Robert B. Bennett (essay date 1976)

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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.]


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, Shakespeare is the only playwright to subject the malcontent to a pastoral experience, to make him more an object of social criticism and romantic correction than an authorial mouthpiece for anatomizing the ills of society. Jaques' kinship with the Italianate Englishman and with the behavioral patterns which are typical of the figure commonly labeled malcontent by Elizabethans has been the subject of a number of critical studies and will receive further attention later in this essay. My chief concern, however, is not Jaques' literary heritage but Shakespeare's dramatic intentions and achievements in including a malcontent in the romantic world of Arden Forest.

In a catalogue of Elizabethan character types, Jaques shares the label malcontent with such major figures as Hamlet, Malevole, Bussy, Vindice, Flamineo, and Bosola, but their common traits are mostly superficial. Even more important, the exigencies of a romantic milieu differ radically from those of a tragic or darkly satiric one and necessarily alter the role which a malcontent can play. The contrasts between Jaques and these other malcontents, however, are instructive of Shakespeare's special achievement, and it is helpful to understand first how the malcontent typically functions in his more common environment of the satiric drama of court intrigue. The following observations about Jaques' serious counterparts are made with the characters Hamlet, Malevole, Bussy, Vindice, Flamineo, and Bosola especially in mind. Obviously, no single point can apply with equal validity to all of the characters, and a number of generalizations will apply only to most of them; but these characters do possess a similarity in dramatic function based upon their common conception as genuine malcontents that will be evident when they are viewed in contrast with their nominal kin, Jaques.

Behind all of the malcontents lies an unfulfilled potential for greatness, particularly for being a model of the complete Renaissance man, “the courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword.” The malcontents are intelligent men, deprived of a world governed by reason and virtue in which their talents might have been nurtured and exercised to full expression. They are able both to abstract experience into moral philosophy and to make immediate judgments about character and situation in the course of conversation and action. In other words, they are effective as both thinkers and doers. The two activities are frequently incompatible, however, and the necessity to be either a thinker or a doer forms a central tension in the character of the malcontent. John Webster is careful to alert us early in both The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi that Flamineo and Bosola are at heart men of quality. Only because they have found no market in their worlds for virtuous counsel have they chosen to be doers, which for them means a life of villainy. Their choice has not been one of preference, as it would have been for a machiavel, but rather one of constitutional necessity. As men of energy and ability in human affairs, they find especially galling the poverty, idleness, and exclusion from positions of influence that inevitably attend men who govern their actions by rules of honor and morality. Their choice of villainy grows out of despair, not innate evil. Concerning Bosola of The Duchess of Malfi, the honest Antonio comments:

                                        'Tis great pitty
He should be thus neglected—I have heard
He's very valiant: This foule mellancholly
Will poyson all his goodnesse.
.....                                                            want of action
Breeds all blacke male-contents.


The bleaker world of The White Devil affords Flamineo no such sympathetic spokesman, but he tells us of his scholarly background in the very process of denouncing it to his mother as degrading, debilitating, and, by inference, useless in attaining the position of authority for which it supposedly was training him.

                                                  You brought me up,
At Padua I confesse, where I protest
For want of meanes, the University judge me,
I have bene faine to heele my Tutors stockings
At least seven yeares.


In a similarly ironic way we hear of Vindice's scholarly nature at the point where he finds it an undesirable virtue. Having, after nine years of idleness, his first opportunity to avenge the death of his betrothed, Gloriana, by becoming a “child o' the court,” he chooses to repress moral sensibilities, invoking Impudence:

Strike thou my forehead into dauntless marble,
Mine eyes to steady sapphires; turn my visage,
And if I must needs glow, let me blush inward,
That this immodest season may not spy
That scholar in my cheeks.


Since one might conclude, judging only from their actions, that these three characters bear closer resemblance to machiavels like Lorenzo (The Spanish Tragedy), Iago, and Edmund than to the free-spirited malcontents Hamlet, Malevole, and Bussy, it is important for an understanding of their dramatic function as malcontents to recognize their kinship with these latter characters in their reflective habits of mind, their inherent moral sensibility, and their high-spirited refusal to accept idleness as the lot of the virtuous man.

The multi-sided and high-spirited intellect is the malcontent's most significant dramatic characteristic. Because of it he provides the playwright with a natural means for integrating tragic vision and tragic action. The malcontent's scholarly bent makes him a proper exponent of the moral and philosophical matter that in other tragedies is usually relegated to a character on the periphery of the action: a chorus, a fool, or a sententious counselor. Because the malcontent is himself centrally involved in the plot of the play, his discourses do not intrude on the dramatic action but rather become a part of it, helping to shape his own feelings and actions. We find an interesting example of this process in Hamlet's speech beginning “What a piece of work is a man!” In addition to its intrinsic poetic appeal, this meditation, or consolatio philosophiae, aids Hamlet in coping with his frustration and disappointment over his friends' disloyalty while at the same time diverting them from the specific cause of his melancholy.

Through the actions and fates of the free-spirited malcontents Malevole, Hamlet, and Bussy the playwrights explore ways in which virtue is able to assert itself or is defeated in a world dominated by evil. Of central interest is how the malcontent can participate in his world without becoming tainted by it. The tension resulting from this dual responsibility is a shaping force in the malcontent's condition. His spirited sense of honor and moral responsibility impels him to enter the world and brave its corrupting influences in order to reform it, even though he despises the task. Thus it is wrong, for example, to say that sheer desire for power lies behind Malevole's disguising and plotting to win back his place as Duke of Genoa. He himself persuades Pietro of the folly of such desires by likening the court to a bawdy-house and the world to a dung heap upon which the cosmic elements cast their excrement,3 and his admonitions to Pietro must be taken seriously. Through them we perceive the conflict in Malevole between a sense of his obligation to regain his rightful position and a contempt for his world which inclines him away from action and involvement. The conflict is developed to its highest point in Hamlet, where the Prince is placed in precisely this dilemma by the Ghost's charge: “But, howsoever thou pursuest this act, / Taint not thy mind. …” (I.v.84-85).4 Hamlet accepts the responsibility to revenge with anguish because he knows the moral dangers involved: “The time is out of joint;—O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” Bussy, like Hamlet, involves himself in the court world he despises out of a sense of obligation to reform it: “I am for honest actions, not for great: / If I may bring up a new fashion, / And rise in Court with virtue, speed his plough” (I.i.124-26).5 The strong odds against virtue's succeeding in such a world are dramatized not only by the malcontent's relative isolation in court—Malevole can trust only Celso; Hamlet, only Horatio—but also by the subverting effect of the malcontent's own wasted and unsettled condition. The sheer intensity of his vision of evil is itself corroding, and his outrage exhausts his energies in frustration. Poverty, idleness, and neglect, typically suffered by the malcontent, warp his spirit as they waste his body.

The effort to avoid the taint of a corrupt world is not a dramatic issue in the roles of Vindice, Flamineo, and Bosola. They have repressed the stirrings of conscience and chosen to engage in villainous intrigue rather than imprison their high spirits in useless poverty and idleness. But just as we wonder with the free-spirited malcontents how far they can sustain their virtue, we wonder with these whether they can prevent their schooled and natural sensibilities and self-respect from surfacing. For example, in The White Devil Flamineo violates the rules of his assumed role as tool villain when he refuses to cower before his patron Brachiano's abuse at their meeting before the house of convertites (IV.ii.45-71). Later when Flamineo is brought before Brachiano for murdering his brother Marcello, the Duke grants him no pardon but only a lease on his life to be renewed daily “or be hang'd,” and he explains his sentence: “You once did brave mee in your sisters lodging; / I'le now keepe you in awe for't” (V.ii.77-78). Ironically Flamineo is brought low because of his one overt show of personal integrity. A similar tension marks Bosola's deeds of villainy and explains his later reform. With Vindice there is less a sense of tension than of exquisite irony in his constant flow of moral commentary as he gleefully sets about his plot to torture and murder the Duke.

Despite the seeming pleasure with which, at times, these villainous malcontents engage in spying, pandering, and murder, all voice, just as the free-spirited malcontents do, sentiments of contemptus mundi that counterpoint their active participation in the intrigues of court life. The true malcontent is a reservoir of unresolved tensions and contradictions. His philosophical bent, his social alienation, and his psychological instability serve vitally the dramatic interests of theme, plot, and characterization. Because the malcontent shares his musings and satiric vision with us and sometimes preaches to us, we typically view the action and the other characters through his eyes. This is absolutely true of Hamlet and in varying degrees true of the others. We generally respect the malcontent's view of the world even if we cannot condone his actions.

Now, the image of a man standing defiantly against the current of a society that seeks to wash away his integrity and independence stirs our romantic sensibilities; and commentaries indicate that many romantic young men of Shakespeare's time displayed the malcontent's marks of noble suffering—his dishevelled appearance and blunt, unmannerly speech—in hopes of persuading others and themselves that they possessed an innate greatness of spirit. In most the manner must have been mere affectation, for it takes, after all, the rare combination of a morally sensitive and self-reliant person living in an unusually decadent environment to generate these forms of behavior naturally. When a malcontent's environment is not really evil, his display of cynicism and melancholy is evidence of either a corrupt nature or a foolish fashion. But except for Shakespeare, whom John Davies of Hereford distinguished as having “no rayling, but, a raigning Wit,”6 Jacobean playwrights could not free their attention enough from the ills of society to concentrate on its redeeming qualities and to portray, in what might even appear self-parody, the potential absurdity in malcontent posturings. Jaques is Shakespeare's and Elizabethan drama's only fully conceived comic malcontent.7

Jaques cannot, like his tragic counterparts, be a confidant of the audience, because his expressed view of his world is not consonant with the one we see. The incongruity, in fact, alerts us that his manner derives not from experience but from a romanticized image of himself. Jaques has no serious personal dilemma; Arden is remarkably free from the kind of conditions that usually induce the malcontent state. And he, far from having the tragic malcontent's acute sensitivity to the nature of his surroundings, is notably lacking in awareness. The comic action of the play anatomizes the folly of Jaques' malcontent for the viewer's edification and, within the context of the play, for Jaques' own reformation.

To understand Jaques' role in As You Like It, we need first to define what in the nature of Arden makes it an ideal community for spiritual instruction and to realize why Jaques' nature is basically compatible with this benign human environment. Such an inquiry leads us to view Jaques' nature and the reasons for his malcontent manner in more positive terms than they have generally been accorded and consequently enables us to see how he contributes to and benefits from the lessons of the forest and at the end is cleansed of his malcontent.


The concept of nature that operates in the romantic worlds of Shakespeare's comedies derives from the principle that God created the world out of love. Love is by definition the ultimate source of order and of physical and spiritual generation in nature. It is also the strongest force in nature, superior to the powers of fortune, evil, custom, and time. Accordingly, if a man chooses not to act out of love, he chooses to be unnatural and thereby destroys the harmony of his own spirit and of the social unit within his sphere of influence. His world then becomes subject to the unstable and capricious rule of those lesser orders of power in nature whose prevalence calls forth genuine malcontent.

In As You Like It fortune rules in the self-seeking world of Duke Frederick's court. There Celia bids Rosalind, “Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally,” to which Rosalind agrees that “[Fortune's] benefits are mightily misplaced” (I.ii.34-38). Their ensuing conversation foreshadows the change of ruling powers that is about to occur in their experience. Celia says of Fortune, “those that she makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favouredly,” to which Rosalind corrects, “Nay, now thou goest from Fortune's office to Nature's. Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature” (I.ii.40-45).

By contrast to the world of Duke Frederick's court, the society in Arden is in harmony with nature because it originates in and grows through love, manifest in selfless giving and spiritual instruction. Jaques is a contributor to as well as a beneficiary of this creative environment. The society in Arden as we know it has really begun when Jaques, together with other loyal courtiers, has voluntarily forfeited his lands to help the Duke survive in the wilderness. He may compose a verse (II.v.52-59) proclaiming himself and others fools for leaving their wealth and ease to please a stubborn will, but the act itself speaks for a generous and kind nature beneath the cynical veneer. This pattern of service is repeated and the society grows as newcomers banished from civilization arrive at the forest physically spent and are brought relief by other human beings already there. Corin provides for Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone; the Duke aids Orlando and Adam; Orlando saves Oliver from the lioness. This last instance, as Oliver recounts it, is particularly instructive of how love overrules fortune and custom in an ordered nature:

Twice did he turn his back and purpos'd so [to leave];
But kindness, nobler ever than revenge,
And nature, stronger than his just occasion,
Made him give battle to the lioness.


In allowing kindness and mercy to overrule his own baser inclination for revenge, Orlando acts in time to prevent fortune from taking its course with the lioness' victim; moreover, in saving Oliver's life he also moves him to a spiritual conversion and reconciliation. In thus deciding the fate of his older brother, Orlando has shown nature (“kindness”) to be a truer authority than the custom of primogeniture by which he earlier had been misruled.

These deeds of physical service indicate the spiritual readiness of the persons in Arden, including Jaques, for the kind of education that the forest experience can provide. Those whom we see in Arden are not perfect; otherwise, there would be no point to all the discussion in the play. But from the start they have manifested by their actions the kind of selflessness that will make them receptive to the lessons of the forest. The elemental lesson that the winter wilderness has taught its inhabitants is that love, shown in mutual service, is the human faculty most essential to survival. All having learned this basic rule are ready for the instruction that each can provide the other in their various encounters in the forest. In the perfectly free forum of the forest persons converse and criticize and in the process refine themselves and the audience. No idea is left unqualified, and nearly every idea has some measure of truth. Each person contributes to the spirit of the forest; but, being less than the whole, each individual nature is made better by it.

In light of this dramatic structure, it is easier to explain why Jaques is so important to the play despite his irrelevance to the plot. His predisposition to moralizing and philosophizing is not simply to provide entertaining embellishment; it perfectly fits the conversational design of the play. Shakespeare's addition of Touchstone and Jaques to the company he found in Lodge's romantic narrative provides As You like It with two characters expressing explicitly cultivated court views. Thus, as Eugene Waith has nicely phrased it, Touchstone and Jaques are critics of romantic behavior through whom Shakespeare is able to balance “one convention against another, the romantic against the satiric.”8 They represent man's art through their court wit, and they represent textbook education in juxtaposition to Corin's natural philosophy and to the refined aristocratic natures of the Duke, Orlando, and Rosalind. Moreover, just as Jaques' “matter” helps balance the debates, so his cynicism brings a needed tartness to an otherwise too sweet scene, even though it is precisely this cynicism which must be purged from Jaques himself. Finally, his easily satirized eccentricity makes him conducive rather than offensive to the comic spirit.


While the broad lines of Jaques' dramatic function are hardly in dispute, there remains considerable disagreement over the more specific matters of how seriously and exactly in what way we are to judge Jaques for his melancholy malcontent. Since Zera Fink's important article, “Jaques and the Malcontent Traveller,” the idea has been generally aired that Jaques both puts on a melancholy fashion of the age and is genuinely melancholic.9 But Jaques' melancholy fashion is part of a larger pose of intellectualism. His preoccupation with bookish matters appears frequently. He is anxious to know from Amiens whether he has properly described the verses of his song by the term stanzos (II.v.17-19). He is thrilled by Touchstone's ability to rail in set terms, and his own defense of satire and his discourse on the seven ages of man sound like exercises learned and recited by rote. His melancholy is similarly practiced if we may judge from the care and pride with which he distinguishes it from other forms of melancholy in his conversation with Rosalind (IV.i.1-26).

Jaques is a would-be intellectual, not a misanthrope, though he confuses the two; and his melancholy is donned to impress others with his wisdom. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare referred briefly to this type, who dons a melancholy pose to convey an impression of philosophical preoccupation and wisdom. There Gratiano berates his friend Antonio for acting melancholy:

There are a sort of men whose visages
Do cream and mantle like a standing pond,
And do a wilful stillness entertain,
With purpose to be dress'd in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit
.....                              I do know of these
That therefore only are reputed wise
For saying nothing, when, I am very sure,
If they should speak, would almost damn those ears
Which, hearing them, would call their brothers fools.


Ben Jonson's satiric persona Asper describes the same assumed posture to Mitis in the conversational preface to Every Man out of His Humour:

And Mitis, note me, if in all this front,
You can espy a gallant of this marke,
Who (to be thought one of the iudicious)
Sits with his armes thus wreath'd,
                              his hat pull'd here,
Cryes meaw, and nods, then shakes his empty head.


We should see Jaques in this company and recognize that in affecting a melancholy disposition he is really trying to appear and to be the malcontent philosopher. Jaques, however, is not a vacuous simpleton putting on airs of intellectual refinement but rather a seriously motivated intellectual whose efforts have in part been perverted by a misunderstanding of what constitutes true wisdom.

The degree to which we can attribute genuine melancholy to Jaques is less certain. To discount the presence of melancholy altogether we must discount the Duke's references to Jaques' “sullen fits,” which before we even see him incline us to regard him as a melancholy man even though he seldom, if ever, appears genuinely melancholy on stage. To credit him at such times as the seven-ages-of-man speech with a measure of genuine intellectual melancholy and not simply affectation is to give Jaques and the play moments of sober reflection which nicely vary the predominantly light mood without disrupting the overall comic effect. But here a distinction should be made between the sober meditation of the melancholy scholar and the cynicism of the malcontent. If we say that Jaques is genuinely malcontent—that is, if we say that his cynicism is ingrained as well as practiced—then I believe we have mistaken fashion for nature. If Jaques not only behaves cynically but is a real cynic, then we must not simply criticize him for being foolishly captivated by current fashion but denounce him as damnable for his lack of compassion, an indictment which is altogether too harsh in relation to his behavior or to the spirit of the play.

Helen Gardner takes his cynicism as genuine. Jaques is “the cynic, the person who prefers the pleasures of superiority, cold-eyed and cold-hearted. The tyrannical Duke Frederick and the cruel Oliver can be converted; but not Jaques. He likes himself as he is.” She concludes: “Jaques arrogates to himself the divine role. He has opted out from the human condition.”11 This judgment requires us to take Jaques' cynicism seriously throughout and not view it as merely a fashionable pose. It also denies that any sense of conversion is implicit in the kind tone of his final speech to the Duke and the lovers.

By contrast we have Erwin Panofsky's somewhat startling evaluation: “A climax of refinement [of intellectual melancholy] is reached in Shakespeare's Jaques who uses the mask of a melancholic by fashion and snobbery to hide the fact that he is a genuine one.”12 To accept Panofsky's interpretation, we would have to view the constant satirizing to which Jaques is subjected as misdirected, inasmuch as Jaques would be as aware as his critics are that his melancholy manner is put on and in addition would be conscious of a need for it which they do not perceive. Panofsky's position exaggerates Jaques' intellectual awareness and rules out the possibility of a final conversion. Michael Jamieson interprets Jaques' melancholy less literally: “The fact that Jaques' melancholy is shown to be a carefully cultivated state makes him an appropriate figure for comedy, not an authoritative philosopher.”13 If not his melancholy, his pose of cynicism certainly makes him foolish, not vile or noble. For understanding Jaques this perspective must be kept in mind; fashion must not be confused with reality.

We should be warned by Jaques' dramatic, social, and literary antecedents from taking too literally the misanthropic manner that he parades. In dramatic function Jaques is not of a kind with Timon, who is a genuine misanthrope and a subject for tragedy; nor is he like the malcontents of humours comedy, Macilente (Jonson's Every Man out of His Humour) and Dowsecer (Chapman's An Humourous Day's Mirth). These serve as moral spokesmen for their authors because they are the rare voices of sanity in a society ruled by unnatural custom and fashion. Jaques, by contrast, is the most artificial character in Arden, with the possible exception of Phoebe.

Dramatically he is the descendant of the fantastical melancholy Spaniard, Don Adriano de Armado, though with Jaques the fashion of the intellectual traveler has changed in important ways. Jaques, like Armado, presumes himself a great wit, is a meticulous observer of form, and is welcomed into the courtly company for the entertainment he will provide. As described by the King of Navarre, Armado is

                    a refined traveller of Spain;
A man in all the world's new fashion planted,
          That hath a mint of phrases in his brain;
One who the music of his own vain tongue
          Doth ravish like enchanting harmony.

(Love's Labour's Lost, I.i.164-68)

Longaville welcomes the news of this knight's presence: “Costard the swain and he shall be our sport” (I.i.180). The roles of Touchstone and Jaques are, in a general sense, dramatically parallel to those of this earlier pair. But by 1600 the Spanish Armada was no longer topical, and the traveler's fashion of malcontent was well established. Jaques' resemblance to the malcontent traveler has been accurately described by Zera S. Fink, and Fink's description needs only to be quickly recalled and slightly refined here.14 Jaques mirrors the contemporary self-conscious gentleman who must travel, preferably to Italy, and return appearing melancholy to prove to others that his experiences have made him wise. He cultivates the image of Diogenes or Juvenal, not Machiavelli, and he is a philosophical, not a political, Italianate Englishman. Fink relates Jaques to the description of the malcontent in William Rankin's The English Ape (1588) and to Marston's Bruto in Certaine Satyres (1598), as distinct from Lodge's sketch in Wits Miserie (1596) of the machiavellian malcontent Scandal-Detraction. Equally valid analogues of intellectual malcontents are Nashe's Pierce Penilesse (1591) and Robert Greene's self-description in The Repentaunce of Robert Greene (1592).15

Jaques is also properly to be linked with the then current mode of railing satire. His stock satirist's defense against the accusation of libel (II.vii.70-87) and such railing phrases as “I will through and through / Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world” (II.vii.59-60) place him unquestionably in the company of contemporary Juvenalians. The controversial and highly popular satiric style of coarse rhetoric which Marston affected in his satires of 1598 and 1599 was easily and appropriately incorporated into the manner of the melancholy intellectual, completing his appearance as a malcontent.

The malcontent traits of moral seriousness and satiric manner, which distinguish Jaques from Armado, give greater depth to his character and greater flexibility to his role as a fashionable intellectual in the more mature comedy. Whereas the King of Navarre expects only laughable elocution from Armado, the Duke enjoys Jaques because he is a philosopher, “full of matter.” Perhaps Sir John Harington's irreverent satirical manner, which at various times delighted and annoyed the Queen, encouraged around the turn of the century the frequent dramatization of princes welcoming moralizing railers.16 At any rate, we may agree with the Duke that while the malcontent manner distorts learning by casting everything in a negative light, it does not preclude a sincere intellectual disposition and a measure of profitable knowledge. Thus Jaques is not limited to the role of unwitting entertainer but can contribute to the philosophical dialogue in Arden. In addition, the malcontent fashion itself dictates a life of austerity, moral propriety, and meditation, thus lending a degree of dignity to a believer in it like Jaques. For example, admitting the comedy of the situation, there is credit due Jaques for his moral scruples in persuading Touchstone not to carry through the improper marriage ceremony that the clown has arranged with the hedge-priest Sir Oliver Martext. Jaques also deserves credit for his refusal to be intimidated by Orlando's uncivil intrusion into the Duke's company (II.vii.88-101). Although he may not be skillful in recognizing virtue in these early scenes, Jaques does respond appropriately to impropriety.

Censure of the malcontent fashion and of Jaques' devotion to it is too absolute if it fails to acknowledge these virtues, but Jaques needs the help of the Arden community to see the flaw in the fashion's premise that melancholy and cynicism are indispensable partners of intelligence and virtue. Jaques does not hate man; rather he is infatuated with the attitude of cynical melancholy. “I do love it better than laughing,” he tells Rosalind (IV.i.4). The implication of such a belief, were it truly understood and pursued, is self-destructive despair; and Rosalind, who recognizes that excessive sobriety no less than excessive laughter is a sign of an unhealthy state of mind, rebukes Jaques sharply:

Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.


And indeed the genuine misanthrope, one like Timon, is literally abominable, apart from humanity.

Despite Jaques' pretence of misanthropy, nature working both from without and from within him is continually undercutting the cynical front which he tries to maintain. The powers of benevolence in Arden operate in both direct and oblique ways to alert us to what is extreme or absurd in Jaques' three major displays of cynicism: his moralizing on the deer, his oration on the seven ages of man, and his wish to wear motley. Jaques' moral and philosophical lament upon the wounded deer has enough truth in it that Arden can expose the inadequacy of the position only gradually and subtly. It is difficult both at the time the scene is reported to the Duke by one of his lords and later, when Jaques' character has become more clearly ridiculous and openly satirized, to make an outright judgment. In his introductory description of Jaques, one lord relates how he overheard the solitary malcontent first accuse the Duke and his courtier of usurping the deer's “assign'd and native dwelling-place” and then rail upon the indifference of the herd to the plight of its wounded member, calling the healthy deer the “fat and greasy citizens” of the wood whose action proves the general rule “thus misery doth part / The flux of company” (II.i.21-64). Shakespeare has numerous ways of preventing us from regarding this as simple misanthropy in Jaques. The scene is not shown, but is related to the Duke by a lord, so that we never see an occasion when Jaques actually sits alone and lashes out at “country, city, court.” Then, too, the lord prefaces his narrative of Jaques' moralizing with his own account of the wounded deer, an account that rivals that of an eighteenth-century man of feeling in its abundance of sentiment. The Duke, whom Charles the wrestler has prepared us to accept as a Robin Hood-like folk hero, anticipates Jaques' charge of intrusion by confessing a sense of guilt for shooting “the poor dappled fools, / Being native burghers of this desert city” (II.i.22-23). If Jaques is overly sentimental toward the deer, he is no more so than the Duke and the lord, and there is no evidence that the Duke regards Jaques' charge as unwarranted or especially excessive. On the contrary, the Duke obviously enjoys Jaques' critical moralizing, just as he enjoys finding honest counsellors in the winter's wind and cold (II.i.1-10).

Only in retrospect, when Jaques' cynicism shows itself to be a stubborn pose distorting his intellectual disposition and when the benevolence of the forest company becomes evident, do the untenable aspects of Jaques' initial moralizing become clear. Where the indifference of the herd to its wounded members is proof to Jaques that nature is cruel, Orlando reminds us of nature's kindness by likening his service to Adam to that of a doe caring for its young (II.vii.127-28). Looked at from another perspective, Jaques' likening the deer to greasy citizens may be rejected as a comparison of unlikes which does injustice to the deer. Amiens' song “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” excuses the harsh winter elements as “not so unkind / As man's ingratitude” (II.vii.175-76). Like the elements, the deer do not possess moral reason and free will as man does; hence, Jaques mistakes their nature when he measures their actions by a standard of responsibility that is properly demanded only of humans. Jaques is also in error when he judges man's rule over the deer in societal terms of tyranny and usurpation. The absurdity of holding that man should obey in his relationship with animals the same laws that bind him with members of his own kind becomes clear in the city-versus-country debate between Corin and Touchstone. When Corin concludes his glowing picture of the plain honest country life—“and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck”—Touchstone, with “too courtly a wit,” deflates the idyllic vision:

That is another simple sin in you, to bring the ewes and the rams together, and to offer to get your living by the copulation of cattle; to be bawd to a bell-wether, and to betray a she-lamb of a twelvemonth to a crooked-pated, old, cuckoldly ram, out of all reasonable match.


If we agree that to call a shepherd a bawd for breeding sheep is mere fooling, then we must likewise discard the less obvious but equally distorted notion that men can tyrannize deer.

Later scenes reveal more clearly how Jaques is unwittingly denying himself the chance to respond sensitively to events because of his effort to relate all experience to stock themes of injustice and decay. His speech on the seven ages of man anticipates the arrival of the starving aged Adam; and, as does the commentary on the deer, it develops the Duke's own thoughts about life's unpleasantness. The speech views man's life in the context of historical time, that is, as a simple progression from birth to death; and the vision conveys a sense of life's tediousness, an effect achieved both by the content of each stage described and by the inevitable progression to decay and death. This abstract overview of life was probably, as T. W. Baldwin suggests, common moral feed to Elizabethan schoolboys, for which Palingenius' The Zodiak of Life was a likely source, though recent scholarship has uncovered a great number of other ancient and contemporary analogues.17 Jaques' speech is thus a moral and rhetorical commonplace. He has a theoretical but not a personal commitment to the substance of the speech. And immediately, the spirit of Arden points to errors in the speech's conception of old age and time. The entry of Adam carried by Orlando confirms the unpleasant truth of enfeebling age but adds the elements of compassion and veneration which a good man in his old age calls forth from others. Orlando's devotion to Adam is a virtue inspired by Adam's own goodness. On the issue of time, Jaques' encompassing vision of a lifetime is a purely abstract feat which in no way reflects the way human beings actually experience time. By defining man solely in terms of the physiological restrictions of a life span, the vision fails to distinguish man from other living creatures, since all creatures are similarly bound. Touchstone parodies such philosophy when he moralizes to Jaques on the time, “And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, / And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot” (II.vii.26-27). Rosalind shows the ineffectiveness of describing human experience in terms of historical time by pointing out that one's given situation and disposition determine the only sense in which he experiences time. She lectures Orlando:

Time travels in divers paces with divers persons. I'll tell you who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.


By defining time in relation to persons rather than persons in relation to time, she comically but accurately establishes human nature's capacity to govern time.

Jaques' abstract philosophy comes into conflict with the actualities of Arden for a third time in his petition to the Duke to wear motley. His request for motley is based upon the commonplace cynical beliefs that court society is corrupt, that only flattery holds the ruler's ear, and that only the fool, who has no stake in the system, may speak his mind freely. Such “wise” court fools as Henry VIII's Will Summers enjoyed by their peculiar status a special privilege to criticize and satirize court conditions, and the Elizabethan malcontent as represented in drama had through his eccentric behavior won this same privilege. The malcontents Dowsecer and Malevole, for instance, are favored by royal patrons because their unbridled manners balance the predictable flattery of the other courtiers.18 The notion that the malcontent has supplanted, or at least joined, the fool as a privileged spokesman at court is directly suggested in the Chapman play Bussy D'Ambois, where the steward Maffé, who is jealous of Bussy's rise to favor, comments:

                                        it seems my Lord
Will have him for his jester; and believe it,
Such men are now no fools, 'tis a Knight's place.


But Jaques' request for motley is absurd because in Arden the social order is not diseased but rather is in tune with nature. Counsel is freely welcomed and flattery is nonexistent. The Duke, who revels in the physical hardship of winter because “This is no flattery: these are counsellors / That feelingly persuade me what I am” (II.i.10-11), is pleased to listen to Jaques' moral matter; and to Jaques' exclamation, “I am ambitious for a motley coat,” he replies, “Thou shalt have one” (II.vii.43-44). But Jaques is not thinking of Arden when he requests motley and seems not even to hear the Duke's reply. He is contemplating an image of himself as the lone honest man in a world of corruption, whose special calling is to purge that world with railing. Within the context of Arden, his vision is a private one that reflects the unhealthy preoccupation of the speaker rather than any flaw in the society he is addressing. The Duke appropriately applies the satirist's physic to Jaques by rehearsing to his face unsavory aspects of his past:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin.
For thou thyself hast been a libertine,
As sensual as the brutish sting itself;
And all th' embossed sores and headed evils
That thou with license of free foot hast caught,
Wouldst thou disgorge into the general world.


Rosalind administers the same harsh antidote in a later scene (IV.i.1-41), where she satirizes the fetishes of the fashionable traveler. By his example Orlando instructs Jaques to look at his own folly before judging the world's; to Jaques' invitation to rail on the world, he replies, “I will chide no breather in the world but myself, against whom I know most faults” (III.ii.297-98). It is crucial that Jaques understand this lesson in humility because unless he can acknowledge that he is a son of Adam, he will lack the self-knowledge he needs to convert his fashionable wisdom into true wisdom and to see the world around him freshly and directly. Orlando accuses him of deriving his knowledge from “painted cloth,” that is, from the moral clichés which were commonly illustrated on canvas wall-hangings. He tells Jaques that he finds his borrowed knowledge and fashion tedious. Thus both by satiric rebuke and by personal example the three most spiritually refined members of Arden press Jaques to look to his own nature.

Besides the continual external counters to Jaques' professed beliefs, his own nature regularly contradicts his malcontent rules. The frequent failure of his actions to match the cynicism of his words should win our sympathies since it prevents us from taking his misanthropy literally and since it reveals beneath the pose a benign spirit. He plays the role of the malcontent in the first place as much out of a sense of moral obligation as out of a desire to parade intellect. He openly avows the moral worth of unsociability, satire, and melancholy, three cardinal virtues of the malcontent manner. He would thank Amiens for singing to satisfy him except that he would not flatter:

Well then, if ever I thank any man, I'll thank you; but that they call compliment is like the encounter of two dog-apes; and when a man thanks me heartily, methinks I have given him a penny and he renders me the beggarly thanks.


The attitude is not far removed from John Webster's belligerent manner of thanking his patrons in his dedications to The Duchess of Malfi and The Devil's Law-Case,19 and it is very much in the manner of the malcontent in its refusal to express gratitude for fear of appearing a flatterer.20 And just as Jaques' malcontent code refuses to draw the line between virtuous thanks and selfish flattery, so it also categorically condemns civil conversation as frivolous. Jaques replies with strained incivility to Amiens' message that the Duke wishes to talk with him:

He is too disputable for my company. I think of as many matters as he; but I give heaven thanks, and make no boast of them.


Set satire, on the other hand, is virtuous according to his rule book. When the Duke is suddenly angered by Jaques' saying he would cleanse “th' infected world,” Jaques asks in ingenuous bewilderment, “What, for a counter, would I do but good?” The Duke's reply that he would spew out his own corruption on the world quite escapes Jaques, who proceeds mechanically to the next rule in his philosophy, that the satirist only rails upon the general evil. Ultimately Jaques' commitment to melancholy is based, he thinks, upon moral grounds. He tells Rosalind quite seriously, “Why, 'tis good to be sad and to say nothing” (IV.i.8).

Happily, Jaques himself often violates these rules of his malcontent catechism. His need to explain to Amiens why he cannot thank him in itself shows his nature surfacing and having to be restrained. He is, despite his unsociable phrases, the most ubiquitous and social character in Arden. He converses during the play with Amiens, the Duke, Touchstone, Orlando, Rosalind, and the lords and foresters—more people than any other character. He tells Amiens that he does not wish to talk with the Duke, but having seen Touchstone rail on fortune in good set terms, he rushes with abandon to tell the Duke that he has found a kindred spirit in a fool. This ingenuous enthusiasm is quite becoming to Jaques, but we should observe that it is quite uncharacteristic of a malcontent.

Orlando draws out Jaques' nature much in the way that Touchstone does. To Jaques' unsociable remarks, Orlando replies in the most fashionable and polite unsociability, thus winning Jaques' admiration.

I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as lief have been myself alone.
And so had I; but yet, for fashion sake, I thank you too for your society.
God buy you; let's meet as little as we can.
I do desire we may be better strangers.


From this beginning Jaques is forced to invent insulting conversation to prolong his acquaintance with this charming fellow until, running out of insults, he surrenders his pretence and suggests that together they sit and rail on their miserable world. Orlando dismisses Jaques at this point with a wittily contrived insult that forces Jaques to see himself as a fool.

To blot his malcontent record further, Jaques twice calls for music to be played (II.v.10 and IV.ii.6). He is quick to profess no desire for pleasure or harmony, but the inconsistency between rhetoric and action remains. The Duke, hearing that Jaques was “merry, hearing of a song,” comments ironically on his offense to his fashion: “If he, compact of jars, grow musical, / We shall have shortly discord in the spheres” (II.vii.5-6). Moreover, one reason Jaques presses Amiens to play is that he has composed a verse which he wishes to sing. Again, the fact that the verse is predictably belligerent in no way alters the fact that he has entered into a courtly game of wit which his philosophy, strictly taken, would not excuse.

To this point we have seen the limitations and flaws in Jaques' manner exposed by the natural forces of the forest, one component of which is Jaques' own nature. The question remaining is, does this exposure have any effect on Jaques, or is it merely for the audience's edification while Jaques remains a pawn to his ill-formed philosophy? His refusal to join the marriage celebration and his intention to join Duke Frederick in self-imposed exile rather than return with the company to court have drawn varying responses in recent studies of the play. Harold Jenkins, Jay Halio, and Helen Gardner deny any change in Jaques and maintain that his cynicism is confirmed by his departure at the end.21 Jamieson says that Jaques' departure from the marriage celebration is consistent with his character; however, he adds, “his predictions for the future lives of the others have perception and even authority.”22 He does not mention that the balanced tone and vision of this speech is unprecedented in Jaques' behavior to this point. John Russell Brown states that a change has taken place:

Jaques cannot join the dance which celebrates the new order of the lovers; unappeased, he must seek more matter for his contemplation. But having seen them all endure “shrewd days and nights” (V.iv.179), he accepts this as testimony of their inward virtues, and, for the first time in the play, sees promise of order, not of disorder.23

I agree with Brown's argument, but it still leaves unanswered the question, why is Jaques “unappeased”? The general confusion over Jaques' position in the final scene rests, I believe, on the failure to keep in mind the distinction between practiced fashionable melancholy and genuine intellectual melancholy. The conversion that one must expect, or hope, for Jaques is not one from cynical philosopher to reveler but one from fashionable intellectual to true intellectual—and it takes place. As cynicism lies at the core of the fashion, its absence in the final scene is a crucial indication of Jaques' change. Jaques' pleasures, not unlike the Duke's, are intellectual. He is entertained in this last scene by Touchstone's account of dueling just as he was entertained earlier by his moralizing on time, and the Duke here as before joins in Jaques' pleasure: “By my faith, he is very swift and sententious”; “I like him very well” (V.iv.66, 55). And so do we. It would be wrong to censure Jaques' pleasure in moral matter as either unnatural or unprofitable. We might as well condemn the concept of the contemplative life. His intention to join the repentant Duke Frederick because “Out of these convertites / There is much matter to be heard and learn'd” (V.iv.190-91) echoes the good Duke's stated pleasure in disputing with Jaques.

The significant change, then, is not in his interests but in his vision. He has come to see the natures of the Arden inhabitants, including his own, and has replaced rancor with measure. The following speech could not be that of a malcontent or would-be malcontent:

(TO Duke Senior)
You to your former honour I bequeath;
Your patience and your virtue well deserves it:
(TO Orlando)
You to a love, that your true faith doth merit:
(TO Oliver)
You to your land, and love, and great allies:
(TO Silvius)
You to a long and well-deserved bed.
(TO Touchstone)
And you to wrangling; for thy loving voyage
Is but for two months victuall'd. So to your pleasures;
I am for other than for dancing measures.


As this is the last major speech in the play, it would be strange indeed if we were not to respect the speaker. It is still Jaques speaking. He still enjoys passing judgments, but the vision now is personal, not abstract. His judgments here fit the conditions, whereas formerly conditions were fitted to his preformed judgments. Were he like Malvolio, he would merely have left the scene with a few harsh words for the Duke, Rosalind, and Orlando, who purged his humor with rather harsh physic; but his misanthropy was never convincing and finally has been abandoned. Jaques' former practiced unsociability in telling Amiens “I have been all this day to avoid him [the Duke]” (II.v.35) contrasts with his departing statement to the Duke, “What you would have / I'll stay to know at your abandon'd cave” (V.iv.201-2). He no longer plays the malcontent by such actions as calling for music and then saying that he dislikes it. He does not disdain the dancing and pastime. He only sees that in choosing the sober intellectual and religious life, he is choosing not to participate in the pleasures allied to court and marriage.24 His departure is not absurd, as his former poses of unsociability had seemed, but is fitting and calls for reluctant acceptance, not censure, from those who like his company but respect his choice.


  1. Quotations of Webster are from The Complete Works of John Webster, ed. F. L. Lucas, 4 vols. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1927).

  2. The Revenger's Tragedy, ed. R. A. Foakes (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1966).

  3. See I.iii.48-60 and IV.v.105-18 in The Malcontent, ed. M. L. Wine (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1964). All quotations are from this edition.

  4. Quotations of Shakespeare are from The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, ed. William Allen Neilson and Charles Jarvis Hill (Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton, 1942).

  5. Bussy D'Ambois, ed. Nicholas Brooke (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964).

  6. “To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare,” The Scourge of Folly, included in E. K. Chambers and Charles Williams, A Short Life of Shakespeare with the Sources (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), p. 208.

