As You Like It Essay - As You Like It (Vol. 90)

William Shakespeare

As You Like It (Vol. 90)

Introduction

As You Like It

Literature scholars generally agree that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It sometime between 1599 and 1600. These critics have characterized the play as an example of one of Shakespeare's mature comedies, citing the playwright's sophisticated integration of verse and prose dialogue, his invention of psychologically complex characters, and his ingenious manipulation of romantic themes. Many commentators have surveyed the central theme of pastoralism—that is, the artistic representation of idyllic rural life—as it applies to Arden, the forest setting which serves as a refuge for Shakespeare's characters in As You Like It. Identifying Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde—first published in 1590 and reprinted three times in the subsequent decade—as a direct literary antecedent for Shakespeare's comedy, a number of critics have examined how Shakespeare borrowed from Lodge to satirize the hackneyed theme of pastoralism. Recent scholarship has also contributed to the discussion of other major themes in As You Like It, including the thematic and cultural implications of Rosalind's sexual disguise, the dramatic impact of Jaques's melancholic behavior within the idealized romantic milieu of Arden, and the significance of mutuality in love and courtship.

Typically, modern critical scholarship has focused on Rosalind as the unifying, central character in As You Like It. In his examination of the cross-gender disguise in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, Michael Shapiro (1994) asserts that the triple-layering of the Rosalind character—that of a boy actor playing a female who pretends to be a male—afforded the performer a rich opportunity to demonstrate his art. Shapiro explores how the actor portraying Rosalind dominates the dramatic action and, by extension, the audience's perception of the play. Clare R. Kinney (1998) turns to Shakespeare's sources to elucidate the character of Rosalind, tracing her literary evolution from Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender (1579), to Lodge's Rosalynde, to As You Like It. Kinney contends that by varying degrees each of the authors prevents Rosalind the artist from fully expressing herself through the application of extratextual cultural influences and intratextual strategies of recontainment. In her 2003 study of fathers and daughters in Shakespeare's plays, Sharon Hamilton discusses Rosalind in terms of her thematic role as an authority figure who orchestrates much of the action in As You Like It. Commentators have also considered the dramatic significance of Jaques—a cynical malcontent who is seemingly out of place in Arden. Robert Bennett (1976) examines the literary heritage that Shakespeare drew upon in order to create Jaques, noting that he is “Shakespeare's and Elizabethan drama's only fully conceived comic malcontent.” Bennett concludes that Shakespeare's transformation of the literary archetype is crucial in that Jacques serves as a satirical complement to the idealized romantic behavior of the other characters in Arden.

Several recent theatrical productions of As You Like It have emphasized the engaging character of Rosalind and the fantastic possibilities of the forest of Arden. In 1999 Barry Edelstein presented As You Like It at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts—a production distinguished by Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind. Indeed, most critics admitted that their primary interest in the production was to see how well Paltrow performed in the demanding role of Shakespeare's heroine. They generally agreed that she gave an insightful and refined performance, but noted that Edelstein's overall production lacked the same qualities. The following year, Gregory Doran mounted a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) rendition of As You Like It at Stratford-upon-Avon. The majority of critics derided this production for its emphasis on lurid, gaudy scenery. Reviewers further contended that the cast gave uninspired, transparent performances, with the principal offender being Alexandra Gilbreath's Rosalind. In 2003 the RSC presented another version of As You Like It, this time with director Gregory Thompson at the helm. Most commentators argued that Thompson's gratuitously somber interpretation, combined with an inexorable pace and merely competent acting, produced a markedly gloomy and turgid adaptation of Shakespeare's festive comedy. That same year, Peter Hall presented As You Like It at the Theatre Royal in Bath. This staging incorporated minimal scenic decoration and exacting elocutionary standards. Overall, critics were impressed with Hall's direct, unpretentious interpretation of the play and with the veteran actors' polished performances. Reviewers particularly admired the alluring and graceful Rosalind portrayed by Hall's daughter, Rebecca.

