Download As You Like It Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Shakespearean Criticism)

As You Like It

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...

(The entire section is 57,118 words.)