  7. One expects that Jonson's Macilente (Every Man out of His Humour) will be developed as a comic humorous malcontent type from the playwright's character sketch of him in the dramatis personae: “A Man well parted, a sufficient Scholler, and trauail'd … wanting that place in the worlds account, which he thinks his merit capable of” (Works, ed. C. H. Herford and Percy Simpson [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927], III, 423). However, Jonson does not really concern himself with setting up a malcontent for satiric examination and exposure but rather places Macilente outside the malcontent's customary environment of the educated aristocracy and amidst the common folk where, like Jack Juggler or the witty servant of Roman comedy, he brings out the follies of all around him through a clever plot. The malcontent background of the prefatory sketch is thus a poorly integrated trapping on an old dramatic type.

  8. Eugene Waith, The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1952), p. 82.

  9. Philological Quarterly, 14 (1935), 237-52, esp. 250.

  10. For the definitive study of the Aristotelian and Renaissance idea that melancholy was the natural condition of the intellectual, see Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964).

  11. “As You Like It,” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of “As You Like It,” ed. Jay L. Halio (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968), pp. 66-67. Miss Gardner's article originally appeared in More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John Garrett (London: Longmans, 1959; rpt. New York: Theater Arts Books, 1959), pp. 17-32.

  12. Albrecht Dürer (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1948), I, 166.

  13. As You Like It, ed. Michael Jamieson (London: Edward Arnold, 1965), p. 17.

  14. Op. cit.

  15. The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene, ed. A. B. Grossart (1881-86; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964), XII, 172. The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1910), I, 169-70.

  16. See, for example, Robert Markham's letter to Harington regarding the Queen's reaction to his satirical discourse on privies, The Metamorphosis of Ajax in Nugae Antiquae, ed. T. Park (1804; rpt. New York: AMS, 1966), I, 239-40.

  17. T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1944), I, 652-73. Other articles on Jaques' seven-ages-of-man speech include William E. Miller, “All the World's a Stage,” Notes and Queries, 208 (1963), 99-101; Cecil C. Seronsy, “The Seven Ages of Man Again,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 4 (1953), 364-65; and John W. Draper, “Jaques' ‘Seven Ages’ and Bartholomaeus Anglicus,” Modern Language Notes, 54 (1939), 273-76.

  18. See An Humourous Day's Mirth in The Plays and Poems of George Chapman, ed. Thomas Marc Parrott (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1914) II, 71-72; and The Malcontent, I.ii.24-28.

  19. See Lucas, II, 33 and 235.

  20. For Shakespeare's attention, in general, to the vice of ingratitude see Curtis Watson, Shakespeare and the Renaissance Concept of Honor (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 222-23.

  21. All three of the following articles are included in Twentieth Century Interpretations of “As You Like It”: Jenkins, “As You Like It,” p. 36; Halio, “‘No Clock in the Forest’: Time in As You Like It,” p. 92, n. 6; and Gardner, “As You Like It,” p. 67. Jenkins' article originally appeared in Shakespeare Survey, 8 (1955), 40-51, and Halio's in Studies in English Literature, 2 (1962), 197-207.

  22. Jamieson, p. 19.

  23. Shakespeare and his Comedies (London: Methuen, 1957), p. 156.

  24. Compare Shakespeare's distinguishing the life and the world of the courtier and the scholar in Hamlet, where, in careful juxtaposition, he has Laertes and Hamlet request Claudius' permission to return to Paris and Wittenberg respectively.

Ruth Nevo (essay date 1980)

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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 reaches his majority in them, knows it, and would have us know it. It is almost as if we hear him indulging in a sly joke about the whole paternalistic New Comedy model when he has Rosalind, at some undramatized point, meet her father in the forest, where, as she later reports to Celia, she had much question with him: ‘He ask'd me of what parentage I was. I told him of as good as he, so he laugh'd and let me go. But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando? (III.iv.36-9). With no parental obstacles, no separating misprisions or vows or oaths, with no reason (as has often been pointed out) for Rosalind's continuing disguise once she is safe in the forest and the writer of the execrable verses identified, As You Like It is the only comedy in which the two chief protagonists fall in love not as victims of blind Cupid, or of plots of one kind and another, or against their own conscious will, but freely, open-eyed, reciprocally and as if in godsent fulfilment of their own deepest desires.

Their meeting is finely, appropriately rendered. Orlando is hesitant, disconcerted, incredulous, speechless; Rosalind responds with the immediate joyful, irrepressible spontaneity of her confession to Celia. Some of her speechlessness, she says, is ‘for my child's father’ (I.iii.11). But this is a comic ending (or very near ending), rather than a comic beginning; and indeed the whole carriage of the play seems almost to set the comedy sequence on its head. The grave potential dangers are concentrated at the start, the tangle of mistaken identities occurs as late as the end of Act III.

‘What’, indeed, asks Barber, ‘is the comedy in As You Like It about? What does Shakespeare ridicule? At times one gets the impression that it doesn't matter very much what the characters make fun of so long as they make fun.’1 Sandwiched between Much Ado and Twelfth Night, Harold Jenkins notes:

As You Like It is conspicuously lacking in comedy's more robust and boisterous elements—the pomps of Dogberry and the romps of Sir Toby … [and] it has nothing which answers to those bits of crucial trickery … which link events together by the logical intricacies of cause and effect. As You Like It takes Shakespearean comedy in one direction nearly as far as it could go before returning (in Twelfth Night) to a more orthodox scheme.2

The point is very well taken. The play exhibits not only a different direction but a markedly looser and more casual handling of the ‘orthodox scheme’, which I take to mean the Terentian formula; and it is this which makes inspired improvisation, the capacity to seize and make the most of one's opportunities, a key factor in the comic remedy itself. That which is therapeutic to the human condition is elicited here too by considerable anxiety and error, is winnowed clear of delusion and snatched by a hair's breadth from disaster. But what is prominently displayed, extruded, so to speak, as surface structure in As You Like It is the wisdom/folly dialectic of comedy itself, as antinomies are first exacerbated and then transcended. And what it embodies in its trickster heroine is comic pleasure itself, in practice and in action: a liberating playful fantasy, an expansive reconciliation of opposites of all kinds, enlivening and enchanting, to be enjoyed and rejoiced in; a heaven-sent euphoria. It is a play so self-assured as not to care whether we notice or not that it is talking about its own mode of being. It is a meta-comedy, in which the underlying principles of Shakespearean practice are drawn out for all to see and turned into the comic material itself.

The play polarizes harm and remedy in its initial catalogue of imperfections and deficiencies—the most dire we have yet encountered—and in the flight of its refugees. A youngest son seeks his proper place in the world. His elder brother keeps him rustically at home, like a peasant, breeds his horses better—they are not only fed but taught—allows him nothing but mere growth and, in short ‘mines his gentility with his education’. For this servitude become unendurable. Orlando knows no wise remedy, and there begins his sadness. Elsewhere in the kingdom a duke is displaced by his younger brother and flees into exile, leaving his daughter mourning his absence. A thug is hired to dispatch the rebellious younger brother under cover of a court wrestling-match, and when the plan miscarries, the young man and his faithful retainer are unceremoniously turned out to make their way in the world as best they can. The usurping duke, unable to bear the accusing presence of his elder brother's daughter banishes her the court on pain of death. ‘Thou art a fool’, he says to his daughter, her friend, who entreats him to let her stay:

She is too subtile for thee, and her smoothness,
Her very silence, and her patience
Speak to the people, and they pity her.
Thou art a fool; she robs thee of thy name,
And thou wilt show more bright and seem more virtuous
When she is gone. …


His counterpart, Oliver, has a similar message concerning folly to deliver to his younger brother: ‘What will you do, you fool’, he says, in effect, ‘when you have the meagre pittance your father left you? Beg when that is spent?’

This is the cold world of Edmund and Goneril in which there is no place for goodness and virtue, no room for undissimulated feeling; the tainted, radically corrupt world of court or city, of lust for gain and place, of craft and deceit. From wicked brother and wicked uncle there is no recourse for the oppressed but to take flight, which they do gladly. They go ‘To liberty, and not to banishment.’ (I.iii.138), to ‘some settled low content’ (II.iii.68) as they say in their worldly folly, and arrive by a providential coincidence in the same wood, with nothing but their natural loyalty and generosity, their foolish good nature, and love, contracted at the wrestling-match. Back home, cunning and treachery—called worldly wisdom—grow ever more manifest under the impetus of their own accumulation. This is rendered with a splendid acid brevity in Act III, scene i, when Oliver declares his kinship to Duke Frederick in the matter of affection for his wayward brother Orlando:

O that your Highness knew my heart in this!
I never lov'd my brother in my life.
DUKE Frederick
More villain thou. Well, push him out of doors,
And let my officers of such a nature
Make an extent upon his house and lands.


The exposition of As You Like It presents a whole society in need of cure, not a temporary emergency, or lunacy, to be providentially set right.

Since this is the case, however, a good deal of manoeuvring is required to keep the play within the orbit of comedy. The source story in Lodge is far fiercer—there are several deaths; but even Shakespeare's toning down of the violence, and a reduction of the casualties to Charles' broken ribs is not sufficient to make the initiating circumstances mere harmless aberrations, or, at worst, aberrations which only an accumulation of mishaps and ill-fortune will render disastrous. To transform the Lodge story into comedy, therefore, necessitated a shift of gear, and the production of what one might call a second order set of follies from the realm not of the reprehensible but of the ridiculous; a modulation from vice to error, and potentially liberating error at that. It is the flight into the forest during the long second act which effects this transformation.

The flight into the forest draws upon the tradition of that other time and other place of the nostalgic imagination—the locus amoenus where the return to nature from corrupt civilization allows the truth, simplicity and humility of innocence to replace the treachery, craft and arrogance of worldly sophistication. But the audience, following the courtiers in their flight from usurpation, cruelty, artifice and deceit discover in the forest the usurpation of Corin, the boorish rusticity of Audrey and William and the factitious elegancies of imitation courtly love masking sexual tyranny in the shepherd lovers; while, before the story is over, the forest's lionesses and snakes will have revealed in it possibilities no less inhospitable, not to say predatory, than those of the vicious court.

What we perceive is a plethora of disjunctive contraries. The whole of Act II bandies views of the good life about between defendants of court and country respectively, in a battery of claims and counter-claims which turns each into its opposite, revealing the absurdity of polarized and partial solutions. Shakespeare erects a burlesque dialectic during which, at every point, assumptions are refuted by realities and opinions fooled by facts.

Amiens sings to whoever

          doth ambition shun,
And loves to live i' th' sun,


promising him no enemy but winter and rough weather. The disenchanted Jaques, whom there is no pleasing, caps Amiens' with another stanza (or stanzo—Jaques cares not for their names since they owe him nothing) pointing out that anyone who leaves his hearth and ease is an ass, and will find nothing but fools as gross as he in the greenwood. And Amiens' second song is less buoyant about winter and rough weather, not to mention friendship and loving, than the first.

Orlando, who has no illusions about ‘the uncouth forest’ swears to succour the fainting Adam: if there be anything living in the desert, he says, ‘I will either be food for it, or bring it for food to thee’. It is as succinct a summary of nature red in tooth and claw as may be found, but oddly enough Orlando, who complained of the poverty of Nature, denied the benefits of Nurture, steeling himself for savagery, finds civility in the forest. ‘Your gentleness shall force. / More than your force move us to gentleness’, says the Duke, his rhetorical chiasmus figuring the contraries. More precisely: figuring the contraries resolved in a way that is characteristic, as we shall see, of the Duke.

According to the melancholy Jaques that ‘poor dappled fool’ the deer, who has his ‘round haunches gored’ in his own native ‘city’ is a standing reproach to all seekers of the good life in the forest. But Jaques' bleak account of human ageing in the seven ages speech (II.vii.139 ff.) is immediately refuted by Orlando's tender care for an old and venerable faithful servant. Jaques' various orations ‘most invectively’ pillory not only country, city and court, but ‘this our life’ in its entirety (II.i.58). But Jaques' view that evil is universal and good an illusion is countered from yet another perspective by Touchstone's: that folly is universal and wisdom an illusion.

These two represent the play's opposing poles, but in asymmetrical opposition. They are a teasingly complex instance of Shakespeare's fools, referred to in Chapter I.

The meeting between them is reported exultantly by Jaques in Act II, scene vii, with much rejoicing, on the part of that arrogant nihilist, in the capacity for metaphysics of a mere fool. But the audience is quietly invited to perceive that there is an extraordinary similarity between Touchstone's oracular ripening and rotting and Jaques' own disenchanted rhetoric, and we are invited to wonder whether it is not after all the ironical fool who is mocking, by parody, the philosophical pretensions of the sentimental cynic. The scene plays handy dandy (like Lear) with the question most germane to comedy (as Lear's to tragedy): which is the Eiron, which the Alazon? Which is the mocker and which the mocked? Who is fooling and who is fooled?

What after all does Touchstone not mock? He dismantles, systematically and with detached amusement, the entire structure of syllogistic reasoning with which his betters occupy their minds:

Truly shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vild life. Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare life (look you) it fits my humor well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach. Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?


A premise, to Touchstone is nothing but its own potential contrary, as he delights to demonstrate with his mock or anti-logic of all's one:

That is another simple sin in you, to bring the ewes and the rams together, and to offer to get your living by the copulation of cattle; to be bawd to a bell-wether, and to betray a she-lamb of a twelve-month to a crooked-pated old cuckoldly ram, out of all reasonable match.


Nevertheless, Touchstone is a fool. Audrey is there to remind us of that. And so what we come to see is that both monistic or polarized solutions—that evil is universal and good an illusion, and that folly is universal and wisdom an illusion are being mocked.

However, the play makes it clear which it prefers,3 which it includes, finally. It finds a place—a key place, as we shall see—for the mother wit which Touchstone demonstratively parades, and parodies. It is Jaques, totally lacking in good humour, who is sent packing. First by the Duke, in terms which are significant, in view of comedy's concern with remedies for human ills. The Duke checks Jaques' enthusiasm about cleansing with satire the foul body of the infected world with the command, Physician, heal thyself:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin:
For thou thyself hast been a libertine,
As sensual as the brutish sting itself;
And all th' embossed sores, and headed evils,
That thou with license of free foot hast caught,
Would'st thou disgorge into the general world.


And then by the lovers. ‘I thank you for your company, but, good faith, I had as lief have been myself alone’ is Jaques' opening ploy when he meets Orlando. He doesn't, it transpires, approve of Orlando's verse, of his love's name, of his ‘pretty answers’ (probably ‘conn'd out of rings’), of his ‘nimble wit’ at which he learnedly sneers, of his being fool enough to be in love at all. What he would like to do, he says, is to sit down and ‘rail against our mistress the world, and all our misery’. At the end of this dispiriting conversation Orlando sends him to seek the fool he was looking for in the brook (III.ii.253-93 passim). And Rosalind, similarly tried by Jaques' disquisition on his own unique and inimitable brand of melancholy, would ‘rather have a fool to make [her] merry than experience to make [her] sad—and travel for it too!’ (IV.i.28).

If (much virtue in ‘if’)—if we must choose between disjunctions, too cool a head is evidently preferable to too cold a heart. But must we choose? Certainly Act II (in particular) with its reiterated pastoral polemic, its multitude of syntactic, imagistic, situational figurations of either/or places us constantly in attitudes of indecision, or of quasi-dilemma. Nothing is happening, of course, so that these are not the impossible choices of tragic action; they are merely virtual. These constantly collapsing or exploding solutions of the greenwood constitute the comic disposition which the process of the play heightens and mocks. The characters all have answers to the question of the good life, but their answers keep being refuted; keep being invaded by aspects of reality they have not taken into account. Yet they continue tirelessly searching. Moreover, the comedy of this second act is an almost Chekovian dialogue of the deaf. Everybody is talking philosophically about life. Ah Life. But it is only themselves they really hear.4 The Duke, who needs grist for his mill, loves, he tells us, to cope Jaques in his sullen fits, for ‘then he's full of matter’. But Jaques, who has no patience with another's problems, has been trying all day to avoid him: ‘He is too disputable for my company’, says he, with sardonic derision. ‘I think of as many matters as he, but I give heaven thanks, and make no boast of them’ (II.v.35-7).

If then disjunctive logic is the comic disposition in Arden (reflecting the disjunction of good and evil in the play's outer frame), any remedy will have to mediate or bridge the fissuring of human experience which is thus symbolized. It is the good Duke (meta-senex for a meta-comedy?) who points the way to such a resolution.

The Duke's stoicism is more than a brave show. His speech (II.i.1-17) on the sweet uses of adversity and the preferability of biting winter winds to man's ingratitude and the ingratiation of court sycophancy is a profoundly dialectical concordia discors, transcending, with its paradoxes, diamectrical contraries. He is, it is to be noted, as aware as Jaques of the universality of evil. It is he who first notices the anomaly of the deer hunt, though it is Jaques who rubs it in. He does not say that Arden is a rose garden. He only says that he recognizes the penalty of Adam.5 Duke Senior does not deny the icy fangs of the winter wind, the ugly venom of the toad. On the contrary, he welcomes them because they ‘feelingly persuade him what he is’. The contraries: painted pomp and icy fangs; chiding and flattery; feeling and persuasion (intuition and reason, we would say); books and brooks; sermons and stones, are all resolved in his remedial vision of the good life to be found in the hard discipline of nature, not in her soft bosom; in the riches of deprivation, not in the poverty of prodigality. ‘Happy is your Grace’, says Amiens, ‘That can translate the stubbornness of fortune / Into so quiet and so sweet a style’ (II.i.18-20).

This Duke is indeed wise enough to be Rosalind's father but his wisdom of retreat, his embracing of penury, does not nurture a comic economy which requires bonus and liberating excess. He is the ideologue of resolutions, not their protagonist. Nor is the virtue that he makes of dispossession entirely victorious. They are doing their best, these exiles, to keep their spirits up, and there are moments of greenwood merriment, to be sure, but it doesn't take much to set off in them a yearning for better days. When the young man rushes on with his drawn sword shouting for food, and meets the Duke's courteous welcome, he also poignantly reminds him of the privations of a purely private virtue:

                                                                                                    what e'er you are
That in this desert inaccessible,
Under the shade of melancholy boughs,
Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time;
If ever you have look'd on better days,
If ever been where bells have knoll'd to church,
If ever sate at any good man's feast,
If ever from your eyelids wip'd a tear,
And know what 'tis to pity, and be pitied,


The Duke echoes his sentiments with enthusiasm, and invites him to a meal served with as ducal a propriety as circumstances permit. The Duke can do much, but As You Like It requires, for its proper centre, his daughter. Which brings us to the lovers.

While the veteran refugees are thinking of many matters, these newcomers are thinking of one alone. Orlando, so far from finding settled low content in the forest, finds a compulsion to dream of fair women and to publish his poetasting upon every tree; and Rosalind, who had seized the opportunity, while she was about it, to satisfy a girl's tomboy fantasies:

                                                  Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh,
A boar-spear in my hand, and—in my heart
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will—
We'll have a swashing and a martial outside,
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances.


now finds an echo to her own thoughts in the love-lorn Silvius. ‘Alas, poor shepherd searching of [thy wound], / I have by hard adventure found my own’ is her sympathetic response to Silvius' plaint (II.iv.44-5ff). The meeting precipitates the process of self-discovery which the comic device in Act II, the disguise whereby Rosalind both reveals and conceals her true identity, will infinitely advance.

‘Arcadia’, says Peter Marinelli (and the perceptive remark applies as well to Arden), ‘is a middle country of the imagination … a place of Becoming rather than Being, where an individual's potencies for the arts of life and love and poetry are explored and tested’.6 Shakespeare's Arcadia offers a further turn: his comic heroine's own potencies for the arts of life and love and poetry are explored and tested by a variety of contingencies even while she is testing and exploring these same potencies in others.

Her initial absence of mind at the first encounter with Silvia is amusingly rendered by her failure to take in Touchstone's derisive parody of fancy shepherds:

I remember when I was in love, I broke my sword upon a stone, and bid him take that for coming a-night to Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batler and the cow's dugs that her pretty chopp'd hands had milk'd; and I remember the wooing of a peascod instead of her, from whom I took two cods, and giving her them again, said with weeping tears, ‘Wear these for my sake’.


All she hears, and that inattentively, is his epigrammatic ending: ‘as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly’. Upon which she sagely replies, ‘Thou speak'st wiser than thou art ware of’, and misses again entirely the fool's ironic snub: ‘Nay, I shall ne'er be ware of mine own wit till I break my shins against it’ (II.iv.58-9).

But this is the last time Rosalind is inattentive or absent-minded. Indeed it is her presence of mind which dominates and characterizes the middle acts.

From the moment when she finds herself trapped in her page role and exclaims in comic consternation, ‘Alas the day, what shall I do with my doublet and hose?’ to the moment of her unmasking, Ganymede releases in Rosalind her best powers of improvisation, intuition, and witty intelligence. Her quick wit transforms her page disguise into the play's grand comic device, and turns comic predicament to triumphant account. When she says to Celia: ‘Good my complexion, doest thou think, though I am caparison'd like a man, I have a doublet and hose in my disposition? One inch of delay more is a South-sea of discovery.’ (III.ii.194-7), her gift for comic hyperbole as well as her ironic self-awareness are delightfully in evidence. But the master invention of the play lies in ‘the inch of delay more’ which she cannily, deliberately, takes upon herself (though with a handsome young fellow like Orlando wandering about the forest scratching ‘Rosalind’ on every tree there is nothing that would please her more than to be revealed) and in the ‘South-sea of discovery’ it allows her to make. For if Orlando discovers culture—sonnets and banquets—in the forest, Rosalind discovers nature, and rejoices in the occasion for the expression of her own ebullient, versatile and polymorph energies. It is a superbly audacious idea, this saucy lackey cure for love, if she can bring it off:

At which time would I, being but a moonish youth, grieve, be effeminate, changeable, longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every passion something, and for no passion truly any thing, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this color; would now like him, now loathe him; then entertain him, then forswear him; now weep for him, then spit at him; … and this way will I take upon me to wash your liver as clean as a sound sheep's heart, that there shall not be one spot of love in't.


And if she can bring it off, how can she lose? She is invisible. She is in control. She is master-mistress of the situation. She can discover not only what he is like, but what she is like; test his feelings, test her own; mock love and mask love and make love; provoke and bask in the attentions of the lover whose company she most desires, pretend to be the boy she always wanted, perhaps, to be, and permit herself extravagances everyday decorum would certainly preclude: ‘Come, woo me, woo me; for now I am in a holiday humor, and like enough to consent. What would you say to me now, and I were your very very Rosalind?’ (IV.i.68-71).

It is no wonder the gaiety of this twinned character is infectious, the ebullience irrepressible, the high spirits inimitable. She/he is all things to all men and enjoys every moment of this androgynous ventriloquist's carnival, the more especially since, unlike her sisters in disguise, Julia and Viola, she has the relief of candid self-exposure to her confidante Celia as well: ‘O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded; my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal’ (IV.i.205-8). ‘You have simply misus'd our sex in your love-prate’, complains the soberer Celia, concerned for sexual solidarity. But what is sexual solidarity to her is to her chameleon cousin sexual solipsism and she will have none of it.

She provokes preposterously, and so exorcizes (in this a double for Orlando) the paranoia of male anti-feminism with her dire threat:

I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry. I will laugh like a hyen, and that when you are inclin'd to sleep.


only to reveal herself with utter if inadvertent candour the next moment: ‘Alas, dear love, I cannot lack thee two hours’ (IV.i.178) and then, to cover her slip, immediately dissimulates again in the mock tirade of an abused and long-suffering wife: ‘Ay, go your ways, go your ways; I knew what you would prove; my friends told me as much, and I thought no less. That flattering tongue of yours won me. 'Tis but one cast away, and so come death! Two a'clock is your hour?’ (IV.i.185-6).

Her double role is a triumph of characterization through impersonation, inconsistency, not consistency, being the key to dramatic versimilitude if a complex and dynamic individual is to be represented. More, Rosalind, the girl, in whom natural impulse is finely cultivated and worldly wisdom cohabits with a passionate nature, together with her own ‘twin’ Ganymede, in whom a youth's beauty and a youth's jaunty irreverence combine, provides the double indemnity of comedy with lavish generosity. The duality of her masculine and feminine roles—itself an abolition of disjunction—gratifies our craving both for pleasure and reality, satisfies a deep defensive need for intellectual scepticism as well as an equally deep need for impulsive and limitless abandon, provides at once for cerebration and celebration,7 resolves the dichotomies of nature and culture, wisdom and folly, mockery and festivity.

I find in a recent study of what existential psychologists call ‘peak experience’, interesting confirmation of the theory of comic therapy Shakespeare's practice, particularly in this play, appears to support. ‘Peak experiences’, says Abraham H. Maslow, make characters in plays and their audiences more apt to feel ‘that life in general is worth while, even if it is usually drab, pedestrian, painful or ungratifying, since beauty, excitement, honesty, play, goodness, truth, and meaningfulness have been demonstrated to him to exist. … Life itself is validated, and suicide and death wishing must become less likely.’8

Thus the make-believe courtship, invented on the pretext of furnishing a cure for Orlando's love melancholy (or at least for his versification!), provides Rosalind with a homeopathic remedia amoris for hers. Free to fantasize, explore, experiment, she confers upon the audience a vivid sense that the mortal coil might not be solely a curse, nor the working-day world of briars beyond transfiguring.

And even that is not all. Ganymede's undertaking to cure Orlando's love-longing passes the time entertainingly in the greenwood but it also runs Rosalind into difficulties with the native population, thus providing the canonical knot of errors through a mistaken identity, and Ganymede with more livers to wash as clean as a sound sheep's heart.

Phebe's high-handed scorn for her doleful lover's courtly style exposes the substance of her own callousness as well as the absurd affectations of courtly love:

'Tis pretty, sure, and very probable,
That eyes, that are the frail'st and softest things,
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be called tyrants, butchers, murtherers!
Now I do frown on thee with all my heart,
And if mine eyes can wound, now let them kill thee.
Now counterfeit to swound; why, now fall down,
Or if thou canst not, O, for shame, for shame,
Lie not, to say mine eyes are murtherers!


Rosalind, too, knows that ‘these are all lies’; that ‘men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love’ (IV.i.108), she, too, knows that ‘men are April when they woo, December when they wed’, and that maids ‘are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives’ (IV.i.147-8). But her realism is of another order altogether than Phebe's callow literalism, and is vouched for by the vigour with which she scolds the pair of them, combining the swashbuckling gusto of Ganymede with the passionate sincerity of Rosalind, in a nosce teipsum totally free of illusion:

                                                            'Od's my little life,
I think she means to tangle my eyes too!
No, faith, proud mistress, hope not after it.
'Tis not your inky brows, your black silk hair,
Your bugle eyeballs, nor your cheek of cream
That can entame my spirits to your worship.
You foolish shepherd, wherefore do you follow her,
Like foggy south, puffing with wind and rain?
You are a thousand times a properer man
Than she a woman. 'Tis such fools as you
That make the world full of ill-favor'd children.
'Tis not her glass, but you that flatters her,
And out of you she sees her self more proper
Than any of her lineaments can show her.
But, mistress, know yourself, down on your knees,
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love;
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can, you are not for all markets.


Ralph Berry takes a counter-view of As You Like It, and especially of this incident.9 He finds unease, irritation and hostility—the groundswell of a power struggle latent or overt—to be the dominant motif of the play. This, however, is a view as overselective as Jaques' seven ages speech. What it leaves out is the fun. But it is also not strictly accurate. Berry accounts, for instance, for the ‘quite astonishing warmth’ of Rosalind's diatribe—‘thirty odd lines of vulgar abuse’ he calls it—in terms of Phebe appearing to Rosalind as a subtly threatening parallel or caricature of herself. ‘Phebe is a domineering woman who … has mastered her man; so is Rosalind.’ But when the incident occurs Rosalind has mastered no one. She has merely suggested to Orlando that they meet again. Phebe is, to be sure, the phantom Ganymede conjures to cure Orlando of just such love-longing as Silvius'. The caricature double surely provides a foil to the hidden Rosalind; and the comedy arising from the idea of Rosalind meeting a ‘real’ embodiment of Ganymede's fantasy is quite lost in Berry's reductive reading.10

It is no wonder that Phebe, whose dejected lover Silvius is clearly not manly enough for his imperious mistress, falls head over heels in love with this high-spirited outspokenness, thus hoisting Rosalind/Ganymede with his/her own epicene petard. Ganymede has in his face that which Phebe would feign call master, it seems, and this is a tangle not easy to untie. A remedy for deadlock, however, is provided by the very occurrence which virtually exhausts the Ganymede device. The arrival of Oliver, reformed by his experience of courtly treachery, with the tale of his brother's heroic rescue (a recapitulation of the native virtu of the wrestling exploit on a higher moral level) provides not only proof that Orlando is no tame snake like Silvius, but also a patrimony for him and a partner for Celia. The exhaustion of the comic device is neatly dramatized by the emotional collapse of Rosalind at the sight of the bloodied handkerchief, and there is now nothing in the world to prevent the trickster heroine from undoing the turmoil she has caused. Her power to do this is beautifully ‘masqued’ by the chiming quartet of Act V, scene ii: Love is ‘to be made of sighs and tears’—

And so am I for Phebe.
And I for Ganymede.
And I for Rosalind.
And I for no woman.


and so on, until Rosalind begs, ‘Pray you no more of this, 'tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon’ (V.ii.109-10).

This is the ironic voice which ends the play with the classic plea for applause in the epilogue, and it is worth a moment's further reflection. That Rosalind is still dressed as Ganymede has been convincingly argued in terms of the scarcity of time available at that point for a boy to change into elaborate women's clothing.11 But there is a cogent argument to be drawn from the play's own dialectical resolution. If she is still Ganymede in the epilogue, then ‘If I were a woman’ is spoken out of her saucy lackey role, as the man-of-the-world bawdy of ‘that between you and the women the play may please’ seems to suggest. She is thus drawing the audience, too, into her transvestite trickster's net, prolonging the duplicity of self-discovery and self-concealment, the enchanting game of both/and. But if she is dressed as Rosalind, then ‘If I were a woman’ is spoken over the heads, so to speak, of characters and play, by the boy-actor of Shakespeare's company, and this will collapse the dramatic illusion of ‘real’ make-believe from which the whole play draws its dynamic power. Shakespeare, I submit, is not calling attention to his play as play, as opposed to reality: he is calling attention to Rosalind's ‘play’ as a component reality would do well to absorb.

At the end of As You Like It dukes are restored to their dukedoms, sons to their inheritances. Wickedness has burst, like a boil, by some mysterious spontaneous combustion, leaving not a rack behind. But not all Jacks have their Jills. Jaques is unassimilated. But he is by nature a solitary and continues his travels, happily sucking melancholy out of all occasions as a weasel sucks eggs, on the outer edge of remedy.

There is also unaccommodated William at the marriage feast. But there's hope even there, if Touchstone's fidelity can be relied upon; Jaques gives him two months (V.iv.192). For though ‘wedlock’, in the view of that philosopher of life's most minimal expectations, ‘will be nibbling’, what of it?

But what though? Courage! As horns are odious, they are necessary. It is said, ‘Many a man knows no end of his goods’. Right! many a man has good horns and knows no end of them. Well, that is the dowry of his wife, 'tis none of his own getting. Horns? even so. Poor men alone? No, no, the noblest deer hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man therefore bless'd? No, as a wall'd town is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a married man more honorable than the bare brow of a bachelor …


If this is a mockery of ‘romance’ it is also a mockery of ‘reason’. A protuberance is a protuberance, whether it be the bastion of a walled town or the horned frontlet of a married man. To Touchstone, logic is a bagatelle. All is immaterially interchangeable: court and country, culture and nature, fact and fiction, sense and folly, wedlock and non-wedlock, for that matter, too. Earthly things made even atone together in Touchstone's anti-logic as well as in Hymen's conjuration. Touchstone's courtship has been a mocking parody of the affectations of the mid-level characters Phebe and Silvius; but he is also a mocking foil to Rosalind's superior synthesis of culture and nature, just as his bawdy ‘prick’ song (If a hart do lack a hind [III.ii.100-12]) is foil to her own frank naturalism. In this matter she can give as good as she gets, too, in Mercutio's very vein (III.ii.117-20).

‘Rosalind, Viola, and, to a less extent Beatrice’, says Charlton (forgetting, however, Julia and Hippolyta),

have entered into the possession of spiritual endowments which, if hitherto suspected to exist at all, had either been distrusted as dangerous or had become moribund through desuetude … they have claimed the intuitive, the subconscious, and the emotional as instruments by which personality may bring itself to a fuller consciousness of and a completer harmony with the realities of existence. They have left Theseus far behind; they have also outgrown Falstaff.12

It is perhaps, as I have tried to show, less a matter of outgrowing Falstaff, than of replacing him, by a new combination: the Lady and the Fool. Touchstone is a professional jester,13 not a bumbling village constable or a Bacchic life-force. He is not a merry fool, either. He is too Ecclesiastes-wise; and besides his feet hurt. But his burlesque fool's wisdom serves throughout most excellently to mediate our recognition of the Erastian higher folly of his ebullient mistress. When Wylie Sypher speaks of ‘the unruliness of the flesh and its vitality’, he characterizes the buffoon nature in all its manifestations. ‘Comedy’, Sypher continues, ‘is essentially a carrying away of Death, a triumph over mortality by some absurd faith in rebirth, restoration, salvation.’14 Perhaps we could say that Touchstone epitomizes the absurdity, and Rosalind the faith; and that it is the interlocking and paradoxical partnership of the two that characterizes this second, and second last of Shakespeare's post-Falstaffian comedies.

Shakespeare is not done with the wayward and unruly erotic passions. Nor will he be, needless to say, until the last word he contributes to Two Noble Kinsmen. But his romantic comedy treatment of them does come to an end with his next play Twelfth Night, in which the rivalries and duplicities, twinnings and doublings of the battle of the sexes are further extended into the ambivalent twinnings, duplicities and doublings within the lovers' own individual identities.


  1. C. L. Barber, ‘The Use of Comedy in As You Like It’, [Philological Quarterly,] vol. xxi (1942), p. 353.

  2. Harold Jenkins, ‘As You Like It’, Shakespeare Studies, vol. 8 (1955), pp. 40-1.

  3. Unless, of course, we choose to invert the play entirely, and make the solitary, melancholy Jaques our Diogenes, and the rest mere mortal, convivial fools.

  4. As D. J. Palmer puts it in ‘Art and Nature in As You Like It’, [Philological Quarterly,] vol. xlix (1970), pp. 33-5: ‘the forest brings its inhabitants face to face with their own shadows everyone becomes more fully himself in the forest’. I find several of my observations anticipated by Palmer in this important essay, but his argument is meshed into discussion of the theme of Art and Nature and the bearing of his remarks therefore somewhat oblique to my own concerns.

  5. Theobald emended ‘not’ to ‘but’: ‘Here feel we but the penalty Adam, / The seasons' difference …’ etc., and many editors follow the eminent good sense of the emendation.

  6. Peter V. Marinelli, Pastoral (London: Methuen, 1971), p. 37.

  7. The neat opposition comes from Michael McCanles' excellent account in Dialectical Criticism and Renaissance Literature (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975).

  8. Abraham H. Maslow, Towards a Psychology of Being (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968), pp. 101-2. Quoted by Michael Payne in SRO, edited by W. R. Elton, nos. 7-8 (1972/4), p. 76.

  9. ‘No Exit from Arden’, Shakespeare's Comedies (Princeton University Press, 1972), pp. 175-95.

  10. Phebe and Silvius are a particularly fine example of the subtle effects Shakespeare derives from his middle-level mirror image characters. Richard Levin, The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1971), has noted the social stratification in the play and points out that it is marked by appropriate emblematic animals: the stag for the courtiers, sheep for Phebe the shepherdess and the lowly goat for Audrey.

  11. Maura Slattery Kuhn, ‘Much Virtue in If’, Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 28 (Winter, 1977).

  12. H. B. Charlton, Shakespearean Comedy (London: Methuen, 1938), p. 283.

  13. Robert Armin had by this time replaced Will Kempe for the fool's roles in Shakespeare's company, a circumstance which no doubt played its part in the Shakespearean transformation here described.

  14. Wylie Sypher, ‘The Meaning of Comedy’ in Comedy (New York: Doubleday, 1956), p. 220.

Ben Brantley (review date 9 August 1999)

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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 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 on her image as an elegant clothes hanger, while reminding us that there is a sharp and playful intelligence beneath the gloss.

The Rosalind who climbs onto the stage through a trap door, revealing plenty of the well-turned leg beneath her long skirt, is both spirited and uncertain, a colt still waiting to grow out of awkwardness. But just watch how her confidence blossoms once she changes into something more comfortable. In this case it clearly takes some time in men's clothing to make a woman out of a girl.

Let's all heave a sigh of relief. Returning to the theater where she cut her teeth as a performer and where her mother, Blythe Danner, has long reigned as a favorite actress, Ms. Paltrow winningly claims for herself a role stamped by interpreters from Lillie Langtry to Vanessa Redgrave. Granted, she has already proved she is quite capable of bringing flair to Elizabethan-style speech and courtship by cross-dressing in Shakespeare in Love.

But Ms. Paltrow isn't recycling cinematic tricks. Her take on Rosalind has a boldness and broadness, a way of suggesting spontaneity in stylized terms, that could work only in the theater. If there is occasionally a curl of affectation in her line readings, you never doubt that Ms. Paltrow knows exactly what she is saying and why she is saying it. It is a thought-through performance that refuses to coast on charm and is poised between delicate moments of insight and comic exaggeration.

The same cannot always be said of Mr. Edelstein's production, which deliberately emphasizes the artificial nature of Shakespeare's great pastoral comedy. The evening's themes and its blend of merriment and melancholy are established with precision and inventiveness in its opening scenes.

But as the production continues, its controlled balance is tipped toward a looser, anything-goes burlesque, typical of summertime Shakespeare but less than worthy of the higher ambitions in evidence here.

The show doesn't drag. But it needs to whittle down its farcical elements to set off properly not only Ms. Paltrow's fully integrated performance, but also that of Mark Linn-Baker, as the play's verbally dextrous clown, and of Michael Cumpsty, who gives an intriguing new edge to the sardonic and brooding Jaques.

Mr. Edelstein's central conceit is a good one. The production—which makes prominent use of original music by Mark Bennett, suavely rendered by a four-piece band and the singer-actor Keith Byron Kirk—uses jazz to reflect the play's sense of creative improvisation in life. All the characters in As You Like It are, in a sense, trying to figure out just what they do like, what tones and rhythms suit their specific selves. The final sorting out of lovers, orchestrated by Rosalind and providence, is a progression into sweet harmony after a series of experimental riffs.

Accordingly, when we first meet Rosalind and Celia (Ms. Dodds), her cousin and the daughter of the Duke who ousted Rosalind's father (Byron Jennings takes on both roles with gusto), they are playing dress-up, trying on different attitudes with props pulled from a trunk. It is Celia, played with appealing, waspish wryness by Ms. Dodds, who takes the initiative and shows the greater élan here.

Ms. Paltrow's Rosalind, more than any I've seen, is all too aware of her position as a barely tolerated outsider in her uncle's court, and this insecurity heightens her callowness. When she first spots Orlando (Alessandro Nivola), who comes to challenge the usurping duke's favorite wrestler (an amusingly gangsterish Mark K. Smaltz), her response is as goony as that of a lovesick teen-ager.

Only when the game of dress-up begins in earnest, when Rosalind flees from her uncle's court to the forest of Arden disguised as a boy, does she begin seriously to sort out who she is. Arden is where her exiled father dwells; it is also where Orlando, dispossessed by his vengeful brother (Stephen Barker Turner), seeks asylum.

In the celebrated scenes in which Rosalind, as the boy Ganymede, tutors the unwitting Orlando in the aspects of love, Ms. Paltrow makes it clear that she is giving herself an education as well. The deception forces this Rosalind to temper and channel the rushing current of previously unknown passions, and Ms. Paltrow does some lovely things with tempo and inflection to chart her character's evolution.

One wishes that the Orlando here were more up to the challenge his Rosalind presents. Mr. Nivola, an actor of chiseled handsomeness and willowy build, is delightful when he is simply reacting, whether in wonder, bewilderment or enthusiasm. But he is less at home with the language than Ms. Paltrow is.

As the mock-classical, rustic lovers of pastoral idylls, Silvius and Phoebe, John Ellison Conlee and Angelina Phillips are straight out of Dogpatch, as is the lusty goatherd, Audrey, as embodied by the ever-vivid Lea DeLaria. They are all funny at moments, but often in pandering ways that need to be reined in.

