As You Like It (Vol. 46)
As You Like It
For further information on the critical and stage history of As You Like It, see .
Although As You Like It received little or no critical recognition prior to the early eighteenth century, it has become one of Shakespeare's most-performed comedies. Adapted primarily from Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde, As You Like It was written and first performed between 1598 and 1600, perhaps for the opening of the Globe Theatre. Many commentators have criticized As You Like It for its minimal plot and limited action, while praising the play for its dynamic characterizations and energetic prose. Past critical commentary has addressed such thematic issues as Touchstone's comic role, Rosalind's sexual disguise, and the depiction of time in the Forest of Arden. These topics continue to garner the attention of contemporary critics as well.
Scholars consider Touchstone to be one of Shakespeare's most important additions to the original cast of characters he borrowed from Lodge's Rosalynde. Described as an intellectual fool, Touchstone was regarded as a new figure in English drama. In contrast to the assertion by some that the role of Touchstone was written expressly for jester Robert Armin, who joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1599, Guy Butler (1983) has contended that the role was "originally intended for [Will] Kempe, an old style clown," who was replaced by Armin in 1600. According to Butler, Shakespeare adapted Touchstone's part to Armin's "new style witty fool" in a deliberate decision to merge "the rival styles of humour" found in the taverns and on the stage in Elizabethan times. The significance and dramatic function of Touchstone in As You Like It has been of enduring interest to many critics, who frequently see the clown as a mediator between the action onstage and the audience. As such, David Frail (1981) has pointed out that as the "wise fool," Touchstone's function is to blur the line between wisdom and folly. Through his "riddle-dissolving riddles," Touchstone prods the members of the audience into acknowledging their own paradoxical thoughts, actions, and beliefs, thus enabling them to see what "foolish humans" they truly are. In a similar vein, Bente Videbaek (1996) has asserted that Touchstone's purpose is to "lift the audience to a higher level" of awareness and enjoyment. The critic has claimed that Touchstone mirrors, mocks, and exposes the folly of those he encounters so that the audience can anticipate and "view the 'strange capers' on stage from the delightful distance this new transparency brings."
Rosalind's disguise as the youth Ganymede continues to intrigue modern scholars, particularly as it relates to the theme of sexual identity. Philip Traci (1981) has asserted that although the characters themselves are heterosexual, the dramatization of Rosalind's multiple identities reveals the homosexual side of As You Like It, especially when the role is performed by a boy actor, as it was in Elizabethan times. Analyzing the impact that homosexuality had on families, sex, and marriage in early modern England, Mario DiGangi (1996) has relied on the Ganymede myth, a narrative that recounts Jupiter's desire for his page Ganymede in lieu of his wife, Juno. DiGangi has contended the myth, used by Shakespeare as a "parable of conflict between husbands and wives," reflected the Renaissance culture's promotion of male homoeroticism and fear of female sexuality. Thus, Rosalind's male disguise permits her to "assay the sincerity of Orlando's love" and assuage her fears of postmarital sexual rejection.
The concept of time in As You Like It remains a focus of modern critics. Although the Forest of Arden has frequently been hailed as a timeless refuge where the inhabitants "fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world" (I.i.118-19), recent criticism has focused on alternative views. Frederick Turner (1971) has suggested that time itself has not been eliminated, but that the "measurable, social time of clocks" has transmuted into diverse modes of time that reflect the characters' perceptions: the personal, subjective time that rules Rosalind and Orlando, the historical, objective time that Jacques embraces, and the natural, biological time that governs Touchstone. Arguing for the existence of "more than one 'time-sense'" in the play, Rawdon Wilson (1975) has examined the shift from objective to subjective time, noting that it marks not only the journey from the court to the forest, but the characters' attitudes toward change as well. Harry Morris (1975) has delved into the darker aspects related to the subject of time in As You Like It—death and decay. According to Morris, Touchstone is the initiator of the "death-in-Arcadia motif," the agent of time. His announcement, "Ay, now am I in Arden," echoes the expression, "Ay, now am I in Arcadia," the translated version of et in Arcadia ego. This phrase was inscribed on the tomb of a shepherd found in seventeenth-century pastoral paintings by both Guercino and Nicolas Poussin, nearly twenty-five years after As You Like It was written. Morris nevertheless has speculated that perhaps an earlier source was available to Shakespeare, given the parallels between the death elements in the paintings—the skull, the dead shepherd, and all-devouring time—and those found in the Forest of Arden.
D. J. Palmer (essay date 1971)
SOURCE: "As You Like It and the Idea of Play," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn, 1971, pp. 234-45.
[In the following essay, Palmer analyzes the nature and purpose of play in As You Like It, and contends that "[t]he heart of the comedy might be described as a demonstration of man's natural propensity for play."]
Now in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom, and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play.
(J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 1949)
Here nowe I recke not much, to passe over untouched, how no maner acte, or noble deede was ever attempted, nor any arte or science invented, other, than of whiche I might fully be holden first author.
