The Gender of Rosalind

In SHAKESPEARE OUR CONTEMPORARY (1964) Kott argued that the Renaissance playwright particularly appealed to twentieth century audiences because they share the nihilistic vision underlying all of Shakespeare’s works. Kott’s analysis here remains dark, but he focuses on the universal rather than the peculiarly modern aspects of Shakespearean drama.

The title essay explores the role of androgyny in AS YOU LIKE IT, in which Rosalind disguises herself as Ganymede. Kott observes that this metamorphosis is complex: the Female Rosalind actually was played by a boy, so the comedy presents a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy who, to cure Orlando of love, assumes the role of a girl. Moreover, the mythical Ganymede was himself androgynous, sexually appealing to Zeus. Theophile Gautier’s MADEMOISELLE DE MAUPIN (1835), also dealing with androgyny, includes an amateur production of AS YOU LIKE IT, and Kott notes that other French works of the period share this fascination with ambiguous sexuality.

The second essay, “Head for Maidenhead, Maidenhead for Head,” considers the various excesses and deficiencies evident in MEASURE FOR MEASURE in the areas of law, sex, and family. Though Shakespeare’s play draws heavily on George Whetstone’s moralistic HISTORIE OF PROMOS AND CASSANDRA (1578), MEASURE FOR MEASURE transforms its source “into an antimorality play,” according to Kott.

The third piece collected here compares JULIUS CAESAR and Georg Buchner’s DANTONS TOD (Danton’s Death, 1835), which consciously echoes Shakespeare’s play to illustrate the murder, violence, and treachery that characterize what Kott elsewhere has called the Grand Mechanism of history. A short appendix offers suggestions for staging the ghost in HAMLET.

Combining performance criticism, comparative literature, and close textual readings, Kott’s book will interest all students of Shakespeare, theater, and Romanticism. Its eighty-six pages of text are filled with insight and learning.