Modern critical analyses of As You Like It have probed the play's structure, language, and ideological influences in an effort to elucidate the comedy's central themes. John Russell Brown (see Further Reading) examines how Shakespeare adroitly employed language and wordplay to energize the complex dramatic action in the play. Ruth Nevo (1980) also views As You Like It as a specimen of Shakespeare's self-assured dramatic technique, pointing out that in the course of the play the playwright elevates dramatic comedy to a sophisticated art form in which the characters act improvisationally rather than within the traditional classical model. Nathaniel Strout (2001) considers the concept of mutuality in As You Like It, maintaining that it reinforces the purpose of drama, which is to establish the “dynamic nature of the relationship between audience and play, spectator and actor.” According to Strout, As You Like It endorses the concept of mutuality through its characters' expressions of love and through the choices they make; by contrast, Lodge's Rosalynde reinforces the patriarchal system of rigid, absolute human behavior. Several modern commentators have analyzed the cultural and historical circumstances that may have informed the pastoral milieu of Shakespeare's Arden forest. Richard Wilson (see Further Reading) discusses Shakespeare's invention of Arden as a satire of the social and political conflict between the Elizabethan court and its rural constituents in the late sixteenth century. Peter Milward (2001) posits that the locale of Arden reflects the playwright's nostalgic desire to recreate a time and place that existed before the ecclesiastical disruption and persecution brought about by the Tudor dynasty. Linda Woodbridge (2004) considers the historical and cultural contempt for pastoralism, asserting that “[n]obody listens to this Cassandra among genres. Even in its most oppositional moments, it has been cast as a tool of the establishment.” Woodbridge then attempts to rescue pastoralism from centuries of critical disparagement by demonstrating how Shakespeare used it to establish a romantic antithesis to the courtly intrigue and manipulation in As You Like It.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

Ruth Nevo (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Nevo, Ruth. “Existence in Arden.” In Comic Transformations in Shakespeare, pp. 180-99. London: Metheun & Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Nevo argues that in As You Like It Shakespeare transformed the genre of comedy into a sophisticated art form in which the characters act improvisationally rather than adhering to the bounds of the traditional classical model.]

The two great comedies composed during the last years of the sixteenth century share many features which place them in something of a class apart. One of these is the confident, even demonstrative nonchalance with which they relate to the Terentian tradition. It is as if Shakespeare...

(The entire section is 7068 words.)

Linda Woodbridge (essay date 2004)

SOURCE: Woodbridge, Linda. “County Matters: As You Like It and the Pastoral-Bashing Impulse.” In Re-Visions of Shakespeare: Essays in Honor of Robert Ornstein, edited by Evelyn Gajowski, pp. 189-214. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.

[In the following essay, Woodbridge attempts to rescue the genre of pastoralism from critical and cultural malignity, demonstrating how it serves as a viable romantic antithesis to the intrigue and manipulation of the court in As You Like It.]

Audiences delight in As You Like It, but critics often get twitchy about it, which seems odd. The play after all features cross-dressing, the biggest female speaking role...

(The entire section is 10119 words.)

Criticism: Character Studies

Robert B. Bennett (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: Bennett, Robert B. “The Reform of a Malcontent: Jaques and the Meaning of As You Like It.Shakespeare Studies 9 (1976): 183-204.

[In the following essay, Bennett assesses Shakespeare's rationale for including Jaques—a cynical malcontent—in the pastoral realm of Arden, concluding that Jaques provides a satirical complement to the idealized romantic behavior of the other characters in the forest.]

I

Shakespeare's portrayal of Jacques in As You Like It is one of the earliest significant studies in Elizabethan drama of the malcontent, that age's version of the social dropout or alienated intellectual. Moreover,...

(The entire section is 9050 words.)

Clare R. Kinney (essay date February 1998)

SOURCE: Kinney, Clare R. “Feigning Female Faining: Spenser, Lodge, Shakespeare, and Rosalind.” Modern Philology 95, no. 3 (February 1998): 291-315.