As Audrey's suitor and the resident philosopher-clown, Touchstone, Mr. Linn-Baker, best known for the television series “Perfect Strangers,” has an assured, ebullient delivery that does indeed become the touchstone of the play's love of language. And Mr. Cumpsty is a fascinating Jaques, a reformed libertine who has still to come to terms with his own erotic impulses.

Mr. Cumpsty sounds the evening's most insistent notes of darkness with style and wit, and it's a shame that by the production's end it has no place for the subtleties of his performance. Even Narelle Sissons's setting, which begins as an elegant study in surrealism and makes droll use of blatantly fake livestock, seems to become garish and overblown.

So does the music, which turns Hymen's ode to marriage into the schmaltzy standard “What a Wonderful World,” sung (nicely enough) by Larry Marshall as Orlando's trusty old retainer, here bizarrely transformed into a Cab Calloway figure.

None of this, however, eclipses the genuine grace of Ms. Paltrow's final metamorphosis, when Rosalind returns undisguised for the wedding scene. In a simple, fluid white dress (the good-looking costumes are by Anita Yavich) that is eons away from the stiff ball gown of her opening scene, this Rosalind has a new composure combined with the vulnerable air of someone who has emerged from protective disguise to face the world as herself.

Ms. Paltrow, too, has undergone transformations since she last appeared in Williamstown, as Nina in The Seagull five years ago. At that time she had the shimmering presence that would translate so beguilingly to film but little of the necessary assurance for a complicated part. This actress's growth into maturity becomes an enchanted mirror in As You Like It for that of the character she plays.


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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.

Michael Shapiro (essay date 1994)

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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, adopted female disguise. Such a second cross-gender disguise would reverse the direction of the gender change of the first and intensify what was already a highly reflexive situation, for in representing a woman, the female page would be repeating in the world of the play what the male performer was doing in the world of the playhouse. In As You Like It, Shakespeare has Ganymed pretend to be a woman and at moments invites the performer to play broad female stereotypes but stops well short of a second cross-gender disguise. No play of the English Renaissance exploited the full potentiality of this variation, probably because of the technical difficulty of dramatizing two disguisings and undisguisings. The usual solution was to conceal the heroine's initial cross-gender disguise from other characters and ostensibly from the audience until the end of the play.


Freeburg uses the term “retro-disguise” to describe plays in which female pages adopt a second disguise as a woman, although it should properly be reserved for plays in which the second disguise is perceived as a return to her original female identity.1 Freeburg cites sixteenth-century examples of plays using retro-disguise from the tradition of commedia erudita, such as Porta's La Cintia and its Latin adaptation Labyrinthus, performed at Cambridge in 1599. The earliest example in English, probably acted several years before As You Like It, is Heywood's The Four Prentices of London (Admirals, 1592-94).2

Four apprentices, actually sons of the earl of Bulloigne, enlist in the Crusades, but one of them, Guy, is shipwrecked on the shores of France. He wins the love of “the Lady of France,” as the king's daughter is called, who announces, in a short soliloquy, that she plans to follow Guy when he returns to the wars as commander of her father's army. She neglects to say how she will do so, but spectators familiar with chivalric romance, Renaissance epic, and folk ballad would have anticipated her reappearance as a page or squire. Such suspicions are confirmed several scenes later, when his page (later called Jack) speaks a soliloquy, preceded by the stage direction “Manet the French Lady,” revealing himself to be the princess, who, “Under the habite of a trusty Page” (53, l. 1131), has become Guy's close companion:

My love and Lord, that honoured me a woman,
Loves me a youth, employes me every where. …
And now I have learnt to be a perfect Page,
He will have none to trusse his points but me,
At boord to waite upon his cup but me:
To beare his Target in the field, but me.

Such fondness has led to an awkward and unsatisfying intimacy:

Nay, many a thing, which makes me blush to speak,
He will have none to lie with him but me.

(53, ll. 1135-44)

In the world of the play, the passage registers the female character's embarrassment at having to impersonate a boy and perhaps at being used sexually as one, as play-boys were alleged to be in the world of the playhouse.

But Heywood, more than most writers of late chivalric romances and Renaissance epics, also allows the disguised heroine to articulate her sexual frustration at this emotional intimacy and physical proximity afforded to her in and because of her cross-gender disguise:

I dreame and dreame, and things come in my mind:
Onely I hide my eyes; but my poore heart
Is bar'd and kept from loves satiety.

(53, ll. 1145-47)

She can only experience “love[']s satiety” as a woman, although the reflexive effect of male disguise has also made the audience highly aware of the play-boy as a performer, and perhaps as a sexual object.

In the confusion of battle Jack runs off and is taken prisoner by Eustace, one of Guy's brothers, and asks permission to “cloath me like a Lady” (82, ll. 1832, 1846) so that he might evade his master's displeasure when they meet. But Eustace informs Guy that Jack intends to appear before him disguised as a woman and asks his brother to forgive the errant page:

The poore boy, brother, stayes within my Tent,
But so disguis'd you cannot know him now,
For hee's turn'd wench: and but I know the wagge,
To be a boy, to see him thus transform'd,
I should have sworn he had bene a wench indeed.

(111, ll. 2518-22)

Jack's appearance in female attire is interpreted in several ways. Eustace, who is privy to Jack's plan, sees a boy bride. Most of the other characters, taken in by the disguise, see a strange woman. Guy and the audience see this second disguise as an undisguising, as the reappearance of the lady of France.

As the princess had hoped, Guy recognizes her at once and embraces her. The onlookers, who believe this woman to be Jack in female disguise, are astonished to see Guy “kisse a boy, … a Page, a wagtaile by this light” (112, ll. 2533, 2536), although, as many spectators would have realized, that is precisely what was happening in the world of the playhouse. Eustace's “error” in taking Jack as male articulates the audience's awareness of the male performer beneath the female role. Eustace's warning to his brother about this maid is not altogether off the mark:

Do not mistake the sex man, for he's none,
It is a rogue, a wag, his name is Jack,
A notable dissembling lad, a Crack.

(112, ll. 2539-41)

Guy sheepishly explains that “she hath beene my bedfellow / A yeare and more, yet had I not the grace—” (112, ll. 2543-44). Unable or perhaps unwilling to continue his explanation, he takes her as his bride.

The second cross-gender disguise, though brief in duration, heightens possibilities of “discrepant awareness”3 and offers the spectators a choice of several erotic possibilities. At the nexus of this tangle is the play-boy representing a woman and by means of reflexive allusion to his male identity generating the theatrical vibrancy that enhances the princess's power to reclaim her beloved, just as it did Julia's in Two Gentlemen.


No one can say whether Shakespeare noted the use of a second cross-gender disguise in Heywood's The Four Prentices or in earlier academic or commercial plays. Nevill Coghill theorizes that a second cross-gender disguise reversing the direction of gender switch of the first occurred to Shakespeare as a permutation of his or others' previous work: “A boy can present a girl; a boy can present a girl presenting a boy; a boy can present a girl presenting a boy presenting a girl.”4 Ganymed's representation of Rosalind also occurs in Lodge's Rosalynde (pub. 1590), the primary narrative source for As You Like It (1599),5 but the suggestion of a second cross-gender disguise may be one of the features that attracted Shakespeare to this prose pastoral romance.

In the play, as in Lodge's romance, Rosalind, disguised as the page Ganymed, meets Orlando in the forest, and offers to pretend to be “Rosalind.” Because Ganymed never goes so far as to adopt female disguise, as does Heywood's Jack in The Four Prentices, “Rosalind” exists only as a pretense for as long as Orlando chooses to accept it. Neither he nor anyone else mistakes Ganymed for “Rosalind,” as happens in plays using retro-disguise, but the pretense of “Rosalind” resembles a disguise on top of a disguise by giving the performer a second, female layer of identity beyond the original female character and her first disguise as Ganymed. As a result of this triple layering, the text provides rich opportunities for the performer to shift abruptly from one layer of gender identity to another.

An audience would be confused unless the performer, regardless of gender, made it clear when Rosalind herself was speaking, when the character was speaking as Ganymed, and when Ganymed was posing as the stereotyped “Rosalind.” In the minds of the audience and the performer, all three of these layers are understood as forming the complex amalgam of the female character, but an attempt to convey them simultaneously would produce confusion. Instead, I suggest that the boy actor did what most actors do when called upon to play multiple layers of identity: he committed himself fully to one layer of identity at a time as suggested by the script or determined in rehearsal, perhaps occasionally suggesting connections and oppositions between layers, or trusting the audience to do so. In moving from layer to layer, the performer could probably also count on spectators to maintain awareness of the play-boy and to admire his virtuosity.6 Once the play shifts to the Forest of Arden, the text invites the performer to invent a different mode or style for each of these three separate and distinct layers of identity—Rosalind, Ganymed, and “Rosalind.”

The original layer, the voluble and high-spirited Rosalind, is in love with a man she barely knows and is aware of the risks in loving. In I.iii, after the duke has decreed Rosalind's banishment and left the stage, Celia assumes the dominant role in the relationship, proposing that they both flee the court, while Rosalind replies in monosyllabic half-lines. But in response to Celia's suggestion that they don “poor and mean attire … [and] with a kind of umber smirch” their faces, Rosalind takes the initiative, beginning with the idea of her donning masculine apparel:

                                                            Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?

(ll. 111-16)

Within the world of the play, the mere idea of playing a man releases for Rosalind the same kind of wit and verbal energy it did for Julia and Portia; within the world of the playhouse, the passage allowed recognition of the fact that a boy actor, taller than most women, was performing the role and that his excessive height was cleverly woven into the fabric of the play. Shakespeare's Rosalind, like Portia, also imagines herself burlesquing male swaggering once she is dressed as a man:

A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh,
A boar-spear in my hand, and—in my heart
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will—
We'll have a swashing and a martial outside,
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances.


This speech indicates a capacity for antiromantic wit, which finds expression through her adoption of male identity. But although Rosalind had already decided to take the name of “Jove's own page” (I.iii.124), she discovers her true Ganymed voice to be that of a Lylian page only after Orlando appears, well into III.ii, when she decides to “speak to him like a saucy lackey, and under that habit play the knave with him” (III.ii.295-97). After over a hundred lines of Lylian wit, Ganymed proposes to adopt yet another layer of identity by pretending to be Orlando's beloved: “I would cure you, if you would but call me Rosalind, and come every day to my cote and woo me” (III.ii.426-27). Before Ganymed impersonates “Rosalind,” he gives Orlando and the audience a preview of this female role by describing how he took it on once before in order to cure another inamorato:

He was to imagine me his love, his mistress; and I set him every day to woo me. At which time would I, being but a moonish youth, grieve, be effeminate, changeable, longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every passion something, and for no passion truly any thing, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this color.


Slightly less variable than this sketch, Ganymed's “Rosalind” is a blend of such misogynistic stereotypes as the scold, the fickle or cruel Petrarchan mistress, and the shrewish cuckold maker.

Although I believe that the text invites the performer to establish these three distinct layers of identity, it is not obvious at every moment which one should be played. Different performers will make different choices. In analyzing a sample passage, IV.i.171-200, I want to show how these distinctive tones might be articulated and how quickly they change.

Ganymed has been offering “man-to-man” advice to Orlando on the behavior of wives, has suggested the possibility of infidelity, and reaches a crescendo of exuberant cynicism in celebrating the wit of women to “make her fault her husband's occasion.” Orlando is either dumfounded or disappointed and, perhaps in order to break off this misogynistic diatribe, recalls his duty to the duke: “For these two hours, Rosalind, I will leave thee.” Unaware that the real Rosalind is present, he addresses “Rosalind,” the image of his beloved constructed by Ganymed, but it might well be the real Rosalind and not the coy or imperious “Rosalind” who replies, “Alas, dear love, I cannot lack thee two hours!” She could then cover this involuntary revelation of her true feelings in her next speech by resorting to tones usually associated with “Rosalind,” first the contemptuous dismissal of “Ay, go your ways, go your ways” and then the extravagant self-pity of “'Tis but one cast away, and so come death!” But the very next sentence is Rosalind's anxious attempt to verify the time of Orlando's return, while the breezy response to Orlando's “Ay, sweet Rosalind” is Ganymed's stern warning to his friend that he dare not be late lest he be unworthy “of her you call Rosalind.” At these and similar points in the play, different performers will make different decisions, but the text invites anyone playing the role to act each moment in one of these three distinct modes, to move rapidly between them, and to invent ways to negotiate the transitions.7

Nancy Hayles comments perceptively on Rosalind's “on-layering” and “off-layering” of disguise and pretense, suggesting that these multiple identities are established and dismantled in linear sequence.8 Broadly speaking, she is right, but closer inspection, I would argue, suggests that a rigidly linear pattern is disrupted not only by textual signals for the performer to change abruptly from one identity to another, but even more forcefully in Shakespeare's day by reflexive allusions to the gender of the boy actor. As in Two Gentleman, the saucy lackey called Ganymed is a Lylian page, a theatricalized version of the wit and audacity Elizabethans attributed to and sometimes cultivated in boys. Although we do not know the name of the play-boy who acted Rosalind, Heywood assures us that most Elizabethan spectators did. Whatever the real personality of that boy, it must have been difficult for spectators to separate the play-boy from the pert and cheeky adolescent, even if the pert and cheeky adolescent was, in the world of the play, a disguise adopted by a female character. Instead of existing at a further remove from reality, Ganymed would probably have seemed as much a figure of the audience's world, the world of the playhouse, as of the fictive world of the play. To add yet another dimension of reflexivity, Ganymed's representation of “Rosalind,” replicated within the world of the play exactly what the audience saw in the world of the playhouse: a boy impersonating Rosalind.9 Hayles's linear sequence of on- and off-layering produces a concentric model of roles nested within roles, but the intricacy of the text and the reflexive effects produced by the presence of a male actor suggest a far more complicated scheme.

Once Rosalind is in male attire, the play makes many more references to her concealed feminine identity than Two Gentlemen or The Merchant did and often encourages the performer to oscillate between female and male layers of identity with lightning speed, whether Rosalind is playing Ganymed or Ganymed is pretending to be “Rosalind.”10 On Shakespeare's stage, these oscillations became even more dazzling in the light of spectators' dual consciousness of the boy actor producing all of these abrupt shifts. These multiple layers of identity and the swift movements from one to another produced a theatrical vibrancy that engaged audiences in the illusion that an amalgam constructed of multiple and discrete layers of identity represented a unified character.


In Lodge's narrative, Rosalynde is one of three women in love, whose stories he tells one at a time, at more or less equal length, and “on the same plane of courtly, artificial sentimentality.”11 Shakespeare turned Rosalind's into the main plot, into which he wove the other stories, and made her the dominant figure in the entire play. Not only does Shakespeare enable her to outtalk any of the other characters,12 but he makes her motives more enigmatic. Whereas Lodge simply tells the reader that his heroine offers to pretend to be Rosader's beloved to entice him to stay with her a bit longer, Shakespeare is far less explicit. He allows us to ascribe that motive to Rosalind, if we wish, in spite of Ganymed's antiromantic offer to cure Orlando of love. The play is similarly ambiguous as to whether Orlando, who really does not want to be cured, is accepting a dare or finding himself drawn to this strange youth.13 Shakespeare also makes more theatrical use of his heroine's multiple layers of identity than Lodge does by making her jump from one to another and by exploiting the additional layer of identity of the boy actor, obviously not available to Lodge or his readers. As Bruce Smith writes, “We are never tempted to forget that Rosalynde is a woman; the Orlando-figure never takes her for anything but a man. All of Lodge's sexual jokes turn … on keeping that distinction clear.”14

Cross-gender casting permits Shakespeare to treat these layers of identity more fluidly. He makes the heroine sometimes play Ganymed and sometimes “Rosalind,” as we have seen. He also highlights the contradictions between Rosalind and Ganymed, especially between the heroine's self-confessed unfathomable love for Orlando and the saucy lackey's antiromantic cynicism. Shakespeare also develops this contrast in snatches of dialogue between Rosalind and Celia, the only other character besides Touchstone who knows Ganymed's real identity. Here too Shakespeare developed ideas present in his source. Lodge's Rosalynde, for example, underlines the opposed genders of her dual identity by commenting on gendered articles of clothing and on the radically different attitudes toward women she considers appropriate to each layer of her sexual identity:

Thus (quoth Ganimede) I keepe decorum, I speake now as I am Alienas page, not as I am Gerismonds daughter: for put me but into a peticoate, and I will stand in defiance to the uttermost that women are courteous, constant, vertuous, and what not.


Shakespeare's Rosalind also contrasts conventional gender roles in similar terms:

I could find it in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel and to cry like a woman; but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat; therefore courage, good Aliena.


Lodge sometimes makes Aliena comment on Ganimede's male clothing as a betrayal of Rosalynde's true female identity:

Leave off (quoth Aliena) to taunt thus bitterly, or els Ile pul off your pages apparell and whip you (as Venus doth her wantons) with nettles.


Shakespeare echoes this rebuke, adding anatomical innuendoes to the gender-based sartorial details:

You have simply misus'd our sex in your love-prate. We must have your doublet and hose pluck'd over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest.


Adding sexual innuendoes not found in Lodge underscored the various layers of gender identity held in suspension in such scenes.

Shakespeare further departs from his source in using Celia, whether or not she speaks, to accentuate Rosalind's presence beneath her disguise as Ganymed. In other plays, Shakespeare has his heroines in male disguise convey their female identities in soliloquies or asides.17 In As You Like It, he makes Rosalind play off of Celia, who knows the truth of her identity. Rosalind, or more precisely the performer playing the role, can shift from Ganymed to Rosalind by turning to Celia in the midst of scenes involving other characters. Several scenes begin with a dialogue between Rosalind and Celia, before they are joined by other characters and become Ganymed and his sister Aliena. Shakespeare makes Ganymed by far the more active of the two in those portions of the scenes, but as long as Celia is present the two performers can activate the audience's knowledge of their other identities merely by glancing toward one another, as Lodge cannot make them do on the printed page without directly or indirectly narrating such an action.

The first time Ganymed pretends to be “Rosalind” in a scene with Orlando, Celia, who had much to say to her cousin before Orlando's appearance, suddenly turns mute. When Celia does speak, after some forty lines, she seems to be trying to prevent “Rosalind” from giving away the presence of Rosalind:

Virtue is no horn-maker; and my Rosalind is virtuous.
And I am your Rosalind.
It pleases him to call you so; but he hath a Rosalind of a better leer than you.


Celia's fear that Rosalind will reveal herself to Orlando articulates to the audience the layers of identity involved in the world of the play and points up the presence of the talented play-boy who constructs and juggles them all.

The second time Celia speaks while Orlando is present is about sixty lines later during the “wedding ceremony.” Whereas Celia proposes the mock marriage in Lodge's novel, and Rosalynde “changed as redde as a rose” (2:214), in the play Rosalind suggests it, and Celia seems so shocked either at the sacrilege or at Rosalind's audacity in realizing her deepest fantasy that she “cannot say the words” (IV.i.128).18 She seems irritated by Ganymed's prompting “Go to!” but does get out one line of the priest's part—“Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?” (IV.i.130-31)—and then remains silent for about seventy more lines until Orlando leaves.

Some stage productions have Celia recede into the background and come forward only to deliver her lines. In the BBC version the camera usually frames its shots so as to exclude her. Her two scripted intrusions into the duet between Rosalind and Orlando suggest that her function is to provide the performer playing her cousin with a focal point for reestablishing the presence of her female identity as Rosalind. Similarly, when Ganymed attempts to disentangle himself from Phebe, some of his utterances to Aliena will be understood by the audience as communication between Rosalind and Celia as well, as in III.v, where Ganymed's three separate exit lines to “sister” indicate an increasing urgency, an urgency that reminds the audience of the heroine's female identity even if the performer chooses not to indicate it.

Lodge often reminds his readers of his heroine's female layer of identity by describing such involuntary physical reactions as blushing and weeping. Shakespeare dramatized only one such moment: Celia, having mentioned “a chain, that you once wore, about his neck,” notices that Rosalind blushes: “Change you color?” (III.ii.181-82). As in Two Gentlemen, Shakespeare either expected his boy actress to blush on cue or hoped that the verbal suggestion would create the illusion in the spectators' minds. Shakespeare also amplified Rosalynde's involuntary reaction to Rosader's wound. Lodge's heroine is “busie dressing up the wounds of the Forrester” (2:222) and later reacts more emotionally. Even when her feelings are stirred, she continues to administer first aid:

Ganimede had teares in her eyes, and passions in her heart to see her Rosader so pained, and therefore stept hastely to the bottle, and filling out some wine in a Mazer, shee spiced it with such comfortable drugs as she had about her, and gave it him.


Shakespeare dilates and complicates this moment. Rosalind listens to Oliver's account of Orlando's injury, presumably without betraying her own emotional response, but when Oliver shows her the napkin stained with his brother's blood, she swoons. Possibly suspicious of Ganymed's gender, Oliver charges the “page” with “lack[ing] a man's heart” (IV.iii.164). Rosalind seems to confess—“I do so, I confess it”—while Ganymed (or a weakened version of him) quickly retracts Rosalind's admission by claiming “this was well counterfeited! I pray you tell your brother how well I counterfeited. Heigh-ho!” (IV.iii.165-68).19 Whereas Lodge exploited the techniques available in prose narrative to remind his readers of the heroine's true gender, adapting the material for the stage required Shakespeare to provide moments for the performer to evoke the heroine's female identity with economy and precision.

In modern productions, the actress's swoon also emphasizes the presence of Rosalind behind her disguise but does so by narrowing the gap between the heroine and the female performer. As Mary Hamer has observed, playgoers and performers from the mid-eighteenth century on have often conspired to reduce this distance at such moments, in order to create an illusion of Rosalind's innate feminine delicacy. As embodiments of a “myth of femininity,” most Rosalinds of that period had to display such tenderness of feeling in order to counterbalance such “female vices” as volubility and bossiness.20 On the Elizabethan stage, moments like the swoon would have been perceived as opportunities for the boy actor to construct the illusion of Rosalind's femininity.


An even trickier moment for the Elizabethan boy actor occurs later in the play, in V.ii, when Shakespeare brings Rosalind and Orlando alone on stage for the first time. Orlando refers to “my Rosalind” (l. 16) and Oliver greets the page as “fair sister” (l. 18), but these remarks seem playfully addressed to Ganymed's “Rosalind,” as neither brother elsewhere shows any sign (to me) of having seen through Rosalind's disguise.21

During this sixty-line duet with Orlando, Rosalind has no Celia to restrain her or to play off of as herself. In her opening line, an expression of pity from “Rosalind,” she seems inadvertently to betray the presence of Rosalind: “O my dear Orlando, how it grieves me to see thee wear thy heart in a scarf!” (ll. 19-20). To his matter-of-fact correction, “It is my arm” (l. 21), she offers a line that can be delivered as a continuation of Rosalind's concern, as Ganymed's nonchalant attempt to cover the error, or as “Rosalind's” wide-eyed mock confusion: “I thought thy heart had been wounded with the claws of a lion” (ll. 22-23). Orlando's reply marks a resumption of his earlier lovesickness, “Wounded it is, but with the eyes of a lady” (l. 24), but it puts enough emotional pressure on Rosalind to drive her hastily into Ganymed's sauciest mode: “Did your brother tell you how I counterfeited to sound [swoon] when he show'd me your handkercher?” (ll. 25-27). He then launches into a long account of Oliver's and Celia's courtship spoken with Ganymed's Lylian pertness, an amused account of the other couple's wildfire passion.

Reminded by their good fortune of his own “heart-heaviness,” Orlando's self-pity prompts Rosalind to ask an ambiguous question containing a common bawdy innuendo: “Why then to-morrow I cannot serve your turn for Rosalind?” (ll. 48-49). If the “I” is “Rosalind,” the line becomes a veiled offer, a test to see if Orlando wants to continue the game they have been playing, and his reply, “I can live no longer by thinking” (l. 50), indicates that he has exhausted such playful fantasies and now desires the real Rosalind. If the “I” is Ganymed, the sexual meaning of “serve your turn” may be activated in a way that provokes Orlando to declare an end to their innocent pastimes for fear of what they may lead to. In either case, she is pleased that Orlando has tired of “thinking” and wants her rather than the “Rosalind” he believes was the pretense of a boy, if not the boy himself. As Philip Traci argues, the name Ganymed evokes the idea of a homoerotic relationship.22 But whereas Twelfth Night explores that possibility by granting Orsino and Cesario several scenes alone and emphasizing their growing closeness, As You Like It allows Orlando and Ganymed only one brief moment alone onstage. Nor does the play refer to offstage intimacy between master and page as does Heywood's The Four Prentices. Although a production of As You Like It might suggest a degree of homoerotic attraction between Orlando and Ganymed, the language of the text generally keeps the tone of their relationship teasing and light, rather than somber and intense. In Ganymed's next speech, he takes control of the scene and, assuming Orlando is serious about marrying Rosalind, offers to use his magic to “set her before your eyes to-morrow” (ll. 66-67).

In addition to avoiding intimacy between Orlando and Ganymed, Shakespeare also avoided a spectacular disclosure of Rosalind's identity, such as he had used at the end of The Two Gentlemen when Julia “swooned.” Whereas the sudden onstage transformation of sexual identity would remain a feature of plays employing heroines in male disguise, Shakespeare makes Rosalind's off-layering occur offstage, as he did Portia's in The Merchant of Venice. Ganymed leaves the play for the last time at l. 25, while Duke Senior and Orlando remark on his resemblance to Rosalind. Rosalind returns ceremoniously at l. 107 as herself, escorted by Hymen, if not in her wedding dress at least “not furnish'd like a beggar” (epilogue, ll. 9-10). Having divested herself of both Ganymed and his creation “Rosalind,” she appears in the rest of the scene simply as Rosalind. Unlike Julia and Viola, who never remove male attire, Rosalind is restored to female garb as well as female identity, reaffirmed as daughter to the duke and now given as wife to Orlando.23


The play ends with four marriages, familial reunion and reconciliation, and restoration of political authority. Within the world of the play, all of these gestures depend on a stable sense of individual identity, particularly gender identity. But the epilogue, the only one we have for Shakespeare's five plays with cross-dressed heroines, begins by dissolving characters' identities as it invokes the world of the playhouse:

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue.

(ll. 1-5)

Although the speaker, still presumably wearing Rosalind's wedding gown, identifies herself as “the lady,” a change in gender is indicated by “If I were a woman.” One suspects that this change was signaled or accompanied by a physical gesture such as the removal of a wig or some article of female attire.24

Most Elizabethan epilogues reminded audiences of what they always knew, that all of the characters are roles for performers, but this one goes further. Before the spectators' eyes it refracts the figure they had accepted as Rosalind into the various layers of gender identity adopted by a boy actor. Recent commentators regard this stress on the male performer as commentary on the politics of gender, although there is a difference of opinion as to its precise meaning. From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, Janet Adelman sees the emergence of the play-boy as the reinstatement of an androgynous ideal, whereas Peter Erickson regards it as a dilution of Rosalind's female power. Juliet Dusinberre argues that the return of the play-boy is really the return of Rosalind “as insouciant as ever in her breeches,” while Catherine Belsey sees it as yet another disruption of sexual difference, a final gesture toward the arbitrariness of gender roles, for the play-boy if not for the audience he had just divided according to their gender and perhaps their sexual preference.25

Another group of critics sees the epilogue's shifts in gender as movements between planes of illusion, what Keir Elam calls “a species of linguistic tightrope-walking between different ontological zones.”26 In such readings, the epilogue is not the play's final word on sexual politics but an attempt to place the world of the play in some relation to the world of the playhouse. For Kent van den Berg, the splitting of character from performer “affirms … the boundary that separates her fictive world from the reality of the audience,” while Albert Cirillo sees Rosalind “stepping out of the play, as if out of the fiction, [to] exercise … the genuine force of her magic on us by bringing us into the fictional … [so that] the play is our Arden.”27

My own inclination is to take the epilogue as theatrical play rather than social polemics. What both groups of critics fail to consider is that the text instructs the performer to end the epilogue with a gesture toward femininity, if not a complete return to female identity, inviting the men “when I make curtsy, [to] bid me farewell” (ll. 22-23).28 The performer's male gender emerges clearly at “if I were a woman,” but the flirtatiousness with both men and women that follows could either be taken as a homoerotic come-on or a movement back toward the fictive female role, as you (the Elizabethan playgoer) like it. The emergence of the play-boy dissolved all three of the heroine's layers of gender identity, but the return of a fictive female character, as implied by mention of the curtsy and perhaps by the coyness which follows, would have been a kind of curtain call, the virtuoso repeating the trick for the audience's admiration even after showing them the secrets that made it possible.


Whereas Shakespeare had Ganymed merely pretend to be “Rosalind,” Heywood used a second full cross-gender disguise in The Wise Woman of Hogsden (1603-5).29 Instead of presenting the heroine, Second Luce, as herself and then dramatizing her decision to don male attire, Heywood has her come onstage for the first time already disguised as a page. She is described in a stage direction as “a young Countrey Gentlewoman, in the habit of a Page” (93, ll. 352-53), and reveals her identity and her motives a few dozen lines later in soliloquy:

Heigh hoe: have I disguis'd my selfe, and stolne out of the Countrey thus farre, … To this Gallant was I poore Gentle-woman betroathed. … After him come I thus habited.

(ll. 385ff.)

The gallant in question is Chartley, who jilted her for another girl, also named Luce. The soliloquy informs spectators that they are watching the familiar plot of a young woman who dons male apparel in order to pursue the man she loves.

Under the name Jack, she enters the service of the title character, who is also something of a matchmaker. The Wise Woman asks Jack to disguise himself as a woman and to substitute for Chartley's bride, a third girl named Gratiana:

Thou shalt be tyred like a woman; can you make a curtesie, take small strides, simper, and seeme modest? Methinkes thou hast a womans voice already.

(ll. 589-91)

Second Luce's reply, “Doubt not of me, Ile act them naturally” (l. 592; emphasis added), ironically highlights the artful complexity of the boy actor playing a woman disguised as a page now about to adopt yet another layer of cross-gender disguise. When another character, seeing Jack half into his female disguise, asks if he is a “Girle or Boye,” he replies:

Both, and neither; I was a Ladd last night, but in the morning I was conjured into a Lasse. And being a Girle now, I shall be translated to a Boy anon.

(ll. 1038-40)

The speech baffles the other character, but to the audience it not only describes Jack's plan to stand in for Chartley's bride during the wedding ceremony but also alludes to the play-boy's impersonation of a female character for the entire play. Whereas Shakespeare invoked Rosalind's multiple identities by having the actor shift abruptly from one layer to another, Heywood depends less on the actor than on his own writing, using ambiguous speeches and frequent asides as authorial winks to the audience.

Like Heywood's French princess, as well as Shakespeare's Julia, Portia, and Rosalind, Second Luce shares the secret of her identity with the audience, and thereby acquires the theatrical power to make her control of the play seem convincing. Her plan is to fulfill the Wise Woman's scheme. Whereas Chartley thinks he has married Gratiana, and the Wise Woman plans to reveal the marriage later as a fraud, for Second Luce the ceremony is real and binding.

But Heywood delays her revelation. After the wedding, Second Luce resumes her identity as Jack for the remainder of the play, and Heywood avoids the problem of staging two distinct revelations of two different disguises. When Chartley is confronted by his two other fiancées, Second Luce rescues him by declaring herself his wife and reveals herself as his original betrothed:

You and I have bin better acquainted and yet search mee not too farre least you shame mee, looke on me well, nay better, better yet, ile assure you I left off a petticoate when I put on these breeches. What say you now?

(ll. 2304-8)

The stage direction that follows, “Shee skatters her hayre,”30 suggests the sudden release of hair that has been tied up or concealed by a hat. The moment deliberately recalls Ariosto's Bradamante, Tasso's Clorinda, and Sidney's Parthenia, who became known as women when their tresses were revealed as their helmets fell off or were removed. The Wise Woman registers astonishment at Jack's metamorphosis: “My boy turn'd girle—I hope shee'l keepe my counsell; from henceforth, ile never entertaine any servant but ile have her searcht” (ll. 2311-13).

Unlike Rosalind and Portia, whose actual undisguisings occur offstage, Second Luce's scattering of her hair creates an instantaneous and highly theatrical revelation of her gender. To the audience, aware from the opening scene that Jack is Second Luce, the cascade of hair fulfills a long-held expectation, but to the characters on stage it is a complete surprise. In prose narratives, whether expected or not, such a gesture comes at the climax or denouement, signifies an end of disguise, and reveals the emergence of the female character in her own identity. To playhouse spectators, it was also a climactic moment in the world of the play, but, prompted by frequent use of theatrical reflexivity, they also perceived another level of illusion, this one created by a young male actor probably wearing a wig. The emotional power of the moment was enhanced rather than undermined by this self-conscious display of dramaturgical ingenuity, an invitation to the audience to become engaged in a familiar female-page plot brought to life by the playwright's juggling of four distinct layers of gender identity—the boy actor, Second Luce, Jack, and the false bride.


Performed by a reactivated children's troupe at the newly reopened Blackfriars theater, Chapman's May Day (Chapel, 1601-2)31 strives for novel treatments of cross-gender disguise. The play is an adaptation of Piccolomini's Alessandro (1544), a variant of the Lelia tradition, in which each member of a separated couple adopts cross-gender disguise.32 Chapman gives the heroine a second cross-gender disguise on top of the first, the latter a surprise to the spectators, who are not told until the end that Lionell, a page, is really Lucretio's beloved Theagine, although they watch him deceive some of the characters in his disguise as a “Gentlewoman.”

Because the first disguising is hidden from the audience, Theagine/Lionell/gentlewoman is not nearly as central a figure as Rosalind was, and she pretends to be a woman not to gain her own ends but to serve the designs of others. Yet Chapman extracts considerable theatrical self-referentiality from Lionell's second, or female, disguise, when his master, Leonoro, introduces him to the roistering Captain Quintiliano, who immediately sees the boy as a potential female impersonator, singing to him as to a woman, and perhaps inquiring about his homoerotic experience:

Afore heaven 'tis a sweete fac't child, me thinks he should show well in womans attire: And hee tooke her by the lilly white hand, and he laid her upon a bed. Ile helpe thee to three crownes a weeke for him, and she can act well. Ha'st ever practis'd, my pretty Ganimede?33


For Chapman's spectators, the prospect of seeing Lionell “act well” as a woman would replicate what they were seeing in the theater—a play-boy portraying a female character. The captain's sexual interest in the boy may have been another reflexive allusion to the world of the playhouse, where boy actors were frequently thought to serve as “ganymedes.”

A few scenes later, Leonoro tells Lionell that he must be “disguis'd like a woman” in order to gull Quintiliano's lieutenant, Innocentio: “thou shalt dance with him, we will thrust him upon thee, … come Lionell let me see how naturally thou canst play the woman” (IV.iv.29-36; emphasis added). As in The Wise Woman of Hogsden, words like “naturally” and “play” illuminate the layers of artifice involved. The plot to discomfit Innocentio is never developed beyond a brief self-referential passage in the final scene.

At the climax of the play, Lucretio, no longer in cross-gender disguise as “Lucretia,” looks about for Theagine but fails to recognize her. Chapman even has him ask this “Gentlewoman” if she knows Theagine. Unlike Heywood's French princess, whose second, female disguise revealed her presence to her beloved Guy, Theagine's double disguise impedes the revelation of her real identity and so dilates the moment for theatrical effect. She addresses the forlorn Lucretio: “It seems you will not know her” (V.i.238), until he suddenly recognizes her as “the Gentlewoman to whom … I was betroth'd” (ll. 245-46).

May Day was the first play to achieve a surprise ending by concealing the identity of the heroine from the audience beneath the first of her disguises. In As You Like It and The Wise Woman, where the audience is at all times fully aware of the real gender and identity of the female page, the second layer of pretense or disguise increases the depth and resonance established by the first, and she comes across as complex and ingenious. But in May Day, which achieves surprise by concealing a female character's identity, she seems part of other characters' schemes or the playwright's design or both, “a puppet” rather than “a sentient shaper of self,” to use Paula Berggren's apt terms.34 Chapman's innovative use of surprise, which he added to his source, extended Heywood's and Shakespeare's idea of the boy heroine's second gender-reversing disguise in the direction of parody. He may have taken into account the real or self-styled sophistication of his private theater audience as well as the tendency of children's troupes to burlesque plays of adult troupes.35

In Chapman's cleverest parody of cross-gender disguise, a married woman named Franceschina, about to have an affair, dresses as a man to conceal her identity. Her husband, the play's miles gloriosus, sees her and immediately recognizes her as a woman, but not as his wife:

Upon my life the hindermost of them, is a wench in mans attire, didst thou not marke besides his slabbering about her, her bigge thighs and her splay feete?


In the next scene, he concludes that she must be an adulteress, “some honest mans wife of the Parish … drest like a Page” ( Unlike the boy actor playing Lionell, who represents a girl who can pass for a boy in the world of the play, the boy actor playing Franceschina represents a woman supposedly incapable of passing for a boy!


The main action of The Widow (King's, c. 1616)36 dramatizes the story of Valeria, a widow who protects her estate from predatory suitors and finally marries the one she chooses on her own terms. To Linda Woodbridge it demonstrates a sympathetic and undoctrinaire position toward widows, perhaps in response to the growing influence of women at the box office.37 The title character, Valeria, is a strong-minded widow capable of fending off unwanted suitors, including a widow-hunting gallant who claims, fraudulently, that she has promised herself to him. Like the duchess of Milan in the main plot of More Dissemblers, and widowed duchesses in several other plays, Valeria preserves her chastity, her dignity and her independence, and marries the one suitor who wants her for herself, not for her wealth.

The play also parodies women and male stereotypes of women. Just as Ganymed's “Rosalind” is a male's impression of the Petrarchan mistress and the willful shrew, so Middleton, in the second scene of The Widow, has one gallant help another practice wooing techniques. To do so they take turns playing the woman and comment on each other's acting. One plays a coy flirt, while the other enacts a scornful shrew and contrives the illusion of femininity so skillfully that his friend tries to “stop her mouth with kisses” (emphasis added)—until the spell is broken, with some difficulty and some regret: “A bots on thee, thou dost not know what injury thou hast done me; I was i' the fairest dream (I.ii.141-42).”

The subplot of The Widow is an even more explicit reworking of female-page plays like As You Like It that use or imply a second cross-gender disguise. Halfway through the play, Ansaldo first appears, and the audience does not know but may well have suspected that he is a girl. Alert spectators might have anticipated that a disguised heroine would turn up when someone refers to a runaway daughter named Martia. Questions about Ansaldo's gender might have arisen from his reaction, when he is stripped to his shirt during a robbery and a highwayman threatens bodily search. Ansaldo's timidity and youthfulness also might have furthered suspicions of his gender, for he is described as “a sweet young gentleman” (III.iii.29) who has “never a hair on's face” (IV.ii.75). Ansaldo's shyness and delicacy are the very qualities that attract Philippa (the young wife of an old magistrate), whose first choice for an adulterous liaison, Francisco, has failed to keep the rendezvous.

Middleton goes beyond As You Like It, for whereas Ganymed never fully adopts the persona of Orlando's Rosalind, Ansaldo is at one point dressed as a woman, dazzling all of the men who are present with her feminine beauty. This new woman especially charms Francisco, Philippa's paramour, who woos her ardently and takes her offstage to get married. Thinking Ansaldo is a man, Philippa behaves as if she is directing a boy-bride play, and intends to complete her revenge on Francisco by revealing to one and all that the gallant has pledged himself to marry a boy. But Martia's father recognizes this boy bride as his long-lost daughter. Whether or not spectators anticipated that Ansaldo was Martia, they would have enjoyed the satiric reversal of seeing the trickster tricked. Middleton's combination of surprise with double cross-gender disguise achieves exactly this kind of satiric discomfiting, an effect not found in any of Shakespeare's disguised-heroine plays.

Within the world of the play, the joke is on Philippa and her servant, but within the world of the playhouse they share another joke with the audience, for Francisco's bride really is a boy and they themselves are boy actors too. There is no logical reason Middleton could not have added yet another revelation, that Ansaldo is not really the long-lost Martia, a girl, but (say) a long-lost son named Martin, who disguised himself as Martia, who disguised herself as Ansaldo, and so forth. Like the epilogue to As You Like It, with its easy reversibility of gender, the series of undisguisings at the end of The Widow implies the possibility, at least in the theater, of an infinite regression of gender reversals.

