As You Like It (Vol. 57)
As You Like It
For further information on the critical and stage history of As You Like It, see SC, Volumes 5, 23, 34, and 46.
As You Like It, most likely written in 1599, is one of Shakespeare's most highly regarded comedies and most frequently performed works. Based on Thomas Lodge's prose romance Rosalynde (1590), the play recounts the love story of Rosalind and Orlando. Roughly divided into three parts, the play features a middle section set in the Forest of Arden, where many aspects of Elizabethan social order are turned inside out. This magical place—where gender roles are reversed, social restrictions loosened, and time suspended—has garnered much critical attention throughout the twentieth century. Scholars frequently compare Arden to the setting in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and analyze the ways in which Shakespeare used this environment to address the social problems of his day, including sexual inequality and changes in the traditional English agrarian life. As You Like It introduces many notable characters, including the clown Touchstone and the insightful, melancholy Jaques—the source of the famous line “All the world’s a stage.” Rosalind, who disguises herself as the boy Ganymede, raises many interesting debates on homosexuality, gender blending, androgyny, and sexual identity. With the rising influence of feminist studies and the application of new historicism, scholars have applied a previously unexplored set of questions to the play. Chief among them is the nature of gender relations, the role of eroticism, and the degree to which patriarchal ideals are maintained in the play. In addition, emerging historical data about Elizabethan popular culture has given scholars new insight into the significance of sport and the influence of philosophical ideals in the play.
Critics note that Rosalind's double role as a female pretending to be a male provides rich fodder for gender studies. The issues about sexuality are further complicated by Phebe's love for Rosalind's alter ego Ganymede, Orlando's complex relationship with the “boy” whom he treats as a confidante about his love for Rosalind, and, most significantly, the fact that all the female roles were played by boys at the time when Shakespeare was writing. What has resulted is a proliferation of studies on the formation of sexuality, the social construction of gender, the significance of gender blending during the Elizabethan era, the politics of sexuality, and the role of homosexuality and crossdressing in English society. Susan Carlson (1987) provides an overview of how thought has shifted among Shakespearean scholars about the role of women in comedies and the critical debate which has developed around this issue. The first school of thought includes those who have endorsed the theories of H. B. Charlton. Charlton argues that women represent an ideal in the comedy genre, and that they are embodiments of creativity and the keys to happiness. Critics of this school focus on the middle section of As You Like It where social norms are suspended and women enjoy unprecedented freedom of speech and power. A second group of literary critics, in contrast, argue that in the end the norm is restored, Rosalind and Celia become powerless and voiceless wives, and any gains of insight are enjoyed by the males alone. Carlson counts herself among the latter group of scholars who view As You Like It, not as a radical reform of traditional patriarchal ideals, but as a drama which “offers more limitations than possibilities for the women in the play.” She states that while Shakespeare tried to advance ideas on the politics of gender, he was limited by the conventions of his day. Kay Stanton (1989) echoes many of these same views, stating that she believes the juxtaposition between the freedom of the middle scenes and the loss of options in the conclusion was Shakespeare's way of voicing criticism. Furthermore, Stanton examines the epilogue, a scene which has troubled and puzzled modern critics. In this scene, the actor playing Rosalind professes to be both man and woman in a convoluted display of both genders. Stanton posits that it is only in this mixture of genders that men and women can be equal; however, this gender blending only existed in Shakespeare's eyes through magic. Penny Gay (1999) more fully examines the ramifications of boys playing female roles in Elizabethan times. She argues that Shakespeare produced a more interesting drama than Lodge because Shakespeare capitalized on the fact that boys occupied female roles, creating an intriguing situation of ambiguities and possibilities. Gay believes that although the play lacks plot, audiences find it a favorite because of the erotic possibilities of Rosalind's courtship scenes. Susanne L. Wofford (1994) considers the role of language in establishing meanings about gender in the play.
Another area of interest for scholars is the topic of representation and identity. In many ways this topic is closely related to issues of gender, sexual identity, and disguise discussed above. In her essay on transvestism, Anne Herrmann (1989) discusses the difference between the divided self, as represented by Orlando, and the doubled self, depicted in the characters of Celia and Rosalind. The scholar states that transvestism is not a violation of social norms but highlights social contradiction. She states that merely by donning a disguise Rosalind cannot alter her true nature as a female. The disguise does not signify veiled eroticism but serves as a means of pointing out the arbitrary constructions of social relations, or the means by which we represent ourselves. In her 1985 essay, Kay Stanton also discusses the relationship between disguise and representation, concentrating on the prevalent use of the device of disguise by many of the cast. She states that all the characters have to don disguises in order to mask their true feelings, and all misrepresent who they are. In her explanation of the epilogue, Stanton suggests that it is only through disguise that Rosalind can be both male and female, but, in fact, she represents “the spirit of art,” a necessary component for humans to understand their own identity. In his article on the nature of theater, P. H. Parry (1998) considers the differences between the role of the characters in As You Like It and the audience. He argues that Shakespeare understood the self-conscious nature of theater in the Elizabethan era, which is markedly different from the emphasis on realism in today's dramas. Shakespeare incorporated aspects of his audience into the drama, at times making his characters part of the audience as they observed the actions of other characters on stage. Parry points out that although the epilogue is troublesome to modern casts and audiences, to the Elizabethans it would have made perfect sense.