[In the following essay, Kinney surveys the character of Rosalind from its inception in Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender (1579), to Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), and finally to Shakespeare's As You Like It. The critic contends that by varying degrees the authors prevent Rosalind from fully expressing herself as an artist through the application of extratextual cultural influences and intratextual strategies of recontainment.]

Toward the end of the sixteenth century, three Englishmen create...

(The entire section is 11252 words.)

Sharon Hamilton (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Hamilton, Sharon. “Daughters Who Act in Their Fathers' Stead: Portia (The Merchant of Venice), Viola (Twelfth Night), and Rosalind (As You Like It).” In Shakespeare's Daughters, pp. 125-50. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2003.

[In the following excerpt, Hamilton discusses Rosalind in terms of her role as the authority figure who orchestrates much of the action in As You Like It.]

Rosalind, like her sister heroines, is made to fend for herself in the world. She, too, chooses male disguise as protection and release. Because her father is not dead but merely exiled, however, we get to see his influence at firsthand. More than...

(The entire section is 4275 words.)

Criticism: Production Reviews

Ben Brantley (review date 9 August 1999)

SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “As Rosalind Grows, So Does an Actress.” New York Times (9 August 1999): E1, E3.

[In the following review, Brantley praises Gwyneth Paltrow's performance as Rosalind in the Williamstown Theater Festival staging of As You Like It, but concludes that director Barry Edelstein's overly artificial production worked against Paltrow's fine portrayal.]

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...

(The entire section is 1326 words.)

Brendan Lemon (review date 16 August 1999)

SOURCE: Lemon, Brendan. “Poised Paltrow Is Jazzed Up.” Financial Times (16 August 1999): 12.

[In the following review, Lemon provides a favorable evaluation of Barry Edelstein's Williamstown Theater Festival rendering of As You Like It, singling out its jazzy, improvisational tone and Gwyneth Paltrow's accomplished Rosalind.]

As You Like It has been through so many permutations of race, class, and gender of late that it comes as something of a relief in Barry Edelstein's straightforward, slightly eccentric production to realise that directorial conceits will be kept to a minimum. The staging, which just completed a brief, hoopla-attended run in...

(The entire section is 657 words.)

Alastair Macaulay (review date 3 April 2000)

SOURCE: Macaulay, Alastair. “A Rosalind Who Is As We Don't Like It.” Financial Times (3 April 2000): 18.

[In the following review, Macaulay dismisses Gregory Doran's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of As You Like It as tedious, censuring Doran's uninspired direction, numerous shallow performances, and the musical accompaniment.]

As You Like It can cast so many different lights and can show so many depths (“my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal”): how come the Royal Shakespeare Company keeps giving it one prettily lightweight and simple-minded production after another?

Gregory Doran's new RSC...

(The entire section is 641 words.)

Ian Shuttleworth (review date 5 January 2001)

SOURCE: Shuttleworth, Ian. “Shakespeare's Ripping Yarn Is a Happy Treat.” Financial Times (5 January 2001): 16.

[In the following review, Shuttleworth commends Gregory Doran's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) revival of As You Like It at London's Pit theater, noting that it displayed a vigor that was lacking in the initial Stratford-upon-Avon run.]

When Gregory Doran's “knitwear” RSC production As You Like It opened in Stratford last spring, it was fervently rubbished by virtually all reviewers. Perhaps it is that it no longer has to stand invidious comparison with Michael Grandage's thoughtful, profound version which was also going the rounds at...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Patrick Carnegy (review date 29 March 2003)

SOURCE: Carnegy, Patrick. “Cool Customers.” Spectator 291, no. 9112 (29 March 2003): 57-8.

[In the following review, Carnegy maintains that Gregory Thompson's emphasis on the dark, melancholic aspects of As You Like It in his Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production would have been more compelling if not for the distraction of Nina Sosanya's overly masculine interpretation of Rosalind.]