Around the time of The Widow, plays with heroines in male disguise also acquired special resonance from extratheatrical sources, especially from the modified forms of cross-dressing that flourished roughly between 1610 and 1620. Like real women wearing masculine attire, cross-dressed theatrical heroines directly challenged the dress codes that helped to reinforce established gender roles, but unlike cross-dressed women in the street and in the audience, female pages on the stage were played by male performers. For that very reason, while the figure of the female page amplified challenges to the culture's rigid conception of gender roles, an awareness of the boy actor could undercut the female characters who made those challenges. Middleton exploited the interest in a hot issue without taking a position in the debate. As in The Roaring Girl, Middleton is here aware of gender politics, but as a playwright rather than a pamphleteer he embedded them in a field of ingenious and subtle theatrical play.


In one of his last plays, The New Inn (King's, 1629),38 Jonson also combined a second cross-gender disguise with surprise. He did so not to produce the kinds of satiric discomfitings noted in May Day and The Widow, but rather to create an ending in the spirit of Shakespeare's romances and Fletcher's tragicomedies. Female cross-dressing, which Jonson had lampooned in the Collegiate Ladies of Epicoene, could now be integrated into a tragicomic vision.

Following the examples of Chapman and Middleton rather than Heywood and Shakespeare, Jonson waited until the end of the play to inform his audience that the host's boy, Frank, is a woman named Laetitia Frampul. Nor are the spectators ever told that the secret of Frank's identity is bound up with other secrets: the host, called Goodstock, is really Lord Frampul, and the Irish nurse who sold “Frank” to him is really his own wife, who left home with Laetitia and has disguised the girl as a boy. By 1629, few spectators would have been surprised by such revelations of gender or kinship. Jonson has both the host and the nurse hint at who they are, makes “Frank” unwittingly pun that he descends “of a right good stock” (,39 and mentions a long-lost daughter of the Frampul family named Laetitia.

Like Chapman and Middleton, Jonson makes the disguised heroine, Frank, the site of theatrical reflexivity. When Frank, who is “a bashfull child” (II.ii.11) rather than a saucy lackey, is compared to a “play-boy” (I.iii.5), the audience is pointedly reminded that it may be watching either a boy actor playing a boy disguised as a girl, or a boy actor playing a female character disguised as a boy disguised as a girl.40 The issue is not settled until the final scene.

Like Chapman and Middleton, Jonson also reinscribes female impersonation into the world of the play when Frances, the host's daughter, agrees to help “Frank” pass as a “gentlewoman,” as a joke on the gallants who are visiting the inn. Unaware that Frank is her sister, she observes that his name is the male equivalent of hers (II.ii.19-23) and proposes that they “call him Laetitia, by my sister's name” (II.ii.56). The sisters establish a Court of Love, a pastime that enables Frances and Lovel to express the love for one another that they cannot otherwise acknowledge. As Jon Lawry has written, “Theatricality … [can] express truth as well as concealing or degrading it.”41 A tone of sadness overcomes the play when Frances's chambermaid, Pru, proclaims “the Court's dissolv'd, remov'd, and the play ended” (IV.iv.247).42 Lovel, echoing Pru's theatrical metaphor, reverts to despair and misery, while Pru disparages her “courtly” apparel as “this play-boyes bravery” (IV.iv.321). Lovel and Frances will eventually be reunited, not through the wit of a heroine in male disguise, or of any other character, but by sheer dramaturgical ingenuity lightly masked as chance.

In what seems at first to be a more farcical key, Laetitia pairs off with Beaufort, an Ovidian sensualist among a group of Neoplatonists. Their relationship survives the dissolution of the Court of Love, and they go through a wedding ceremony. Eager to consummate the marriage, the lusty bridegroom begins to disrobe, but his ardor is squelched by the host, who tells him that he “ha' married, / Your hosts sonne, and a boy” (V.iv.45-46). Like the end of Middleton's The Widow, the host's revelation ridicules the man who appears to have married a boy bride. By dissolving the last surviving trace of the Court of Love, this disclosure also helps establish a more wistful tone.43

The roles played out by the lovers during the Court of Love have led only to evanescent and broken relationships, but a deeper level of theatricality, engineered by the playwright himself, now begins to restore those visions to actuality. Undoing the effects of the revelation of Frank's role as “Laetitia,” Jonson now makes the Irish nurse reveal that this boy is really a girl. As in The Widow, the marriage is binding after all, and Beaufort's attraction to “Laetitia” is validated. Other revelations follow: when Beaufort churlishly balks at a marriage to so evidently lowly born a spouse, the nurse reveals that the girl is Laetitia Frampul, and that she herself is the girl's mother. If this disclosure satisfies Beaufort, it astonishes the host, who announces that he is Lord Frampul, now reunited with his wife and both daughters. The revelations of the heroine's two fabricated layers of identity have provided the hinge on which the ending of the play pivots from satiric discomfiture toward the “Jonsonian equivalent of Shakespearean wonder.”44

In As You Like It, Shakespeare allowed the audience to share the performer's perspective from the outset, and as the boy actor moved like quicksilver from one layer of identity to another, his nimbleness and skill in differentiating these various gender identities somehow seemed to endow the character of Rosalind with sufficient energy or power to control the world of the play, even as his epilogue enabled the boy actress to take control of the world of the playhouse. Dramatists like Chapman and Middleton, as we have seen, deprived the disguised heroine of her centrality and her power but carried the heroine's second cross-gender disguise to greater lengths for satiric discomfiting of comic gulls and for demonstrating their own dramaturgical virtuosity. Jonson tried to transcend satire by integrating surprise and double disguise into a romancelike central plot. Perhaps inspired by Shakespeare's last plays, Jonson deployed familiar devices defensively to forestall ridicule by acknowledging the play's artificiality and then invited the disarmed audience to enter an obvious if fragile fantasy of wish fulfillment and to enjoy an artistic tour de force.


  1. Freeburg, [Victor O., Disguise Plots in Elizabethan Drama (New York: Columbia University Press, 1915)], 11-14, 80-83; Edward Berry, Shakespeare's Comic Rites (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 83, uses the term “disguise-within-disguise,” which is misleading, for the second disguise is laid on top of, not inserted within, the first disguise.

  2. Mary Ann Weber Gasior, ed., Thomas Heywood, The Four Prentices of London (New York: Garland, 1980), vii-xv. Gasior thinks the play may have been written as early as 1592. It was registered in 1594 but not published until 1615. A second edition appeared in 1632. I quote throughout from this edition.

  3. The concept is developed by Bertrand Evans, Shakespeare's Comedies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960).

  4. Nevill Coghill, Shakespeare's Professional Skills (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 132.

  5. On the date of As You Like It, see the play as edited by Agnes Latham (London: Methuen, 1975), xxvi-xxxiv.

  6. For discussion of the theatrical aspects of Rosalind's voices, see Robert Hapgood, Shakespeare the Theatre-Poet (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 133-37; D. J. Palmer, “As You Like It and the Idea of Play,” [Critical Quarterly] 13 (1971): 240-41; Robert B. Pierce, “The Moral Languages of Rosalynde and As You Like It,” [Studies in Philology] 68 (1971): 174-76; Hugh Richmond, Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), 142; and Laurence Lerner, Love and Marriage: Literature and Its Social Context (New York: St. Martin's, 1979), 20-22.

  7. Carol J. Carlisle, “Helen Faucit's Rosalind,” [Shakespeare Survey] 12 (1979): 65-94, argues that Faucit moved with particular liveliness from one layer of identity to another in the Ganymed scenes. Carol Rutter, Clamorous Voices (London: Routledge, 1989), 104, comments: “For Juliet [Stevenson] … Ganymede did not simply replace Rosalind in Arden; he ran parallel with her. The two would sometimes collude, sometimes collide and even sometimes betray each other.”

  8. Nancy K. Hayles, “Sexual Disguise in As You Like It and Twelfth Night,” [Shakespeare Survey] 32 (1979): 63-72.

  9. Kent van den Berg, Playhouse and Cosmos: Shakespearean Theater as Metaphor (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985), 91; and [Marianne L.] Novy, Love's Argument [: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984)], 192-93.

  10. [Juliet] Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women [New York: Macmillan, 1975], 250; Hyland, “Shakespeare's Heroines,” 33-34; [Robert] Kimbrough, [“Androgeny Seen through Shakespeare's Disguise,” [Shakespeare Quarterly] 33 (1982)], 24.

  11. Marco Mincoff, “What Shakespeare Did to Rosalynde,” [Shakespeare-Jahrbuch] 96 (1960): 80; see also Edward I. Berry, “Rosalynde and Rosalind,” [Shakespeare Quarterly] 31 (1980): 42-52; Walter R. Davis, “Masking in Arden: The Histrionics of Lodge's Rosalynde,” [Studies in English Literature] 5 (1965): 151-63; and Albert H. Tolman, “Shakespeare's Manipulation of His Source in As You Like It,” [Modern Language Notes] 37 (1922): 65-76.

  12. Charles H. Frey, Experiencing Shakespeare: Essays on Text, Classroom, and Performance (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988), 23-24.

  13. W. Thomas MacCary, Friends and Lovers: The Phenomenology of Desire in Shakespearean Comedy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 175-76, argues that Orlando sees Ganymed as an idealized image of himself. Cf. van den Berg, Playhouse and Cosmos, 96.

  14. [Bruce] Smith, Poetics of Homosexual Desire [in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)], 145. Walter R. Davis, Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 89-93, notes that Lodge switches from “he” to “she” to signal shifts between layers of gender, as required by the point of view at various moments in the narrative.

  15. Elsewhere in this scene, Rosalind refers to such details of male attire as “doublet and hose” (III.ii.195-96 and 219-20) or to gender identity itself, as in “Do not you know I am a woman?” (l. 249) and “I thank God I am not a woman” (ll. 347-48).

  16. For additional glosses on sexual innuendoes of this passage, see Peter F. Mullany, “Topographical Bawdy in Shakespeare,” [American Notes & Queries] 12 (December 1973): 51-53; and Robert H. Ray, “Addenda to Shakespeare's Bawdy: As You Like It, IV.i.201-18,” [American Notes & Queries] 13 (December 1974): 51-53.

  17. Capell marks several of Rosalind's speeches as asides. Other speeches can be given as asides to Celia or the audience, as Janet Suzman did in the 1968 RSC production, according to Peter Ansorge, Plays and Players, July 1968, 51.

  18. According to Latham, ed., As You Like It, app. B, 133-35, early modern audiences would have considered such a marriage valid under Elizabethan law and custom.

  19. Peter W. Thomson, “A Shakespearean ‘Method,’” [Shakespeare-Jahrbuch] 104 (1968): 198, argues—unpersuasively, in my view—that Oliver here “penetrates Rosalind's disguise.”

  20. Mary Hamer, “Shakespeare's Rosalind and Her Public Image,” [Theatre Record] 11 (1986): 109ff. See also Patty S. Derrick, “Rosalind and the Nineteenth-Century Woman: Four Stage Interpretations,” [Theatre Survey] 26 (1985): 143-62. Clifford Williams directed an all-male production for the National Theatre in 1967, revived in 1974. He intended to create “an atmosphere of spiritual purity which transcends sexuality.” Frank Marcus, “New Approaches,” London Magazine, December 1967, 78, dismissed it as “simply sexless,” while Irving Wardle, The Times [London], October 4, 1967, felt “real excitement in seeing this Rosalind and Jeremy Brett's very masculine Orlando being taken unawares by serious emotion in the midst of their game.” The two Rosalinds also differed, at least according to Clive Barnes, New York Times, December 4, 1974, L 32, who noted that Ronald Pickup “made no attempt to feminize his acting,” whereas Gregory Floy “plays her as a rather pretty girl being acted by a man.” Philip Traci, “As You Like It: Homosexuality in Shakespeare's Play,” [College Language Association Journal] 25 (1981): 97-98, felt that the production differed from an Elizabethan production in its deliberate lack of physicality as well as in its use of men instead of boys for the female roles.

  21. Whereas the line might seem to prove that Oliver has discovered Rosalind's gender, Latham, ed., As You Like It (115n), argues that “Oliver is joining in Orlando's make-believe, which he knows about already.”

  22. See Traci, “As You Like It,” 91-105. [Alexander] Leggatt, Shakespeare's Comedy of Love [(London: Metheun, 1974)], 211, links the bawdy innuendo of “serve your turn” with the play's increasing stress on the biological sense of springtime renewal. But “Ganymed” denoted a young male prostitute in Elizabethan England and a young homosexual lover in medieval poetry and in Renaissance Italy. See chap. 2; John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 251ff.; and James Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). Gordon Lell, “‘Ganymede’ on the Elizabethan Stage: Homosexual Implications of the Use of Boy-Actors,” Aegis 1 (1973): 5-7, cites homosexual usages of the myth of Ganymede and points out that while Shakespeare found the name in Lodge's Rosalind, he added Rosalind's reference to “Jove's own page” (12).

  23. Maura Slattery Kuhn, “Much Virtue in ‘If,’” [Shakespeare Quarterly] 28 (1977): 40-50, believes that Rosalind is still in masculine attire. Her evidence is the first folio reading of Hymen's address to Duke Senior to “receive thy daughter … / That thou mightst join his hand with his, / Whose heart within his bosome is” (V.iv.111-15; emphasis added). Most modern editors accept the third folio's emendation of the first “his” to “her.”

  24. Kuhn, “Much Virtue,” 40, argues that the gap of seventy-eight lines would not have allowed enough time for the performer to change into woman's clothing in time for the wedding scene, although Touchstone's gratuitous disquisition on “the Lie” allows Rosalind time to change into theatrical costume, which was probably a radically simplified version of actual apparel. In the epilogue, Rosalind refers to herself as “the Lady,” and notes that she is “not furnished like a beggar.”

  25. [Janet] Adelman, “Male Bonding,” [in Shakespeare's “Rough Magic”: Renaissance Essays in Honor of C. L. Barber, ed. Peter Erickson and Coppélia Kahn (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985)], 84-86; Peter Erickson, Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 34-35; Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, 266; and [Catherine] Belsey, “Disrupting Sexual Difference,” [in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (London: Metheun, 1985)], 181, 187-88. For “androgynist” readings, see Kimbrough, “Androgyny,” 27; Margaret Boerner Beckman, “The Figure of Rosalind in As You Like It,” [Shakespeare Quarterly] 29 (1978): 47; and Kay Stanton, “The Disguises of Shakespeare's As You Like It,” [Iowa State Journal of Research] 59 (1985): 304. Hayles, “Sexual Disguise in As You Like It,” 67, argues that Rosalind appeals to men and women separately in the epilogue in order to reconcile them. Clara Claiborne Park, “As We Like It: How a Girl Can Be Smart and Still Popular,” in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 106-9, argues that Shakespeare sought to make Rosalind's assertiveness acceptable to male spectators. “Male dress,” Park writes, “transforms … aggression into simple high spirits” (108).

  26. Keir Elam, Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 40.

  27. Van den Berg, Playhouse and Cosmos, 100; and Albert Cirillo, “As You Like It: Pastoralism Gone Awry” [English Literary History] 38 (1971): 38.

  28. Although the OED indicates that a “curtsy” was not at this time an exclusively feminine gesture, the citations suggest that it was appropriate only for boys and servants, which may explain why it shortly did become a feminine form of obeisance. Several plays use the term as an exclusively female gesture: see Gallathea, II.i.23-24, and quotations from More Dissemblers Besides Women in chapter 3 and The Wise Woman of Hogsden in this chapter.

  29. Michael H. Leonard, ed., The Wise Woman of Hogsden, by Thomas Heywood (New York: Garland, 1980), 5-8. I have used this edition for all quotations from the play.

  30. [Henk] Gras, “All Is Semblative [a Woman's Part ?” Ph.D. diss. University of Utrecht, 1991], 275, argues unpersuasively that “skattering” here means manually dispersing hair that was previously cut; see also 90-93. Removal of a wig, at once more economical and more spectacular, seems more likely. As Peter Stallybrass, “Transvestism and the ‘Body Beneath,’” [Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (London: Routledge, 1992)], 66, observes, “the commonest technique for the revelation of the ‘woman beneath’ after the Restoration was the removal of a wig, whereupon the female actor's ‘true’ hair would be seen.” But Stallybrass also suggests that such an effect would have been “perfectly possible on the Renaissance stage … [for] the audience would have no means of knowing (any more than we do today) whether the hair beneath the wig was the hair of the actor or another wig.”

  31. Albert Tricomi, “The Dates of the Plays of George Chapman,” [English Literary Renaissance] 12 (1982): 245-46, argues persuasively that May Day (pub. 1611) was written in 1601 or early 1602. This earlier dating is significant, for it locates this play much closer to As You Like It and well before the Jacobean explosion of disguised heroine plays. I quote throughout from George Chapman, May Day, ed. Robert F. Welsh, in The Plays of George Chapman: The Comedies, gen. ed. Allan Holaday (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970), II.i.33-35.

  32. Rita Belladonna, “A Jacobean's Source Revisited: George Chapman and Alessandro Piccolomini's Alessandro,” [Quaderni d'Italianistica: Official Journal of the Canadian Society for Italian Studies] 3 (1982): 67-70.

  33. In context, “practis'd” can mean impersonated a woman on or off stage. It also had a sexual meaning in Shirley, The Lady of Pleasure, I.i.155-61, as pointed out by James T. Henke, Courtesans and Cuckolds: A Glossary of Renaissance Dramatic Bawdy (Exclusive of Shakespeare) (New York: Garland, 1979), 201. Lionell's reply of denial, “No, nor never meane sir,” evokes a comment from Giovenelli, one of the play's true saucy lackeys: “Meane sir? No marry Captaine, there will never be meane in his practise I warrant him” (ll. 207-9). “Meane” can signify a pander or the money earned by or used for whoring, according to Henke, 167, and [Frankie] Rubinstein, A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns [and Their Significance (London: Macmillan, 1984)], 156-57.

  34. Paula S. Berggren, “‘A Prodigious Thing’: The Jacobean Heroine in Male Disguise,” [Philological Quarterly] 62 (1983): 396.

  35. Charlotte Spivack, George Chapman (New York: Twayne, 1967), 77-78; and Thomas Mark Grant, The Comedies of George Chapman: A Study in Development, Jacobean Drama Series (Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1972), 103-24.

  36. On the date of the play, see David J. Lake, The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 38-43; and Robert Levine, ed., A Critical Edition of Thomas Middleton's “The Widow,” (Salzburg: Institute für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1975), xxi-xxvii. Citations refer to Levine's edition.

  37. [Linda] Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance, [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984], 244, 246-48, 257. In an unpublished paper, Heather M. McPhee, “Who's Got the Gun?: Performance, Gender, and Desire in Thomas Middleton's The Widow” (Sixteenth-Century Studies Conference, 1993), sees the appeal of the play in its subversiveness. It depicts a world in which the one-sex theory of human development has obliterated any meaningful differences between male and female so that sex and gender roles are performative.

  38. Michael Hattaway, ed., The New Inn (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 7-8.

  39. Harriett Hawkins, “The Idea of a Theater in Jonson's The New Inn,” [Renaissance Drama] 9 (1966): 214n.

  40. Unlike spectators, readers of the 1631 printed edition were spared any uncertainty over Frank's gender: according to “The Persons of the Play,” “Franke[,] suppos'd a boy and the Hosts sonne, … prooves to be Laetitia” (6:402).

  41. Jon S. Lawry, “A Prospect of Jonson's The New Inn,SEL 23 (1983): 324.

  42. [Ann] Barton, Ben Jonson [, Dramatist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984)], 276-77; and George E. Rowe, Distinguishing Jonson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 167.

  43. In his edition of 1860, William Gifford here added the stage direction, “Pulls off Frank's head-dress” (see Hattaway, ed., The New Inn, 196), probably recalling the end of Epicoene, when Morose's bride “removes her peruke” to establish male identity.

  44. [Jon S.] Lawry, [“A Prospect of Jonson's The New Inn,” [Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900] 23 (1983)], 327. Barton, Ben Jonson, 258-59, 281-84, sees the influence of Shakespearean romance as the result of the publication of the first folio. On the play's relation to romance and the problem of tone, see Alexander Leggatt, Ben Jonson: His Vision and His Art (London: Methuen, 1981), 35-44; and John Lemly, “‘Make odde discoveries!’ Disguises, Masques, and Jonsonian Romance,” in [Comedy from] Shakespeare to Sheridan [, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and J. C. Bulman (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986)], 137-41.

Nathaniel Strout (essay date spring 2001)

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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 view of time “as the medium of decay” versus time “as the medium of fulfillment,” “contrary notions of identity,” “the conspicuous narrative artifice of the opening scenes” versus the “equally prominent theatrical artifice in the forest scenes,” two different “manipulative modes,” and, most recently, the concerns of a “generally privileged audience” versus “the concerns of wage laborers, servants, and clowns.”1 Even the play's title seems to refer to an opposition between audience and author, leading George Bernard Shaw, for one, to read it as a “snub” of the audience's taste: here is what you, the spectators, like (but I, the playwright, do not).2 Are the oppositions placed in a kind of balance by the end of the play (at least in the character of Rosalind), dissolved by the play's skeptical treatment of seemingly clear-cut distinctions, or are they necessarily partial and constrained gestures toward recognizing the value of what might have seemed to Shakespeare and his audience to be culturally subversive attitudes?3 It all appears to hinge on whether we think Shakespearean comedy creates harmony among discordant elements, acts like a solvent on social constructions of difference, or serves to contain (though not always completely) the threats to the dominant social and cultural order its characters might sometimes express or embody.

None of these formulations, however, addresses what I would argue is the most important aspect of drama: the dynamic nature of the relationship between audience and play, spectator and actor. A performance in a theater, after all, is a mutual experience—not necessarily an equal one on both sides, but one in which two different groups respond to each other as the play unfolds. A responsive audience will help actors perform better. Good acting will help an audience become better involved in what they are watching. Whether As You Like It received applause at the Globe depended on the skill of the actors to produce enjoyment for the audience, and the enjoyment of the audience rewarded the skill of the actors.

Applauding the actors also meant, of course, that the audience was participating in any number of theatrical conventions, not just the convention that applause expresses the pleasure one has received from a performance, but also such basic conventions as boys playing female roles, commoners playing dukes, and the same stage serving as court and as forest. It is currently fashionable to treat any awareness within a work of its foundational conventions as automatically reflecting deep skepticism about their status and value. But to note the conventional aspects of a human activity may merely be to record its very nature. Just as theatrical performances rely on conventions to be successful, so too do certain social performances—marriage, for instance. To the mutual relationship between actor and audience, I suggest, As You Like It parallels the mutual relationship between lovers, a relationship which, if it is to end with the couple getting married, similarly depends on conventions being accepted and experiences being shared, especially in Tudor and Stuart England, when “from contact to contract, from good liking to final agreement, most couples passed through a recognizable series of steps.”4 The play, in other words, and, as we shall see, in marked contrast to Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), its main source, establishes connections between past mutual interactions and future mutual outcomes: Rosalind and Orlando's liking for each other leads to their becoming man and wife; our liking for the play and its players leads to our applause at the conclusion of the performance.

One way to connect the past to the future is through the use of narratives, which bring the past into the present so that characters (and audiences) can respond to it. Shakespearean drama typically includes many reports of off-stage events and many accounts of what we are to imagine as having happened in the past lives of characters.5As You Like It was once criticized on the grounds that the beginning of the play relies too much on characters narrating background that their on-stage listeners either already know (Orlando telling Adam about his past relations with Oliver) or do not at that moment need to know (Charles telling Oliver about recent events at court), but narratives occur throughout As You Like It, not just in the first scenes, suggesting that narration is not opposed to the play's theatrical core but central to it.6 There are, for example, several accounts, like those in the first scene, that describe events or supposed events from a time before the play begins, including Celia's eight-line description of how Rosalind and she came to be such close friends that they are “like Juno's swans”; Touchstone's nine lines recalling his love for Jane Smile; Rosalind's fifteen-line fiction (as Ganymede) of her curing a youth in love; and Touchstone's seventeen-line tale of the duel he had “like to have fought.”7 There are also at least seven narratives of recent off-stage events, all but one delivered in the forest: in I.ii Le Beau narrates in ten lines the triple success of “Charles, the Duke's wrastler” (line 126); in II.i a lord takes thirty-four lines to describe how he and Amiens overheard Jaques “weeping and commenting / Upon the sobbing deer” (lines 65-6); in II.vii Jaques excitedly recounts for twenty-two lines his finding “a fool i' th' forest” (line 12); in III.ii Celia's narrative to Rosalind of how she came across Orlando “under a tree, like a dropp'd acorn” (line 235), never gets further than two short sentences, thanks to Rosalind's interruptions and the entrance of Orlando himself; in III.iv Rosalind tells Celia in four lines that she “met the Duke yesterday, and had much question with him” (lines 34-5) but did not reveal herself to her father; in IV.iii Oliver narrates his rescue from a lion by Orlando, a story of fifty lines; and in V.iv the second brother reports in a dozen lines the conversion of Duke Frederick and his companions “both from his enterprise and from the world” (line 162).

From beginning to end, then, in the court and in the forest, the characters of As You Like It keep telling stories to each other, enlarging the imaginative world of the play beyond the visible stage, both in space and in time. For Stephen B. Dobranski, the result is an increase in the illusion of realism: in his plays, Shakespeare “convinces us of the worlds that he creates by intimating suggestive details of his characters' past experience.”8 The details also help establish and reinforce the importance of mutuality. Lawrence Danson has argued that in Shakespearean comedy, and especially in As You Like It, “Shakespeare discovers the self in the matrix of the family.”9 To place a character in a family is to give him or her the illusion of a past life growing up in mutual relationships with parents, siblings, and relatives. Celia, for example, explains her present affection for Rosalind by stressing her prior mutual interactions with her cousin:

                                                                      We still have slept together,
Rose at an instant, learn'd, play'd, eat together,
And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable.


Significantly, though, even Touchstone and Jaques, neither of whom is connected in the play to a family, are given past lives. Touchstone's, perhaps, is a joke: his love of Jane Smile and his avoiding a duel may merely be the court jester's comic fictions. Duke Senior's response to Jaques, on the other hand, when Jaques wishes for the satirical “liberty” (II.vii.47) of a professional fool, accuses him of forgetting his past, of forgetting what he used to be like himself (II.vii.64-9), an exchange that can otherwise seem “puzzling.”10 What we have done to and with others sometimes enables our subsequent actions, sometimes restricts them, and sometimes leads to completely opposite behavior on our part: Oliver can change for the better in the forest; Duke Frederick can change for the worse in the court when he suddenly banishes Rosalind.

That actions in the present are influenced by mutual interactions in the past may not seem a remarkable observation about a work by the author of Hamlet, but it is one of the important ways Shakespeare transformed aspects of Lodge's Rosalynde into As You Like It. Most studies of the relationship of the play to this source have focused on how the details of the prose romance are modified in the light of “the leaner efficiency which drama demands” or on showing “how little, in spite of the general similarity of the outlines, Shakespeare actually owed to Lodge.”11 The latter efforts, in turn, have led to locating the complexities of As You Like It in works and writers more sophisticated than Rosalynde and its author: in John Lyly's treatment of boy actors playing girls disguised as boys in Gallathea, for example, or in Sir Philip Sidney's artistically self-conscious treatment of pastoral conventions in the Arcadia, or in Rabelais's subversion of the conventional as mediated through the works of Sir John Harington.12

But a source can influence a work to be different along a common axis as well as to be similar. Looked at in this way, As You Like It is a reaction against two notable aspects of Lodge's narrative: its understanding of social relations and its presentation of how people explain the ways they act. In Rosalynde, male concerns are so much more important than female ones that the latter are effectively excluded from consideration by the time the work ends, and human behavior is repeatedly explained not as a reaction to what other people have done or how they feel about each other, but by reference to long lists of “infallible precepts” that are said to determine our actions.13 To Shakespeare, on the other hand, love between men and women is grounded in mutual, not just masculine, behavior, and what has happened between people helps make possible what will happen.

In Lodge, a common explanation for a character's actions is some sort of variation on the claim that “nature must have her course” (p. 76), a claim asserted by the narrator, Adam, Alinda, Saladyne, and Rosalind, often in combination with equally deterministic proverbs, as in the narrator's “fire cannot be hid in the straw nor the nature of man so concealed, but at last it will have his course” (p. 8). The even more frequent euphuistic lists of explanatory analogies have a similar effect, as when Alinda teases Rosalind about her love for Rosader: “The wind cannot be tied within his quarter, the sun shadowed with a veil, oil hidden in water, nor love kept out of a woman's looks” (pp. 103-4). Also similar in effect is the recurring use of the myth of Ulysses and the sirens, which is applied by the narrator and six different characters to describe either the impossibility (the sirens being so alluring) or the effort (Ulysses having had to tie himself to the mast) of resisting the nearly irresistible, variously said to be men's desire to love women, Rosader's complaints about being mistreated by his brother Saladyne, Venus, Rosalind's voice, the idea of brotherly concord as urged by Rosader's and Saladyne's father, untrustworthy male lovers, and the pleasure women receive from men's wit. As this evidence suggests, Lodge's characters feel hemmed in by powerful forces, especially by the force of love, and, like Ulysses, they feel they must face these forces on their own. Love, declares Lodge's Phoebe to Rosalind's father, “whatsoever he sets down for justice, be it never so unjust, the sentence cannot be reversed; women's fancies lend favours not ever by desert, but as they are enforced by their desires; for fancy is tied to the wings of fate; and what the stars decree, stands for an infallible doom” (p. 155).

The trouble with such absolute claims, analogies, precepts, principles, and rules is that they impose an impossible rigidity on human behavior. As You Like It, as Helen Whall has shown, depicts the difference between mistakenly thinking one is “directly receiving infallible doctrines” and accurately recognizing that using analogies is inherently inconclusive.14 To liken one thing to another does not make one thing into the other. And, as Maura Kuhn has shown, the word if, which occurs more frequently in As You Like It than in any other drama by Shakespeare, both promises a consequence (if that is true, then this will happen) and permits alternatives to be imagined.15 On the one hand, that is, Rosalind (as Ganymede) can promise Orlando that “if you will be married to-morrow, you shall; and to Rosalind, if you will” (V.ii.72-4). On the other hand, Touchstone can use the word if to demonstrate how quarrels may be broken off thanks to the capacity of a conditional construction to raise new possibilities: “when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If, as, ‘If you said so, then I said so’; and they shook hands and swore brothers. Your If is the only peacemaker; much virtue in If” (V.iv.99-103). In Lodge's Rosalynde, words such as fortune and fate outnumber instances of if; in As You Like It, the reverse is the case, and by a wide margin.16

A determinism such as Lodge's, it is true, is vividly expressed in As You Like It by Jaques when, after declaring that “All the world's a stage” (II.vii.139), he invokes another contemporary commonplace: the inevitable chronological succession of the seven ages of man.17 To Jaques, the future always holds nothing more than “second childishness, and mere oblivion” (II.vii.165), a vision of human experience that, as Helen Gardner noted, leaves out any mention of “love and companionship, sweet society.”18 In fact, although the speech seems broadly inclusive at the outset—“all the men and women” (II.vii.140)—it narrows quickly to the life of a single male: “And one man in his time plays many parts” (II.vii.142). Even more telling, its list of roles—infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old man, senile old man—is made narrower still by its exclusion of the two male roles in relation to women that are played, or that will be played, by the other main male characters in As You Like It—the roles of husband and of father. A passage from a 1605 letter by Harington suggests that pursuing the analogy between life and drama did not require the exclusion of such roles: “the world is a stage and we that lyve in yt are all stage players … I playd my chyldes part happily, the schollar and students part to neglygently, the sowldyer and cowrtyer faythfully, the husband lovingly, the contryman not basely nor corruptly.”19 Because Harington was writing about himself in this letter, it is appropriate that he mentioned only male activities. Jaques makes a universal assertion about “all the men and women,” yet limits their mutual interactions to “the infant / Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms” (II.vii.143-4) and the lover writing poems “to his mistress' eyebrow” (II.vii.149).

Indeed, women are present in Jaques' list only as those two possessive adjectives. Another contemporary use of the theatrical analogy can once again help us see that Shakespeare has constructed the speech so that Jaques ignores any potential for mutuality. Thomas Heywood's prefatory poem to An Apology for Actors (1612) declares that “All man haue parts, and each man acts his owne,” but then goes on to assign some roles to women that involve their interacting with men:

She a chaste Lady acteth all her life,
A wanton Curtezan another playes.
This, couets marriage loue, that, nuptial strife.(20)

In As You Like It, after Hymen has blessed the four pairs of newlyweds near the end of the play, Jaques acknowledges marriage merely to the extent of predicting “nuptial strife” for Touchstone and Audrey—“And you to wrangling” (V.iv.191), he says to the former about the future of his new relationship. Whereas Hymen addresses the couples as couples (using the phrase “you and you” three times, at V.iv.131, 132, 135), Jaques talks only to the men—to Orlando, Oliver, and Silvius, as well as Touchstone—and starts out with Duke Senior, thereby placing the four new marriages in the context, not of Hymen's mutual love, but of “former honor,” “land,” and “great allies” (V.iv.186, 189). At the end of As You Like It, in other words, we can choose to think of marriage as merely a social convention in a patriarchal society, as a public expression of mutual feelings of love, or as an appropriate outlet for the mutual sexual desire that Touchstone earlier points to as an important motive for marrying: “As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling” (III.iii.79-82).

Rosalynde does not offer its readers these multiple possibilities. Like Jaques, it sees the world in masculine, not mutual, terms, despite the gender of the title character, despite Lodge's giving Rosalind (twice) and Alinda (once) the functional equivalents of soliloquies in which they debate with themselves the appropriateness of loving Rosader and Saladyne respectively, and despite Lodge's having Rosalind explain to Alinda (disguised as Aliena) that in criticizing women while disguised as Ganymede, “I keep decorum: I speak now as I am Aliena's page, not as I am Gerismond's daughter; for put me but into a petticoat, and I will stand in defiance to the uttermost, that women are courteous, constant, virtuous, and what not” (p. 37). The masculine bias of Rosalynde is immediately apparent from its preface “To the Gentlemen Readers.” Although the similar prefaces to Lyly's Euphues (1578) and Robert Greene's Pandosto (1588) suggest that Lodge's is in part conventional, the first of Barnaby Riche's three prefaces to Riche His Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581)—“To the Right Courteous Gentlewomen, bothe of Englande and Irelande”—indicates that a different way of thinking about readers was available at the time.21 Lodge, however, moves straight from his exclusionary preface to “The Schedule annexed to Euphues' testament, the tenor of his legacy, the token of his love” (p. xxx), in which he has Lyly's popular hero Euphues inform a friend (Philautus) that the ensuing story will greatly benefit the friend's sons. The narrative proper then opens with Sir John of Bordeaux's death bed bequests, advice, and “Schedule” (p. 7) to his sons. Prominent among Sir John's “infallible precepts” (p. 2) of paternal advice, moreover, is the claim that any woman, even “if she have all these qualities, to be chaste, obedient, and silent, yet for that she is a woman, shalt thou find in her sufficient vanities to countervail her virtues” (pp. 5-6).

Even Lodge's 1596 narrative A Margarite of America: For Ladies Delight, and Ladies Honour, which would appear by its title to be especially directed toward women (at least of a certain social class), and which is dedicated to Lady Russell, not a male aristocrat, has a preface addressed “To the Gentlemen Readers.”22 During the tale itself, the narrator acknowledges the audience mentioned in the work's subtitle on two occasions—once in regard to Margarite's feelings: “but what she dreamed I leaue that to you Ladies to decide, who hauing dallied with loue, haue likewise beene acquainted with his dreames”; and once in regard to the love poems of the villain: “which I offer to your iudgement (Ladies).”23 The closest Rosalynde comes to directly addressing women is when the text's usual third person narrative voice suddenly, and uniquely, changes to the first person plural in order to describe how Rosalind and Alinda overhear two shepherds: “Drawing more nigh we might descry the countenance of the one to be full of sorrow, his face to be the very portraiture of discontent, and his eyes full of woes, that living he seemed to die: we, to hear what these were, stole privily behind the thicket, where we overheard this discourse” (p. 40). This momentary uniting of narrator, female characters, and “gentlemen readers” (who will soon “overhear” the shepherds' discourse by reading it on the page) contrasts with Shakespeare's constant blurring throughout As You Like It of a single, masculine point of view.

Not surprisingly, the final paragraph of Rosalynde reinscribes the values of Lodge's male-centered beginning as the work effectively excludes women not only from being readers, but also from being important to the story at all: “Here, gentlemen, may you see Euphues' Golden Legacy, that such as neglect their fathers' precepts, incur much prejudice; that division in nature, as it is a blemish in nurture, so 'tis a breach of good fortunes; that virtue is not measured by birth but by action; that younger brethren, though inferior in years, yet may be superior to honours; that concord is the sweetest conclusion, and amity betwixt brothers more forceable than fortune” (p. 165). Lodge, that is, conflates his “gentlemen readers” with the sons of Philautus, all of whom are to find lessons about male behavior from Rosalynde, not insights into how men and women interact.

As You Like It, of course, begins with a scene depicting a conflict between brothers, a conflict that revolves, in part, around Oliver's refusal to grant Orlando his inheritance from their father.24 But this focus on males and their property shifts in the second scene, which has no exact parallel in Lodge, as we see Celia and Rosalind talking together. More important, the now well-known epilogue at the end of As You Like It, in contrast to the final paragraph of Rosalynde, addresses both men and women: “I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you; and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women (as I perceive by your simp'ring none of you hates them), that between you and the women the play may please. If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleas'd me, complexions that lik'd me, and breaths that I defied not; and I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell” (Ep. lines 12-23). “If I were a woman” has been the focus of much attention recently as a metatheatrical moment revealing that central convention of Shakespeare's theater: boys playing female roles.25 It is also important to notice that the epilogue begins by referring to another theatrical convention: “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue” (Ep. lines 1-3). This final concern for convention is related to Rosalind's oft-noted engagement throughout the play with the problem of determining the extent of Orlando's love for her. As Ganymede, Rosalind, several times, tells Orlando that he has failed to follow the conventions for lovers: he looks too healthy and is dressed too neatly (III.ii.373-84); he is not sufficiently concerned with being on time to meet his beloved Rosalind, even if he thinks Ganymede is just pretending to be her (IV.i.38-41). How can Rosalind be certain Orlando is in love with her if he does not act like a lover? On the other hand, how can Rosalind trust conventional behavior to express true motives? Acting as a lover is expected to act can make a young man look as if he were in love when he is, instead, merely passing the time, merely engaging in what Rosalind jestingly calls early in the play the “sport” of “falling in love” (I.ii.24-5).

Whether of courtship or of the theater, conventions are meaningful only if the parties involved mutually accept them. Within the play, for example, Orlando's saying “I take thee, Rosalind, for wife” (IV.i.137) will not result in marriage if Rosalind says, “I do take thee, Orlando, for my husband” (IV.i.139), only in her disguise as Ganymede. Similarly, the boy actor's saying “If I were a woman” to the assembled onlookers in the theater has an impact only if we participate, for the main body of the play, in the convention that Rosalind is female. The boy actor's gender is, in a sense, up to our imaginations, and the success of his performance depends on our having been pleased enough by it to accept the invitation implicit in the play's title to like what we have seen. The epilogue underscores the importance of mutual enjoyment to an extraordinary degree. In its twenty-three lines, seventeen first person pronouns are linked to eleven second person pronouns through ten instances of the word good and several forms of to like and to please, all within the structure of a well-reasoned argument—assertion (“it is not” [line 1], “'tis true that” [line 4]), counterassertion (“but” [line 2],”yet” [line 5]), conditional statement (“if” [lines 3, 18]), and conclusion (“then” [line 7], “therefore” [line 10], “I am sure” [lines 20-1]).

We have seen that Jaques' seven ages speech clearly rejects the idea that mutual relationships are possible. It has not been sufficiently noticed that when Silvius describes being in love to Orlando, Phebe, and Rosalind (as Ganymede), he does nearly the same thing from the opposite direction:

It is to be all made of fantasy,
All made of passion, and all made of wishes,
All adoration, duty, and observance,
All humbleness, all patience, and impatience,
All purity, all trial, all observance.