Emerging historical data about Elizabethan popular culture has given scholars new insights into the significance of sport and the influence of philosophical ideals in the play. For instance, Cynthia Marshall (1993) discusses the role of sport as metaphor, particularly the role of wrestling in As You Like It. She posits that in the Elizabethan theater wrestling played a role both as sport and as spectacle; it was a means of exercise and entertainment and aided in the establishment of the moral order. Stating that Shakespeare was illustrating the ways in which “truth” may be socially constructed, she argues that through the wrestling match even violence can be “socially codified.” In the same vein, A. Stuart Daley (1993) examines the significance of the hunting scenes which take place in the Forest of Arden. While earlier critics have suggested that the scenes may reflect the social prestige and noble background of Senior Duke, Daley analyzes the scenes in light of what scholars now know about upper class hunts for entertainment versus the woodmen's hunt out of necessity. Applying new knowledge about the cultural and ideological developments of the period, Robert Schwartz (1989) considers the role of Jaques, referred to as a libertine by Duke Senior. Schwartz believes that this term refers to the Familist society, an antinomian sect who believed that man could be freed from natural sin through a spiritual awakening linked to nature. Gene Fendt (1995) juxtaposes audience reaction to the play in Elizabethan and modern times in his study of the cathartic role of the comedy. He focuses specifically on the function of the Forest of Arden scenes which he refers to as “the green world,” linking the role of such characters as Jaques and Touchstone with the inspiration of empathy among the audience.
Criticism: Gender Issues
SOURCE: “Women in As You Like It: Community, Change, and Choice,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall, 1987, pp. 151-69.
[In the following essay, Carlson refutes earlier critics who claim that As You Like It reflects sexual equality. She argues that patriarchal norms persist, especially in the play's ending.]
At the end of As You Like It, when Hymen teases Phebe that she cannot love Ganymede—“You to his [Silvius's] love must accord, / Or have a woman to your Lord” (V.iv.127-28)1—he reminds us of the comic mileage Shakespeare has gotten from Rosalind's disguise as Ganymede. Also, less obviously, he reminds us of the most steady love of the play, that between two women, Celia and Rosalind. His mockery of such love and the uncharacteristic silence of the women which accompanies it are two final indications of the way women are treated throughout the play. We have learned to read As You Like It as a play about the expansiveness of love, the graciousness of fate, and the inevitability of human foible. But it is also a play about women in the comic world. Love's Labor's Lost remains our best evidence of Shakespeare's wariness of the comic form—especially as it affects women—but As You Like It is our best model of how Shakespeare's women function as part of a comic tradition.
H. B. Charlton has taught a whole...
(The entire section is 10140 words.)
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 University Press, 1994, pp. 147-69.
[In the following essay, Wofford considers the role of language in establishing meanings about gender in As You Like It.]
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...
(The entire section is 9921 words.)
SOURCE: “Call Me Ganymede,” in William Shakespeare: As You Like It, Northcote House, 1999, pp. 33-50.
[In the following essay, Gay analyzes the meaning of gender within the context of Elizabethan theater.]
Few critical issues in Shakespearean comedy have been discussed more energetically in the last twenty years than the question of what it meant to an Elizabethan audience to see boys playing the roles of women. For modern play-goers it is largely a dead issue … ; since the mid-seventeenth century the roles of Rosalind and Celia, Phebe and Audrey, have been claimed as their right by actresses who revel in the richness of Shakespeare's language and the potential for complex explorations of gender and sexuality that the roles allow.
There is an important distinction to be made here in the ideas about what it is that the actor/actress does on stage: do they impersonate the character or do they imitate it, standing apart from it a little so that we can see the gap between the actor and the role? Modern Western actors, for the most part, are locked into an ideology of ‘becoming’ the character, an ideology based on the dominance of naturalism in twentieth-century theatre, and particularly on the claim of films to represent ‘reality’ and therefore to demand total immersion of actors in the roles they are performing. This was not the theory in Elizabethan theatre, though...
