As You Like It (Vol. 80)
As You Like It
For further information on the critical and stage history of As You Like It, see SC, Volumes 5, 23, 34, 46, 57, and 69.
As You Like It, a Shakespearean comedy largely adapted from Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde (1590), is generally thought to have been written and first performed sometime between 1598 and 1600. Essentially a light-hearted piece with elements of satire and social criticism derived from its juxtaposition of urban and rural settings, As You Like It remains one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed plays. Its plot centers on Orlando de Boys and his beloved Rosalind, both of whom are separately banished from the corrupt court of Duke Frederick to the idyllic Forest of Arden. In the forest, lovesick Orlando encounters Rosalind while she is disguised as the male page Ganymede. Offering the credulous young nobleman advice on ways to woo his seemingly unattainable love, Rosalind commands the remainder of the play with her charm and wit. As the story progresses, the audience is introduced to the requisite misunderstandings, farcical happenings, and clownish figures, including the melancholy Jaques, foolish Touchstone, and a handful of rustics. The play ends in multiple marriages cleverly orchestrated by Rosalind and the peaceful restoration of the usurped Duke Senior to power.
Critics have traditionally focused on the drama's central figures: Rosalind, who is viewed as one of Shakespeare's most convincing and charismatic female roles, and Orlando. Edward I. Berry (1980) compares the drama's principal character with her source, the title figure in Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde. Contrasting Lodge's completely conventional heroine with Shakespeare's version, Berry observes that Shakespeare crafted his Rosalind into the true protagonist of the work and instilled her with psychological depth, linguistic brilliance, and compelling virtue. Thomas Kelly (1973) concentrates on Orlando, the male lead in As You Like It. After surveying some of the common characteristics of Shakespeare's romantic heroes, noting such qualities as adolescent melancholy and limited self-awareness, Kelly explores the ways in which the developing Orlando supersedes these tropes. Responding to the consensus opinion that Orlando is somewhat of a disappointing match for the inspired Rosalind, Kelly maintains that the young nobleman is possessed of a wit and verve that suitably and fully equal those of his beloved. The play's minor characters have also attracted the attention of contemporary scholars. Agnes Latham (see Further Reading) surveys the drama's comic characters: Jaques, Touchstone, and the pastoral clowns. In Latham's view, Jaques caricatures the sixteenth-century view of human temperaments based on bodily humors, in this case depicting the melancholic man—a hypersensitive but nevertheless insightful individual whom Shakespeare may have drawn from life. Latham argues that Shakespeare developed Touchstone to a lesser degree than Jaques, rendering him as a type—the stage fool—rather than as a fully drawn character. For Latham, Touchstone was likely a dramatic convenience well suited to the skilled comic actors of the late Elizabethan period, and suffers in comparison with Shakespeare's other fools in such works as King Lear and Twelfth Night. Lastly, Latham views the country clowns William, Audrey, and Corin as essentially prop characters who speak rough dialects and perform stereotypical actions that Shakespeare's audiences would have immediately recognized as comical.
In modern performance, As You Like It has enjoyed a reputation as one of Shakespeare's most frequently staged dramas. Featuring a charming central character, a delightful setting, and numerous opportunities to enchant audiences, its theatrical history has been one of considerable success, a trend that has largely continued into the twenty-first century. Reviewing director Lucy Bailey's 1999 production of As You Like It at the Globe Theatre, Lois Potter highlights Anastasia Hille's unconventional Rosalind, admiring her ability to make the most out of the sexual ambiguity of this feminine role that largely takes to the stage in male disguise. Overall, Potter finds the production satisfying, but is disappointed that some of the interpretive risks taken by Hille were not reflected in adjoining performances or in Bailey's relatively traditional direction. Reviewer Ben Brantley attended a 1999 Williamstown Theater Festival staging of As You Like It that featured noted screen star Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind. After complimenting an excellent performance by Paltrow, Brantley laments that the remainder of director Barry Edelstein's staging demonstrated more artificiality than imagination. Considering the same production, Charles Isherwood is less impressed with Paltrow's insouciant Rosalind, and suggests that her performance failed to live up to the actress's potential. Isherwood likewise deems Edelstein's interpretation of As You Like It adequate in its comic payoff, but only superficial in plumbing the emotional depths of the drama. D. J. R. Bruckner reviews another 1999 staging of the play, directed by Ray Virta with the Kings County Shakespeare Company, which he finds both visually and emotionally agreeable. According to the critic, strong performances from the leads and ensemble cast, including Jon Fordham's inspired, philosophical Jaques, made for a highly gratifying production. Bruckner attended director Erica Schmidt's 2000 production of As You Like It the following year, and views the comedic and acrobatic staging—with only a six-member cast and numerous textual abridgments—as “a good-humored tribute to Shakespeare.” Joel Henning attended a winning As You Like It directed by David H. Bell in late 2001. A visual delight in Henning's estimation, the staging evoked an imperial Russian court and featured a consistent series of fine individual performances and thoughtful directorial additions.