In a now classic study of the play, Harold Jenkins remarks that because “Touchstone is only once, and Jaques never, allowed a sight of Silvius before the final scene of the play,” we should understand that “Silvius has not to be destroyed or the play will lack something near its center.”26 Certainly, Silvius's extravagant view of love would be quickly deflated by the cynical realism of the other two characters had they been present. Yet the absence in this scene of Celia and Oliver from those listening to Silvius's hyperbole is as important as the absence of Touchstone and Jaques: Silvius defines unreciprocated love, not a mutual relationship.

What Silvius says about love, in fact, differs significantly from what Rosalind says to Orlando earlier in the scene about the rapid progress of Celia and Oliver's feelings for each other. Rosalind describes a mutually experienced sequence of events: “your brother and my sister no sooner met but they look'd; no sooner look'd but they lov'd; no sooner lov'd but they sigh'd; no sooner sigh'd but they ask'd one another the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy: and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage” (V.ii.32-8). No sooner do Rosalind and Orlando meet, look, and sigh in act I, but Orlando gets tongue-tied and the two are separated from each other. In addition to its suddenness, then, Rosalind describes a mutuality in the relationship between Celia and Oliver that in V.ii is still missing from her relationship with Orlando (for she is still disguised as Ganymede) as well as missing from the relationship between Silvius (in love with Phebe) and Phebe (who at the moment thinks she is in love with Ganymede). “Neither call the giddiness of it in question, the poverty of her, the small acquaintance, my sudden wooing, nor her sudden consenting; but say with me, I love Aliena; say with her that she loves me; consent with both that we may enjoy each other” (V.ii.5-9). To Oliver, who speaks these lines to his brother, as to Rosalind, the rapidity with which Celia and he make “a pair of stairs to marriage” is not as important as their climbing those stairs together.

This mutual joy is not, however, shared by Orlando: “They shall be married to-morrow; and I will bid the Duke to the nuptial. But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes! By so much the more shall I to-morrow be at the height of heart-heaviness, by how much I shall think my brother happy in having what he wishes for” (V.ii.42-7). The phrasing suggests self-involvement—I can't be happy though my brother is. Surprisingly, Orlando is the character in the play whose lines have the highest frequency of the personal pronouns I, me, and my—not Jaques or Frederick or Oliver, all of whom might come to mind as speaking or acting selfishly. Orlando begins the play by asserting himself and his interests against his brother, and when he first meets Duke Senior, he sounds a similar note: “he dies that touches any of this fruit / Till I and my affairs are answered” (II.vii.98-9). The Duke, as has often been noted, though usually in contrast to Jaques, speaks throughout the play of community and of sharing—“Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile” (II.i.1); “Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table” (II.vii.105);

                                                                                every of this happy number,
That have endur'd shrewd days and nights with us,
Shall share the good of our returned fortune.


Orlando turns everything toward himself: “Fair youth, I would I could make thee believe I love” (III.ii.385-6); “then in mine own person, I die” (IV.i.93); “I can live no longer by thinking” (V.ii.50).

Rosalind has been said to be so self-aware that she can educate Orlando about the nature of love.27 Orlando has been said to be self-aware enough to know that he is only “playing Orlando” in his exchanges with Ganymede: “I take some joy to say you are [Rosalind],” he says, “because I would be talking of her” (IV.i.89-90).28 Yet in V.ii, it is the sudden love of Celia and Oliver, not anything Rosalind as Ganymede has said, nor anything Orlando has learned from her, that prompts him to end the game. “I can live no longer by thinking” is surely an extravagant, extreme statement. Orlando seems not to have heard (or not to have believed) what Rosalind has already told him, that “men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (IV.i.106-8). The actor John Bowe has explained that he performed the exchange with Ganymede in V.ii to show that Orlando there “realizes that the dream is no substitute for the reality.”29 But from Orlando's point of view, the dream is to marry Rosalind, the now unsatisfying reality is to pretend that Ganymede is the woman he loves. What Orlando wants are his wishes and dreams fulfilled, and the possessive pronoun in his very last line in As You Like It is the final indication of the importance, to him, of his feelings for Rosalind, no matter how conventionally extravagant his declarations of love sound to anyone else: “If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind” (V.iv.119; emphasis mine).

Because Rosalind displays “a wry awareness of her own extravagance while insisting on that extravagance as the only adequate expression of her feelings,” because she seems to be so much in charge of her relationship with Orlando, it may bother us that she uses a string of conditional constructions near the end of the play to give him the final decision regarding their future together, despite his being so much less alert than she is to the tone of what he has been saying: “Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things” (V.ii.58-9); “if it appear not inconvenient to you” (V.ii.65-6); “if you will be married to-morrow, you shall; and to Rosalind, if you will” (V.ii.72-4).30 One way to understand this deference is that it reflects a natural hesitation to commit one's life to another. Rosalind, in Barbara Bono's words, has to “exorcise her own fears about love” during the course of the play.31 Her deference also partly reflects the uncertainty of ever knowing the full truth about what is going on in the “unexpressed interior” within another person's “theatricalized exterior.”32 We have only outward appearances by which to judge others' inner feelings, as Rosalind knows when she says to Orlando: “if you do love Rosalind so near the heart as your gesture cries it out” (V.ii.61-3). Rosalind needs Orlando to commit himself to her, just as she is willing to commit herself to him, if the two are to enter into the mutual commitment of marriage.

The string of if clauses can also, I suggest, be seen as a gesture toward that mutuality, not in the modern sense, with its implication of a meeting of equals, but as the concept might be understood within the social context of a patriarchal hierarchy.33 Although the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer (1559) gives as one of “the causes for which matrimony was ordained” “the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity,” mutuality in a hierarchical world must have always been to some degree unequal.34 When “The Homily on Marriage” (1562) encourages “mutual love and fellowship” between husband and wife, for example, it does so through the unequal exchange of female submission for male forbearance.35 No matter how strong their impulses “to controul or command, which yet they may do, to their children, and to their family,” wives must “perform subjection” to husbands. A husband, in turn, should “yield some thing to the woman”: by forbearing to assert authority all the time, “thou shalt not only nourish concord, but shalt have her heart in thy power and will.” How these dynamics might work themselves out in an actual marriage is illustrated in a revealing story recorded by Harington: according to him, his wife once told Queen Elizabeth that “she had confidence in her husbandes understandinge and courage, well founded on her own stedfastness not to offend or thwart, but to cherishe and obey; hereby did she persuade her husband of her own affectione and in so doinge did commande his.”36 In a hierarchical system, exchanges of mutual affection get imagined and phrased in terms of mutual deference to each other's authority: the wife's obedience commands the husband's love; by not always giving orders, the husband can put his wife's heart in his “power and will.”37 So, even though it is Orlando (and Silvius and Phebe) who is obedient to Rosalind's “commands” (V.ii.121) as she arranges matters so that their love can end in the mutual commitment of marriage, Rosalind must also acknowledge the authority of Orlando for the relationship to be mutual.

Orlando, of course, is too much in love not to marry. From his point of view, all that is necessary for his commitment is a reunion with Rosalind. But our sense of his certainty should not obscure the possibility of his refusing. The idea that the marriage could be broken off at the last minute is, I take it, an important implication of Touchstone's extended description of how an argument can move in a series of seven steps from “the Retort Courteous” to “the Lie Direct” and so to a duel (V.iv.92, 96). Like the progress toward Celia and Oliver's marriage, as described by Rosalind, the progress toward a duel, as described by Touchstone, follows from the mutual responses of the two parties, and, as we have seen, Touchstone concludes that a duel can be avoided even after the seventh step has been reached through a mutually agreed on if statement: “All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may avoid that too, with an If” (V.iv.97-8). Orlando and Rosalind, though, do not wish to avoid getting married; when they use “an If” it expresses their commitment to each other rather than serves as an escape clause from that commitment: “If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind” (V.iv.119); “I'll have no husband, if you be not he” (V.iv.123). Marriage is their mutual choice, what each of them would like to have happen.

As we have seen, Lodge ends Rosalynde by recalling its patriarchal beginning in which a dying father bequeaths his property to his sons and advises them about the inevitable dangers of women, an ending perfectly in keeping with the feelings of Lodge's characters throughout the narrative that they do not have much freedom to decide their own fates. In As You Like It, “we see persons in relation”: to each other through their immediate actions on the stage, to their pasts, which are brought before the audience through the many instances of narration in the play, and also to their futures, which depend, in part, on the many choices they make—Celia choosing to accompany her banished cousin into the forest, Adam choosing to accompany his master as he seeks safety from his brother, Rosalind choosing not to reveal herself right away to either the man she loves or her father, Orlando choosing to save Oliver from the lioness, and Jaques choosing not to leave the forest with Duke Senior and the others, to list only a few.38 Shakespeare, that is, ends As You Like It so that we understand how the title need not mean that the author is simply giving in to the opposing values of the audience. As depicted in the relationships between Orlando and Rosalind, Celia and Oliver, actor and audience, “as you like it” both expresses the freedom we have to choose whether we like or do not like a play or a person—it is up to Orlando and to Rosalind each to say yes to marriage; it is up to each of us whether to applaud after the epilogue or not—and also acknowledges that for lover and beloved, performer and spectator, sometimes the feeling is mutual.


  1. There is a list of some basic oppositions in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London: Routledge; New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958), 2:150-1. The quotations are from the more recent studies of Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1973), p. 210; Mark Bracher, “Contrary Notions of Identity in As You Like It,” [Studies in English Literature] 24, 2 (Spring 1984): 225-40; Kent van den Berg, Playhouse and Cosmos: Shakespearean Theater as Metaphor (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1985), p. 88; Dale G. Priest, “Oratio and Negotium: Manipulative Modes in As You Like It,” [Studies in English Literature] 28, 2 (Spring 1988): 273-86; and Mary Thomas Crane, “Linguistic Change, Theatrical Practice, and the Ideologies of Status in As You Like It,” [English Literary Renaissance] 27, 3 (Autumn 1997): 361-92, 389.

  2. George Bernard Shaw, “Shakespeare and Mr. Barrie,” rprt. in Bernard Shaw: The Drama Observed, ed. Bernard F. Dukore, 4 vols. (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1993), 3:937-43, 937.

  3. This list refers, respectively, to the views of C. L. Barber, who describes Rosalind with the phrase “inclusive poise” in his chapter on the play in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (1959; rprt. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 222-39, 238; Cynthia Marshall, “Wrestling as Play and Game in As You Like It,” [Studies in English Literature] 33, 2 (Spring 1993): 265-87; and Crane, who elucidates a complex presentation of the relationship between the values of the socially dominant and those who lack cultural and political power, as reflected not only in the language of the play but also in the style of performance suggested by the change from William Kemp to Robert Armin as the company's regular comic actor. Marshall's illuminating discussion of the wrestling match between Orlando and Charles shares my interest in understanding how theatrical and social conventions function in the play, but where she sees an increase in our skepticism about conventional distinctions, I see a stress on the importance of mutual involvement in those conventions.

  4. David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), p. 234. Courtship conventions are not included among the literary and dramatic conventions in the play listed in Kenneth Muir's The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1978), p. 131.

  5. See Anthony Brennan, Onstage and Offstage Worlds in Shakespeare's Plays (London and New York: Routledge, 1989). His discussion of As You Like It does not include the intersection I describe between narratives and mutual interactions (pp. 237-88).

  6. See, for example, Jay L. Halio, “‘No Clock in the Forest’: Time in As You Like It,” [Studies in English Literature] 2, 2 (Spring 1962): 197-207, rprt. in Twentieth-Century Interpretations of “As You Like It,” ed. Halio (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968), pp. 88-97, 91: “as dramatic exposition this dialogue is at least ingenuous—if not downright clumsy.”

  7. William Shakespeare, As You Like It, in The Riverside Shakespeare, 2d edn., ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), pp. 403-36, I.iii.75, II.iv.46-54, III.ii.407-21, V.iv.47. All subsequent citations of the play will be from this edition and will appear within the text by act, scene, and line number; please note that I have removed square brackets indicating emendations.

  8. Stephen B. Dobranski, “Children of the Mind: Miscarried Narratives in Much Ado about Nothing,” [Studies in English Literature] 38, 2 (Spring 1998): 233-50, 234.

  9. Lawrence Danson, “Jonsonian Comedy and the Discovery of the Social Self,” PMLA 99, 2 (Spring 1984): 179-93, 187.

  10. Robert Ornstein, Shakespeare's Comedies: From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1986), p. 146.

  11. Brennan, p. 286; Marko Minkoff, “What Shakespeare Did to Rosalynde,” [Shakespeare Jahrbuch] 96 (1960): 78-89; rprt. in Twentieth-Century Interpretations, pp. 98-106, 106. See also Agnes Latham's introduction to the Arden Edition of As You Like It (London: Methuen, 1975), pp. ix-xcv, xxxvi: “Shakespeare owes his plot to Lodge but not a great deal else.”

  12. The argument for John Lyly is made by Leah Scragg in The Metamorphosis of “Gallathea”: A Study in Creative Adaptation (Washington DC: Univ. Press of America, 1982), pp. 79-98; the one for Sir Philip Sidney by Brian Gibbons in “Amorous Fictions and As You Like It,” in “Fanned and Winnowed Opinions”: Shakespearean Essays Presented to Harold Jenkins, ed. John W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 52-78; the one for Sir John Harington and Rabelais by Juliet Dusinberre in “As Who Liked It?,” [Shakespeare Survey] 46 (1994): 9-21. I use Harington later in this essay for very different purposes.

  13. Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde, ed. W. W. Greg (London: Chatto and Windus, 1907), p. 2. All subsequent citations of this work will appear within the text by page number.

  14. Helen Whall, “As You Like It: The Play of Analogy,” [Humanities Literature Quarterly] 47, 1 (Winter 1984): 33-46, 35.

  15. Maura Kuhn, “Much Virtue in If,” [Shakespeare Quarterly] 28, 1 (Winter 1977): 40-50, 44, 49; also see Priest, pp. 285-6.

  16. By my count, fate(s) and fortune(s) occur over 200 times in the tale, compared to roughly 150 instances of if. In Shakespeare's play, the ratio is 25 instances of fortune(s) and none of fate(s) to 138 for if. Data here and later in this essay on the number and frequency of words in As You Like It are drawn from volume 1 of A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, comp. Marvin Spevack, 6 vols. (Hildesheim Ger.: Georg Olms, 1968-70).

  17. The commonplaces are treated at length in Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 256-98.

  18. Helen Gardner, “As You Like It,” in More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John Garrett (London: Longmans, Green, 1959), pp. 17-32, rprt. in Twentieth-Century Interpretations, pp. 55-69, 65.

  19. Sir John Harington, The Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington together with “The Prayse of Private Life,” ed. Norman Egbert McClure (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1930), p. 31.

  20. Thomas Heywood, “An Apology for Actors,” in The Seventeenth Century Stage, ed. Gerald Eades Bentley (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1968), pp. 10-22, 11.

  21. Barnaby Riche, Riche His Farewell, rprt. in Eight Novels Employed by English Dramatic Poets of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (London: Shakespeare Society, 1846), p. 3.

  22. Lodge, Margarite, in “Menaphon,” by Robert Greene, and “A Margarite of America,” by Thomas Lodge, ed. G. B. Harrison (Oxford: Blackwell, 1927), p. 113.

  23. Lodge, Margarite, pp. 170, 207.

  24. For the patriarchal implications of this opening, see Louis Adrian Montrose, “‘The Place of a Brother’ in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form,” [Shakespeare Quarterly] 32, 1 (Spring 1982): 28-54.

  25. The complex layering of actor, character, and character-in-disguise that can result from the use of the convention in plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries has been treated in great detail by Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (1994; rprt. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1996), esp. pp. 119-42 for As You Like It; a useful summary of the varied recent critical positions on the epilogue is on pp. 132-3. The male homoerotic implications of the convention have been stressed most recently by Stephen Orgel in Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's England (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996). For an interpretation stressing the importance of female homoeroticism in the play, see Jessica Tvordi, “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night,” in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women's Alliances in Early Modern England (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 114-30.

  26. Harold Jenkins, “As You Like It,” ShS 8 (1955): 40-51, rprt. in Twentieth-Century Interpretations, pp. 28-43, 38.

  27. See Marjorie Garber, “The Education of Orlando,” in Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan: Change and Continuity in the English and European Dramatic Tradition, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and J. C. Bulman (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1986), pp. 102-12.

  28. Bracher, p. 236 (emphasis his).

  29. John Bowe, “Orlando in As You Like It,” in Players of Shakespeare: Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Twelve Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, ed. Philip Brockbank (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 67-76, 74.

  30. Leggatt, p. 204.

  31. Barbara J. Bono, “Mixed Gender, Mixed Genre in Shakespeare's As You Like It,” in Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 189-212, 204. One possible fear that has not been fully recognized is the fear of childbirth, the natural consequence of marriage. Dobranski shows how “again and again, Beatrice conflates her feelings for Benedick with sex and pregnancy” (p. 238). After her first encounter with Orlando, Rosalind similarly associates her thoughts of him with children, telling Celia “some of it [her sadness] is for my child's father” (I.iii.11). Whatever the actual statistics on mothers dying in childbirth, on stillbirths and miscarriages, and on infant mortality, the perception of the time was that childbirth was fraught with risks, a view well expressed by Richard Hooker in Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity (V.74.1): “the fruit of marriage is birth, and the companion of birth travaile, the griefe whereof being so extreeme, and the daunger alwaies so great” (quoted from The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker, ed. W. Speed Hill, 3 vols. (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard Univ. Press, 1977-81), 2:406.

  32. The terms are from Katharine Eisaman Maus, Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 2.

  33. For a different view of how the patriarchal context affects our understanding of Rosalind, see Kay Stanton, “Remembering Patriarchy in As You Like It,” in Shakespeare: Text, Subtext, and Context, ed. Ronald Dotterer (Selinsgrove PA: Susquehanna Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 139-49.

  34. The Book of Common Prayer, 1559: The Elizabethan Prayerbook, Folger Library Edition, ed. John E. Booty (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1976), pp. 290, 291.

  35. “The Homily on Marriage,” rprt. in Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory (Liverpool, 1799), pp. 393-4.

  36. Harington, Nugae Antiquae: Being a Miscellaneous Collection of Original Papers, in Prose and Verse, Written during the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, Elizabeth, and King James, ed. Thomas Park, 3 vols. (London, 1804; rprt. New York: AMS Press, 1966), 1:177-8.

  37. The classic instance in Shakespeare's works of this dynamic in a relationship between parent and child is Cordelia and Lear each kneeling to the other when they are reunited in King Lear, IV.vii.

  38. Latham, p. xlvi.

Clare R. Kinney (essay date February 1998)

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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 three different versions of pastoral in which they represent a novice poet writing poems to a woman called Rosalind; each work (and in particular the two later ones) also records the woman's response to the lyrics made in her honor. This scenario appears in a cycle of eclogues, a prose romance, and a romantic comedy: Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender (1579); Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), and William Shakespeare's As You Like It (ca. 1599-1600).1 I propose to take a closer look at hitherto ignored filiations between Lodge's heroine and Spenser's almost invisible Rosalind, before reconsidering the relationship between Shakespeare's Rosalind and her precursors. This article will address the implications of the intertextual transformations that make Rosalind-the-lyric-object increasingly reimaginable as a reader, a critic, and finally a maker. It will also discuss some of the cultural and extratextual forces and the intratextual gestures of recontainment that delimit Lodge's and Shakespeare's (quite different) reconstructions of Rosalind the artist.

Lodge's Rosalynde was a best-seller of the 1590s; after its initial publication three further editions appeared in 1592, 1596, and 1598 (i.e., before the probable 1599-1600 composition of As You Like It). Elizabethan audiences seem to have found the work a rewarding fiction in its own right, but its routine dismissal by Shakespearian critics as a conventional if elegant pastoral exercise, whose one substantial invention is its heroine's double disguise as Ganimede-“Rosalynde,” has forestalled the recognition that Lodge might have been doing more than producing a suggestive groundplot for Shakespeare's invention.2Rosalynde's publication date in fact places it at the very beginning of the fashion for pastoral prose romance: Fulke Greville's edition of Philip Sidney's unfinished “New” Arcadia appears in the very same year, and the work's only precursors in the mode are Robert Greene's less ambitious efforts in Pandosto (1588) and Menaphon (1589). If Lodge is conventional, he is helping to create convention rather than blindly following it, and one of his most interesting innovations is his “romancing” of certain aspects of the nonnarrative paradigm provided by Spenser's Shepheardes Calender.3 Lodge's revision of the gendered dynamics of Spenserian Petrarchan pastoral grants a voice to the silenced Rosalind of Spenser's work, in turn providing a prototype for the talkative Rosalind of As You Like It. Lodge allows his cross-dressed heroine to participate in lyric dialogue; Shakespeare, by contrast, frames the art of his disguised Rosalind in prose. I will eventually be addressing the implications of Shakespeare's removal of Rosalind's art from the discursive universe of masculine lyric; my preliminary examination of the brave new world of heterosexual pastoral intercourse begins, however, in Lodge's Arden.


Lodge's Ganimede-Rosalynde and Aliena-Alinda encounter the inhabitants of the pastoral universe by becoming readers of poetry. Looking for shelter in Arden, Rosalynde remarks, “I spie the figures of men; for here in these trees be ingraven certaine verses of shepheards or some other swaines that inhabite here about.”4 After perusing two of Montanus's complaints, she announces, “Seeing we have found here … the trackt of Shepheards by their Madrigals and Roundelaies, let us forward; for either we shall find some foldes, sheepcoates, or else some cottages” (p. 182). The poetic “trackt” (or trace) “figures” the pastoral maker: characters and readers are being initiated into an emphatically literary landscape in which you stumble over poems before you find either shepherds or sheep.

Shortly afterward, the travelers arrive at a conventional locus amoenus where two swains perform a lyric dialogue, which is set off typographically in the framing narrative with the subtitle “A Pleasant Eglog Betweene Montanus and Coridon” (p. 183). The reader is given a very precise perspective on this interlude. Having described the pastoral prospect seen by his heroines, Lodge continues: “Drawing more nigh wee might descrie the countenance of the one to be full of sorrowe … and his eyes full of woes … Wee, (to heare what these were) stole privilie behind the thicke[t], where we overheard this discourse” (p. 183). The unexpected “wee” conflates narrator, reader, and female characters as eavesdroppers when Coridon asks Montanus what grieves him and Montanus dilates on the woes of frustrated love. Coridon indicts love as “a sugared harm, a poison full of pleasure”; Montanus informs him that old age has nothing useful to say on the subject. Coridon renews his moral advice, but Montanus stops his ears against his saws.

Up to this moment, the reader is under the impression that Lodge is reproducing what “wee” overhear. But after Montanus's last line there is an addendum: under the rubric Terentius follows a quotation from The Eunuch describing the irrationality of love (p. 187).5 Who speaks these lines? We have slipped from performance to text: the coda provided by this fragment of Latin is, however, a phenomenon familiar to readers of The Shepheardes Calender, where a concluding “emblem” or “posy” in Latin, Greek, French, or Italian is allocated to each eclogue's speaker(s). Moreover, the incorporation of the Petrarchan plaints of Montanus within a dialogue between Youth and Age suggests that the author has appropriated and combined in this interlude the Januarye and Februarie poems from Spenser's work.

The sensation of reading an excerpt from The Shepheardes Calender embedded within Lodge's romance is reinforced when his exiled heroines discover another tree-text: one of Rosader's love poems in praise of Rosalynde. Masked as Ganimede, Rosalynde questions the poet about the identity of his beloved: “Is shee some shepheardesse, that haunts these plaines, whose beautie hath so bewitched thy fancie, whose name thou shaddowest in covert under the figure of Rosalynde, as Ovid did Julia under the name of Corinna?” (p. 200). Rosalynde again proves herself an experienced reader of pastoral: she assumes, like other educated Elizabethan readers, that it is a discourse of masks and dissembling.6 Even more significantly, her speech reproduces a passage from the textual apparatus of The Shepheardes Calender: E. K.'s gloss on another beloved Rosalind. In a note attached to Colin Clout's first mention of his lady's name, E. K. remarks that this is “a feigned name, which being wel ordered, wil bewray the very name of hys love and mistresse, whom by that name he coloureth. So as Ovide shadoweth hys love under the name of Corynna, which of some is supposed to be Julia.”7

Lodge's conspicuous allusion to Spenser's influential work invites his reader to recollect the sign of an absence. We are told that Colin's beloved “laughes the songes, that Colin Clout doth make” (Januarye, line 66), but she never speaks in her own voice. Lodge's romance invites his readers to share the perspective of a female audience overhearing a Petrarchan pastoral eclogue in performance and then redefines that audience as readers of a quasi-Spenserian text. But in The Shepheardes Calender, women are never actually imagined as audiences for the eclogues, much less as commentators on them.8 References to Rosalind's behavior toward Colin (and its depressing effects on his poetic powers) provide a context in which male speakers reaffirm the poet's gifts, listen to one another's recitations of Colin's lyrics, or encourage him to abandon love complaints for more ambitious projects. In narrating his heroine's response to her inscription in Rosader's Petrarchan pastoral lyrics, Lodge translates Spenser's Rosalind from textualized object to responsive subject. Appropriating the perspective and voice of E. K., Rosalynde the interpreter-commentator displaces Rosalind the absent presence.

I am not the first reader to suggest that to name your heroine Rosalind in the years following the appearance of The Shepheardes Calender is a significant literary gesture. In a recent discussion of As You Like It, Juliet Dusinberre identifies a Spenserian resonance in Shakespeare's work.9 Invoking Louis Montrose's account of the political inflections and agendas of Elizabethan pastoral, she proposes that Shakespeare's signifier “Rosalind,” like Spenser's, inevitably shadows Elizabeth Tudor: the “Elisa, Queene of shepheardes” who displaces the putative object of desire from Colin Clout's song in the Aprill eclogue and the supremely frustrating and powerful mistress courted throughout the Petrarchan pastoral passages of Spenser's work.10 Dusinberre argues that Rosalind's role in Shakespeare's comedy “challenge[s] … Elizabeth's elaborately constructed fictions of chastity and desire.”11 She does not, however, address the challenge offered to other fictions of chastity and desire by Shakespeare's source when Lodge's Rosalynde usurps E. K.'s position on the margins of pastoral discourse.

Lodge not only represents his Rosalynde as a knowledgeable reader and interpreter of pastoral lyric but also has her participate in the composition and performance of an eclogue. Harry Berger has observed that “the community of [Spenser's] eclogues is a branch of the Young Men's Pastoral Association. Women at best serve instrumental functions in the YMPA … Their job is to contribute to the male bonding which poetry celebrates.”12 Spenser's pastorals are spoken only by men, and the same is true of the eclogues which partition Sidney's Arcadia (first published, like Rosalynde, in 1590), where the only “female” speaker is the cross-dressed Pyrocles.13 But in the middle of Lodge's romance we find “The Wooing Eglogue Betwixt Rosalynde and Rosader,” in which Rosalynde, playing herself, answers Rosader's lyric persuasions with her own verses and ends by plighting her troth to him (pp. 211-13). Lodge depicts his heroine as a poet in her own right in a dialogue where the beloved, instead of merely functioning as the pretext for poetry, is given a voice of her own.

I would argue that this revision of Spenser's nonnarrative paradigm is at once innovative and conservative. If Lodge opens up the solipsistic lyricism of the Petrarchan-pastoralist to the possibilities of heterosexual poetic intercourse, his Rosalynde nevertheless goes on to replicate an emphatically man-made discourse. Perusing Montanus's poems, Rosalynde remarks to Alinda-Aliena that their doleful record of frustration bears witness to the shocking capriciousness and cruelty of “you women.” Aliena retorts, “If your roabes were off, what mettall are you made of that you are so satyricall against women?” Her friend counters, “I keepe decorum: I speak now as I am Alienas page … Put me but into a peticoate, and I will stand in defiance to the uttermost that women are courteous, constant, vertuous and what not” (p. 181). The exchange suggests that Rosalynde has borrowed “masculine” discourse along with her clothes: Ganimede is “decorously” reading from the point of view of a man. The same keeping of decorum informs as well as licenses her acts of making. Only when she counterfeits masculinity in her own person can she practice another kind of privileged dissembling. If the poems of Arden may be read, to borrow Rosalynde's own words, as the “figures of men,” Rosalynde herself must first figure a man before she can engage in poesis with a man.14

Indeed the discursive universe of Rosalynde—even as it seems to afford its women unusual access to the roles of responsive reader and poetic maker—contains some strikingly contradictory constructions of female agency and of “proper” female speech. The romance's frame erases the speaking and reading female subject: Rosalynde is not only officially directed toward “Gentlemen readers” but is presented as the “legacy” of John Lyly's Euphues to the sons of Philautus.15 It opens with the deathbed sermon of Rosader's father, who informs his sons that although “women are wantons,” since “men cannot want one” they should choose one who is “chast, obedient, and silent”—the usual Holy Trinity of early modern female virtues (p. 163). Rosalynde may reveal her desire and plight her troth to Rosader in the wooing eclogue, but Alinda, musing on how to deal with her own suitor, takes the more orthodox position that she should “rather die than discover anie desire: for there is nothing more precious in a woman, than to conceale Love, and to die modest” (p. 225). When the love-smitten Phoebe writes poems to Ganimede, she insists that “nature hath framed women's eyes bashfull, their hearts full of feare, and their tongues full of silence” and that only love could have made her act so unusually (p. 244). At its close, the romance thoroughly downplays the significance of the unconventional actions of its women. A final passage of Lylian moralizing reinvokes the “gentlemen readers” and summarizes the work as if it has only involved masculine agents (as if it were entitled Rosader, not Rosalynde): the narrator speaks exclusively of the lessons his tale offers concerning the proper duties and responsibilities of good sons and virtuous brothers (p. 256).

Yet if Rosalynde opens and closes with patriarchal orthodoxies, its indubitably chaste and virtuous women are hardly represented as silent for most of its course. Rosalynde's infiltration of the YMPA is only the most striking example of women practicing poetry. Rosalynde before her exile responds to the realization that she is in love with Rosader by composing a madrigal (although this is never circulated or delivered publicly), and Phoebe counters Montanus's amorous lyrics with a song indicting the duplicities of love (p. 230). Female characters are also shown critiquing male textual practices: just before she takes part in the wooing eclogue, Rosalynde lambastes “these Ovidians (holding Amo in their tongues, when their thoughts come at haphazarde)” who “onely have their humours in their inckpot” (p. 208).

Nonetheless, although Lodge represents Rosalynde as wittily capable of demystifying the conventional posturings of the love poet, his heroine ends up embracing the practices she appears to reject. She repeatedly and enthusiastically solicits her own conventional lyric celebration: “Tell mee what [your mistress's] perfections bee,” she says to Rosader, and receives in return a formal blazon of her body replete with all the usual comparisons (pp. 201-2). When she finally participates in the wooing eclogue, she is represented as succumbing to very familiar blandishments. Rosader exclaims, “Oh Rosalynde then be thou pitifull, / For Rosalynde is onely beautifull” (p. 211), but Rosalynde fears her lover may be beguiling her with “deepe dissembled doublenesse” (p. 212). Rosader insists that his desires are pure and undeceitful (p. 212), Rosalynde says, “I would resist, but yet I know not why” (p. 213), and Rosader, adumbrating his Petrarchan complaints with less elevated lyric stratagems, invokes the oldest line in the book: “Oh Rosalynde, be kinde, for times will change, / Thy lookes aye nill be faire as now they be, / Thine age from beautie may thy lookes estrange: / Ah yeelde in time, sweet Nymph, and pitie me.” As soon as he utters the carpe diem argument, Rosalynde succumbs, recapitulating Rosader's favorite rhyme words (and thus capitulating, quite literally, on his terms): “Oh Rosalynde, thou must be pitifull / For Rosader is young and beautifull” (p. 213). Having been won over—within the context of the eclogue—by the carpe diem persuasion, she proceeds to re-cite it to scornful Phoebe: “Love while thou art young, least thou be disdained when thou art olde. Beautie nor time cannot bee recalde” (p. 232). Her “keeping decorum” in reproducing familiar tropes is apparently contagious; when Phoebe woos Ganimede with her own verses, she composes a lyric beginning “My boate doth passe the straights / of seas incenst with fire, / Filde with forgetfulnesse” (p. 240), which is a close adaptation of Thomas Wyatt's “My galley charged with forgetfulness” (itself a version of Petrarch's Rime Sparse 189). In Lodge's Arden, women characters may appear to enter the brave new world of poetic intercourse in articulating their desires, but they are not exactly speaking a new language.


Spenser's Rosalind is a sign of absence, the marker of male frustration, the pre-text for the homosocial poetry of The Shepheardes Calender. Lodge's Rosalynde is a more complicated signifier, representing, on the one hand, the revisionary possibility of a responding female reader who gains access to a discourse usually reserved for male voices and, on the other, not so much a speaking female subject as a male impersonator parroting a pre-scribed language. The contradictions in Lodge's narrative positioning of his heroine appear to offer another version of the discontinuities Catherine Belsey identifies in the situation of all early modern women who were “only inconsistently identified as subjects in the discourses about them which circulated predominantly among men.”16 More specifically, Lodge seems to be echoing (or anticipating) some particularly mixed signals emanating from a contemporary rhetorician's intermittent “figuring forth” of a female subject who is also a poet, in a text that (like Lodge's) simultaneously concedes and limits the possibility of female poesis.17

George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (1589) appears at first glance to depart from the humanist commentators' usual formulation of the proper relationship of educated women to the making of fictions.18 Juan Luis Vives's popular 1523 conduct book, Institutione Foeminae Christianae (reprinted in nearly forty European editions in several vernaculars before 1600 and first translated into English as The Instruction of a Christian Woman around 1529), offers a reasonably liberal version of the orthodox position. Vives distinguishes between “the study of wisdom”—the reading of improving works, which is to be encouraged as promoting female chastity and a “good and holy life”—and the study of “eloquence,” which he pronounces unnecessary for an educated woman: “When she shall learn to write, let not her example be void verses nor wanton or trifling songs, but some sad sentences prudent and chaste, taken out of holy Scripture, or the sayings of philosophers.” Nor should she “speak abroad” in mixed company; her learning should be for the benefit of herself and her children.19 Almost no lyrics written by English women in the sixteenth century actually survive, and they do not usually resemble the kind of poetry Rosalynde and Phoebe (or their lovers) are represented as composing in Rosalynde.20 When Mary Wroth ventures to publish her pastoral-chivalric romance Urania (1621), a prose narrative frequently interrupted by female lyric performances which concludes with a sonnet cycle written in the persona of a female lover, Sir Edward Denny upbraids her for her “lascivious tales and amorous toyes” and instructs her to follow “the pious example of your vertuous and learned Aunt [Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke], who translated so many goodly books and especially the holly psalmes of David.”21 Public female utterance of any kind tends to be linked to unchastity.22 Women writers are strongly encouraged to restrict their efforts to the translation of devotional (and male-authored) works: female-authored poetic counterfeiting is construed as morally problematic, feignings about faining even more so.23

But if prevailing cultural attitudes in sixteenth-century England render the notion of the woman poet highly suspicious, the most powerful woman in the country, Elizabeth Tudor, was nevertheless known to have written poetry—and had authored, indeed, in her complaint “On Monsieur's Departure,” a Petrarchan exception to the unwritten rule encouraging Englishwomen to steer clear of love lyric.24 Puttenham's manual not only addresses Elizabeth directly and repeatedly as a poet, but also intermittently raises the question of whether other women—women who cannot be so easily thought of as princely special cases—may also claim the subject position of poetic maker. Montrose's influential discussion of Puttenham's work has emphasized its preoccupation with the arts of graceful dissembling and its erasure of “the putative distinction between courtship and poetry, courtiers and poets, life and art.”25 I am particularly interested in the fact that Puttenham does not imagine his courtly audience (or students) as exclusively masculine: “Our chiefe purpose herein is for the learning of Ladies and young Gentlewomen, or idle Courtiers, desirous to become skilful in their owne mother tongue, and for their priuate recreation to make now & then ditties of pleasure, thinking for our parte none other science so fit for them & the place as that which teacheth beau semblant, the chief profession as well of Courting as of poesie.”26 The ladies and gentlewomen are classed with the “idle courtiers” as students of beau semblant. Recent critics of The Arte of English Poesie have analyzed Puttenham's suggestive gendering of the various tropes described in his catalogue of poetic ornament and addressed the play of gender in the exemplary anecdotes he employs throughout his treatise.27 Not very much has been made, however, of Puttenham's scattered references to the (biological) female as a creating agent.28

As I have already suggested, these references are as full of contradictions as Lodge's fictional representation of the lyric object turned speaking subject. Puttenham repeatedly addresses a female audience, and he notes that it is partly for the benefit of this audience that he freely translates many of his technical terms from Greek into the vernacular.29 Yet at the same time that he anticipates a mixed audience, the author manifestly expects his ladies to be less serious poets. He recommends the relatively trivial pursuit of the “posie transposed” (the making of anagrams) as a particularly “meete study for Ladies” and later, during a meditation on the potential misuse of poetical ornament, comments that “every surplusage or preposterous placing or undue iteration or darke word, or doubtfull speach are not so narrowly to be looked upon … in the pretie Poesies and deuices of Ladies and Gentlewomen makers, whom we would not have too precise Poets least with their shrewd wits, when they were married, they might become a little too phantasticall wiues.”30 Puttenham not only assumes his ladies will create relatively unassuming “pretie Poesies” but also suggests that there is something mutually exclusive about the roles of “precise Poet” and good wife. We are offered a more playful version of Vives' insistence that the study of eloquence will interfere with women's proper duties.

Puttenham predictably changes his tactics when addressing his most important female reader. His survey of the achievements of contemporary English makers at the end of book I of the Arte concludes: “Last in recitall and first in degree is the Queene oure soveraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse, easily surmounteth all the rest that haue written before her time or since, for sence, sweetnesse and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram or any other kinde of poeme Heroick or Lyricke.”31 The flattery is pretty egregious: Elizabeth's extant oeuvre (or the hypothetical future products of her pen) will outdo anything her subjects can produce.32 Puttenham pays his queen the more solid compliment of using her own poem “The Doubt of Future Foes” as his example of “Exargesia or the Gorgious,” a trope which he describes as “the last and principall figure of our poeticall Ornament … which figure beyng as his very original name purporteth the most bewtifull and gorgious of all others, it asketh in reason to be reserved for a last compliment and desciphered by the arte of a Ladies penne, her selfe beyng the most bewtifull, or rather bewtie of Queenes.”33 But Puttenham's praise is double edged: the encomium's final change of focus shifts the reader's attention from the beauty of Elizabeth's trope to the beauty of its author—and thus from her subject position as creator of such a figure to her reinscription as a figured object of male compliment.

The artful compliment to the queen that unmakes her as a maker is anticipated at the very beginning of The Arte of English Poesie. In chapter 1 of book I, Puttenham proffers his treatise to Elizabeth, meanwhile insisting volubly that he has nothing to teach her: “Your selfe being alreadie, of anie that I know in our time, the most excellent Poet. Forsooth by your Princely purse fauours and countenance, making in maner what ye list, the poore man rich, the lewd well learned, the coward couragious, and vile both noble and valiant. Then for imitation no lesse, your person as a most cunning counterfaitor liuely representing Venus in countenance, in life Diana, Pallas for gouernement, and Iuno in all honour and regall magnificence.”34 Elizabeth as poet or maker here is not a literary creator at all. Puttenham glosses her poesis first as the art of the monarch who can “make” a man, and second as that of the “counterfaitor” who does not so much (to borrow Sidney's terms) “figure forth” a “speaking picture” as embody the various goddesses to whom she is likened.35 While he is presumably speaking to Elizabeth's own well-documented and public construction of a personal mythology—a feat of self-fashioning which does have something in common with an act of poetic “imitation”—it is Puttenham himself who plays the poet here.36 He has translated the celebration of the female poet into a more orthodox scenario of court(ier)ship, in which the male maker “counterfeits” a beloved (or a queen) who is as lovely as Venus, as chaste as Diana. Our Elizabethan subject is transforming his queen from a poet to a text.37


Puttenham locates Elizabeth within his putatively nonfictional text as a knowing reader, a maker in her own right, but he also redefines her creative powers in terms that make her the fiction of the male artist. Lodge's revision of Spenser's silenced Rosalind relocates the beloved as a reader and commentator within his fiction but makes her a speaker who solicits her own representation in the male poet's art and only joins him in poetic dialogue on his terms. Shakespeare creates a third Rosalind whose response to her lover's poetic tributes sets in motion the complex feignings that lie at the center of As You Like It. Is this Rosalind allowed to be a poet? Is she permitted a voice of her own?

