As You Like It (Vol. 34)
As You Like It
For further information on the critical and stage history of As You Like It, see SC, Volumes 5 and 23.
Generally believed to have been written and first performed sometime between 1598 and 1600, As You Like It is largely a dramatic adaptation of Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde (1590). And, while Shakespeare mined this earlier work for most of the play's plot and many of its major characters, its sources are thought to also include such texts as Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, the anonymous Historie of Sir Clyomen and Clamydes, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. The work is typically seen as a light-hearted comedy, filled with the requisite misunderstandings and farcical happenings, but scholars have nonetheless observed that the play engages several serious subjects. Its principal actors are the virtuous Orlando de Boys and his beloved Rosalind, both of whom are banished from Duke Frederick's court to the near-mythical rural setting of the Forest of Arden. In these two characters Shakespeare personifies two of the work's leading themes: Orlando represents dishonored virtue restored, while Rosalind—who is disguised as Ganymede, a young man, for the majority of the play—inaugurates the theme of illusory appearance that questions the fabric of perception and reality.
As You Like It is often seen as a grand pastoral romance, tinged with an ironic commentary on the illusion of its ideals. As a pastoral comedy, its plot follows the classic three-part pattern, featuring an exile from court, followed by a renewal of character and social standing in a rural setting, and culminating in an exultant return to court. The two settings in the play, the natural world of Arden and Duke Frederick's court, are seen as analogous to the work's contrasting tensions of romantic idealism and ironic realism, respectively. Views of these contrasting worlds and the perspectives they represent have become commonplace in criticism on the play. Rosalie L. Colie, for example, has outlined many of the major pastoral themes and motifs reflected in the work, including its emphasis on dialogue, its mixture of comedy and tragedy, and its concern with the clash between art and nature and between court and country. Eamon Grennan, like-wise, has approached the play as a pastoral comedy, but sees the work as a combining of pastoral and anti-pastoral elements. For Ralph Berry, the site of the anti-romantic rests in the character of Rosalind and in Touchstone, a professional fool from Duke Frederick's court who presumably acts as a mouthpiece for Shakespeare, allowing him to interject an ironic voice into the play. Other pastoral elements, such as the foolish shepherdess Phebe and her jilted Petrarchan lover, Silvius, are presented as stock characters, included to elicit mirth from the audience and to parody the limitations of the romantic genre.
Shakespeare's use of folly is another topic that attracts continual interest among critics of As You Like It. The play's humor, which pokes fun at human limitations and foolishness, has been perhaps most closely observed by R. Chris Hassel, who sees the work as a celebration of human folly, the absurdity of life, and the wisdom that comes with the apprehension of both. Hassel, along with several earlier commentators, has given significant attention to the play's fools Jaques and Touchstone. The character of Jaques has long been a compelling figure for audiences and critics. By the nineteenth century he had become a favorite subject of many, including William Hazlitt, who essentially cast him as a melancholic malcontent and a personification of self-indulgence and superficiality. This assessment has persisted, and Jaques is very consistently seen as striving to maintain the pretense of his aristocratic breeding, while only succeeding in demonstrating his foolishness. To a great degree, Jaques is contrasted with Touchstone who, despite his occupation, displays an intelligence, wit, and occasional profundity that equals or surpasses that of any other character in the play.
The depth of Touchstone's perceptions, however, are only rivaled by those of As You Like It's chief protagonist, Rosalind. For many commentators, including Charles Brooks and Peter Hyland, Rosalind—in disguising herself as a man before she enters the Forest of Arden—draws attention to the work as self-conscious drama or metatheater, concerned with the consequences of acting and role-playing as part of the quest for self-knowledge. She is considered the locus of inversion in the play, and her character stirs a deeper understanding of the human condition by questioning the nature of observed reality. Rosalind is thought to forge her own identity throughout the course of the play through her adoption of a new appearance. Her disguise also draws attention to the Forest of Arden as a liminal space, where the ordinary perspectives—including commonly accepted gender and power structures both in and beyond the world of the play, such as the patriarchal status quo and the misdirected power of Duke Frederick that has banished Orlando from his rightful place as Duke—are turned upside down in order that they might be examined more closely. One of Shakespeare's most inventive and intelligent heroines, Rosalind also is the focus of the play's movement toward the reconciliation of opposites—realism and idealism, wisdom and folly, high and low, male and female. And, while many critics see Rosalind as this synthesizing figure, most concur that the underlying tensions in this play resist definite resolution, making As You Like It one of Shakespeare's most successful and compelling comedies.
Ralph Berry (essay date 1971)
SOURCE: "No Exit from Arden" in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 66, 1971, pp. 11-20.
[In the following essay, Berry outlines the anti-romantic elements of hostility, conflict, and debate that exist in As You Like It beneath the surface of romance.]