(The entire section is 6672 words.)
Criticism: History And Philosophy
SOURCE: “Rosalynde Among the Familists: As You Like It and an Expanded View of Its Sources,” in The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring, 1989, pp. 69-76.
[In the following essay, Schwartz argues that Shakespeare's emphasis on Familist ideology, a sixteenth-century libertine movement, accounts for the variations between As You Like Itand Lodge's Rosalynde.]
Geoffrey Bullough, considering the ways in which Shakespeare used Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, observed that As You Like It “is more than a pastoral play of escape to an idyllic world; it is rather an inquiry into the different ideas of country life current at the time, and a reconciliation between them.” Actually Shakespeare's play is an inquiry into, and a reconciliation of, quite a bit more than this. Nonetheless, Bullough is correct in stressing, as have scholars since, that, while pastoral in its underpinnings, As You Like It is more significant for the innovations it works on traditions of pastoral than for its wholesale adoption of much that is more superficially conventional in Lodge.1
Beyond the shift in pastoral tone evident both in the reduction in number and importance of ‘shepherd’ scenes as well as the addition of debates on virtually all aspects of love and life, Shakespeare's play differs significantly from Lodge in other ways. There is the addition of...
(The entire section is 3693 words.)
SOURCE: “Resolution, Catharsis, Culture: As You Like It,” in Philosophy and Literature, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1995, pp. 248-60.
[In the following essay, Fendt explores the cathartic effects of As You Like It on the audience, juxtaposing the views of the characters Jaques and Touchstone.]
Happiness does not lie in amusement; indeed it would be strange … if one were to take trouble and suffer hardship all one's life in order to amuse oneself. Relaxation, then, is not an end; for it is taken for the sake of activity.
Aristotle (NE 1176b30-35)
Comedy is a vision of dianoia, a significance which is ultimately social significance.
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism
As with tragedy and music, it seems that there are several kinds of catharsis that are plausible in a comedy.1 Let us take the example of As You Like It, which would seem to be about as perfect an example of the art form as is possible. Indeed, one of the reasons to think it is so is that it allows, as we shall see, of every type of comic resolution and catharsis. In the last scene, Rosalind, whom we see through most of the play as both being in love (as a woman) and mocking romantic love's excesses (as a man), becomes a unified being, loving and sensible; so...
(The entire section is 5833 words.)
Criticism: Representation And Identity
SOURCE: “The Disguises of Shakespeare's As You Like It,” in Iowa State Journal of Research, Vol. 59, No. 3, February, 1985, pp. 295-305.
[In the following essay, Stanton argues that many of As You Like It's characters disguise their true feelings and nature, a fact which clarifies many of the play's nuances.]
The physical disguise of Rosalind as the male “Ganymede” is one of the most discussed features of Shakespeare's As You Like It.1 Most commentary, however, either completely neglects or minimally addresses the disguises of Celia as “Aliena” and the Clown as “Touchstone.” More than a simple plot device, the disguises of these three characters provide an external manifestation for their internal tensions. Furthermore, several of the other characters disguise themselves in less dramatic ways in response to the image expected of them by those who hold power over them. The use of forms of disguising throughout the play gives Rosalind's physical disguise a context, and the necessity for disguise is one of the play's themes: a variation on the nature/art tension that pervades As You Like It.
In the household of Oliver and the court of Duke Frederick, the characters who are without political power are unhappy, depressed, frustrated, or angry. Orlando feels that his true identity as the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys is obscured by...
(The entire section is 4603 words.)
SOURCE: “Travesty and Transgression: Transvestism in Shakespeare, Brecht, and Churchill,” in Theatre Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2, May, 1989, pp. 133-54.
[In the following essay, Herrmann examines the role of transvestism in As You Like It, Bertolt Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan, and Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill.]
The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.
This earth that beareth and nourisheth us, hath been turned into a Stage, and women have come forth acting the parts of men.
—Francis Rous (1624)
We’re all born stark naked; To dress is bizarre. And that's the reason why Everybody's in drag.
—“You Are What You Wear,” Lynn Lavner (1988)
In Marguerite Duras's The Lover (1984), the first person narrator recalls her image at fifteen and a half crossing the Mekong on a ferry that takes her to school in Saigon. She is wearing a silk dress that used to belong to her mother, gold lamé evening shoes, and a “flat-brimmed hat, a brownish-pink fedora with a broad black ribbon.” “The crucial ambiguity of the image,” she suggests, “lies in the hat.” Like the shoes, the hat must...
(The entire section is 10300 words.)
SOURCE: “Visible Art and Visible Artists: Reflexivity and Metatheatricality in As You Like It,” in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, January, 1998, pp. 1-15.