Critics acknowledge that on its surface As You Like It is thematically concerned with a comic representation of romantic love and with a depiction of corrupted court society set in opposition to pastoral virtue and tranquility. But, as Thomas McFarland (1972) suggests, such easy generic and thematic estimations of the play fail to fully address some of its underlying tensions. For McFarland, the work oscillates between comedy and tragedy. Ostensibly comic, it nevertheless features darker tones, allowing its celebration of pastoral purity, the potential of social renewal, and the wonders of passionate love to be undercut by ironic voices—most notably that of the cynical, melancholic Jaques. Taking an anthropological approach to As You Like It, Susan Baker (1989) offers an interpretation of the work as ritual, suggesting the play's shape is analogous to a rite of passage. In Baker's assessment, the play depicts a process of psychological and symbolic transformation that occurs as its characters move through the liminal space of Arden. Themes of identity and self-knowledge predominate in John R. Ford's 1998 study of As You Like It. According to Ford, Arden is a place of creation and destruction, disguise and dissolution. Ford contends that by entering the forest as exiles, the drama's major characters embark on a period of estrangement that conditions their eventual metamorphosis and return. A. Stuart Daley (1994) emphasizes political issues in the play, analyzing its dramatization of Tudor commonwealth ideology, in which the virtues of reason and temperance combine to regenerate a society corrupted by fraternal strife. Martha Ronk (2001) considers the relationship between the verbal and visual in As You Like It, evaluating the thematic and structural significance of visual metaphor, emblem, and theatricality in the drama. Ronk asserts that the play, which calls attention to its own theatricality, artificiality, and allegorical nature, “is more than an isolated play about lovers in the forest; it embodies a theory of theatrical production.”
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: McFarland, Thomas. “For Other Than for Dancing Measures: The Complications of As You Like It.” In Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's As You Like It, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 23-45. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1972, McFarland examines the tragic, cynical, and unpastoral elements in the otherwise comic As You Like It.]
To approach As You Like It immediately after Love's Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream is to encounter a darkening of action and tone. The pastoral realm into which it enters has, in marked contrast to the moonlit forest outside Athens, genuine problems to ameliorate. The moment of pure pastoral celebration in Shakespeare's art is now forever gone. The motif of criminal action, which had been tentatively put forward in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, only to be banished from the golden confines of Navarre's park and Oberon's forest, now reasserts itself. As You Like It is a play that labors to keep its comic balance, and for this reason the comic reclamation in the Forest of Arden involves complicated character interactions and severe criticisms of behavior. The play exhibits more humor, but much less happiness, than its two great pastoral predecessors.
The situation at the start of As You Like It could, indeed, as well...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Kelly, Thomas. “Shakespeare's Romantic Heroes: Orlando Reconsidered.” Shakespeare Quarterly 24, no. 1 (winter 1973): 12-24.
[In the following essay, Kelly argues that unlike most of Shakespeare's romantic heroes, As You Like It's Orlando possesses considerable self-control and self-awareness.]
The romantic heroes of Shakespeare's comedies have always enjoyed a questionable importance within their own plays. The heroines easily eclipse them and even the fools—Dogberry, Feste, and Bottom—have commonly commanded more attention than the generally innocuous young men. A further irony is that when we do notice one of Shakespeare's romantic heroes it is often for an unheroic trait. Lingering about most of them is a hint of something disagreeable. Several, for example, are at best fickle. Lysander, Bassanio, and Claudio have the excuse of varying degrees of duress, and in their cases the effect is sometimes comic. But what of Demetrius, Proteus, and Bertram? Their cavalier disregard of their vows is generously countenanced by the heroine, but it rarely commends them to their critics.
Furthermore, should the romantic hero remain faithful, he frequently seems adolescent in savoring a sentimental melancholy when his suit is temporarily thwarted. Thus, without denying the manifest differences between the early Valentine and the late Orsino, one can see their essential...
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SOURCE: Berry, Edward I. “Rosalynde and Rosalind.” Shakespeare Quarterly 31, no. 1 (spring 1980): 42-52.
