What is your position on whether Shakespeare's As You Like It shows liberated female characters?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a particularly intriguing question, as this play is a favourite of feminist critics, who see in Rosalind perhaps Shakespeare's most liberated female. It is clear that there is a strong case for this: she disguises herself as a male in a man's world, and then goes on to offer advice to the man she loves about how he should woo her, effectively reshaping ideas and conventions of gender roles in her world. This is hilarious in parts where Rosalind lampoons Elizabethan notions of how the male lover should act. For example, note how realistic and deadpan Rosalind is in her humour when, in her disguise as Ganymede, Orlando tells her he would die if Rosalind did not return his love:

Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

This is something that is seen repeatedly in the play as Rosalind is used to challenge gender conventions both of gender roles and of how the sexes should act towards each other. This, in combination with the fact that it is the character of Rosalind who delivers the Epilogue of the play, would lend credence to the argument that women in this play are very liberated.

However, at the same time, it is possible to argue the opposite. Although Rosalind does enjoy a certain amount of agency in the play, at the same time she always exists in a male dominated world. For example, Celia and Rosalind need male protection when they flee the court. Celia is hardly an example of a liberated female, as she remains in her women's clothes and does not disguise herself. Also, the end of the play concludes with all of the significant female characters being married, entering a form of societally acceptable servitude. The forest in many of Shakespeare's works is a place of ambiguity and role-reversal, and women may enjoy a limited amount of freedom within it, but at the end of the day, the play could suggest, women have to return to the harsh world of reality where they are definitely viewed--and treated like--the weaker sex.

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As You Like It

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