect a repetition, at least in the case of Orlando. The line could then be construed as reading: "To you I [Rosalind] give myself, for I [Rosalind/Ganymede] am [already] yours." This reading again suggests that some sort of troping or doubling of the self is effected by the doubly repeated performative.
With the double repetition of the line we are already speaking of a fragmented subject, an "I" that is divided and multiple, a ghostly ironizing of the "I" which generates an "I" that cannot easily serve as the subject of a performative utterance. The repetition itself evokes an ironizing, or at least a questioning, of the value of the performative, for, if one repeats a performative, what status does the first statement have? Is it undone by the repetition or reinforced by it? Sense can be made of this repeated performative only if either the "I"s are different or the act of giving is meant differently in each sense. The necessity of this difference suggests that the subject itself—the "I"—is a trope or figure, marking the space of at least two different subjects, possibly of two different genders. Or, to put it another way, the performative itself may be understood as being already troped (though, as we see in the action of the play, in which Rosalind is successfully "given" to her husband, this does not mean that it lacks performative force).
Beyond the problematic status of a woman's power to make performative utterances, the enacted marriage scene (symmetrical with both man and woman vowing, unlike the final scene) raises the broader question of the theatrical performative. Onstage, within the fiction, the line "To you I give myself, for I am yours" has a performative power: Rosalind is understood fictionally as having "given" herself with these words. From the perspective of the audience, however, this performative utterance is understood as being spoken within quotation marks, just like her earlier statement to Orlando ("I do take thee Orlando for my husband"). The potentially radical nature of the scene may seem to be contained, then, by the understanding that this is a representation, and therefore that no woman has in fact achieved this performative power, that no woman goes before the priest (or before the father's legal right to select the husband and give away his daughter).
The limitation on the more socially innovative gestures of the play established by the containing power of theatrical representation is nonetheless not the final level at which this question can be posed. One might speculate that with these performative utterances onstage the theater as institution also claims for itself a performative power, a power to shape or create social norms simply by performing them. What the theater performs in doing so may conserve social norms—as when Rosalind locates herself so clearly as the object, not the subject, of patriarchal discourse—but it need not, as when Rosalind first takes Orlando as her husband. The theater institutionally preserves the power to say that the girl may go before the priest, and this power itself is potentially more disruptive (the power of theater as social institution, appropriating the king's language) than the specific ending that the play represents. Following this logic, one might argue what, indeed, many viewers may feel about the exchange of vows between Orlando and Rosalind/ Ganymede in act 4, scene I: that it can be taken as in some degree a real action, that their troths are plighted by this enacted performance, that Orlando is in some sense agreeing to marry someone who is partly a man, that performance can indeed be performative.
The words spoken, when directed toward the right person ("I take thee Rosalind" not "Ganymede"), come, then, to serve as tropes of themselves. They are both true and fictional at once, just as Rosalind and Ganymede are the same character but exist separately at the same time. The statements Rosalind/Ganymede makes are simultaneously valid for both, but not as man or woman. Neither, one might add, is fully present or absent as man or woman, a situation that offers a critique of the distinction of presence/absence itself. This staged performative thus returns us to the idea of the contagion of role: the comedy affirms generically that the roles played in a wooing game are freely chosen, that one can play them or drop them at will, but the structure of the exchanges between Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando suggest that, for the woman at least, this is not the case. (The role Orlando plays is equally contagious and necessary for him, though it remains less evident because it is given the same name, "Orlando.") The prosopopoeia of the subject—the taking of someone else's face or mask—rhetorically reveals itself to result in the contamination of the "I."
The doubling of the wedding performatives suggests, then, a more disruptive cultural statement: that all performatives are staged, pronounced by multiple or troped selves. Embracing this cultural and theatrical contamination of the self need not lead to marginalization or lack, the play argues, but rather to the kinds of empowerment the action seems to present, which, appropriately enough for the institution of theater, draw precisely on those modes of self-presentation (with their accompanying speech acts) that have to do with endorsing and putting into action the capacities of this multiple self.