In As You Like It, the third and last of Orlando's poems recited in the play recalls Puttenham's double-edged compliment to Elizabeth's power of counterfeiting. While Puttenham has the Queen recreate in her own person a variety of goddesses, Orlando composes a kind of blazon in which Rosalind possesses the noblest qualities of sundry classical heroines: “Helen's cheek, but not her heart, / Cleopatra's majesty, / Atalanta's better part, / Sad Lucretia's modesty.”38 When Rosader blazons Lodge's Rosalynde, it only makes her hungry for more of his oeuvre (p. 203); in As You Like It, by contrast, Orlando's fabrication of an idealized Rosalind out of the fragments of other paragons marks the point where Petrarchan pastoral begins to be translated into a quite different form. Rosalynde delights in the poems but fears their sentiments may be feigned; Rosalind carps at the “feignings” themselves. Lodge's Rosalynde usurps E. K.'s role as informed commentator on a new poet's makings; Shakespeare's Rosalind becomes E. K. with an attitude.

Conventional lyric performance in As You Like It is, of course, subverted from the very moment Rosalind and her companions arrive in Arden. Shakespeare replaces the formal eclogue between Coridon and Montanus with a brief exchange between Corin and Silvius, which starts in medias res and ends comically and self-reflexively:

… if thou has not sat as I do now
Wearing thy hearer in thy mistress' praise,
Thou has not loved.
Or if thou hast not broke from company
Abruptly, as my passion now makes me,
Thou hast not loved.
O Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe! [Exit]


In Rosalynde, Montanus's complaints are treated entirely sympathetically by his listeners (p. 189); in As You Like It, Silvius's groans are further undercut by Touchstone's competitive and comic recounting of his own woeful courtship of Jane Smile (2.4.43-52).39 Touchstone's translation of Silvius's woes into a witty and self-conscious prose performance anticipates Rosalind's recasting of Orlando's solo plaints within her own version of eclogue—the prose dialogue presided over by Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, playing “Rosalind.”

Lodge's Rosalynde gets to reply to her lover's lyrics but observes decorum, answering in and on his own terms. She offers imitatio uncomplicated by inventio. Shakespeare's Rosalind answers with a difference; she may counterfeit masculinity in her dress, and her disguise may free her speech in mixed company, but she does not replicate masculine poesis. To be sure, the different inflection of her “feigning” reflects the fact that Shakespeare has significantly revised the first encounter between hero and heroine, and Rosalind does not actually need to invade the space of male poetry dressed as a man in order to make her desires known. After Lodge's Rosader triumphs in his wrestling match, Rosalynde, admiring but not yet lovestruck, privately sends the victor a jewel. Rosader dashes off a poem to her in reply—and it is as she reads this that Rosalynde realizes her affections are engaged (pp. 172-75). The couple have not yet spoken a word to each other. In As You Like It, by contrast, Rosalind, in a public space with Celia for a witness, presents Orlando with the chain from her neck. Orlando is struck dumb and can only curse his blockishness as she departs (1.2.233-35), but Rosalind pretends that “he calls us back” (1.2.236) and tells the speechless hero, “Sir, you have wrestled well, and overthrown / More than your enemies” (2.1.238-39).

Rosalind articulates her desire more frankly than almost any other of Shakespeare's virgin heroines in a first encounter with the man she loves.40 (Her directness is equaled only by Miranda's in The Tempest—but Miranda, unlike Rosalind, has had no court education in the proprieties of maidenly modesty.) Lodge's Rosalynde first speaks her love to Rosader when she plays herself in the wooing eclogue; Rosalind does not speak from quite the same position when, as “Rosalind,” she accepts Orlando's love in act 4. Her words in act 1, scene 2 also make nonsense of Orlando's description of her in his first poem as “the fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she” (3.2.10). Editors have glossed “unexpressive” as “inexpressible”—incapable of being expressed—but the word (especially in its significant pairing with “chaste”) also suggests “expressing nothing, silent.” Orlando is, after all, hanging tongues on every tree, “expressing” Rosalind all over the forest in conventionally idealizing terms. The lyrical products of his otium are, however, otiose: Rosalind does not need to be figured forth as the Petrarchan cruel, chaste “huntress” (3.2.4), because this Diana has already made her affections known to her lover. Orlando's poetry simply does not signify: his copia copies the usual forms without representing the Rosalind he has actually encountered and whose words he has heard.

All this may help to explain why Shakespeare does not have this Rosalind reply to her lover in his own kind. Lodge's heroine joins the sheep-coterie poets of Arden, but her namesake responds to Orlando's artifice by counterfeiting with a difference. In Rosalynde, the wooing eclogue ends when “Rosalynde” pledges her faith; after Alinda-Aliena initiates the mock wedding ceremony between the pair, Ganimede has no more extended performance as “Rosalynde.” Rosalynde marks her surrender to Rosader with the words “Then Rosalynde will grace thee with her love. / Then Rosalynde will have thee still in mind” (p. 213). The corresponding portion of Shakespeare's revisionary dialogue runs as follows:

… ask me what you will, I will grant it.
Then love me, Rosalind.
Yes, faith will I, Fridays and Saturdays and all.
And wilt thou have me?
Ay, and twenty such.
What sayst thou?
Are you not good?
I hope so.
Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?


Rosalind's discourse proceeds by subversive supplementation: her additive constructions disconcertingly undermine conventional sentiments (and sentimentality). The perverse logic of her “Fridays and Saturdays and all” (i.e., “I will love you even on fast days”), her “ay, and twenty such” (can one desire too much of a good thing?) will not allow her wooer to take any utterance at face value; commonplaces are destabilized in her mouth. Orlando is never to become complacent; even when the pair are “married” by Celia—the point at which Lodge's interlude ends—more remains to be said:

Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her?
For ever and a day.
Say a day without the ever. No, no, Orlando; men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.


As Rosalind chastens Orlando's sentimental idealism, Shakespeare takes the opportunity to question a certain doubleness within Lodge's wooing eclogue. In Rosalynde, Rosader insists his troth is plighted for ever—“Let deepe despaire pursue me without rest / Ere Rosalynde my loyaltie disproove” (p. 213)—while simultaneously telling his lady to seize the day because she will not always be beautiful and desirable. Shakespeare relegates the conventional carpe diem sentiment (“And therefore take the present time”) to the lyric text of “It was a Lover and his Lass” sung by two pages in a scene on the margins of the main action (5.3.29). But Rosalind's prose wit offers her own spin on carpe diem when, contesting the certainties of romantic lyricism, she seizes Orlando's “ever” and reduces it to a day, before hinting that men, as well as women, may learn what it is to be no longer desirable.

Recent feminist readings of Rosalind's feignings as “Rosalind” have emphasized that she rehearses, with a difference, some very familiar versions of “the feminine.” Jean Howard comments: “The figure of Rosalind dressed as a boy engages in playful masquerade as, in playing Rosalind for Orlando, she acts out the parts scripted for women by her culture. Doing so does not release Rosalind from patriarchy, but reveals the constructed nature of patriarchy's representations of the feminine and shows a woman manipulating those representations in her own interest, theatricalizing for her own purposes what is assumed to be innate, teaching her future mate how to get beyond certain ideologies of gender to more enabling ones.”41 While I find this argument persuasive, I think it important to add that Rosalind not only subverts the pre-scribed female roles by playing them tongue in cheek—by putting them in quotations, as it were—but also supplements her scripts.42 Whether she is expanding on the fates of Troilus and Leander to prove they did not die for love (4.1.89-98) or amplifying ad absurdum the catalogue of caprices “Rosalind” will enact as a married woman (4.1.133-43), she exercises her own creative powers.43 Nor am I convinced that Rosalind's art is didactic; although there has been plenty of critical discussion of her “education” of Orlando, it is not clear that Orlando ever escapes certain ideologies of gender.44 Orlando remains constant to his idealizing vision, either staunchly insisting that his lady is an exception to misogynistic stereotypes without interrogating those stereotypes or (when Rosalind's version of “Rosalind” gets a little too troubling) taking to his heels.45

Marjorie Garber suggests that Rosalind's intention is to teach her lover to “speak to her in the natural language of men and women.”46 Orlando, however, never really joins her in a dialogue between equals—and although I believe that Rosalind improvises a language of her own, I am not sure that this metadiscursive tongue is the instinctive or “natural” property of both men and women in the world of As You Like It. In Lodge's romance, the cross-dressed Rosalynde answers her lover in his own language—the poetry of Petrarchan pastoral—as fluently as if she had a doublet and hose in her disposition; she then recycles his discourse in her encounter with Phoebe. As if to emphasize that his heroine speaks her own language, Shakespeare has Rosalind encounter Phoebe before she first plays “Rosalind”; in the “wooing eclogue” of As You Like It, moreover, Orlando, unlike Rosader, never gets to set the terms of the exchange. Invited to respond to the counterfeitings of Rosalind-Ganymede-“Rosalind,” Orlando cannot match her inventions and generally plays the straight man.47 Rosalind piles feigning on feigning in order to break through the language of convention: disguised as a man, pretending to be herself, she offers a heightened, supplemented, and self-subverting representation of a cultural fiction, the capricious mistress, whose speeches (since they utterly contradict the frank revelation of her feelings to Orlando in 1.2 and to Celia in 1.3) are necessarily acts of dissembling. The appearance of complete spontaneity that characterizes her improvisations (most evident in the casual inventiveness of her subversive “addings on”) makes her a mistress of what Puttenham calls the “artificiall well dissembled.”48 She has demonstrated that by the standards of Shakespeare's courtly contemporaries she has the sine qua non of a poet, proving in her own fashion Touchstone's assertion that the “truest poetry is the most feigning.”49

Rosalind's art of improvisation is a pastoral poetry in the sense that it only begins to flourish once she has moved from the court to the country and can manipulate the mask of the swain Ganymede; the witticisms she and Celia exchange on the topoi of Fortune and Nature when we first meet them at court have a dusty schoolroom air about them (1.2.28-59). I find it interesting, therefore, that once his main characters are all in Arden, Shakespeare not only makes it clear that Petrarchan Orlando cannot engage in Rosalind's linguistic games as an equal but also gives his heroine the last word in her bouts of wit with the play's clever court fool and its sententious court moralist.50 Orlando, Touchstone, and Jaques are variously familiar with the arts of eloquence that are part and parcel of a gentleman's education but that Vives declared unnecessary to an educated woman (even the neglected Orlando seems to have found a copy of the Arte of English Poesie somewhere)—and all of them are outwitted by Rosalind. There is, however, one forest “eclogue” in As You Like It that unfolds as if between equals: the brilliantly energetic and inventive exchange between Celia and Rosalind that follows Celia's entrance carrying both Orlando's third poem and the news that she has sighted its author (3.2.158-242). In this dialogue Celia does not play the straight woman to Rosalind's wit; both speakers display an equal capacity to interrupt, to improvise, to elaborate, to take an idea and pun with it. Their conversation may be thought of as a prose equivalent to the Theocritean/Virgilian singing match often imitated by Elizabethan pastoralists (for example, in Spenser's August eclogue or in Sidney's dialogue between Thyrisis and Dorus in the revised Arcadia).51 In such contests, male speakers ostensibly improvise in poetic counterpoint; in As You Like It, Celia and Rosalind sharpen their wits on one another in a freer, less agonistic encounter.52 In Shakespeare's Arden, you do not just get to join the Young Men's Pastoral Association; you can inaugurate a Young Women's Pastoral Association.

Shakespeare is quite happy to offer his audience fast male-female banter between witty equals—Rosaline and Berowne, Beatrice and Benedict—in other comedies. His decision not to make anyone but Celia quite speak Rosalind's Ardenic language—and to distinguish so strongly Rosalind's prosaic “poetry” from Orlando's lyricism—suggestively inflects As You Like It's re-vision of Lodge's re-vision of Spenser: if Lodge moved us from the all-male clubhouse of the YMPA to a mixed-sex playground, Shakespeare seems to have added a female clubhouse to that playground.53 ‘Added’ is the key word here: we should recognize that the discursive practices of Rosalind and Celia, unlike those of Spenser's swains, are not predicated on the silencing or absence of an Other—Orlando's utterances in Arden are, indeed, essential to As You Like It's larger interrogation of the erotic codes he has embraced. The new clubhouse is, however, a somewhat exclusive one: Shakespeare ultimately imposes some limits on the female critique of the solipsism of the male Petrarchan-pastoralist, and these limits seem to be determined by class.

Just before her own wooing eclogue with Orlando, Rosalind witnesses an encounter between Phoebe and the lovesick Silvius in which Phoebe insists on demystifying Silvius's conventional plaints: “Mine eyes, / Which I have darted at thee, hurt thee not; / Nor I am sure there is no force in eyes / That can do hurt” (3.5.24-27). Phoebe's objection anticipates the moment when Rosalind-Ganymede-“Rosalind” dismisses Orlando's hyperbolic assertion that his lady's frown might kill him (4.1.100). But Rosalind has no patience with this other woman's subversive commentary on poetry-as-usual; making common cause with Silvius the lover rather than with Phoebe the woman, she launches an assault on the scornful sheperdess that is significantly more aggressive than the equivalent speech in Lodge's romance.54 Shakespeare comically elaborates on Lodge's plot (in which Phoebe's disdain is directed at Love, not at Silvius and his poetry) by making his own Phoebe an avowed anti-Petrarchist. Her comeuppance is all the more striking because she so completely embraces the utterances she had scorned in Silvius. Her sudden passion for Ganymede is expressed in verses that praise the power of his eyes and claim that she will “study how to die” if he rejects her (4.3.45-64), and she is permitted none of Rosalind's humorous distance on her own feelings.

Phoebe is the only female character in As You Like It to compose a love lyric, and she can only manage to echo the sentiments Silvius voiced to her. Rosalind, however, refuses even to concede her this capacity:

I saw her hand. She has a leathern hand,
A free-stone coloured hand. I verily did think
That her old gloves were on; but 'twas her hands.
She has a housewife's hand—but that's no matter.
I say she never did invent this letter.
This is a man's invention, and his hand.


Rosalind is obviously delighting in her extravagant impersonation of a conceited swain, but her language is nevertheless suggestive. Phoebe's actual hand and her handwriting become conflated, and the image of the work-roughened hand—wrinkled like an old glove and implicitly contrasted with the white hand of the courtier—invokes a conventional index of class. In Lodge's romance, Phoebe is depicted as a delicate Arcadian beauty and a competent versifier. Whether Shakespeare's Phoebe is really to be imagined (and presented on stage) as a rural drudge is immaterial; what is important is that Rosalind constructs her as one. Rosalind argues that the possessor of such a “hand” could not possibly be literate and that her poem is a “man's invention.” Phoebe either cannot make poetry at all or is simply ventriloquizing the Petrarchan complaints that Rosalind has already interrogated: the poetry she produces as a result of her passion for Ganymede wins her no more right to use her voice within the discursive universe created by Rosalind than did her previous satirical anatomizing of Silvius's love poetry. Rosalind insists on outclassing Phoebe. She has already ordered the owner of the supposed “housewife's hand,” “Sell when you can. You are not for all markets” (3.5.61). There is no pretense here that the Other Tongue in which Rosalind and Celia converse can be shared by all women; the shepherdess is blackballed from what should more properly be entitled the Young Gentlewomen's Pastoral Association.


The Shepheardes Calender, although its pastoral eclogues officially represent a “low” form of poetic making, is an artifact of high culture in which a conscious artist self-deprecatingly presents his credentials to courtly readers (and potential patrons) who are assumed to be familiar with Virgilian pastoral and more recent European experiments in the mode. Spenser's negotiations are primarily with an educated male audience; even when he compliments Elizabeth I by rehearsing the song in which Colin Clout leaves off his plaints for Rosalind to celebrate Eliza, Queen of Shepherds, he represents her as, on the one hand, a silent cynosure and, on the other, his instrument—“Syrinx daughter without spotte” (Aprill, line 50) is both the object of his song and the reed pipe on which he plays. Rosalind is figured as an absence, the unquoted critic of Colin's pastoral who is ritually dismissed at the close of the December eclogue. Lodge's Rosalynde recasts certain elements of The Shepheardes Calender within a prose romance with lyric interludes, and in so doing its author embraces a more popular literary kind. (Disapproving early modern commentators, incidentally, regularly single out romances as being the favorite unimproving reading material of literate women.)55 Lodge's work opens up the solipsistic lyricism of the male Petrarchan-pastoralist to the possibilities of heterosexual pastoral intercourse, although the poetic voice he gives his Rosalynde is ultimately a limited one. Shakespeare's adaptation of Rosalynde represents a further departure from the privileged literary models of Elizabethan high culture—a stage play that is accessible, in performance, to the unlettered of both sexes. Given As You Like It's further transformation of the speaking Rosalind into a figure who responds to her own lyric celebration by way of a poesis that differentiates itself strikingly from her lover's conventional lyricism, it is tempting to claim that the more popular the genre in which Rosalind-the-Beloved is inscribed, the more likely it is to figure her as an independent manipulator of artful language.

Yet the suggestive mapping of class difference on the varying degrees of uninhibited expression permitted gentlewomen and shepherdesses in As You Like It must necessarily complicate this assumption.56 If Rosalind herself silences a lesser cynosure who talks back (an action that suggests that for her, as for Puttenham, the responsive female reader must by definition be a courtier), the play that contains Rosalind also circumscribes her revisionary makings and displaces them at the last with other, more familiar discourses. Shakespeare's representation of a female maker is eventually reinserted in a patriarchal order where her recontainment is marked, significantly enough, by the return of “male” lyric.

When Rosalind faints at the sight of her lover's blood on the napkin carried to her by Oliver, her heartfelt response shatters the art that conceals art.57 Attempting to counter Oliver's surprise at the collapse of Ganymede, Rosalind insists that she was acting in character as “Rosalind”: “I pray you, tell your brother how well I counterfeited” (5.1.169). (Not much sprezzatura here.) Shortly after she draws attention to the fact that she is playing a part, her feignings end—she herself calls a halt to the “idle talking” with which she will “weary” Orlando no more (5.2.49). (We might also note that Celia, her best interlocutor and auditor, has nothing more to say for herself after her own encounter with Oliver, her destined spouse.) Rosalind may continue to plot, but the plot she organizes is one that will perforce subsume the heroine within the identity of her husband and silence her voice.58 She has relatively few lines in the play's last scene, and as soon as she exits to resume her proper identity, Touchstone assumes center stage and delivers his set piece on the protocol of the duel. The fool invokes (albeit comically) the gendered cultural codes that conflate words with swords: wit, it seems, has been reappropriated as a masculine weapon.

When Rosalind re-enters in her proper identity, she is presented to her father by the mysterious figure of Hymen; when the latter sings that “from heaven [he] brought her” (5.4.107), she is translated back into the “heavenly Rosalind” of Orlando's courtly hyperbole (1.2.276). Hymen has entered from nowhere—or rather, from a different literary universe, that of the court masque. Rosalind's female, prosaic, subversive version of pastoral is replaced by the formal lyricism of the “god of every town” who now speaks for her, giving her away even before she does so herself (5.4.141). We might recall at this point that, although aristocratic women participated in court masques, female speaking characters were impersonated by professional boy actors: ladies did not assume speaking parts.59 In act 3, Rosalind had arrested Orlando's lyric productions and invited him to participate in a miniature drama on her own terms; here she is re-inserted within various male, courtly discourses and restored to the position of cynosure—“If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind,” says her lover (5.4.114; my emphasis). Marriage, gendered male in the person of Hymen, has put Rosalind in her socially proper place; after Hymen gives her to her father, Rosalind speaks only once more in the main action, saying first to the Duke and then to Orlando, “To you I give myself for I am yours” (5.4.111-12).

There still remains the prose epilogue, which is prefixed by the character name “Rosalind” but which makes explicit reference to the fact that its speaker is a boy actor. Does the surfacing of the male player in the words “If I were a woman” (Epil., lines 16-17) complete the recontainment of Rosalind, underlining the fact that “her” act is in fact scripted by one male and enacted by another? Peter Erickson argues that when the speaker, soliciting applause for the author, says, “My way is to conjure you,” we are hearing “Shakespeare us[ing] his art to take away Rosalind's female identity” and undercut her own claims to a magician's power (5.2.67-68).60 Other critics have insisted that the shifting identity of the “I” represented here (Rosalind? Ganymede? The actor? Shakespeare?) may be construed as a celebration of plurality and a continuing interrogation of socially constructed gendered identities.61 It is in any case certain that the constructedness of Rosalind-the-character is made explicit here; the illusion that we have watched a woman orchestrating the play of meaning in the drama (rather than a male actor's representation of a male author's representation of a woman artist at play) is shattered. Nevertheless, the more conventional endgames of the preceding and ostensibly final scene of As You Like It are teasingly supplemented by the final instructions that “Rosalind” gives to the audience “I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of the play as please you. And I charge you O men, for the love you bear to women … that between you and the women the play may please” (Epil., lines 11-16). Commentators have tended to focus on the second half of the directive: Phyllis Rackin notes that the pun on “play” hints at “a sexual transaction between the men and women in Shakespeare's audience,” which is made analogous to the pleasure afforded by the staged action—one that does not slight the experience or suppress the subject position of either sex.62 I am more interested, however, in the possibilities opened up by the asymmetry of the speaker's commands. It is the women alone whom “Rosalind” invites to “like as much of the play as please you”; they may selectively applaud (as they like it) what they have just seen. They are free, for example, to prefer the author's representations of Rosalind and Celia's wit over his representations of Touchstone and Jaques's—or to value the marraige that Rosalind orchestrates for herself in the scene where Orlando woos Rosalind-Ganymede-“Rosalind” (4.1.119-26) more than Hymen's paternalistic closing ceremonies.63 The female audience of As You Like It can “authorize” its own playtext—just as Rosalind, the audience of Orlando's verses, took it on herself to rewrite his Petrarchan-pastoralist script and invent her own love play.

I would argue, then, that the admittedly slippery discourse of the epilogue does not absolutely foreclose the possibility of female poesis. What is more, this final appearance of Shakespeare's Rosalind seems to offer a last revisionary glance (this time unmediated by Lodge) at the text that figured and silenced the first Rosalind. The December eclogue of The Shepheardes Calender concludes with Colin Clout saying, “Adieu good Hobbinol, that was so true, / Tell Rosalind, her Colin bids her adieu” (December, lines 155-56). Colin bids farewell to love by way of a privileged male friend and auditor, who has indeed represented himself as a more faithful and deserving lover than Rosalind (see Aprill, lines 10-11). Rosalind is not even addressed directly. In As You Like It, however, it is Rosalind herself or at least her advocate who gets the last word. Where the male poet dismissed the refractory object of his verse, the speaker of Shakespeare's epilogue, having invited the women in the audience to do exactly what they wish with the play that represents Rosalind and all her works, asserts Rosalind's right to distribute her favors wherever she pleases: “If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not. And I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will for my kind offer, when I make my curtsy, bid me farewell” (Epil., lines 16-19). Much virtue in If. In a thoroughly offhand and lighthearted manner, the script provided for the boy actor reinvokes the possibility of female agency. In an equally offhand and lighthearted manner, this “Rosalind” (whose last words arguably echo and reverse the power dynamic voiced in the final moments of Spenser's December) takes charge of the circumstances under which the audience of As You Like It are to bid her adieu.


  1. Much critical attention has been paid to the relationship between the second and third “responding Rosalinds,” some to that between the first and third, and none at all to that between the first and second. Discussions of As You Like It in relation to Rosalynde include Albert H. Tolman, “Shakespeare's Manipulation of His Sources in As You Like It,Modern Language Notes 37 (1922): 65-76; Marco Mintoff, “What Shakespeare Did to Rosalynde,Shakespeare Jahrbuch 98 (1960): 78-89; Robert B. Pierce, “The Moral Languages of Rosalynde and As You Like It,Studies in Philology 68 (1971): 167-76; Edward I. Berry, “Rosalynde and Rosalind,” Shakespeare Quarterly 31 (1980): 42-52; Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1994), pp. 126-30; and Paul Alpers, What Is Pastoral? (Chicago, 1996), pp. 66-67, 197-98. For a brief discussion of As You Like It in relation to The Shepheardes Calender, see Juliet Dusinberre, “As Who Liked It?” Shakespeare Survey 46 (1993): 9-21, esp. 16-18.

  2. W. W. Greg complained that “little attention has ever been bestowed upon [Rosalynde] for its own sake, and its own individual merits have been cast into the shade by the glory of its own offspring” (Lodge's “Rosalynde,” ed. W. W. Greg [New York, 1907], p. ix). A few critics have discussed the romance on its own terms; see, e.g., Walter R. Davis, “The Histrionics of Lodge's Rosalynde,Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 5 (1965): 151-63; Charles Larson, “Lodge's Rosalynde: Decorum in Arden,” Studies in Short Fiction 14 (1977): 117-27; and Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction, 1558-1700 (Oxford, 1985), pp. 72-76; see also Charles Whitworth, Jr., “Rosalynde As You Like It and As Lodge Wrote It,” English Studies 58 (1977): 114-17. It is still the case, however, that readings of Rosalind tend toward the teleological: the work's function as Shakespeare's source “allows us to define with unusual precision some of the differences between skill and genius” (Berry, p. 42).

  3. On the issue of Lodge's conventionality, cf. Larson, p. 119.

  4. Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde. Euphues golden legacie, in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, 8 vols. (London, 1958), 2:180. Subsequent references to Rosalynde are to this edition and are noted parenthetically, by page number, in the text.

  5. Lodge's citation (a free adaptation of The Eunuch 1.1.14-18) reads: “In amore haec omnia insunt vitia, induciae, inimicitiae, bellum, pax rursum: incerta haec si tu postules ratione, certa fieri, nihilo plus agas, quam si des operam, ut cum ratione insanias” [In love all offenses are included—truces, war, peace once again. If you subject all these uncertainties to the rule of reason, you will do no more than if you tried to rave with reason].

  6. George Puttenham notes in The Arte of English Poesie (1589) that “the Poet devised the Eglogue … not of purpose to counterfeit or represent the rusticall manner of loues and communications: but under the vaile of homely persons, and in rude speeches to insinuate and glaunce at greater matters” (The Arte of English Poesie [Menston, England, 1968], pp. 30-31).

  7. Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender, in The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, ed. William A. Oram et al. (New Haven, Conn., 1989), p. 34. Subsequent references to The Shepheardes Calender are to this edition and are noted parenthetically in the text, by month and line number in the case of the poem and by page number in the case of E. K.'s glosses.

  8. Spenser follows the example of Jacopo Sannazaro, whose Arcadia (1504) contains twelve pastoral eclogues with prose links; beautiful shepherdesses are glimpsed in passing in one of the latter, and are the objects of lyric celebration and complaint in the former, but are excluded as participants or audiences from acts of poetic making.

  9. See Dusinberre (n. 1 above), p. 16.

  10. See Louis A. Montrose, “‘Eliza, Queen of shepheardes’ and the Pastoral of Power,” English Literary Renaissance 10 (1980): 153-82, and “Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form,” ELH 50 (1983): 415-59, esp. 440-41.

  11. Dusinberre, p. 17.

  12. Harry Berger, Jr., “Pan and the Poetics of Misogyny,” in his Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988), p. 359.

  13. There is a male-female “merrie Eclogue” between the rustics Doron and Carmela in Robert Greene's Menaphon (1589), but it is a comic performance: Greene consciously flouts pastoral decorum at every turn in this interlude. Sidney's female characters do compose lyrics (almost always private complaints) in the prose portions of both versions of his romance; however, the section of the Old Arcadia in which Pamela and Musidorus after plighting their troth take turns in making songs for each other (the exchange is embedded within the prose text and is not presented as an “official” eclogue) was not published until the Countess of Pembroke's composite text appeared in 1593 (three years after the publication of Rosalynde). See Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, ed. Maurice Evans (Harmondsworth, 1982), pp. 650-53.

  14. Sidney offers a teasing multiple choice definition of poetic mimesis as “a representing,” “counterfeiting,” or “figuring forth.” See Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, ed. Jan Van Dorsten (Oxford, 1966), p. 25.

  15. The first edition of the work simply offers the subtitle “Euphues golden legacie: found after his death in his Cell at Silexda, bequeathed to Philautus sonnes noursed up with their father in England” (p. 158). The second (1592) edition adds a prefatory “schedule” written by Euphues to Philautus; see Elizabethan Prose Fiction, ed. Meritt Lawlis (New York, 1967), p. 287.

  16. Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London, 1985), pp. 149-91, passim; quotation from p. 160.

  17. Lodge could have anticipated Puttenham, because, although Rosalynde was published in 1590 (after The Arte of English Poesie), its preface claims the work was composed on the privateering voyage Lodge made in 1585-87 with Captain Clarke to the Canaries and the Azores.

  18. On the cultural limitations on women's literary production in this period, see Valerie Wayne, “Some Sad Sentence: Vives' Instruction of a Christian Women,” in Silent But for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, ed. Margaret Patterson Hannay (Kent, Ohio, 1985), pp. 14-29, as well as Hannay's introduction (pp. 1-10).

  19. The quotations from Vives are taken from The Instruction of a Christian Woman in Doughters, Wives and Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640, ed. Joan Larsen Klein (Urbana, Ill., 1992), pp. 101-2.

  20. Ann Rosalind Jones's The Currency of Eros: Women's Love Lyric in Europe, 1540-1620 (Bloomington, Ind., 1990) discusses the work of only one sixteenth-century female English “love poet,” Isabella Whitney, author of a quasi-Ovidian complaint (see pp. 43-52). However, women were more active in writing and publishing erotic lyrics in other European countries, notably Italy. Gordon Braden discusses the spate of Italian women's writing as well as some particularly striking instances of “heterosexual poetic intercourse” between Pietro Bembo and female correspondents in “Applied Petrarchism: The Case of Pietro Bembo,” Modern Language Notes 57 (1996): 397-423. For a useful overview of sixteenth-century Englishwomen's poetry, see Betty Travitsky, ed., The Paradise of Women: Writings by Englishwomen of the Renaissance (New York, 1989).

  21. Sir Edward Denny to Lady Mary Wroth, February 27, 1622, in The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth, ed. Josephine A. Roberts (Baton Rouge, La., 1983), p. 239.

  22. See Peter Stallybrass, “Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed,” in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago, 1986), pp. 123-42, esp. pp. 126-27.

  23. Compare Wayne, p. 27.

  24. See Leicester Bradner, ed., The Poems of Queen Elizabeth I (Providence, R.I., 1964), p. 5.

  25. Montrose, “Of Gentlemen and Shepherds” (n. 10 above), p. 451.

  26. Puttenham (n. 6 above), p. 132.

  27. See, e.g., Rosemary Kegl, “‘Those Terrible Aproches’: Sexuality, Social Mobility, and Resisting the Courtliness of Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie,English Literary Renaissance 20 (1990): 179-208; Jacques Lezra, “‘The Lady Was a Litle Peruerse’: The ‘Gender’ of Persuasion in Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie,” in Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism, ed. Joseph Boone and Michael Cadden (New York, 1990), pp. 53-65; Jonathan Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford, Calif., 1992), pp. 29-61.

  28. Goldberg notes in passing that Puttenham imagines his text being read by women who are also prospective poets (p. 60); Kegl discusses certain passages in which Puttenham talks about Elizabeth-as-poet (pp. 180, 196-98), but her main concern is with the political and social implications of Puttenham's use of “riddling disclosure” as he rhetorically manipulates the queen's “two bodies” in his text.

  29. Puttenham, p. 132; for his addresses to a female audience, see, e.g., pp. 82, 129, 141, 144.

  30. Ibid., pp. 82, 208.

  31. Ibid., p. 51.

  32. For a useful discussion of Elizabeth's poems, see Susan Bassnett, Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective (Oxford, 1988), pp. 50-51, 56-58. It is difficult to assess how much of Elizabeth's small oeuvre Puttenham might actually have read. He quotes two of her poems (“The Doubt of Future Foes” and “On Fortune”) in his treatise; he was also no doubt familiar with “Written With a Diamond,” reproduced in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments (London, 1563), p. 1714; and also in Raphael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1587), p. 1158; see Bradner, ed. (n. 24 above), p. 71.

  33. Puttenham (n. 6 above), p. 207.

  34. Ibid., p. 2.

  35. In A Defence of Poetry, Sidney adds to his description of mimesis “—to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture” ([n. 14 above], p. 25).

  36. See Frances A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1975); Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry (London, 1977); Louis A. Montrose, “The Elizabethan Subject and the Spenserian Text,” in Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts, ed. Patricia Parker and David Quint (Baltimore, 1986), pp. 303-40; Susan Frye, Elizabeth I: The Competition for Representation (Oxford, 1993). It is difficult to determine exactly how much agency we should impute to Elizabeth as far as her public representation in Petrarchan (and other) terms is concerned. Frye, however, marshals some particularly persuasive evidence concerning Elizabeth's willingness to intervene in—and even rewrite—the scripts of the entertainments in which her noble subjects may have tried to fix her identity for their own purposes.

  37. I here borrow Montrose's terminology in “The Elizabethan Subject and the Spenserian Text,” p. 331.

  38. William Shakespeare, As You Like It, ed. Alan Brissenden (Oxford, 1993), 3.2.140-43. Subsequent citations of the play are noted parenthetically by act, scene, and line numbers.

  39. See also Alpers (n. 1 above), p. 124.

  40. When Juliet frankly declares her love for Romeo at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet 2.2, she does so at first believing that she is speaking in soliloquy.

  41. Jean E. Howard, “Crossdressing, the Theatre and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 418-40, quotation from 435; also see Barbara J. Bono on Rosalind's “double-voiced discourse” in “Mixed Gender, Mixed Genre in As You Like It,” in Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History and Interpretation, ed. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), p. 194.

  42. Dusinberre makes this suggestion ([n. 1 above], p. 9) in the context of a rather different exploration of As You Like It's intertextuality. She seems to forget, however, that Rosalind is a representation, a male rendering of a female artist.

  43. Martha Ronk Lifson, in “Learning by Talking: Conversation in As You Like It,Shakespeare Survey 40 (1987): 91-105, discusses Rosalind's rhetorical skills in terms of Erasmian notions of inventio and copia (pp. 97-98). I am wary of realigning Rosalind with yet another “masculine” discourse—that of the humanist rhetorician. Her copia is ultimately more copious and idiosyncratic than the schoolbook rules would warrant. For a useful discussion of Erasmus's De Copia in the Shakespearean context (which takes no note of As You Like It, however), see Marion Trousdale, Shakespeare and the Rhetoricians (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982), pp. 43-55.

  44. See, e.g., Marjorie Garber, “The Education of Orlando,” in Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan, ed. A. R. Braunmuller and James C. Bulman (Newark, Del., 1986), pp. 102-12.

  45. Orlando hastily announces he must leave just after Rosalind has cheerfully insisted that a woman will be able to defend herself with her tongue even when discovered in her neighbor's bed (4.1.157-62).

  46. Garber, p. 106.

  47. In 4.1, e.g., Orlando manages only two quips of his own: see line 66 (“I would kiss before I spoke”) and lines 152-53 (“A man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say, ‘Wit, whither wilt?’”).

  48. Puttenham (n. 6 above), p. 257.

  49. See also Sidney's celebration of the art which hides art (A Defence of Poetry [n. 14 above], p. 72).

  50. See, e.g., 3.2.108-18; 4.1.1-22.

  51. See Sidney, The Countess of Penbroke's Arcadia (n. 13 above), pp. 183-88.

  52. For a suggestive discussion of the Celia/Rosalind relationship, which makes some interesting distinctions between its amiable battle of wits and the undercurrents of male rivalry in the play, see William Kerrigan, “Female Friends/Fraternal Enemies in As You Like It,” in Desire in the Renaissance: Psychoanalysis and Literature, ed. Valerie Finucci and Regina Schwarz (Princeton, N.J., 1994), pp. 184-206.

  53. I am indebted to Gordon Braden for the gift of this conceit.

  54. Compare Rosalynde (Lodge [n. 4 above], p. 232). Lodge's heroine is prepared to pay tribute to Phoebe's very real charms; Shakespeare's denies that they exist.

  55. On sixteenth-century attitudes toward romance and toward women as readers of romance, see Tina Krontiris, “Breaking Barriers of Genre and Gender: Margaret Tyler's Translation of The Mirour of Knighthood,English Literary Renaissance 18 (1988): 19-39, esp. 21-22.

  56. Judging from the admittedly somewhat incomplete records of Rosalynde and As You Like It's reception, early modern audiences seem to have been more enthusiastic about the limited heterosexual pastoral intercourse offered by the former than the revisionism of the latter. Rosalynde saw eleven editions between 1590 and 1642; there is no known evidence of any seventeenth-century production of As You Like It, and its subsequent popularity in the repertoire only begins with its first documented production in an unadulterated text in 1740. For the early stage history of As You Like It, see the introduction in Brissenden, ed. (n. 38 above), pp. 50-53.

  57. Alpers notes that, after the swoon, Rosalind “can not sucessfully feign that her body's expression of faining was mere feigning” ([n. 1 above], p. 127).

  58. For a suggestive discussion of the “containment” of Rosalind, see Louis A. Montrose, “‘The Place of a Brother’ in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form,” Shakespeare Quarterly 32 (1981): 28-54, esp. 51-52.

  59. On the circumscribed role of the noble female participant in the court masque, see, e.g., Heather L. Weidemann, “Theatricality and Female Identity in Wroth's Urania,” in Reading Mary Wroth: Representing Alternatives in Early Modern England, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Gary Waller (Knoxville, Tenn., 1991), pp. 191-209, esp. pp. 194-99.

  60. Peter Erickson, Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985), p. 35.

  61. See, e.g., Phyllis Rackin, “Androgyny, Mimesis and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage,” PMLA 102 (1987): 29-41, 36; Howard (n. 41 above), p. 435; and Valerie Traub, “Desire and the Difference It Makes,” in The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca, N.Y., 1991), pp. 81-114, esp. 104.

  62. Rackin, p. 36.

  63. On the preemptive “wedding” of 4.1 and the significance of Rosalind's “giving herself” in 5.4, see Susanne L. Wofford, “‘To You I Give Myself, For I am Yours’: Erotic Performance and Theatrical Performatives in As You Like It,” in Shakespeare Reread, ed. Russ McDonald (Ithaca, N.Y., 1994), pp. 147-59.

I would like to thank Gordon Braden for his insightful and helpful comments on this article; I would also like to thank my readers at Modern Philology for their suggestions regarding its final revision.

Linda Woodbridge (essay date 2004)

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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 in all of Shakespeare, an intriguingly intimate friendship between two women, an exploited agricultural laborer, and a set speech on animal rights—one would think that this comedy offered satisfactions for gender theorists, feminists, queer theorists, Marxists, and ecocritics alike. What's not to like in As You Like It?

The answer, I think, is fairly straightforward: what's not to like is the pastoralism. For a couple of centuries now but especially in recent decades, a wide spectrum of critics has heaped scorn upon the bucolic realm of pastoral, and Shakespeare's most pastoral play has come in for its share of scorn. Shakespeare being who he is, critics are seldom as hard on him as on other writers of pastoral, and some exonerate him entirely by recasting As You Like It as itself a sneer at pastoral: Shakespeare is not himself conventional, but uses conventions playfully, self-consciously, mockingly. He writes not pastoral but antipastoral. This move in itself, of course, drives another nail into pastoral's coffin. Excavating the cultural meanings of the critical vendetta against pastoral, and exploring how it plays out in As You Like It, may give us not only a fresh perspective on the play, but a route into the enigma of pastoral bashing and what it says about our culture.