(Erasmus, The Praise of Folie, translated by Sir Thomas Chaloner 1549)
There is only enough story in As You Like It to send the main characters to the Forest of Arden and finally to bring most of them out again. Once in the forest, the action virtually dispenses with narrative plot. Rosalind, for instance, no longer requires her disguise when she has found her father, whom she came to seek, and...
(The entire section is 15921 words.)
David Frail (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "To the Point of Folly: Touchstone's Function in As You Like It" in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXII, No. 4, Winter, 1981, pp. 695-717.
[In the essay below, Frail asserts that Touchstone mirrors the "kaleidoscopic" nature of As You Like It, blurring the lines between wisdom and folly so that we may free our minds long enough to recognize ourselves as "the foolish humans we are. "]
Some recent critics of Shakespeare's comedies have emphasized the plays' dissonant undertones and somber forebodings of the later (and, it is implied, greater) tragedies and romances. Since As You Like It is the next-to-last of the comedies, it is particularly vulnerable to this meteorological approach, which spots the dust particles about which the thunderheads form. Ralph Berry, for example, finds that the "reality principle," not the "festive principle," is Shakespeare's criterion by which to judge the comedies. In this light, Berry sees As You Like It as a pastoral idyll, but a "fairly perturbed" one, in which the characters keep finding themselves reflected in one another and react to these mirrorings with undue hostility—a latent tragic motif, to be fulfilled in, say, Iago's hatred of Othello? (Berry doesn't specify a particular masterwork so much as detect a mood-swing in the canon.)1
(The entire section is 18333 words.)
Philip Traci (essay date 1981)
SOURCE: "As You Like It: Homosexuality in Shakespeare's Play," in CLA Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 1, September, 1981, pp. 91-105.
[In the essay below, Traci discusses the intimations of homosexuality between Orlando and the Ganymede/boy actor found in the text of As You Like It.]
The diversity of sexual preference in As You Like It has long been noted. "As its title declares," Dame Helen Gardner explains, "this is a play to please all tastes."1 Agnes Latham, editor of the recent New Arden, is one who echoes this idea. She sees the title of the play as "particularly suited to the do-as-you-please atmosphere of Arden, a place where a very mixed collection of people very happily go their own various ways."2 Harold Jenkins, in his well-known and penetrating article on the play, emphasizes that "the characters do not keep in step. When they seem to be doing the same thing they are really doing something quite different, and if they echo one another, they mean quite different things by what they say—as could easily be illustrated from the little quartet of lovers in the fifth act ("And so am I for Phebe—And I for Ganymede—And I for Rosalind.—And I for no woman."), where the similarity of the tune they sing conceals their different situations."3
Critics thus have commented on the...
(The entire section is 23781 words.)
Frederick Turner (essay date 1971)
SOURCE: "As You Like It: 'Subjective', Objective', and 'Natural' Time," in Shakespeare and the Nature of Time: Moral and Philosophical Themes in Some Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, pp. 28-44.
[In the essay below, Turner describes the attitudes of Jaques, Touchstone, and Rosalind and Orlando toward time—historical, natural, and personal, respectively—and asserts that all three viewpoints are reconciled through marriage at the end of the play.]
As You Like It opens with two characters who, in terms of the hierarchy of social power, are weak and inferior: Orlando, the younger brother, and Adam, the old man. One is denied his place in society; the other is past his usefulness. Orlando tellingly distinguishes between the 'gentle condition of blood' and the 'courtesy of nations';1 between what is owed him as a member of society, and what is due to his status as a human being. Adam has 'lost' his 'teeth' 'in service',2 and though his master's legal obligation to him has been fulfilled, Oliver refuses to honour his human obligations to look after the faithful servant in his old age.
Those who are weak in the power structure of society—children, old men, beggars, strangers, the insane—can possess the most potent moral power in the...
(The entire section is 14809 words.)
Alpers, Paul. "Mode and Genre." In What Is Pastoral? pp. 44-78. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Classifies pastoral as a literary mode and examines the pastoral characteristics of As You Like It.
Calvo, Clara. "In Defence of Celia: Discourse Analysis and Women's Discourse in As You Like It" In Essays and Studies 47 (1994): 91-115.
Argues that Rosalind's centrality to As You Like It has been overblown and demonstrates Celia's significance in the play through an analysis of her linguistic behavior.
Elam, Keir. "As They Did in the Golden World: Romantic Rapture and Semantic Rupture in As You Like It." In Reading the Renaissance: Culture, Poetics and Drama, edited by Jonathan Hart, pp. 163-176. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
Asserts that Shakespeare reinvented the pastoral romance mode in As You Like It.
Emck, Katy. "Female Transvestism and Male Self-Fashioning in As You Like It and La vida es sueño." In Reading the Renaissance: Culture, Poetics and Drama, edited by Jonathan Hart, pp. 75-88. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
Recounts the similarities between As You Like It and La vida es sueño,...
(The entire section is 677 words.)