[In the following essay, Parry discusses Shakespeare's self-conscious representation of the nature of theater and the role of audience in As You Like It.]
Theatre is based upon twinned assumptions—that theatre is life-like because life is theatrical—which have survived so many changes in dramaturgical fashion that they may reasonably be thought to be foundational.1 But critics with a heavy investment in beliefs about the differences between kinds or periods of theatre have often failed to notice or to stress the continuity that persists beneath disparate appearances. Thus, while we are happy to applaud the Renaissance stage's interest in reflexivity and meta-theatrical reflection, we are often anxious to avoid detecting the same in some more recent kinds of theatre.2 Yet evidence is certainly against such prejudice. Ibsen, like most nineteenth-century dramatists, wrote for large, institutionalised theatres with stages set behind, between, and sometimes partially in front of, elaborately ornamented proscenium arches. Everything that spectators saw on these stages was framed by gigantic and ever-present signs of theatricality that are the dramatic equivalent of quotation marks. But Ibsen's...
(The entire section is 7601 words.)
Criticism: Sports As Metaphor
SOURCE: “The Idea of Hunting in As You Like It,” in Shakespeare Studies, Vol. 21, 1993, pp. 72-95.
[In the following essay, Daley questions the nature of the hunt in As You Like It, stating that it indicates the desperation of Duke Senior, and that it functions on an allegorical level as well.]
Dr. Samuel Johnson counsels us that, “He who will understand Shakespeare must not be content to study him in the closet, he must look for his meaning sometimes among the sports of the field.”1 This good counsel certainly applies to studying As You Like It, which is in some respects a hunter's play. We learn in the opening scene that the banished duke has taken refuge in the Forest of Arden, and in Elizabethan parlance forest means a spacious habitat for game. Almost immediately thereafter we learn that the hapless duke and his fellow outlaws live like old Robin Hood of England, that is to say by shooting deer for venison. In keeping with this role they will come on wearing, like Robin Hood, the forester's standard summer coat of camouflage green. We are prepared to see why, “in these woods,” the exiles must “go and kill us venison” (2.1.21), and hear them talk at some length about a stag “that from the hunter's aim had ta’en a hurt,” and come “to languish” at a sylvan brookside (34-35).2 Subsequently, the topic appears in three more scenes,...
(The entire section is 10914 words.)
SOURCE: “Wrestling as Play and Game in As You Like It,” in Studies in English Literature, Vol. 33, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 265-87.
[In the following essay, Marshall explores the way in which wrestling is used as a metaphor for socially constructed emotion.]
As You Like It, long considered among the happiest and most refined of Shakespearean comedies, has lately been seen as shadowed by various social tensions. Critics have traced the difficulties of “fraternal enmity” and hostilities over primogeniture,1 the bitter implications of a changing agricultural economy,2 and the ambiguous resistances that were enacted against an oppressive sex and gender system.3 The shift from an idealizing critical tendency to a focus on dark implications enacts the general movement of responses to Shakespeare's comedies, which have appeared far more serious under the gazes of feminism and new historicism than an earlier aesthetic would have dreamed. Yet because what was traditionally admired about As You Like It was precisely its ability to manage conflict—as C.L. Barber put it, the “power to express conflict and order it in art”4—, the critical shift in this case raises specific questions about representation and about the relation of social tensions to the comic realm, which are overlooked if we simply ascribe to an inevitable rotation of...
(The entire section is 9647 words.)
Dusinberre, Juliet. “As Who Liked It?” Shakespeare Survey 46 (1993): 9-21.
Discusses the influence of Elizabethan politics on the depiction of Rosalind and the presentation of gender roles.
Harley, Marta Powell. “Rosalind, the Hare, and the Hyena in Shakespeare's As You Like It.” Shakespeare Quarterly 36, No. 3 (Autumn 1985): 335-37.
Argues that Rosalind establishes her complex sexual nature partially through the use of animal imagery.
Kott, Jan. “The Gender of Rosalind.” New Theatre Quarterly 7, No. 26 (May 1991): 113-25.
Compares Shakespeare's portrayal of gender in As You Like It and Twelfth Nightwith other works of literature.
Lifson, Martha Ronk. “Learning by Talking: Conversation in As You Like It.” Shakespeare Survey 40 (1988): 91-105.
Considers Shakespeare's use of suppositions in an analysis of the complexities of conversation and sexuality between the play's principal characters.
Marshall, Cynthia. “The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As You Like It.” Shakespeare Quarterly 49, No. 4 (Winter 1998): 375-92.
Examines the play's structure using the psychoanalytic concept of negation.
(The entire section is 436 words.)