The structure of As You Like It I take to be a synthesis of two structures, that of romance and anti-romance. The romantic elements need no recapitulation here; they compose, quite simply, the plot. Of the anti-romantic elements, much has already been commented on. For example: Rosalind, Touchstone, and Jacques provide a running fire (within the spectrum realism-satire) on the posturing of the romantics. There are plenty of overt hints that Arden is no paradise. Touchstone's 'Ay, now I am in Arden: the more fool I' (II.4.13)1 shades into the evocation, which Kott has noted,2 of an agrarian system governed by the capitalist laws of hire:
But I am shepherd to another man,
And do not shear the fleeces that I graze.
My master is of churlish disposition …
And the play's conclusion, a set of major cadences rung to wedding bells, has already been...
(The entire section is 51326 words.)
Appearance Vs. Reality
Peter Hyland (essay date 1978)
SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Heroines: Disguise in the Romantic Comedies," in Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 9, No. 2, April, 1978, pp. 23-39.
[In the following excerpt, Hyland emphasizes the metadramatic aspects of As You Like It, highlighted by Rosalind's pretense of being a man in the play.]
Shakespeare clearly saw that to achieve the audience involvement that he wanted he had to allow the disguised heroine to dominate the play; even so, in As You Like It, because he still feels the need to justify the act of disguising he does not bring Ganymede into the play until II.iv. As Ganymede, Rosalind does dominate the play, but it is significant that until she takes on her male disguise she appears to be weaker than Celia. Celia it is who suggests the idea of flight and disguise, while Rosalind can only raise somewhat fearful objections:
Why, whither shall we go? …
Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far!
(I. iii. 102, 104-5)
It is only when she gets the idea of disguising herself as a man that Rosalind becomes the stronger and more active of the two. So, at her first...
(The entire section is 15436 words.)
Rosalie L. Colie (essay date 1974)
SOURCE: "Perspectives on Pastoral: Romance, Comic and Tragic," in Shakespeare's Living Art, Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 243-83.
[In the following excerpt, Colie discusses As You Like It from the perspective of the classical pastoral—mixing comedy and tragedy, and recollecting themes of nature versus nurture, art versus nature, and country versus court.]
By the end of the sixteenth century, the pastoral mode embraced many particular genres, offered rich options to writers interested in literary experimentation, particularly in mixed genres, and, furthermore, had become embroiled in one of the great literary quarrels which characterized Renaissance literary theory. The pastoral permitted and encouraged opportunities for mixing in one work "imitation" with "invention," art with artifice, the artless with the artful—and generated discussions of such mixes. Eclogues were the principal pastoral form, hallowed by antiquity, but other pastoral lyrics flourished: the love-lyric, the dialogue, the song. Pastoral episodes regularly offered relief in poems largely devoted to epic gests; an English poet wrote a heroic epic in prose entitled, in spite of its relatively scant preoccupation with shepherds, Arcadia, and set into this prose-epic a series of pastoral poems which are themselves a...
(The entire section is 20732 words.)
The Role Of Women
Margaret Boerner Beckman (essay date 1978)
SOURCE: "The Figure of Rosalind in As You Like It," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 44-51.
[In the following essay, Beckman describes Rosalind as a figure who personifies the reconciliation of opposites in As You Like It.]
Toward the end of As You Like It, just before she resolves the plot, the disguised Rosalind tells Orlando:
Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things: I have, since I was three years old, conversed with a magician, most profound in his art and yet not damnable. If you do love Rosalind … it is not impossible to me, if it appear not inconvenient to you, to set her before your eyes tomorrow human as she is, and without any danger.1
Even if the play strains the bounds of probability, no magic has been worked in it before this scene. It therefore seems strange that Shakespeare has Rosalind resolve the plot by appearing to work magic rather than by simply stripping off her disguise—particularly if, as is usually asserted, she has disguised herself only because she must find out whether Orlando really loves her. The question, then, is why Rosalind's "strange things" constitute a proper end to the play.
I would like to suggest that Rosalind ends the play as a magician...
(The entire section is 14137 words.)
Bennett, Robert B. "The Reform of a Malcontent: Jaques and the Meaning of As You Like It." Shakespeare Studies IX (1976): 183-204.
Regards Jaques as an essentially benign character whose presence in Arden provides both a needed balance in the forest-court debate and a cynicism to counter the preciousness of the pastoral setting.
Brissenden, Alan. "The Dance in As You Like It and Twelfth Night." Cahiers Elisabethains Ho. 13 (April 1978): 25-34.
Examines Shakespeare's use of dance in As You Like It. Noticing the combination of joy and solemnity following the marriages in Act V, scene iv, Brissenden posits the likelihood of the couples dancing a patterned and harmonious pavan.
Brooks, Charles. "Shakespeare's Heroine-Actresses." Shakespeare Jahrbuch 60 (1960): 134-44.
Focuses on Rosalind's disguise role, and realates this device to Shakespeare's concern with themes of identity, self-knowledge, reality, and illusion.
Brown, John Russell. "As You Like It." In Shakespeare's Dramatic Style, pp. 72-103. London: Heinemann, 1970.
Investigation of stagecraft in As You Like It that focuses on selected scenes in the play for purposes of analyzing language and elements of dramaturgy.
Carroll, William C. '"Forget to Be a Woman'." In The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean...
(The entire section is 1012 words.)