[In the following essay, Berry compares Shakespeare's Rosalind in As You Like It with the title figure of Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, observing that Shakespeare instilled his Rosalind with psychological depth, linguistic brilliance, and compelling virtue.]
Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, the narrative source of As You Like It, provides a particularly instructive guide to Shakespeare's play. As a coherent, engaging, yet thoroughly conventional work, Rosalynde enables us to define with unusual precision some of the differences between skill and genius. Critics have drawn upon it to highlight many distinctive features of As You Like It: its structural integrity, its thematic and linguistic richness, its moral seriousness, its complex development of romantic and pastoral conventions.1 A reading of Lodge, I believe, also illuminates Shakespeare's conception of his main character, Rosalind. A comparison of the two heroines allows us to observe the means by which a successful narrative role is transformed into a great dramatic one, to appreciate aspects of Rosalind's characterization that critics have generally ignored, and to discover, in Rosalind's experience, a dynamic that shapes the play as a whole.
In a broad sense Shakespeare seems to...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Potter, Lois. Review of As You Like It. Shakespeare Quarterly 50, no. 1 (spring 1999): 76-7.
[In the following review of the 1999 Globe Theatre staging of As You Like It directed by Lucy Bailey, Potter praises Anastasia Hille's unconventional Rosalind, but contends that the production as a whole took few interpretive risks.]
Given the focus on prostitution in Dekker and Middleton's The Honest Whore and Middleton's A Mad World, My Masters, the obvious Shakespearean companion piece for Merchant would have been Measure for Measure. As You Like It was probably selected for box-office reasons. Though it offered fewer ideological risks than Merchant, it was even riskier for the audience, because director Lucy Bailey opted for a promenade-type performance with actors in the yard as well as on the stage. Spectators needed streetwise survival skills to leap backward on a surface littered with discarded soda cans, as the wicked Duke's followers strong-armed them out of the way to make room for the wrestling match at ground level. But this was a friendly and satisfying production. The opening, in which a ballad singer supplied much of the background material found in Lodge's Rosalynde while the characters mimed Old Sir Rowland and his three sons, established the atmosphere of a lighthearted adventure story (the play opened shortly before the release in...
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SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. Review of As You Like It. New York Times (9 August 1999): E1, E3.
[In the following review of director Barry Edelstein's 1999 production of As You Like It at the Williamstown Theater Festival, Brantley highlights the centrality of film star Gwyneth Paltrow's excellent performance as Rosalind in this otherwise “burlesque” staging of the drama.]
For a moment it looks like Oscar night all over again. There she is in a Grace Kelly ball gown, as pale and luminous as a moonbeam. Yes, it's unmistakably the same swan-necked Gwyneth Paltrow who accepted the Academy Award for best actress for Shakespeare in Love earlier this year. Yet there's something not quite right about the picture.
That dress for example: it fits perfectly, but it seems to be wearing her, as the saying goes, rather than vice versa. Ms. Paltrow curiously appears less at home in such attire than the person with whom she is sharing the stage at the moment, another ice-blonde actress named Megan Dodds. What is it that's making Ms. Paltrow so self-conscious? Just opening-night jitters?
Actually, the awkwardness is as deliberate a choice as her tightly pulled-back hair. Portraying Rosalind in the Williamstown Theater Festival's jaunty and bumpy new production of As You Like It, directed by Barry Edelstein, Ms. Paltrow turns her entrance into a witty comment...
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SOURCE: Isherwood, Charles. Review of As You Like It. Variety 375, no. 13 (16-22 August 1999): 36.
[In the following review of the 1999 staging of As You Like It at the Williamstown Theater Festival, Isherwood finds director Barry Edelstein's “self-consciously artificial” interpretation destructive to the emotional balance of the play. The critic praises many members of its supporting cast, but suggests that Gwyneth Paltrow's Rosalind failed to live up to the actress's potential.]
Shakespearean drag proved exceptionally rewarding for Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, so it's entirely fitting that the bright young star should return to the stage in “doublet and hose,” as Rosalind in the Williamstown Theater Festival's As You Like It. Playing a role that her Oscar-winning turn wittily commented on, Paltrow gives an ardent and appealing performance, full of larking high spirits and smiling charm. Alas, she doesn't succeed in communicating—granted, after only three weeks of rehearsal—the wisdom and emotional maturity that are so central to this extraordinarily rich character. In that respect, her performance is of a piece with Barry Edelstein's production, a consistently funny if superficial romp through what is perhaps the Bard's most refined and sophisticated comedy.
As You Like It is famously short on plot. By the end of the first act,...