One final performative utterance deserves a brief, concluding comment, since in fact it concludes the play. As the couples prepare to go happily offstage together, Jaques is left unwilling to join the celebration, and he marks his departure by "bequeathing" to the others his best wishes along with that which, in most cases, they have already attained. His bequest, then, like Rosalind's gift, adds Jaques's best wishes to what is otherwise a tautology. Jaques's statement is odd in that it implies that he possesses these qualities of plot resolutions to bequeath, making him momentarily a figure of the author, who bequeaths the consequences of his plot as a closural gesture. A bequest, moreover, becomes valid only upon death, so Jaques's words suggest that, in turning to the convertite's cave, he "dies" to the social world of the play. From this figuratively soon-to-be-dead Jaques, the plot resolution can be established, as if Jaques takes on himself the costs of the happy ending. Jaques, then, may be said to be the true recipient of Ganymede's cure for love: on him is projected the "intended" ending of the erotic performance of Ganymede and Orlando, that the "cured" person would "forswear the full stream of the world and … live in a nook merely monastic" (3.2.407-9). Orlando's fate is thus projected onto Jaques, while Orlando is allowed to remain in love (which, as we have seen, is not only to remain mad but to remain in fiction, or in trope).
Jaques's bequest can also be said to provide the model for the female performative, since, as we have seen, a woman cannot use language performatively without being at least partly a man. The only form in which a woman as woman can "give" herself is in a bequest, when she has, as it were, died as a woman and taken on a male tongue. Otherwise she can only return herself to those who already possess her, enacting in her performative the social possibility that preceded her utterance. Indeed the humor of melancholy was thought particularly to typify women, so that, like Hamlet, Jaques can be seen to be overtaken by a female mood. Jaques, then, becomes the closing example of the play's penchant for mixed gender, of its structural reliance on an undecidability of gender to pull off its conclusions and to perform them in society.
1 Quotations throughout are taken from the Arden editions of Shakespeare's plays, notably the New Arden edition of As You Like It, ed. Agnes Latham (London: Methuen, 1975), and are subsequently cited in the text. The title quotation is from As You Like It 5.4.115-16.
2 See Louis Montrose, '"The Place of a Brother' in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form," Shakespeare Quarterly 32 (Spring 1981): 28-54; the quotation is from p. 54. Many writers have drawn similar political conclusions about Shakespearean comedy. See Sara Claiborne Park, "As We Like It: How a Girl Can Be Smart and Still Popular," in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980); Peter Erickson, "Sexual Politics and Social Structure in As You Like It, " Massachusetts Review 23 (1982): 65-83, reprinted in Peter Erickson, Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). For feminist studies of the comedies as affirmative of female power or disruptive of the patriarchy imposed in the ending, see Catherine Belsey, "Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies," in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 166-90, and Barbara Bono, "Mixed Gender, Mixed Genre in Shakespeare's As You Like It," in Renaissance Genres: Essays On Theory, History, and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986). See also
3 See Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1982), pp. 71-84, 87-88. See also She cites F. Pollock and F.W. Maitland, The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I (London, 1898), II:364ff., on the contemporary validity of the "sponsalia per verba de praesenti," which takes place if the man and woman "declare that they take each other as husband and wife now, at this very moment." For an account of the validity of such marriage contracts at the time of As You Like It, see Ernest Schanzer, "The Marriage-Contracts of Measure for Measure, " Shakespeare Survey 13 (1960): 81-89, who cites Henry Swinburne's Treatise of Spousals as evidence of the way the law was interpreted around 1600. Here is the heart of Latham's conclusions: "Marriage per verba de praesenti was still valid in the sixteenth century. The Church disapproved, unless its blessing was subsequently asked, especially if the marriage was consummated before the couple came to church.… Nonetheless, the troth-plight marriage, provided the couple were careful about their tenses, was legally valid. They were not free thereafter to divorce or to marry again and the children were legitimate"(p. 134).