Stratford emerges from winter hibernation with an As You Like It that, not inappropriately, takes a chill view of this uneasy comedy. And this is certainly a welcome corrective to the RSC's previous effort, a mere two years ago, in which the Forest of Arden was a...

(The entire section is 795 words.)

Katherine Duncan-Jones (review date 4 April 2003)

SOURCE: Duncan-Jones, Katherine. “Fidelity in a Forest.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5218 (4 April 2003): 20.

[In the following review, Duncan-Jones offers a mixed assessment of Gregory Thompson's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) staging of As You Like It, praising the principal actors' performances, but lamenting the director's emphasis on somberness and his gratuitous theatrical interpolations.]

As You Like It has always attracted adapters. The earliest performance record we have is not of the play itself, but of Charles Johnson's Love in a Forest (1723), which pasted bits of it together with extracts from several other plays, including...

(The entire section is 737 words.)

Alastair Macaulay (review date 20 August 2003)

SOURCE: Macaulay, Alastair. Review of As You Like It. Financial Times (20 August 2003): 13.

[In the following review, Macaulay commends Peter Hall's presentation of As You Like It at the Theatre Royal, Bath, for its refreshing straightforwardness.]

It's improbable but true that Peter Hall, who has been directing plays professionally for 50 years and who has been one of our dominant Shakespearian stylists throughout that time, is tackling As You Like It for the first time. He lays it before us now as if it had been maturing in his heart all the while. Nowhere is there anything phoney. Our hearts beat with several different views of the same...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Criticism: Themes

Michael Shapiro (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Shapiro, Michael. “Layers of Disguise: As You Like It.” In Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages, pp. 119-42. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Shapiro analyzes the device of the cross-gender disguise in Shakespeare's As You Like It, as well as in the plays of some of Shakespeare's contemporaries.]

Even more ingenious than adding a second or third heroine in cross-gender disguise, as Shakespeare did in The Merchant of Venice, is having the cross-dressed heroine take on a second cross-gender disguise. It would be as if Balthazar, Portia's disguised male alter ego,...

(The entire section is 11412 words.)

Nathaniel Strout (essay date spring 2001)

SOURCE: Strout, Nathaniel. “As You Like It, Rosalynde, and Mutuality.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 41, no. 2 (spring 2001): 277-95.

[In the following essay, Strout maintains that in As You Like It Shakespeare advocated the concept of mutuality through his characters' expressions of love and through the choices that they make. The critic contrasts this notion of mutuality with Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), which reinforces a patriarchal order based on rigid, absolute human behavior.]

Over the years, critics have noted a variety of thematic oppositions in As You Like It: fortune versus nature, country versus court, a...

(The entire section is 8049 words.)

Peter Milward (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Milward, Peter. “Religion in Arden.” Shakespeare Survey 54 (2001): 115-21.

[In the following essay, Milward posits that the locale of Arden may represent Shakespeare's dramatic invention of a pro-Catholic realm free from the religious persecution of the Tudor dynasty.]

It is strange how scant is the attention customarily paid to the precise locality of the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Agnes Latham, in her New Arden edition of the play (1975), expresses the general opinion that it is set in ‘the Ardennes on the border of Belgium and Luxemburg’, while allowing that Shakespeare and many in his audience ‘could identify it easily...

(The entire section is 4649 words.)

Further Reading

CRITICISM

Belsey, Catherine. “Desire in the Golden World: Love's Labour's Lost and As You Like It.” In Shakespeare and the Loss of Eden: The Construction of Family Values in Early Modern Culture, pp. 27-54. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Argues that while As You Like It is structured like a fairy tale, the play also addresses ambivalent early modern cultural attitudes toward love, marriage, and family.

Brown, John Russell. “As You Like It.” In Shakespeare's Dramatic Style: Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, pp. 72-103. New York: Barnes &...

(The entire section is 491 words.)