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SOURCE: Bruckner, D. J. R. Review of As You Like It. New York Times (26 August 1999): E1.
[In the following review of director Ray Virta's 1999 production of As You Like It with the Kings County Shakespeare Company, Bruckner wholeheartedly applauds the ensemble cast and Virta's unequivocally comic interpretation of Shakespeare's play.]
Ray Virta, the director of the Kings County Shakespeare Company's As You Like It, takes a certain risk in making every moment of the play comedy. He lightens the early scenes—with their usurpation, envy, greed and intended fratricide—to such an extent that the love stories of the later acts lose the customary dark background against which they shine. But for him it pays off handsomely; every movement and line of this version is so well thought through that seeing it is as intellectually pleasing as it is emotionally satisfying.
Here the usurping duke who overthrows his older brother and the spiteful brother who drives his younger sibling from home are transparently foolish people whose crimes seem more absurd than threatening, and the young people joining the overthrown duke and his court in the forest of Arden seem not to be fleeing danger but rushing off to freedom. From the beginning the malice of the bad guys is inconsequential amid the capers of the fool and the wrestler at the usurper's court and the wiles of the old servant...
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SOURCE: Bruckner, D. J. R. Review of As You Like It. New York Times (24 October 2000): E5.
[In the following review of an abridged, six-person cast production of As You Like It directed by Erica Schmidt in 2000, Bruckner views this comedic and acrobatic staging of the play as “a good-humored tribute to Shakespeare.”]
As You Like It is taken by the Liars Club as an invitation from Shakespeare rather than as a mere title, and the company interprets the invitation pretty broadly. That's not a bad idea: this is a hardy play, and turning it into a circus not only produces unexpected laughter but also reminds us of how infinitely subversive the playwright's imagination was.
This young company, which last year transformed Romeo and Juliet into a street fight spun out of control in the back lot of a Lower East Side car repair shop, has invaded West 42nd Street for a few weeks, and it begins its As You Like It with a whoop. In an empty ground-floor commercial space a few steps west of Sixth Avenue, it has stacked seats on two sides of a performance space outlined by makeshift footlights. Once viewers are seated, the six actors, like a pack of tourists searching for excitement, burst into the place through the street door, one shouting to the others, “An audience!” It never gets quieter than that until the last line rings out little more than an hour and...
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SOURCE: Henning, Joel. Review of As You Like It. Wall Street Journal (22 January 2002): A18.
[In the following review, Henning praises director David H. Bell's 2001 Chicago Shakespeare Theater staging of As You Like It, particularly its czarist setting and nearly impeccable individual performances.]
Like the last quarter of our annus horribilus 2001, As You Like It (through March 9 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater) begins darkly. We're in a chaotic world where the natural order of things has gone completely wrong. Duke Senior has been usurped and banished to the Forest of Arden by his brother, Duke Frederick. Orlando is threatened by his brother, Oliver, and after defeating Charles, Duke Frederick's savage wrestler, hightails it to the same wilderness. The evil Duke also gives the bum's rush to Rosalind, best friends with his daughter, Celia. In masculine disguise, Rosalind leaves for the Forest of Arden with Celia, along with Touchstone, the court jester.
Once everybody interesting has been pushed off to Arden, Shakespeare has enormous fun teaching us that pastoral sentiment is as phony as anything the cynical urban court offers. The city folks and the rustics pursue one another through the woods in the Elizabethan equivalent of a terrific road movie. We get dreamy illusions from the old Duke (“Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious...
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SOURCE: Baker, Susan. “Shakespeare and Ritual: The Example of As You Like It.” Upstart Crow 9 (1989): 9-23.
[In the following essay, Baker examines the relationship between ritual and drama in As You Like It, and observes that Shakespeare's depiction of the characters' psychological and symbolic transformation resembles “a generic rite of passage.”]
Old theories die hard. Old evolutionary theories seem not to die at all, at least in the case of those propounded by the Cambridge classicists more than a half-century ago. The emergence of drama from ritual makes a good story, whether one of civilization's triumphing over primitive irrationality or one of drama's energies arising from its origins in primitive vitality. Perhaps sheer narrative charm keeps such notions alive for critics long after most scholars have discarded them for lack of supporting evidence. A recent essay by Richard F. Hardin summarizes the persistence of evolutionary theories and other problems with uses of the term ritual in literary criticism over the past few decades.1 In turn, he commends and recommends attention to the work of more up-to-date anthropologists, particularly Victor Turner. And indeed several important Shakespearean studies draw upon Turner's descriptions of rites of passage.2 Yet I believe we need to rethink altogether the relationships between ritual and drama,...