Critics often complain of a lack of action in As You Like It, beginning in act 2. It's not so much that they get bored when the wrestling match is over as that they feel uneasy being invited to share in a pastoral life that seems, well, lazy. In this relaxed world, exiled lords entertain each other with songs or gaze thoughtfully into brooks, lovers pin poetry to trees, and Jaques and Celia go off to take naps—troubling evidence of a lack of purposeful action in Arden. Peter Lindenbaum excoriates pastoral in general for its “life of leisure and freedom from the cares and responsibilities of the normal world,” sternly averring that responsible Renaissance writers recognized that “in this world of ours man simply has no time for relaxation or even momentary escape from the pressing activity of day-to-day living”; Sidney in Arcadia and Shakespeare in As You Like It “lodge an objection to the whole prospect of life in a pastoral setting, to a cast of mind that either seeks an easy, carefree existence anywhere in our present world or indulges overmuch in dreams of better times and better places, thereby avoiding full concentration upon the facts of man's present existence.”1 The shepherd's reprehensible life of ease has offended so many critics that A. Stuart Daley feels he must explain the habits of sheep to excuse all the slacking that goes on in an early Arden afternoon: “At midday, after a long morning of nibbling on the herbage, the animals needed complete rest, and lay down to ruminate. At noon, a shepherd such as those in As You Like It could expect two or three hours of comparative freedom. Indeed all English workers had the right to a midday rest, according to a statute of 1563.”2 The play's adjournment from the court into a rural world of ease is often belittled as an escapist fantasy. To avoid being charged with advocating escapism, a responsible author must “insist upon the need to leave Arcadia,” Lindenbaum dictates;3 Richard Helgerson insists, “the pastoral world is meant to be left behind.”4 Critics assume that characters in Arden scramble to get back to the court: Daley writes, “With the zeal of a reformed sinner, Celia's fiancé resolves to ‘live and die a shepherd’; but his aristocratic calling obviously forbids the abandonment of his lands and great allies to the detriment of the commonweal.”5 Critics seem untroubled that As You Like It nowhere articulates this ideal of public service, or that the play not only leaves open the question of whether Oliver and Celia will stay in the country, but insists that Duke Frederick and Jaques opt to stay in Arden—Jaques's decision to stay is given an emphatic position at the very end of the play. Ignoring all this and focusing on characters who do leave the pastoral world, Lindenbaum, who is pretty hard on Duke Senior for using banishment as an excuse for lolling around in the woods, readmits him to favor when he makes the crucial decision “to leave Arcadia”:

His pastoral dream proves by the end to have been that of a basically good man on vacation. His essential moral health is affirmed at the play's end by his unhesitating willingness to return to court and take up responsible active life in the political world again. This final act reflects the whole play's anti-pastoral argument. The forest is initially a place of ease, idleness, and escape from normal cares and responsibilities, but that view provides the stimulus for Shakespeare's eventual insistence upon a more active stance.6

Albert Cirillo expresses approval that once characters have straightened out their lives, “they can return to the court”; far from pastoral's challenging court values, he sees it the other way around: “the Forest needs the contrast with the court and worldly values to clarify the consciousness of the audience as to the essential illusory quality of the pastoral world.”7

Renato Poggioli's belief that “the psychological root of the pastoral is a double longing after innocence and happiness, to be recovered not through conversion or regeneration, but merely through a retreat” rings false in As You Like It, where Frederick is converted, Oliver regenerated.8 You'd think the discomfort of Arden, with its wintry wind, would obviate charges of escapism, but critics instead read this as Shakespearean contempt for pastoral. Daley notes that “characters who express an opinion about the Forest of Arden utter mostly dispraise”; taking at face value Touchstone's gripes and Rosalind's “saucy lackey” impertinences, he pronounces “the local women … vain and foul and the backwoods dialect lacking in grace and beauty”; the “consistent dispraise of the country” shows that Shakespeare did not intend “a traditional contrast between court and country.”9 But did such dispraise indicate that Shakespeare disdained the country? Traditionally, pastoral figures gain moral authority through asceticism; in pastoral, country harshness obviates charges of hedonism that would undermine pastoral's ability to critique the corruptions of a world of power. Lindenbaum reads dispraise of the country as unhappiness with pastoral, born of frustrated golden-world expectations, of finding country life “no different from life at court or in the city.”10 Svetlana Makurenkova generalizes about Shakespeare's career, “one may trace throughout the corpus of Shakespeare's work a certain dethroning of idyllic pastoral imagery.”11

Taking the play's realism for antipastoralism, critics create a no-win situation. Pastorals do speak of rural harshness—Meliboeus's dispossession from his farm in Virgil's first eclogue or, in As You Like It, Corin's low wages from a churlish absentee master (2.4.75-8) and description of shepherds' hands as greasy, work-hardened, and “tarr'd over with the surgery of our sheep” (3.2.50-51, 59-60).12 But such details don't make critics revise their belief that pastoral ignores “real difficulties and hardships” and shuns “realistic description of the actual conditions of country life”; instead, critics consider such realism as “anti-pastoral sentiment” attributable to frustration at the genre's artificiality and escapism. Cirillo says “every force which would lead to the acceptance of life in Arden as a perfect world is negated by the intrusion of a harsher reality”;13 but the idea of Arden as a perfect world comes only from Cirillo's stereotype that pastorals deal in escapist golden worlds. For such critics, when a pastoral doesn't fit the stereotype, it doesn't negate stereotype but becomes evidence of the author's unhappiness with pastoral. This resembles the way that the Renaissance decried as unnatural women who didn't fit its stereotypes, thus preserving the stereotypes intact.

Touchstone finds shepherding “a very vile life” (3.2.16) and many think that his name, implying a test of genuineness, declares him the play's voice of truth. Yet his plans to wriggle out of his marriage discredit him; and anyway, a clown's-eye view of the action is never the whole story in Shakespeare. Against Touchstone's view we have Corin's sensible cultural relativism: “Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court” (3.2.43-46). Touchstone's witty equivocation on “manners” shows how anti-rural prejudice works: “If thou never wast at court, thou never saw'st good manners; if thou never saw'st good manners; then thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd” (3.2.38-42). The pun has lost its force, since “manners” now means only “etiquette”; in Shakespeare's day it also meant “morals.” Considering country etiquette uncouth, courtiers assume that country morals are loose too. Touchstone discovers this untrue of country wench Audrey, who declares (to his disappointment) “I am not a slut” (3.3.35). Orlando too mistakes country manners, expecting violent inhospitality: “I thought that all things had been savage here” (2.7.71). Orlando, says Rawdon Wilson, “fails to understand the nature of Arden”; exiled courtiers need “a period of adjustment to Arden”14—a time to revise prejudices about country life?

The play has sometimes been attacked on aesthetic grounds, with complaints that the satiric and the bucolic are awkwardly joined and tonally disjunctive, especially in the person of Jaques, whom critics virulently attack, often on the assumption that a satiric voice doesn't belong in a choir making mellow pastoral music. But satiric voices have always spoken in Arcadia—satire is one thing pastoral is all about. Unwillingness to stomach Jaques echoes criticism of Spenser and Milton for letting sharp attacks on abuses intrude into a pastoral setting. Shakespeare is not alone in being scorned for writing pastoral or praised for allegedly resisting pastoral: the whole pastoral mode has been inimical to our general cultural climate for a good many years now.


It's hard to think of another genre that has been described so patronizingly, attacked so virulently, dismissed so contemptuously over many years. Samuel Johnson called Lycidas “a pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting.”15 W. W. Greg said of one of Spenser's eclogues “only a rollicking indifference to its own inanity … saves it from sheer puerility,” and considered eclogues “the type of all that is frigid and artificial in literature,” announcing that a “stigma … attaches to pastoral as a whole,” that even the best pastorals suffer from lack of originality, and that even Lycidas, the best pastoral since Virgil, is so defective that “the form of pastoral instituted by Virgil and handed down without break from the fourteenth century to Milton's own time stand[s] condemned in its most perfect flower.”16 Peter Lindenbaum, disgusted with Sannazaro's representation of Arcadia as “a soothing dwelling place for the troubled human spirit,” charges that “the pastoral mode in Sannazaro's hands threatens to become a vehicle for mere indulgence in sentimental feeling.”17 Spenserian retreat from aspiration, Louis Montrose calls “resignation to the poetry of pastoral triviality.”18 Renato Poggioli says pastoral “reduces all human intercourse to an everlasting tête-à-tête.”19 P. V. Krieder thinks the “susceptibilities” of “inexperienced writers” make them “silly victims of an unnatural pastoralism”; he denounces “the tawdry allurements of pastoralism.”20 Feminists too have attacked pastoral: as Lisa Robertson puts it, “Certainly, as a fin de siecle feminist, I cannot in good conscience perform even the simplest political identification with the pastoral genre … [wherein] the figure of woman appears as eroticized worker—the milkmaid or the shepherdess.”21

It seems the genre can't put a foot right. If it's political, it is taxed with toadying to repressive regimes; its very attacks on such regimes are inscribed in ideological structures it can't escape. If it speaks of love and spring, it is escapist and trivial. If it treats politics and love, its tone is disjunctive. If its authors are thriving courtiers, they are indicted for hypocrisy in that they praise retired life while living a public life; if they are out of political favor, living in the country, they have a sour grapes attitude. If a pastoral is highly artificial, ignoring agricultural laborers' harsh life, it is suppressing socioeconomic reality; if it includes gritty details of sheep tending, it is called antipastoral, and made an accomplice to its own undoing. Pastoral's very popularity is held against it: the astounding receptivity of readers to legions of Corins, Colins, and Dorindas over centuries—nay, millennia—provokes not praise for the genre's wide appeal and staying power but condemnation for repetitious unoriginality. The charge that pastoral is repetitious is fair in a way, though the sensation of being waterlogged in a sea of oaten piping mainly afflicts those who survey the whole genre; is it fair to adduce against individual pastorals the fact that there are too many pastorals in the world? It would be hard not to be repetitious in a mode that has had such a long run as pastoral has—from the ancient Greeks and Romans right through the 1960s. Anyway, the charge is brought selectively against pastoral: other numbingly repetitious genres are tolerated—satire, epigram, sonnet, sermon, or (later) commentaries on football games. The aesthetic complaint about pastoral's repetitiousness seems to mask other causes for distaste. Why the contempt for pastoral? What are the cultural meanings of this vendetta?

The most obvious point of entry into the question is pastoral's relation to a world of power, a feature of the discourse about pastoral since its Greek and Roman beginnings, but most recently of lively interest to new historicists such as Louis Montrose, whose influential essays on Elizabethan pastoral posit its inscription within the ideology of state power. Focusing on court pageants and pastorals produced for Elizabeth on progresses, and extending his critique to all pastorals, Montrose argues that pastoral performs the cultural work of justifying autocratic government, that its authors are state propagandists, encomiasts, sycophants, that Renaissance pastorals mingled “otium and negotium, holiday and policy”; “Elizabethan pastorals of power combin[ed] intimacy and benignity with authoritarianism.”22 Pastoral professions of power's hollowness, Montrose dismisses as cynical attempts to dissuade lower orders from wanting to share power.

Do propagandistic pageants fairly represent pastoral? It is true that Queen Elizabeth used royal progresses through the countryside to intimate “a beautiful relation between rich and poor,” in Empson's sardonic formulation of pastoral's primary mystification. But the pastoral mode can also be dissident and oppositional, attacking specific power abuses.23 Over centuries, many authors have used pastoral to criticize politics, to attack political and clerical abuses and meddle in current affairs. Virgilian pastoral had implications for current events of its day—civil wars between Brutus and Cassius. Mantuan's pastorals attacked abuses of the Roman church; Naldo Naldi wrote eclogues on the house of Medici; Ariosto wrote an eclogue on the 1506 conspiracy against Alfonso d'Este; Spenser in The Shepheardes Calender criticized the proposed French marriage of Queen Elizabeth; Francis Quarles's eclogues dealt with current religious controversies. Pastoral's country cousin, the Georgic, was indeed employed in eighteenth-century justifications of imperial colonization, but it was also employed to criticize such colonization, as in the ending of “Autumn” in James Thomson's The Seasons, 1746.24 The sixteenth century assumed that pastorals critiqued power: George Puttenham wrote that eclogues “under the veil of homely persons, and in rude speeches insinuate and glance at greater matters, and such as perchance had not been safe to have been disclosed in any other sort.”25

And pastoral not only attacks specific abuses of power but challenges the power ethic itself. It has a long tradition of discrediting the supposed pleasures of power. The first set of pastoral eclogues in English, by Alexander Barclay, begins with three eclogues on the miseries of court life; the subtitle features “the Miseries of Courtiers and Courts of All Princes in General.”26

New historicists have also read pastoral as an attempt to curry favor with those in power by justifying that power for them. When pastoral is not read as outright propaganda, as is the case with Queen Elizabeth's pastoral entertainments, it is often read as some courtier's sycophantic bid for career advancement. From Virgil's praise of Caesar onwards, pastoral has at times been encomiastic, and no one would deny that the pastoral mode has its sycophantic face. Iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna; / iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto might be a motto for the Elizabethan age: “the Virgin and the rule of Saturn are now returning; a new offspring is now sent from heaven.” The words are Virgil's, but just as Christianity took this image from Virgil as a prophecy of the Virgin Mary, so Elizabeth appropriated for herself his image of the Virgin Astraea, and mythmakers heralded her reign as a return of Saturn's golden, pastoral age. This crucial iconography comes from a pastoral, Virgil's fourth eclogue; through it, the Elizabethan explosion of pastoral was implicated in the machinery of state propaganda.

But granted that the Elizabethan propaganda machine did absorb some pastoral writers, the question remains, why pastoral? Why not use trappings of epic or lyric in royal entertainments, rather than shepherds? I think pastoral needed to be co-opted because of its great potential for criticizing governmental abuses, the centralizing policies at the heart of the Tudor project, and the power ethic itself. An autocratic regime that feared criticism needed to disable pastoral. But it was less successful at this than many think. Pastoral has served many purposes that new historicists ignore: why have they gazed so exclusively upon pastoral's more sycophantic face, generalizing to the entire mode from one unsavory posture, seeing “royal pastoral” as contaminating the whole mode?

For example, Montrose and others have read The Shepheardes Calender as Spenser's bid for royal favor and career advancement; but much evidence in the poem points in a contrary direction. This pastoral actually criticizes Queen Elizabeth, treading on dangerous ground in its references to Catholic perfidy in the 1572 Huguenot massacre by Charles IX, brother of the duke of Alençon with whom Elizabeth was currently contemplating marriage (May eclogue), and the July eclogue criticizes the Queen for repressive policies, particularly the house arrest of Archbishop Grindal.27 As Paul Alpers says, “a poet who praised [Grindal's] virtues and lamented his misfortunes was not playing it safe.”28 Montrose astonishingly recognizes July as “a boldly explicit allusion to Elizabeth's reprimand for Grindal's outspokenness that is thoroughly sympathetic to the Archbishop” without modifying his contention that the Calender is politically sycophantic; he simply reasserts that the repressive regime curtailed free speech, leaving the reader to wonder why it did not curtail July.29 Further, Montrose shanghais the February eclogue into the tradition of sycophancy toward the Tudors by reading the oak/briar fable, I think, upside down: ignoring plain signs identifying the oak with the Catholic Church, the briar with the Tudors, he takes the oak as the Tudor establishment.30 That so penetrating and logical a writer as Louis Montrose would have risked such strident misinterpretations bespeaks a kind of desperation—this poem must be discredited at all costs. The Shepheardes Calender appears to me to be a dissident poem, criticizing specific abuses of power and challenging the power ethic itself, condemning those who, prompted by too much “prosperitie,” “gape for greedie gouernaunce / And match them selfe with mighty potentates, / Lovers of Lordship” (May, 117-24).

Some pastorals, like The Shepheardes Calender, challenge the power ethic; others simply evade the world of ambition, offering country contentment as a mute alternative to ambition's frantic frenzies. A move like Montrose's, which relocates the dissident Shepheardes Calender within a power-hungry world, makes its protestations against ambition appear merely hypocritical. The whole genre suffers when such major texts are discredited as bids for preferment, inscribed in a court culture of ambitious strivings; this move disables pastoral's challenge to the world of ambition. Why new historicists need to do this is obvious: their whole program is predicated on the assumption that power is what matters in human affairs. As an antipower genre, pastoral is an enemy.

The hypocrisy ascribed to pastoral authors—using an antipower genre to curry favor with the powerful—has rubbed off on the shepherds, undermining their moral authority. This matters to pastoral more than to other modes: pastoral's critique of worldly values depends on the moral authority its speakers gain by refusing participation in the world they indict. As Paul Alpers says, “The literary shepherd's sufficiency to great matters is due to his simplicity and innocence; these confer on him a moral authority.”31 We are seldom interested in the moral authority of a sonnet speaker or the narrator of a prose fiction; but in pastoral it is everything. If a pastoral persona is implicated in the world of power and ambition, the pastoral crumbles.

Even when a pastoral is acknowledged to be oppositional, its dissidence has often been judged politically wrongheaded. Opposition to a centralized court has been seen as atavistic—as powerful central governments emerged all over Europe, the Tudor centralizing project worked to break the baronial power based in the country. Pastoral satire on the court's emasculated aristocracy is dismissed as nostalgia for “real” feudalism. Even if a pastoral is admittedly political and its political heart is conceded to be in the right place, it may suffer a final dismissal as being ineffective as a means of protest. Some argue that pastoral emasculates itself by indirectness, especially by allegory. Alpers argues that giving moral authority to the powerless renders such authority toothless, since the powerless must speak with impotent indirection. And indirection, for Montrose, spells duplicity: though allegory is “an obfuscation necessary to circumvent governmental hostility to all expressions of dissent or controversy,”32 he still despises pastoral for such obfuscations.

It's easy to be brave at our historical remove. John Stubbs had his hand cut off for publishing a criticism of the Queen's contemplated French marriage, a criticism that Spenser—in the same year and with the same printer—got away with making in The Shepheardes Calender, which was couched in allegory. Montrose judges pastoral “a literary mode specialized to the conditions of a complex, contentious, and authoritarian civilization—a fallen world of duplicity and innuendo. Its enforced deceptiveness epitomizes the very condition it seeks to amend.”33 He concludes that such ignominious “indirection and dissimulation are the rhetorical techniques of poetry and policy.”34 In assuming that only direct frontal assaults really count as dissent, Alpers and Montrose insist on a brash courage I'm not sure we have a right to demand of those living in a repressive society. And dismissing indirection as a literary technique disables not only pastoral but a good deal of literature. Is “A Modest Proposal” less effective dissent than an outraged letter to the authorities? Swift tried straightforward polemical pamphlets; but after the failure of such frontal assaults he took up a more potent weapon, irony.

I have argued that pastoral figures gain moral authority by refusing participation in the world they indict. Removal from the court to the country is paradoxically a condition of making credible critiques of the court. Failure to accept this necessary doubleness, this absent presence in the world of power, helps account for persistent complaints about pastorals' uncouth diction and tonal disunity. Pastoral is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't: couched in artificial court language, it is denounced for evading the material reality of peasant life; couched in rustic diction, it is dismissed as lacking the decorum of serious literature.35 Dr. Johnson dismissed Spenser's rustic diction as a “studied barbarity”36 and complained of Milton's using religious allegory in a pastoral: the disjunction of Lycidas's being “now a feeder of sheep, and afterwards an ecclesiastical pastor” is “indecent.” It was “improper,” Johnson decreed, “to give the title of a pastoral to verses in which the speakers, after the slight mention of their flocks, fall to complaints of errors in the church and corruptions in the government.”37 The unity issue is crucial: readers from Johnson on have faulted pastoral for yoking together by violence bucolic contentment and satire on abuses. Yet the two are intimately linked: it is by eschewing power and comfort that one gains authority to attack the powerful and comfortable. One must depart from power's premises to find the perspective and authority to unmask power's abuses, pretenses, futility. Seeing artistic disunity in pastoral's double tone—contentment in a simple life and criticism of the powerful—destroys the pastoral mode.

The pastoral persona occupies a subject position uniquely suited to challenging the power ethic: a shepherd's critique had moral weight because s/he wasn't implicated in power. But didn't that mean forgoing power? Creating “pastoral counter-worlds,” Montrose argues, “is always suspect—potentially dangerous, escapist, or regressive. To make poetry a vehicle of transcendence is tacitly to acknowledge its ethical and political impotence.”38 The dilemma of corrupt implication in power versus irresponsible evasion of power is familiar to those who try to get women into positions of power where they can influence events: they risk reproducing the oppressive, unequal system they oppose. Those who believe that women can oppose the power system only by opting out of it risk lacking the means to change anything. They argue that lack of power is a catastrophe only in a power-obsessed society; the only way to reduce society's obsession with power is for individuals to avoid obsession. But won't the powerful oppress those who eschew power? Others faced with this dilemma, advocates of unilateral disarmament, have argued that someone has to make the first move. However imperfect, co-optable, exploitable the pastoral genre, its merit is that for dismantling oppressive power structures, it offers a position from which to make the first move. It is not a perfect position—it risks political toothlessness—but it is more credible than the position of the powerful. And even if some implicated in power—courtiers or preferment-seekers—choose this subject position, does that necessarily nullify their criticisms or make it less valuable to imagine a less power-obsessed world?

Attacking both royal power and pastoral's critique of royal power creates a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't situation. New historicists cut the ground from under any oppositional stance—one cannot be truly oppositional if one has ever sought social advancement, or values relaxation, or uses irony. As Anne Barton has summed up Stephen Greenblatt's mode of disabling dissent, “what looks to us like subversion in the art of the past is merely something orthodoxy makes strategic use of.”39 Does new historicism really demystify authority, or does it grant authority a mysterious, near-omnipotent power?

Can't criticizing power or articulating an ideal be valuable no matter who does it, no matter what their motives or personal lives? It is said that U.S. voters attend not to candidates' policies but to their personalities or private lives, and the same might be said of critics who discredit pastoral if its authors have any link with the world of power. Even Golden Age myths, an extreme manifestation of the pastoral impulse, are not without value—is what is irrecoverable in the past (or never existed) necessarily unattainable in the future? Can an ideal, however unrealistic, not at least correct reality, creating a synthesis out of the thesis of hierarchical authoritarianism and the antithesis of a classless Golden Age? And if an ideal is worth articulating, how much does it matter who articulates it or how pure his motives?

We are hard on pastoral, but how credible a position for demystifying power do we occupy? We are quick to indict the Elizabethan elite, but are we in our tenured positions not ourselves an elite compared to the vast underclasses of our own society? We are nimble at decoding from Elizabethan prefatory epistles the complicity of their authors in a system of court patronage; yet the acknowledgment pages of our scholarly books advertise the elite institutions at which we teach, grants supporting the research, colleagues at prestigious universities who read the manuscript—the appearance of their names is our equivalent of commendatory verses. One can decode such stuff easily enough—authors published by the most prestigious presses, with the most famous friends reading the manuscript, the best fellowships and grants, are those with power in our profession. They are often those who deplore the power and patronage of Elizabeth's time. Does pastoral, that challenger of the life of power and influence, threaten us because it hits too close to home?


In recent times, literary study has become less preoccupied with power, but other incentives to pastoral bashing remain. Foremost among them is class prejudice. Do we take seriously the passions and opinions of farm hands? Even Marxist critics accord high seriousness to genres populated by kings and dukes. A variant is city prejudice against the rural. Urban villains get more respectful attention than kindly rustics. Krieder sniffs at Audrey and William in As You Like It: “These bumpkins are actual shepherds whom, in delusion, the élite social groups are imitating; the crude life, gross manners, and dull wits of these uncouth simpletons represent the state of society to which courtly ladies and gentlemen, in their ignorance, believe they should like to revert.”40 We don't say aloud that Audrey and William are only rednecks, but if we aren't too worried about their being taken advantage of by a courtier, their rustic status—so unlike our own sophistication—is perhaps not wholly irrelevant.

Second, repugnance for pastoral is the unexamined reaction of a capitalist, consumer society to a land posited as indifferent to material goods. Poggioli heaps scorn on pastoral's uncommercial mentality: “Foremost among the passions that the pastoral opposes and exposes are those related to the misuse, or merely to the possession, of worldly goods”; it opposes to “an acquisitive society” the ideal of “contained self-sufficiency,” ignoring “industry and trade.”41 For opposing or ignoring capitalist developments, which indeed were happening on its bucolic doorstep, pastoral is called reactionary. But pastoral's unworldliness is often strategic, a mode of critiquing the crass materialism of a protocapitalist society. Scorn for pastoral's anticapitalism emanates most obviously from the political and economic right; but even opponents of capitalism sometimes judge the countryside an ineffective platform from which to launch salvos against the ills of an urban society.

But why? Going outside one's own culture can be a precondition for analyzing its ills. Edward Said argues that Auerbach's exile in Turkey helped him see European culture with new eyes.42 And if the outside place is imaginary, so much the better: the Renaissance took an interest in utopias and the possibility of perfect worlds existing out in space,43 and during the sixteenth century, as Sandra Billington shows, “Misrule entertainments began to draw on the possibilities of alterae terrae for their settings, and the mundus inversus changed from a reductive to an improving concept.”44 Sir Thomas More, in Utopia, went outside Europe and reality to reach a standpoint from which to critique Tudor England's economic and legal ills. Pastoral realms can operate as such alterae terrae. And even when Tudor pastoral left the world of urban ills behind, there were plenty of economic ills in the country—enclosures, low agricultural wages, depressions in the textile industry, rural depopulation. Pastoral does not always ignore these—the low wages of Corin the shepherd are an issue in As You Like It.

A third root of antipastoralism: our workaholic age suffers entrenched resistance to relaxation. In its early days, the Protestant work ethic was still more countercurrent than mainstream: Elizabethans still celebrated some one hundred holidays a year. We moderns have a much worse case of work anxiety than they did. Early modern workers, who put in very long hours, understandably created fantasies of ease. Like the Land of Cockaigne, work-free pastures were a cherished dream, attended with much less guilt than we accord them. Renaissance comedy values sleep; sleeplessness is a plague suffered by tragic heroes. Berowne in Love's Labor's Lost is aghast at the King's proposed ascetic regimen, which curtails life's most agreeable activities: “O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep, / Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep!” (1.1.47-48). Dogberry speaks for the spirit of comedy in roundly declaring, “I cannot see how sleeping should offend” (Much Ado 3.3.40-41). But listen to what modern critics say about ease. Poggioli sneers at the convention that “redeems [the shepherd] from the curse of work. Literary shepherds form an ideal kind of leisure class”; “the pastoral imagination exalts the pleasure principle at the expense of the reality principle.”45 Lindenbaum decrees that for Milton, “not even Eden is exempt from strictures against a life of uncomplicated ease and retirement which many in the English Renaissance found suspect.”46 But was it the Renaissance that found ease and retirement suspect, or is it us? Here the Yankee nationality of so many pastoral bashers (Cirillo, Daley, Helgerson, Montrose, Lindenbaum) is suggestive: Americans are infamous for having the longest work week and fewest holidays of any civilized nation on earth.

A grim suspicion of relaxation, inherited from Puritan forebears, disables pastoral for us. But the Renaissance didn't condemn shepherds for luxurious ease. Some pastoral writers saw shepherding as real work; others found it a life of ease but didn't condemn that. Shepherds in The Shepheardes Calender work long hours guarding sheep, suffer bitterly from winter while working outside, agonize about whether to take a break to enjoy the holiday sports of May; before they can relax enough to tell a moral fable, they must arrange for a lad to guard their flocks. It looks like work to me; the poem takes it seriously as an important responsibility, both in its literal agrarian sense and its allegorical sense as ministerial or governing duties. That looking after sheep isn't work is probably the attitude of those who have never tried looking after sheep; the same goes at the allegorical level, where shepherds represent bishops or secular administrators. Governing is hard work. Other pastoral writers do represent sheep-tending as a relatively easeful, stress-free life, and they aren't at all bothered by this. What with our high-pressure, high-achieving modern sensibility, such an attitude drives us crazy. Many charge that when pastoral shepherds (unlike real peasants) moon around feeling lovelorn or unproductively carping at the clergy, their fantasy world reproduces the idle court from which pastorals emanated—leisured aristocracy, disdainful of manual labor. Poggioli is outraged by this dream of bucolic idleness: “Wishful thinking is the weakest of all moral and religious resorts,” he fulminates, and pastoral is but a “retirement to the periphery of life, an attempt to charm away the cares of the world through the sympathetic magic of a rustic disguise.”47 By all means, we must focus squarely on “the cares of the world” at every waking moment!

The issue is not only laziness but also a morally reprehensible evasion of an everyday reality full of trouble. Lindenbaum dubs pastoral a “realm of wish-fulfillment”; he disdains its wishing away of evil, its “miraculous events” such as “the immediate conversion of (Shakespearean) villains as soon as they enter a forest.”48 Pastoral is, in short, escapism.

Well, so what? The Renaissance, I think, wasn't nearly as hard on escapism as we are. If life is harsh and intolerable, why not escape? In Shakespearean comedy Orlando, Camillo, Pericles, and many others find happiness by running away from trouble. Human history is a tale of great escapes, from the biblical exodus to the great refugee migrations of our day, and escaping heroes populate myth and literature—the holy family's flight into Egypt, Aeneas's flight from Troy, the heroes of American literature forever lighting out for the territories. To assume that life is dreadful and then to dictate that we must stay where we are and face up to its full dreadfulness at all times, not even yielding to an occasional fantasy of escape, is bleak doctrine indeed. There is something disturbingly humorless, regimented, and censorious about views that approve only of pastorals that manfully resist the escapist urge, decreeing that the shepherd “is morally obligated to leave his pastoral bower.”49

A fourth impetus to pastoral bashing is our valorization of public over private life. Poggioli denounces pastoral's concern with private life as narcissistic solipsism; Montrose equates private life with “the comforts and safety of mediocrity.”50 Such devaluing of private life has gender implications: the domestic sphere has long been constructed as female and great ideological work has gone into confining women to the home. In this gendered schema, pastoral's opting out of the world of power and public life is effeminizing, emasculating. Pastoral, especially compared with epic or tragedy, has a strongly valorized female presence—shepherdesses, milkmaids, shepherds in love with lasses. The shepherd's job is a nurturing one, a kind of ovine babysitting—and we all know how society values child care. Women writers, too, were especially attracted to pastoral: as Josephine Roberts points out, “the seventeenth century witnessed an … outpouring of pastoral writing by such figures as Aemilia Lanyer, Mary Wroth, Elizabeth Brackley, Jane Cavendish, An Collins, Margaret Cavendish, Katherine Philips, Elizabeth Wilmot, and Aphra Behn.”51

As the female is often devalued, some read pastoral love lyrics allegorically because they can't believe poets would attend to anything as lowly as love—reading “private” allegorically as “public” seems to make it worthier of their attention. Montrose deems the public life the only important life. That Queen Elizabeth was female obscures what a masculine definition of the important life this is: most Renaissance women had no access to public careers. The Shepherd's Calender's concerns, Montrose says, are “erotic desire and social ambition,” but erotic desire, inhabiter of a private realm, is really a displacement of ambition, which belongs to the public world. What seems to be love is really politics; private is really public. The assumption is that public life alone merits attention. Montrose extends this widely, finding “an encoding principle that is undoubtedly operative in much of Elizabethan literature: amorous motives displace or subsume forms of desire, frustration, and resentment other than the merely sexual.”52 Elizabethans would leap on a facile reduction of love to “the merely sexual”—Hamlet's “country matters”; but what startles me is not the “sexual” so much as the “merely,” which dismisses everything in life but politics and public striving, erasing at a stroke nearly every woman from early modern history. It translates much Renaissance literature too—the loves of Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, the Duchess of Malfi and Antonio, become politics in disguise; the merely sexual, the merely private, is not important enough to be a subject of literature.

Helgerson shows how those with a gentleman's education were expected to give up the youthful folly of writing poetry (especially love poetry) in favor of public service, but this expectation was hardly impossible to resist. As Helgerson shows, Spenser during a life of public service never gave up poetry and love. Shakespeare had no gentleman's education, and his characters don't speak of an ideal of public service. Does anyone in Shakespeare counsel that it is anyone's duty to seek office? (Volumnia, perhaps; but does Coriolanus endorse her views?) Shakespeare presents political power more as a desired good than a public duty; only once in office do rulers discover that it isn't as much fun as in fairy tales. No one needs to urge others toward a duty of power: there are plenty of candidates. If one or two potential or former rulers shirk in a sheepcote or forest, nobody minds.

A fifth cultural obstacle is our preference for action over contemplation, related to the public/private issue because public was linked with action, private with inaction. Lindenbaum ascribes Sidney's alleged “opposition to pastoralism” to the “kind of Humanist training he had received, designed to prepare him for active service to his state and disposing him against any kind of life that might resemble inactivity.”53 Again, anxiety about ease: even though we inhabit the pastorally tinged groves of academe, for us contemplation (unless dignified by a title like basic research) doesn't seem like work. Hallett Smith shows how the Renaissance identified the generic poles of epic and pastoral with the active and contemplative lives;54 the Renaissance usually (though not always) valued active over contemplative, and here we have outdone them. And again the gender issue—the active life has always been masculine, with women often seen as a drag on purposive activity.

The Renaissance placed literary genres on a spectrum from active to contemplative. The preference for action relegated pastoral to the bottom rung, but it was still a serious genre. Here is Sidney's hierarchy of genres from The Defense of Poesy: (1) heroical (i.e., epic); (2) lyric; (3) tragedy; (4) comedy; (5) satire; (6) iambic; (7) elegiac; (8) pastoral.55 The first three genres belong to the sphere of action (lyrics here are songs praising memorable manly actions). Pastoral, the most reposeful, least action-packed genre, droops at the bottom of the ladder. But while Sidney places pastoral lowest among canonical genres, he defends it stoutly, and it is possible to see pastoral's low position not simply as a value judgment but also as a strategic location from which to make comment on the high.

Bakhtin posits that canonical genres have shadows: noncanonical genres (mimes, satyr plays) are their parodic doubles, with lower-class characters and diction that challenge the values of high literature.56 We might also see a shadow effect within high literature itself. Genres in the lower half of Sidney's hierarchy are parodic doubles of genres in the upper half, standing apart from and commenting on the upper tetralogy's world of action, on its strivings after power, fame, glory, wealth, and love. Pastoral, I suggest, is a parodic double of epic. Writers often couple the two: Sidney shows how pastoral paints the epic strivings of Alexander the Great as amounting to no more than a pastoral singing match; Spenser, in the October eclogue, writes of a conflict between pastoral and epic. Pastoral looks at the launching of a thousand ships, at the death of Hector, at Cyclops, Sirens, battles, underworld journeys—and asks in its mood of repose what it's all worth. No wonder mighty men who strive and mighty epic poets feel compelled to push pastoral to the bottom of the generic heap.

Seeing pastoral as carnivalized epic—like carnival, it is ruled by lower-class characters and has the values of otium or holiday—sheds light on disagreements over the effectiveness of pastoral's critiques: when some critics see its assaults on the court as potentially effective while others think the court co-opted pastoral for its own uses, what we have is exactly the old “subversion/containment debate” visible in other manifestations of the carnival spirit. The difference is that with pastoral, those arguing for containment have gone almost unopposed by subversionists.

Finally, a Freudian take on our cultural resistance to pastoral might look closely at the long cultural practice wherein male authors wrote pastorals as a first step toward writing epics. In this career trajectory, pastoral occurs at the stage where a boy begins to break away from mother. Nurturing images persist—loving care for sheep—beside images of inaccessible, rejecting women (Rosalind in The Shepheardes Calender) or dead women (Dido in the same poem). Poets came of age by writing a pastoral, after which a strong poet might eventually work his way up to that task of manhood, epic. Steven Marx finds signs of coming-of-age rites in pastoral: youth/age conflict, isolation, instruction by elders.57 If pastoral is partly a dream of childhood, of a world before Mother was lost, then the sternness with which (especially male) critics reject pastoral reflects the way male identity is formed by cutting itself off from Mother and a world of women. Examining responses to pastoral by male and female readers is beyond my scope here; but my impression is that the most vehement pastoral haters have been male. One of the best writers on pastoral, one sympathetic to its aims, is a woman, Annabel Patterson.58 Montrose finds Spenser's dead Dido (a Queen figure, of course) as a “radical solution” to resentment of Elizabeth's authority: “kill the lady.”59 Boy children, subordinated poets, perhaps even literary critics, experience the matricidal urge to establish male identity by striking out at the Queen, at female Authority, at Mother.

If pastoral, then, speaks to some of our cherished fantasies and needs, it also triggers some of our cultural prejudices. Wildly popular in its own day, Renaissance pastoral has largely been assailed and discredited in later centuries. Nobody listens to this Cassandra among genres. Even in its most oppositional moments, it has been cast as a tool of the establishment. In a protocapitalist age, pastoral attacked the passion for worldly goods. In an urbanizing age, it celebrated country life. In an age of centralized government, it spoke for a decentering, centrifugal force. In an autocratic age, it challenged obsession with power. But this important cultural work has been disallowed.

Is it still possible to resist the tyranny of our own culture and rasp away encrustations of centuries of antipastoralism? Let us have another look at the pastoralism of As You Like It.


Pastoral's challenge—sometimes overt, sometimes implicit in its withdrawal from the frantic world—is to the assumption that power, public life, hard work, and success are everything. As You Like It represents the world of power in Frederick's court as literally repulsive: having banished Duke Senior and his followers, Frederick now banishes Rosalind and sends away Oliver. Through that great tool of patriarchy, male competitive sport, the Duke enacts a public semiotics of power in a scenario of invader-repulsion: the populace is invited to combat Charles the wrestler. The Duke's tyranny betrays paranoia: he banishes Rosalind because her “silence and her patience / Speak to the people, and they pity her,” seemingly fearful that “the people” might rise up on behalf of Rosalind and her father (1.3.79-81). Do those who come to wrestle Charles represent for the Duke the challenge he fears? Does he invite it precisely to demonstrate that he can defeat such challenges? Frederick and Le Beau call Orlando “the challenger,” though when asked “have you challenged Charles the wrestler?” Orlando answers “No, he is the general challenger” (1.2.169-78). That the court issues a challenge and then feels it is being challenged betrays a paranoid insecurity that it tries to assuage by violence.

A pivot between the court and Oliver's household, Charles the wrestler flags the sibling competition that is festering in each place. Both paranoid tyrants, Duke Frederick and Oliver, project onto powerless siblings their own murderous impulses. Both keep the brother/competitor at bay by rustication—pushing him into a countryside that prejudice has encoded loathsome. Duke Frederick has pushed his brother Duke Senior into forest banishment, and Oliver has pushed his brother Orlando into a neglected life in a country home. Our initial view of the country is resentful: in the play's opening speech Orlando complains, “my brother keeps me rustically at home, or stays me here at home unkept; for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better. He lets me feed with his hinds” (1.1.3-18). A hind was a farm hand; it is appropriate that the word later occurs in its other meaning, “deer,” for this passage superimposes peasant life on animal life. The servant Adam is pushed into the animal kingdom, called “old dog” (1.1.86). Frederick too has pushed his brother/competitor into the countryside, where he sleeps outside like an animal. Challengers must not rise; they are pushed out into the country, down among animals. The despised realm is that of peasants and animals, the world of shepherds: pastoral.

Rustication was a Tudor political punishment: noblemen fallen from grace often retreated to a country estate, remaining there under house arrest, an echo of the way pastoral poets were pushed out of the upper canon's polite society into a rustic underworld, for challenging the world of power. But Duke Senior's first speech defends country living and attacks the court, with its artificiality, danger, and competitiveness: “Hath not old custom made this life more sweet / Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods / More free from peril than the envious court?” (2.1.2-4; emphasis mine). Any fear that his forest society might merely reproduce structures of authority, dominance, and competition of Frederick's court are immediately allayed by Duke Senior's style, a striking departure from Frederick's. By the time we meet Duke Senior in act 2, we are accustomed to Frederick's mode of communication, which like the speech of the early King Lear is performative, his speeches curt and peppered with commands (“Bear him away” (1.2.211); “Dispatch you with your safest haste / And get you from our court” (1.3.39-40); “Open not thy lips” (1.3.80); “You, niece, provide yourself” (1.3.85); “Push him out of doors” (3.1.15). In act 1, the average length of Frederick's speeches is less than three lines, mainly short sentences of staccato monosyllables. His longest flight, a twelve-line speech in act 3, is clogged with curt imperatives: “Look to it: / Find out thy brother. / Seek him with candle; bring him dead or living / or turn thou no more / To seek a living in our territory” (3.1.4-8). Frederick's curt, choppy, commanding language recreates the haste and arbitrariness of his acts—banishing Rosalind, turning Orlando out of favor, dispatching Oliver and seizing his lands. In contrast, Duke Senior's first words are egalitarian: “Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile” (2.1.1). Where Frederick's typical utterances are commands, Duke Senior's are questions: “Hath not old custom made this life more sweet? … Are not these woods / More free from peril?” (2.1.2-4); “Shall we go and kill us venison?” (2.1.21); “What said Jaques? / Did he not moralize this spectacle?” (2.1.43-44,); “Did you leave him in this contemplation?” (2.1.64); “What would you have?” (2.7.101). Further, Duke Senior listens to the answers. Inquiring rather than commanding, he listens attentively to people, replacing Frederick's banishments and repulsions with hospitable welcomes: “Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table” (2.7.104). Speeches are longer than at court: Duke Senior's first is seventeen lines long, and his courteous questions elicit two unhurried nineteen-line answers. The verse grows relaxed and flowing, its complex sentences and run-on lines a relief after Frederick's tense verbal jabbings. The anthropomorphosed deer, prominent in this first forest scene, is an important reversal: in act 1 humans were pushed down into the animal kingdom, but in Arden, animals rise to the human level.