41 have singled out the work of Louis Montrose precisely because it stands out as an exception to this tendency. Catherine Belsey, in "Disrupting Sexual Difference," similarly proves an exception, arguing for the importance of close reading in political criticism: "But I want to propose that a close reading of the texts can generate a more radical challenge to patriarchal values by disrupting sexual difference itself (p. 180). Also, the work of feminist critics such as Madelon Sprengnether Gohlke and Janet Adelman, drawing on an alternative tradition of psycho-analytic interpretation, provides instructive examples of the value of close reading in feminist criticism.
5 Examples of this more thematic approach can be found in Erickson, "Sexual Politics," and Bono, "Mixed Gender, Mixed Genre." I intend here not an attack on these writers for having identified a project different from my own but rather an articulation of the directions in which their work now points us.
6 I distinguish my project, then, from that of Joseph A. Porter in The Drama of Speech Acts: Shakespeare's Lancastrian Tetralogy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) and Mary Louise Pratt, Toward A Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977). See Wolfgang Iser, "The Reality of Fiction: A Functionalist Approach to Literature," New Literary History 7 (1975-76): 7-38, for an analysis of the extent to which Austin's conditions for illocutionary speech acts fit literature; and, in response, the criticism by Stanley Fish of such extended applications of Austin in "How to Do Things with Austin and Searle: Speech Act Theory and Literary Criticism," Modern Language Notes 91 (1976): 983-1025. Fish criticizes Iser for implying that a speech act can "create" meaning: "The only thing that performative or illocutionary acts produce is recognition on the part of the hearer that the procedures constitutive of a particular act have been invoked.… It is simply wrong to think of an illocutionary act as producing meaning in the sense of creating it. Indeed, the meaning the act produces (a better word would be presents, as in presents a compliment) necessarily pre-exists it; or, to put it another way, in Speech Act theory, meaning is prior to utterance" (p. 1003). One could argue about this claim, but it suffices to note that Fish sees the limits of speech act theory as definitive, whereas I use them to indicate ways in which the theory can be challenged and extended.
7 J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 22. Subsequent quotations will be cited in the text.
8 It is noteworthy that the argument in print between Jacques Derrida and John Searle (in Glyph 1 and 2) centers in part on precisely this exclusion by Austin of the "non-serious" citation (onstage, in a poem, or in soliloquy). In "Signature Event context," Glyph 1 (1977), Derrida argues that "what Austin excludes as anomaly … is the determined modification of a general citationality—or rather, a general iterability—without which there would not even be a 'successful' performative" (p. 191). Derrida's focus on the ways in which the citation exemplifies the structure of language more generally, and his study of the problems in Austin's concept of limiting context, tend in a different direction from my essay (toward a general theory of language and meaning), but they nonetheless helpfully indicate how very problematic is Austin's attempt to exclude the kind of language at issue in a Shakespearean play.
9 When it does not have that conventional force within the plot, the loss of royal power thereby indicated leads to tragedy, as we see most notably in King Lear and Richard II. This is an old argument, expounded most eloquently and persuasively by Sigurd Burckhardt in "King Lear : The Quality of Nothing," and "The King's Language: Shakespeare's Drama as Social Discovery," in Shakespearean Meanings (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), pp. 237-59 and 260-84. I note in particular the value of Burckhardt's early focus on the importance of the performative power of language in Shakespeare.
10 For an account of the way the play treats romantic love as social sickness, see Thomas McFarland, '"For Other Than for Dancing Measures': The Complications of As You Like It," in Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), pp. 112-13. The imagery of infection in the play, and the notion put forward playfully that bad poetry is infectious, echoes the language of the antitheatrical tracts which speak of theater itself as spreading its contagion among the audience, adding a metatheatrical dimension to the dialectic of infection and cure.
11 See Shirley Nelson Garner, "A Midsummer Night's Dream: 'Jack Shall Have Jill: / Nought Shall Go 111,'" Women's Studies 9 (1982): 157-76, on the breaking of female bonds in the conclusion of Shakespearean comedy; and Montrose, "'The Place of a Brother,'" on the importance of bonds between men, and on the actions of purging and strengthening them in As You Like It.