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SOURCE: Daley, A. Stuart. “Calling and Commonwealth in As You Like It: A Late Elizabethan Political Play.” Upstart Crow 14 (1994): 28-46.
[In the following essay, Daley emphasizes political issues in As You Like It, analyzing its dramatization of Tudor commonwealth ideology, in which the virtues of reason and temperance combine to regenerate a society corrupted by fraternal strife.]
This paper proposes that in As You Like It Shakespeare designed a comedy about politics in the contemporary sense of pertaining to the art of governance and the state of the commonwealth. His subject is the problem of redeeming a sovereign dukedom from the tyranny of a usurper and, on the parallel level of an eminent family, the freeing of an orphan youngest brother from the oppression of his elder brother, now in loco parentis. Accordingly, the expository first act details the infection of the body politic by the vices typical of tyrants, whether public or domestic, namely ambitious pride, the sin against God, and anger, envy, and avarice, the sins against kinsmen and neighbors. According to another venerable model, the usurping younger brother personifies Force, and the fratricidal eldest brother personifies Fraud; both are guilty of treachery against country and kindred.1
It might seem puzzling that a political reading of As You Like It has not been ventured...
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SOURCE: Ford, John R. “The Condition of My Estate: Conjuring Identity and Estrangement in As You Like It.” Upstart Crow 18 (1998): 56-66.
[In the following essay, Ford examines themes of estrangement and doubling as part of the process of attaining self-knowledge and personal metamorphosis in As You Like It.]
The forest of Arden in As You Like It destroys as playfully as it creates. In addition to its celebrated powers of defining and restoring relationships, Arden also has a magician's talent for making individual characters appear, disappear, re-appear—metamorphosed, it almost seems, before our very eyes. Some characters, like Adam, simply vanish into thin air at the very moment we are most absorbed by the condition of their estate. When Adam appears at the Duke Senior's camp, he provides a living refutation of Jaques' confident abstraction of the seventh age. We've just heard Jaques' “wise saws and modern instances” (II. vii. 156).1 Here, the play seems to show us, is the thing itself. And then he's gone. Others, like Oliver and Duke Frederick, rush into the forest in their own person, only to vanish and then re-appear “converted” (the same term is used for both) into figures completely alien from their former selves:2
'Twas I. But 'tis not I. I do not shame To tell you what I was, since my conversion So sweetly tastes, being the...
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SOURCE: Ronk, Martha. “Locating the Visual in As You Like It.” Shakespeare Quarterly 52, no. 2 (summer 2001): 255-76.
[In the following essay, Ronk considers the relationship between the verbal and visual in As You Like It, evaluating the thematic and structural significance of visual metaphor, emblem, and theatricality in the drama.]
The Forest of Arden seems in one's memory to dominate As You Like It. Yet the first picture of Arden is given by Charles the wrestler only as distant hearsay. Although one might expect a pastoral play to be replete with visual staging and visual effects (as in the sheepshearing celebration in The Winter's Tale), in As You Like It whatever “pastoral” might be is hedged round and inadequate from the outset. The most vivid pictures come in words, words already set forth, both by another speaker and by convention. The forest, not visual, is emblem: “They say he is already in the Forest of Arden … They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world” (1.1.114, 116-19).1
In this essay I focus on the relation between the verbal and visual in As You Like It and how they vie for contested dominance, disrupting presentation of both character and scene. Specifically I focus on Rosalind and on the pastoral world, arguing that Shakespeare...
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Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. “Problems Arising from the ‘Great Reckoning in a Little Room’—As You Like It III.iii.” Classical and Modern Literature 20, no. 4 (fall 2000): 91-7.
Explicates a puzzling passage in Act III, scene iii of As You Like It as a lament for the audience's failure to comprehend poetry.
Fitter, Chris. “The Slain Deer and Political Imperium: As You Like It and Andrew Marvell's ‘Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn.’” JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology 98, no. 2 (April 1999): 193-218.
Suggests an analogical link between political tyranny and the aristocratic pastime of deer hunting in the metaphors of As You Like It and Marvell's poem “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn.”
Gates, Anita. Review of As You Like It. New York Times (29 July 2002): E4.
Generally favorable review of director Jeff Cohen's contemporary, hip-hop interpretation of As You Like It performed at the TriBeCa Playhouse in 2002.
Latham, Agnes. “Satirists, Fools, and Clowns.” In Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It: A Casebook, edited by John Russell Brown, pp. 207-17. London: Macmillan, 1979.
Surveys the comic figures in As You Like It—Jaques, Touchstone,...
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