12 One sees a similar treatment of a homosexual subtext in plays such as Lyly's Gallathea and The Maydes Metamorphosis, in which love between two women is authorized while the threat of homosexuality is evaded by an actual transformation in the conclusion of one of the lovers into a man.
13 One possible source for Rosalind's love cure, noted by Agnes Latham, is Lyly's play The Woman in the Moon, where Pandora cures the shepherds of their love by actually behaving as Rosalind says she will behave (see the New Arden edition, p. lix). This source can help a modern reader remember that Rosalind/Ganymede's claims about women were not so far from what could, in another context, seem an acceptable representation of the behavior of a woman.
14 Thus, this play could be said to protect against the dangers to which Rabelais devoted his third book: whether, when he gets married, Panurge will be beaten, cuckolded, and robbed. In Rabelais, the question of female eloquence does not arise as such, though other kinds of noises become associated with femininity.
15 See Patricia Parker, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 103-13.
16 The story of Philomela provides an etiological myth for art, suggesting that rape and excision of the tongue can be interpreted as the horror that generates great art, or the beauty in nature (the beauty of the nightingale's song) that becomes a figure for human art. It has been seen as a myth defining the human capacity to create beauty out of suffering, yet such interpretations tend to sidestep the fact that it is a myth of beauty made from female suffering. The suggestion here that women should be taken without their tongues to forestall their wayward wit thus suggests the congruence between the cultural ideal of the silent woman and such myths locating beauty as the aftermath of violence against women. On the Philomela myth, see my essay "The Social Aesthetics of Rape: Closural Violence in Boccaccio and Botticelli," in Creative Imitation, ed. David Quint et al. (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1992), pp. 189-238.
17 See Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaisance Drama (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 149-92, esp. pp. 178-92.
18 This same gender undecidability associated with female loudness can be seen in The Roaring Girl by Middleton and Dekker, where the principal character cannot be pinned down by gender and switches roles and costumes throughout the play. As Sir Alexander puts it, "It is a thing / One knows not how to name: her birth began / Ere she was all made. 'Tis woman more than man, / Man more than woman, and—which to none can hap—/ The sun gives her two shadows to one shape." Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, The Roaring Girl, ed. Paul Mulholland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 1.2.128-32. The Roaring Girl also provides an example of the problem posed by female eloquence—association of female eloquence with the monstrous and also with the bizarre, the uncategorizable.
19 For gender undecidability in Macbeth, see Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare's Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 87-123.
20 In The Roaring Girl the comic "happy ending" seems also comfortably to depend on the principal character's continuing ambiguity of gender. There too this ambiguity is necessary for the plot resolution, though in a more blatant and less problematic way—less problematic because the roaring girl herself is finally not one of the lovers who gets married off in the end.
21 On the ways in which As You Like It, and Shakespearean comedy more generally, call into question the audience's knowledge of sexual difference "by indicating that it is possible, at least in fiction, to speak from a position which is not that of the full, unified, gendered subject" (p. 180), see Belsey, "Disrupting Sexual Difference," pp. 177-89. See also
22 One might note also the fairy-tale solution to the financial worries and to the inevitable problem for a sixteenthor seventeenth-century audience: the younger son. On the role of primogeniture and the social and plot difficulties it poses, see Montrose, '"The Place of a Brother."'
23 As my notes to Latham's edition suggest, she concludes that such lines had performative force legally in sixteenthand seventeenth-century English society. See appendix B, pp. 133-34, of the New Arden edition. On the father-daughter bond, and the significance of the linking of father and husband in Rosalind's performative, see Lynda E. Boose, "The Father and the Bride in Shakespeare," PMLA 97 (1982): 325-47, esp. 326-27.
Source: '"To You I Give Myself, For I Am Yours': Erotic Performance and Theatrical Performatives in As You Like It," in Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, edited by Russ McDonald, Cornell, 1994, pp. 147-69.