The exiles, suffering “the icy fang / of the winter's wind” (2.1.6-7), are not luxuriating in sloth; but their life is wholesomely easeful. It is simply not the case that the court is presented as the brisk, responsible world of action, the country as an irresponsible life of ease: the court is paranoid, twitchy, a world of hasty political decisions, its frenetic pace neurotic, born of the knowledge that its power is illegitimate. Its pace is so brisk as to abrogate both justice and courtesy. The relaxed movement, language, and song in the play's pastoral world have the rhythm of a livable environment.

Pastoral, always the wealth-eschewing genre, was well placed to be oppositional to the new capitalism; in the early scenes, set in “a commercial world of exchange and transaction,” even good characters speak its language: “Orlando's initial lines (1.1.1-27) are strewn with references to types of change and exchange; and some of the same terminology is repeated in Celia's protestation of love to Rosalind … (1.2.17-25). Such words as ‘bequeathed,’ ‘will,’ ‘profit,’ ‘hired,’ and ‘gain’ are particularly suggestive.”60 In Arden, such language ebbs.

One of Arden's lessons is how little the world of power matters once it is out of sight. A bracing effect of the time-honored human strategy of running away from trouble—escapism—is that nobody in the new land has heard of our local tyrant, which shows the world of power striving in a whole new light. Our exiles have arrived where nobody has heard of Duke Frederick's power grab. Corin never speaks of Frederick's usurpation, and the fact that Duke Senior, presumably his former ruler, is living in exile in the immediate neighborhood is something Corin never mentions.

Before his exile, was Duke Senior too a tense, paranoid, competitive ruler? Was it rustication that taught him patience, courtesy, humaneness, relaxation—a conversion as stunning as Frederick's later conversion? We can't know—the play doesn't say what he was like before. If the Duke hasn't changed, if he was always a good, humane man, it might make us uneasy about the vulnerability of patient, courteous, humane, relaxed rulers—but the play doesn't invite us to worry about this, as The Tempest does. It doesn't matter what kind of ruler Duke Senior was and will be: the play loses interest in that, and directs our attention elsewhere.

The segregation of As You Like It's twelve pastureland scenes from its four forest scenes makes it possible to drop Duke Senior after act 2—he reappears only in the last scene. The play moves from the real court to the forest court, to a pastureland with no court. As the play progresses, politics, which comes on strong at first, is entirely replaced by love. Interest is deflected from public to private. Was Shakespeare's pretended interest in the lesser spheres of politics, power, and authority all along a sublimation of his real interest, love and women? To paraphrase Montrose, political motives here displace or subsume forms of desire, frustration, and resentment other than the merely political.

Strongly approving Rosalind's and Orlando's return to court, Lindenbaum declares, “the pastoral sojourn was not strictly necessary; the love of Rosalind and Orlando was well under way even at the troubled court,”61 but their return to court isn't strictly necessary either. Theirs is a world-peopling comedic destiny; one can procreate anywhere. The move from court to country prefigures the shift in the play's center of gravity from politics to love. The exclusionary circle tyranny drew around itself when Frederick forbade Rosalind to come nearer than twenty miles (1.3.41-43) yields to an inclusive circle: Rosalind reigns in “the circle of this forest” (5.4.34). Though many will return to the court, the play doesn't stage the return but ends with everyone in Arden, Duke Frederick and all; the court as the play ends is entirely empty. The ending dwells not on resumption of power or return to responsible public service but on living happily ever after in a world of love. Country matters.

As Edward Said's Orientalist is outside the Orient, so most pastoral writers have been outside the country, assuming, like Orientalists, that city writers must represent the country, since it cannot represent itself.62 But where Orientalism projects onto the Orient the West's disowned qualities, creating a worse self against which the West defines itself, pastoral does the opposite. Its rustic is an antienemy, an antiscapegoat: one on whom to project not one's most loathed but one's best qualities, or desired qualities. Like Browning's Setebos, a city writer created in country folk “things worthier than himself,” made them “what himself would fain, in a manner, be.” Pastoral writers created a standard against which to measure the value of contemporary striving. The potent pastoral dream recurred amid the Industrial Revolution, where it helped spawn Romanticism, and amid the malaise of the industrialized, urban twentieth century—there was a good deal of pastoralism in 1960s counterculture. However we mock and condemn it, pastoralism will likely keep reemerging, disquietingly indicting the way we live by holding out an ideal more attractive than the world we have created.

Country matters. Doesn't it?


  1. Peter Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes: Anti-Pastoral Sentiment in the English Renaissance (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 1, 3, 17.

  2. A. Stuart Daley, “Where Are the Woods in As You Like It?” Shakespeare Quarterly 34 (1983): 176-77.

  3. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 96.

  4. Richard Helgerson, “The New Poet Presents Himself: Spenser and the Idea of a Literary Career,” PMLA 93 (1978): 906.

  5. A. Stuart Daley, “The Dispraise of the Country In As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly 36 (1985): 307.

  6. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 110.

  7. Albert Cirillo, “As You Like It: Pastoralism Gone Awry,” ELH 38 (1971): 24.

  8. Renato Poggioli, The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 1.

  9. Daley, “Dispraise,” 306-7, 311-12.

  10. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 1.

  11. Svetlana Makurenkova, “Intertextual Correspondences: The Pastoral in Marlowe, Raleigh, Shakespeare, and Donne,” in Russian Essays on Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, ed. Alexandr Parfenov and Joseph G. Price (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 194.

  12. William Shakespeare, Complete Works, ed. David Bevington, 4th ed. (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman 1992), 292-325. All references to Shakespeare plays are to this edition.

  13. Cirillo, “As You Like It,” 27.

  14. Rawdon Wilson, “The Way to Arden: Attitudes Toward Time in As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly 26 (1975): 22, 18.

  15. Samuel Johnson, “Milton,” in Lives of the English Poets, ed. Arthur Waugh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1906), 1:116.

  16. W. W. Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama (New York: Russell and Russell, 1959), 30, 87, 134, 69, 130, 135.

  17. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 12.

  18. Louis Montrose, “‘The perfecte paterne of a Poete’: The Poetics of Courtship in The Shepheardes Calender,Texas Studies in Literature and Language 21 (1979): 49.

  19. Poggioli, The Oaten Flute, 21.

  20. P. V. Krieder, “Genial Literary Satire in the Forest of Arden,” Shakespeare Association Bulletin 10 (1935): 21.

  21. Lisa Robertson, “How Pastoral: A Manifesto,” in A Poetics of Criticism, ed. Juliana Spahr, Mark Wallace, Kristin Prevallet, and Pam Rehm (Buffalo, N.Y.: Leave, 1994), 279.

  22. Louis Montrose, “‘Eliza, Queene of Shepheardes,’ and the Pastoral of Power,” English Literary Renaissance 10 (1980): 169, 180.

  23. William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1935), 11-12.

  24. Karen O'Brien, “Imperial Georgic, 1660-1789,” in The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550-1850, ed. Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, and Joseph P. Ward (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 169.

  25. George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy, ed. Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 38.

  26. Alexander Barclay, Eclogues (London: P. Treveris, 1530; first published ca. 1523).

  27. Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calender, in The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser, ed. J. C. Smith and E. De Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1912).

  28. Paul Alpers, “Pastoral and the Domain of Lyric in Spenser's Shepheardes Calender” in Representing the English Renaissance, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), 166.

  29. Montrose, “‘The perfecte paterne of a Poete,’” 48.

  30. Louis Montrose, “Interpreting Spenser's February Eclogue: Some Contexts and Implications,” Spenser Studies 2 (1981): 70.

  31. Alpers, “Pastoral and the Domain of Lyric,” 166.

  32. Montrose, “‘The perfecte paterne,’” 47.

  33. Louis Montrose, “Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form.” ELH 50 (1983): 435.

  34. Ibid., 439.

  35. One refreshing exception is Robert Lane, who argues persuasively that Spenser's casting of The Shepheardes Calender in country dialect is a radical sociopolitical move in a milieu wherein theorists such as Puttenham were “establish[ing] the court and its elite as the standard in language use” (“Shepheards Devises”: Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and the Institutions of Elizabethan Society [Athens: University of Georgia Press], 35).

  36. Samuel Johnson, “Principles of Pastoral Poetry,” in The Rambler, ed. S. C. Roberts (London: Dent, 1953), 84.

  37. Johnson, “Milton,” 116.

  38. Montrose, “‘The perfecte paterne,’” 54.

  39. Anne Barton, “Perils of Historicism,” Review of Learning to Curse, by Stephen Greenblatt, New York Review of Books, 28 March 1991, 55.

  40. Krieder, “Genial Literary Satire,” 213.

  41. Poggioli, The Oaten Flute, 4-5.

  42. Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 5-9.

  43. William Empson, “Donne the Space Man,” in William Empson: Essays on Renaissance Culture, vol. 1, ed. John Haffenden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 98.

  44. Sandra Billington, Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), 38.

  45. Poggioli, The Oaten Flute, 6, 14.

  46. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 18.

  47. Poggioli, The Oaten Flute, 2, 11.

  48. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 92.

  49. Ibid., 5.

  50. Montrose, “‘The perfecte paterne,’” 49.

  51. Josephine Roberts, “Deciphering Women's Pastoral: Coded Language in Wroth's Love's Victory,” in Representing Women in Renaissance England, ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 163.

  52. Montrose, “Of Gentlemen,” 440.

  53. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 19.

  54. Hallett Smith, Elizabethan Poetry: A Study in Conventions, Meaning, and Expression (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), chap. 1.

  55. The Prose Works of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Albert Feuillerat (1912; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962), 3:3-46.

  56. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).

  57. Steven Marx, Youth Against Age: Generational Strife in Renaissance Poetry, with Special Reference to Edmund Spenser's “The Shepheardes Calender” (New York: Peter Lang, 1985), 208 ff.

  58. See Annabel Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987).

  59. Montrose, “‘The perfecte paterne,’” 54.

  60. Wilson, “The Way to Arden,” 20.

  61. Lindenbaum, Changing Landscapes, 127.

  62. Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 8.

Brendan Lemon (review date 16 August 1999)

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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 Massachusetts, offers only one unusual notion: jazz.

The Charlie Parker-meets-swingtime music, composed by Mark Bennett, is heard so often that it functions less as a score than as a soundtrack. At first, the music serves awkwardly to punch up emotions that would have better been left to the actors, and the sax-heavy melodies seem more appropriate to an early morning stroll in Manhattan than an evening frolic in a forest.

Slowly, however, you realise what the director is aiming for. Just as the play's heroine, Rosalind, must try on many selves until she finds the one most appealing to Orlando, so the music must assume many shapes to mirror its tentative lovers' moods. And no genre better suits such improvisations than jazz.

Yet the try-everything-on aspect of this production makes it slow to win us over. Rosalind, whose father has been banished from court, makes her entrance Alice-like through a trap door accompanied by her cousin Celia, whose father is now regnant. The women are attired in sweeping ball gowns, so nonchalant as they swan around that you almost believe that for rummaging through your attic no uniform, save satin, will suffice.

The dresses serve a purpose: they complement the backdrops dreamed up by the set designer, Narelle Sissons; they compliment their wearers, Gwyneth Paltrow and Megan Dodds. Paltrow, of course, is the prime attraction. Anyone searching for cracks in the actress's Elizabethan lacquer will be disappointed. As the smooth, sweet Rosalind and as the untutored, beardless Ganymede, the masculine identity she assumes after her banishment, Paltrow is all poise and playfulness. True, she occasionally forgets she is part of an ensemble, and inappropriately steals focus from her colleagues, but she knows how to tap the audience's huge reservoir of affection for her. The day may come when we wish that this high-bred, authentically elegant creature would find a real-life prince and retire to the Riviera, but that time is not yet upon us. Paltrow and Dodds, who is initially delightful but recedes from view too readily as the play proceeds, prance around the umber-smirched forest giggling like schoolgirls.

Against such high spirits, Orlando, played by Alessandro Nivola, cannot quite vie for adoration. Yet Nivola ensures that the giddiness does not get out of hand. By emphasising Orlando's “heart-heaviness” rather than his potential for happiness, the actor provides welcome ballast.

In a few years, one could easily imagine him playing opposite Paltrow's Blanche DuBois, although Paltrow would be hard-pressed to efface memories of Blythe Danner, her mother and Williamstown festival royalty, in the role.

With so many attractive young performers to look at, this production can be forgiven a few missed opportunities. Edelstein's staging, for example, tends to muffle the play's anarchic sense of sexual desire, its sense of comedy resulting from all loves apparently unrequited. The culmination of this theme, the moment when Rosalind and Orlando, and the rustic pair Silvius and Phoebe, each pines for loves lacking, was thrilling in the 1936 Olivier-Bergner movie; here, such elation is lacking.

But Edelstein, an intelligent, text-sensitive technician, may have meant to trump the youthful ardour by placing his most gifted actors in the part of Jaques and Touchstone. Jaques' melancholy, magnificently expressed by Michael Cumpsty, and Touchstone's nimble wit, impeccably conveyed by Mark Linn-Baker, combine for an emotional range against which coltish lovers, no matter how pretty, cannot be expected to compete.

Peter Milward (essay date 2001)

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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 with those parts of Warwickshire still known as Arden’ (p. 8). This identification may be traced back to Edmond Malone, who identified the forest even more precisely as ‘that in French Flanders, lying near the Meuse and between Charlemont and Rocroy’ (quoted in the New Variorum edition of the play, p. 16). If for the source of these statements we go back to Shakespeare's source, Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance of Rosalynde, we find that the main setting is what he calls (like Shakespeare) ‘the forest of Arden’, but that the forest he has in mind is not so much that to the North-East of France as a vast unidentified forest between ‘the province of Bordeaux’, from which his hero Rosader (Shakespeare's Orlando) sets forth with his old servant, and the city of Lyons, to which they make their way. This is evidently to the South of the royal capital of Paris, where the usurping king Torismond has his court (Shakespeare's duke Frederick).1

When, however, we turn from Rosalynde to As You Like It, we are given no such clues as in Lodge's romance to the locality of Arden, whether in France or in England. It looks as if the dramatist has deliberately left the matter vague so as to suggest a locality not in France, whether to the South-West or the North-East, but in the English Midlands, where he himself was familiar with another Arden, both as place-name, of the ancient forest in his native Warwickshire to the North of the river Avon and as family-name of his mother and her ancient ancestry. It is indeed a suggestion that has long since been made by the Victorian scholar J. O. Halliwell with reference both to Shakespeare's play and to his friend Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion XIII: ‘The forest of Arden was no forest in far-away France, but was the enchanted ground of their own home’ (quoted in the New Variorum edition, p. 18).

Now on the basis of these generally accepted considerations about the Forest of Arden as the setting of As You Like It, let me go on to explore that setting with reference not only to the meaning of the play but also to the personal involvement of the dramatist implied in his choice of setting. True, it is aptly said of Shakespeare's comedies that they are rarely set in his native England but look for the most part beyond the Narrow Seas to the sunny lands of the South. And so in As You Like It we may be excused for assuming that Shakespeare looks with Lodge beyond the seas to the Ardennes, whether of Belgium or Bordeaux. Yet, in virtue of the greater ambiguity the former puts into his play, he may well have felt free to indulge a desire of injecting into it something of his own childhood background. True, again, we are well advised to avoid an autobiographical interpretation of any play of Shakespeare's, considering how enigmatic he is both as dramatist and as poet. Yet in this play we seem to be faced with something of an exception; and in the religion of Arden we may discern something of Shakespeare's own allegiance among the three religions recognised in his own time (by the Jesuit Robert Persons writing in 1592) as papist, protestant and puritan.2

As for the religion of Shakespeare's family at Stratford, let it suffice to say that a scholarly consensus has been building up over the past century in favour of their Catholicism, or loyalty to ‘the old faith’. From the time of Elizabeth's accession to the throne in 1558 and the establishment of ‘the new religion’ by Act of Parliament the following year, they no doubt temporized in common with many who came to be known as ‘church papists’; but the evidence we have seems to indicate a steady movement towards ‘recusancy’ culminating in the entry of John Shakespeare's name in the recusancy returns for 1592, however much he sought to conceal his religious reason by pleading ‘fear of process for debt’.3 More to the point of this article, however, is his origin in Arden, before settling with his wife Mary Arden in Stratford. Already in the village of Snitterfield to the North of Stratford, his father had been a tenant of Mary Arden's father Robert; and his forbears had evidently come from other villages further to the North, and well within the area of the Forest of Arden, Rowington and Wroxhall. In the latter village in pre-Reformation times there had been a nunnery, Wroxhall Abbey, now a ruin, which the poet may have had in mind in Sonnet 73, lamenting the ‘bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang’. From this nunnery the names of two Shakespeares have come down to us, including that of the prioress earlier in the century, whose name Isabella may have suggested Shakespeare's choice of name for the novice heroine of Measure for Measure.

This association with both Arden and ‘the old faith’ is no less evident in Shakespeare's mother Mary Arden, though her Catholic allegiance appears not so much in herself as in her father Robert's pious will, drawn up in Mary's reign in 1556, bequeathing his soul ‘to Almighty God and to Our Blessed Lady’. Through her Shakespeare was connected at once with the old Saxon nobility of Warwickshire and with most of the Catholic gentry of the neighbourhood, the Catesbys, the Throckmortons, the Winters and the Grants, many of whose younger sons came to be involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.4 On the other hand, to the East of Arden were the great houses of the upstart family of Dudley: Kenilworth Castle, held by Elizabeth's favourite Robert, Earl of Leicester, and Warwick Castle, held by his elder brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick. They were in turn assisted by the Puritan magistrate Sir Thomas Lucy, of Charlecote Park, not least in their envy of the older nobility of the Ardens. This envy found a practical outlet in the prosecution of the Somerville Plot of 1583, when the head of the family, Edward Arden of Park Hall near Birmingham, was implicated owing to his relationship with John Somerville (who had married his daughter Mary). Here already we may note a significant parallel between the tragic situation of the English Ardens and that of the exiled duke Senior in As You Like It.

Now let us turn to another village on the outskirts of the forest to the west of Stratford, Temple Grafton. As its name indicates, it was a commandery of the Knights Templars till their suppression in the fourteenth century under the rule of Philip the Fair of France, as it were foreshadowing the rule of Henry VIII of England. Then it passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitallers of St John till they were in turn suppressed by the latter monarch in 1536. It is mentioned in Shakespeare's application for a marriage licence from the diocesan authorities at Worcester during the season of Advent 1582, where his fiancée's name is given (in one of the two entries) as ‘Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton’. Shakespeare's wife, we know, came not from Temple Grafton but from the nearby Shottery; but this association of her name with that village may be an indication of the church at which their wedding was to be held. And it so happens that the parson of that church was an old Catholic priest from Marian times, whose name is known to us as John Frith, from a Puritan survey of Warwickshire included in A Parte of a Register (1593).5

From this old Marian priest, with his ‘unsound religion’ (as he is described from the Puritan viewpoint of the survey), in the real Forest of Arden, we may turn to the old religious man (or are they two men?) who makes two interesting appearances in Shakespeare's play. First, there is the old religious uncle of Rosalind who has taught her a remedy of love, which (she claims) has worked so effectively on one patient as to make him ‘forswear the full stream of the world’ and ‘live in a nook merely monastic’ (3.2.404-5). This remedy Rosalind tries out on Orlando to such contrasting effect as to bring them both to a happy marriage. This uncle is subsequently described by Orlando as ‘a great magician’ who is still resident ‘in the circle of this forest’ (5.4.33-4)—as is Temple Grafton in relation to the Forest of Arden. He may also be the ‘old religious man’ mentioned at the end of the play by Orlando's brother Jaques de Boys, as having met the usurping duke on his arrival with an army in the forest and as having converted him both from his enterprise against his exiled brother and even from the world.6

Then, we may ask, what about the other priest who turns up in Shakespeare's play to perform the wedding of Touchstone and Audrey? Doesn't Sir Oliver Martext, as has been suggested by certain biographers, correspond more closely to Sir John Frith, as ‘vicar of the next village’, than the above-mentioned religious man? And isn't he requested by Touchstone to officiate at his wedding with Audrey in much the same terms as, we may imagine, John Frith might have been requested by the young Shakespeare to officiate at his wedding with Anne? Well, unlike John Frith, Sir Oliver is repudiated by Touchstone and mocked in much the same way as the curate Sir Nathaniel in Love's Labour's Lost is mocked by the playful lords (5.2).7 He is further contrasted by the melancholy Jaques with ‘a good priest that can tell you what marriage is’ (3.3.77-8), which may have been the reason why Shakespeare, if a Catholic, would have preferred the old Marian priest at Temple Grafton to perform his wedding with Anne rather than the Protestant vicar of the Holy Trinity church at Stratford.

Another reason, relating Sir Oliver rather to the puritans than to the papists, may be found in his surname of ‘Martext’. Here is an obvious puritan connotation with the author of the Marprelate pamphlets of 1588-9, who is probably to be identified with another Warwickshireman and native of Arden. Job Throckmorton.8 Just as Shakespeare himself was jeered at as ‘Shakescene’ (by Robert Greene in his Groatsworth of Wit) on his arrival in London, so we find Martin Marprelate derided by his episcopal adversary Thomas Cooper in the latter's Admonition to the People of England (1589) as ‘not only Mar-prelate, but Mar-prince, Mar-state, Mar-law, Mar-magistrate and all together’. A similar Puritan character is glanced at in The Merchant of Venice both by Bassanio, as he reflects at a critical turning-point in the play on how ‘In religion, / What damned error, but some sober brow / Will bless it and approved it with a text’ (3.2.77-9), and by Graziano, who speaks of ‘a sort of men whose visages / Do cream and mantle like a standing pond, / And do a wilful stillness entertain’ (1.1.88-90). Such a wilful stillness is shown by Sir Oliver when, in response to the frivolity of Touchstone, he can only mutter, ‘'Tis no matter. Ne'er a fantastical knave of them all shall flout me out of my calling.’ (3.3.96-8).

In addition to this contrast between the ‘old religious man’ in the forest and ‘the vicar of the next village’, there remains one more religious man to be considered, though he is rarely recognized as such. I refer to the man who goes under the name of Duke Senior (in the stage directions). He is the former duke—not king, as in Lodge's Rosalynde—unjustly banished from the court by his usurping younger brother Frederick, while he himself remains without a name.9 He is seen as being, or having been, a secular ruler; but from his first appearance in the Forest of Arden he is introduced as a kind of ‘convertite’, as his usurping brother suddenly becomes at the end of the play. His impressive opening speech on ‘the uses of adversity’ and ‘the good in everything’ oddly echoes passages in the popular Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (one of the best selling books of Shakespeare's time among Catholics and Protestants alike): one from 1.12 on this very theme: ‘It is good for us to encounter troubles and adversities from time to time, for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart. It reminds him that he is an exile here, and he can put his trust in nothing in this world’; and the other from 2.4 on the wings of simplicity and purity: ‘If your heart be right, then every created thing will become a mirror of life and a book of holy teaching. For there is nothing created so small and mean but reflects the goodness of God.’ The same passages may also be heard echoed by Friar Laurence in his opening speech in Act 2 of Romeo and Juliet. Both their speeches are as it were sermons, the one by a duke and the other by a friar; and both look forward to other sermons preached by the duke-turned-friar, Duke Vincentio alias Friar Lodowick, in Measure for Measure.

I have already suggested a comparison between this exiled duke, suffering at the hands of his usurping brother, and the rightful ruler of the real Arden, Edward Arden of Park Hall, suffering at the hands of the upstart Earl of Leicester. Now I would like to suggest a further comparison between him in his religious character and another, spiritual ruler living in exile in the region of the other Ardennes beyond the sea. I refer to William Allen, ruler or president of the English College (or seminary) located from the time of its foundation in 1568 at Douai in the French Ardennes, but from 1578 onwards at Rheims (of which, it may be noted, explicit mention is made in The Taming of the Shrew 2.1, where Lucentio masquerades as a ‘young scholar that has been long studying at Rheims’). For example, in the opening scene of As You Like It, where the elder duke is first mentioned by Charles the wrestler as having been banished to the Forest of Arden and joined there by ‘three or four loving lords’, it is added that ‘many young gentlemen flock to him every day’. Similarly, Allen was joined in his venture not only by several former colleagues from Oxford University, who formed the teaching body of his college, but also by a steadily growing number of young men, many of them from the gentry who could afford the expense, for their Catholic and priestly education. Such was a classmate of Shakespeare's, Robert Debdale, who left Stratford for Douai in 1575 in company with his and Shakespeare's master Simon Hunt, the latter going on to Rome where he entered the Society of Jesus. Such, too, was a distant cousin of Shakespeare's (on his mother's side), Edward Throckmorton, who also went on, like Hunt, to Rome and entered the Society of Jesus. All of them were from the Forest of Arden.10

Further, when Rosalind is in her turn banished from the court by her uncle, her protests are coldly answered: ‘Thus do all traitors. / If their purgation did consist in words / They are as innocent as grace itself.’ (1.3.51-3) His words interestingly echo those of the arch-persecutor of English Catholics, Lord Burghley, who in his pamphlet The Execution of Justice in England (1583)—itself written in response to Allen's Apologie for the two English colleges at Rheims and Rome (1581)—declares: ‘It hath been in all ages and in all countries a common usage of all offenders for the most part, great and small, to make defence of their lewd and unlawful facts by untruths and by colouring and covering their deeds (were they never so vile) with pretences of some other causes of contrary operations or effects.’ To this Allen responded with his famous Defence of English Catholics in 1584, maintaining that his students, so far from being the scum of the land, were most of them sons of Catholic gentlemen having chosen the path of exile for the sake of religion.

As for Allen himself, before founding his college at Douai, he had gone into exile with other Catholic scholars on the accession of Elizabeth and settled in the university city of Louvain, partly for the purpose of controversy with the Protestants. On account of ill health, however, he was recommended by his doctors to return home for a time to have the benefit of his native air. There, while recuperating in Lancashire and his home at Rossall, he did much to confirm the Catholic gentry and people in that region in their resolution to refuse all cooperation with the new state church. At that time, the gentleman who gave him most whole-hearted and financial support was the great landowner of the area, Thomas Hoghton, who was then engaged in the building of a stately mansion named Hoghton Tower (still to be seen there today). When he had to leave Lancashire, Allen spent some of his time at Oxford, where he had been principal of St Mary's Hall (subsequently absorbed into Oriel College), and also in the neighbourhood of Stratford, before moving into Norfolk and so back to Douai for the founding of his college.11 It was in the following year, on the failure of the rising of the Northern earls in 1569, that Thomas Hoghton decided to go likewise into exile and to assist Allen in his new foundation.12

Hoghton's large estates in Lancashire were now entrusted partly to his younger brother Alexander, who resided at Lea Hall on the farther side of Preston, partly to his more reliable half-brother Richard, of Park Hall at Charnock Richard to the South. Meanwhile, two neighbours of theirs from the village of Dilworth, Thomas and John Cottam, were studying at Oxford University. Thomas went on to Douai and Rome to study for the priesthood; while John was later appointed schoolmaster at Stratford in 1579. (Thomas returned to England as a seminary priest in 1580 about the same time as the Jesuit Edmund Campion, but he was arrested soon after his arrival in London. He was arraigned with Campion and entered the Society of Jesus in prison while awaiting his execution in 1582.) It may have been on John Cottam's recommendation that the young William Shakespeare left Stratford to become, according to an old tradition emanating from his future colleague Christopher Beeston, ‘a schoolmaster in the country’, now identified as the county of Lancashire near Preston, in the household of Alexander Hoghton of Lea Hall. Here at least, according to a theory that has been gaining ground among Shakespeare scholars since the time it was broached by Oliver Baker in his book In Shakespeare's Warwickshire (1937) and seconded by Sir Edmund Chambers in his Shakespearean Gleanings (1944), we find a ‘William Shakeshafte’ mentioned in Hoghton's will, which was drawn up in August 1581 only to be followed by the death of the testator shortly afterwards, significantly in the immediate aftermath of the news of Campion's arrest towards the end of July and his torture in the Tower of London.13

Before that series of tragic events took place, there is good reason to suppose a meeting between the young Shakespeare and the Jesuit. Campion had not only come from Rome, where he must have met Simon Hunt, another English Jesuit resident there, but also entered England about the same time, the summer of 1580, as John Cottam's brother. He had, moreover, journeyed into the Midlands, staying (as we know from notes of his ‘confessions’ taken by Lord Burghley) with Sir William Catesby presumably at Lapworth, where Shakespeare with his father may well have gone to meet him. Then, after staying at several Catholic houses in Yorkshire during the winter of 1580-1, he had gone on to stay at other Catholic houses in Lancashire, including (as we also know from the above-mentioned notes) that of Richard Hoghton at Park Hall—and that at the very time William Shakespeare was probably in the household of Alexander Hoghton. It is indeed fascinating to speculate on what may have passed between the Jesuit, himself an expert in dramatic production from his five years at the College of Prague, and the future dramatist. May not Shakespeare have received his first lessons in dramaturgy from Campion, not to mention the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, which it was a principal aim of Jesuits like Campion to introduce to promising young men like Shakespeare?14

Everything, however, must have changed for the young Shakespeare with the arrest of Campion in July and the news of his prolonged torture in the Tower (for the sake of eliciting from him the names of those at whose houses he had stayed on his journey),15 and then the death of his patron Alexander Hoghton so soon after making his will. Campion was executed as a traitor in the December of 1581, and he was followed by Thomas Cottam to Tyburn some six months later. The situation must have made it dangerous for Shakespeare to remain in Lancashire; and so we find him returning to Stratford, wooing Anne Hathaway and maybe celebrating a quiet wedding at Temple Grafton, leaving their application for a wedding licence at Worcester till it became plain that Anne was with child. Then followed the births of Susanna in May 1583 and the twins Hamnet and Judith, named after their Catholic godparents Hamnet and Judith Sadler, in January 1585. Then arose the pressing problems of how to support this growing family, with the hopeful solution of a continued career, not so much as a schoolmaster with intervals of dramatic production but rather as a player and playwright in a more professional capacity. In his will of 1581 Alexander Hoghton had commended William Shakeshafte to the care of a recusant neighbour Sir Thomas Hesketh, who kept players for his entertainment; and Hesketh was well known to the Earl of Derby, whose son Lord Strange kept a larger and more professional group of players. So when Hesketh died in 1588, Shakespeare might well have been taken on by Strange's Men, in whose company he appears in London with the first recorded performance of Titus Andronicus in early 1594. In this play, I might add, there is a unique mention (among all Shakespeare's plays) of the epithet ‘popish’ in connection with ‘conscience’, as if echoing a poem written by Thomas Hoghton before his death in 1580 on the repeated theme of keeping his conscience. Thus, instead of proceeding (as Campion may have hoped) from Lancashire to Douai and the continental Ardennes, the young Shakespeare had to return to his native Arden and so evidently to London, with all the tests imposed by his new career on his loyalty to ‘the old faith’ and his resolve to ‘keep his conscience’.

This loyalty and resolve of the dramatist we may find implied throughout the play of As You Like It—at least once we are aware of all this personal background that has gone into the making of it. We may think, for example, not only of the above-mentioned characters of the old religious man (or men) and the elder duke, but also of the feeling of nostalgia for the good old days that pervades the play.16 It is what appears from the outset in the memory of ‘the old Robin Hood of England’ with his ‘many merry men’, as if connecting the Forest of Arden with that of Sherwood. It is what appears in Orlando's praise of the ‘good old man’ Adam—whose part is said by William Oldys to have been played by the dramatist himself—for his fidelity to ‘the constant service of the antique world’, in contrast to ‘the fashion of these times’ (2.3 58 and 60). It is what appears in the same Orlando's appeal to ‘better days’ when ‘bells have knolled to church’ (2.7.113-14), in contrast to the present days viewed by Shakespeare himself in Sonnet 67 as ‘these last so bad’. Surely, we may well conclude, from the depths of his heart Shakespeare looks fondly back to the time before the far-reaching religious changes had been inaugurated by Henry VIII and ratified by his daughter Elizabeth, a time that had been realized in the old Forest of Arden near Stratford and was still present in the Ardennes overseas.


  1. Cf. D. Beecher's edition of Lodge's Rosalind (Barnaby Riche Society Publications 7, Ottawa, 1997), p. 141.

  2. R. Persons, Elizabethae Angliae Reginae Haeresim Calvinianam Propugnantis saevissimum in Catholicos sui Regni edictum … Cum responsione (1592), had five editions in Latin, with translations into German and French, but none into English.

  3. The Catholic theory of Shakespeare's antecedents has been defended by H. S. Bowden, The Religion of Shakespeare (1899), based on notes left by the Victorian scholar R. Simpson; by J. H. De Groot, The Shakespeares and ‘The Old Faith’ (1946), though himself a Presbyterian; by H. Mutschmann and K. Wentersdorf, Shakespeare and Catholicism (1952), particularly valuable for its careful investigation into the poet's family and friends; and my own Shakespeare's Religious Background (1973), with more emphasis on the evidence of the plays.

  4. Cf. Genealogical table given by Mutschmann and Wentersdorf, Shakespeare and Catholicism, p. 422.

  5. The evidence for the wedding of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway at Temple Grafton is given at length by Park Honan, Shakespeare: A Life (London, 1998), pp. 81-5.

  6. This strangely sudden conversion of the usurping duke is unique to Shakespeare, in contrast to Lodge's usurping king Torismond who is killed in battle.

  7. The three parsons, Sir Oliver Martext in As You Like It, Sir Nathaniel in Love's Labour's Lost, and Sir Hugh Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor, stand in interesting contrast to the three friars, Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Friar Francis in Much Ado About Nothing and Friar Lodowick in Measure for Measure, in that the former are mocked, the latter respected by those around them.

  8. The identification of Martin Marprelate as Job Throckmorton has been authoritatively made by Leland H. Carlson in his writings on the Puritan authors of the sixteenth century.

  9. In much the same way Edgar, in The Tragedy of King Lear 2.3, loses his identity on resorting to disguise: ‘Edgar I nothing am.’

  10. For Edward Throckmorton, who grew up at Coughton Court in the Forest of Arden and died as a Jesuit in Rome in 1582, see C. Devlin, The Life of Robert Southwell (London, 1958).

  11. There is an excellent article on William Allen in the Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 1 pp. 314-21.

  12. On Thomas Hoghton, who went into exile in 1569 and died in 1580, see B. Camm, Forgotten Shrines (London, 1910), pp. 183-6, with his poem, ‘The Blessed Conscience’, on pp. 185-6.

  13. Other eminent proponents of this theory have been L. Hotson, Shakespeare's Sonnets Dated (1949), A. Keen and R. Lubbock, The Annotator (1954), R. Stevenson, Shakespeare's Religious Frontier (1958), and more recently E. A. J. Honigmann, Shakespeare: The ‘Lost Years’ (1985), where he successfully vindicates the theory against the criticism of S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (1977).

  14. I have presented my own research into Shakespeare's Stratford schoolmasters, culminating in his probable meeting with Campion in Lancashire, in an article for The Month April, 2000 (261, 1588), entitled ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’.

  15. Cf. Burghley papers, Lansdowne MS 30 British Library, including the record of Campion's confessions under torture in the Tower: he stayed at the house of Sir William Catesby in the summer of 1580; he was in Lancashire between Easter and Whitsuntide 1581, staying (among others) with Bartholomew Hesketh and Richard Hoghton.

  16. I give a fuller treatment of Shakespeare's ‘nostalgia’ in Shakespeare's Religious Background, pp. 180-1.

Sharon Hamilton (essay date 2003)

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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 other two comedies, As You Like It anticipates the romances, particularly The Tempest and The Winter's Tale, in the idealization of a pastoral place where kindness and generosity prevail. The tone is more high-spirited and less nostalgic than that of these later plays, however. Perhaps the reason is that the focus is on the present generation, the resilient daughter rather than the yearning father. Duke Senior does not have Prospero's magic powers or his propensity to orchestrate his daughter's future. But, like the magician, he does act as benevolent overseer and well-wisher, as well as wise mentor of the man she loves. He, too, models the positive values that allow her to flourish in adversity and that help bring about the happy resolution of her conflicts. But it is Rosalind who dons the costume of son and heir and directs the course of her own future.

Like most of Shakespeare's comedies, As You Like It begins with a potentially tragic situation. Duke Senior has been banished by his “brother and usurper” (the description given is in the cast of characters). This is also the case in The Tempest, except that here the evil brother, Duke Frederick, has a daughter instead of a son. At first, Rosalind's lot is difficult but bearable. She is “no less beloved of her uncle than his own daughter” (I.i.103-04), and she and her cousin Celia are devoted to each other. In spite of her conflicting loyalties, Rosalind is reasonably content at Duke Frederick's court. Soon, however, the paranoid usurper turns against her. He banishes her, for no “fault” except, as he charges, “Thou art thy father's daughter, there's enough” (I.iii.42, 54). He ignores Rosalind's sensible objection: “Treason is not inherited, my lord.” Her very “patience” under adversity, he argues, wins her favor with “the people,” and so lessens his own daughter's popularity. Celia will “show more bright and seem more virtuous” (ll. 74-77) when Rosalind is gone, he says malevolently.

The duke has reckoned without the cousins' devotion, however. Celia, troubled before this outburst by her father's “rough and envious disposition,” has already sworn to restore to Rosalind and Duke Senior what Frederick took “perforce” (I.ii.17). This, she stresses, is for her a question of “honor.” Now, at the moment of crisis, Celia does not hesitate to side with Rosalind. She proposes that they flee the court together, following Duke Senior into the Forest of Arden. “Let my father seek another heir,” she says defiantly, arriving at once at the surest way both to wound him and to assert her own will. In rejecting her own tainted legacy, Celia maintains boldly, she goes “To liberty and not to banishment” (l. 134). Rosalind, after a moment's demur, accepts the offer gladly.

The young women, though callow, are resourceful. They plan to take their “wealth” and their “jewels” to sustain them. They also plan to “steal” Touchstone, the court fool, to give them “comfort” (I.iii.125-26) on their travels. Still, they know that there is “danger” for “maids as [they] are” to leave the protection of the court (104-05). Both their riches and their “beauty” could tempt thieves, and the jester is no fighter. Rosalind, the taller, declares that she will “suit me in all parts like a man.” Like Viola's, her male disguise will include a sword. Though in her “heart … lies hidden … woman's fear,” she claims to be no weaker than many “mannish cowards” who have only “a swashing and a mannish outside” (ll. 115-17). This is the joke that Shakespeare develops more fully in Viola's disrupted duel with Sir Andrew. Rosalind, too, will come to a test of “masculine” prowess. But at this point in the play, her donning of “doublet and hose” gives her the swagger needed to “show itself courageous to petticoat” (II.iv.6-7). When, after hours of weary trudging, Celia loses heart, Rosalind—alias Ganymede—first bolsters her spirit with brave speeches. Then she takes the practical step of procuring them shelter. From a local shepherd, she buys “the cottage, pasture, and the flock” of his master, and so assumes the masculine prerogative of owning property.

But Rosalind's heart, like Viola's and Portia's, remains feminine. Her emotional life is focused not on her dire predicament or her banished father, but on romantic love. Shakespeare is careful to establish her mindset before she changes into male attire. When Celia bids Rosalind to “be merry” in spite of Duke Frederick's malevolence, the light-hearted topic that Rosalind proposes to distract them is “falling in love.” At her first meeting with the handsome, stalwart young wrestler, Orlando, Cupid's arrow strikes with its usual speed. By the time that he has defeated the duke's champion, the brutish Charles, Rosalind is deeply smitten. She “gives [him a] chain” [stage direction, I.ii.226] and hints strongly that her heart goes with it. Orlando, although equally attracted to her, is paralyzed with self-consciousness. Years of oppression at his jealous brother's hands have deprived him of the courtier's easy eloquence. After Rosalind has gone off, he despairs that he has appeared before the lively young woman as “a mere lifeless block” with “weights upon [his] tongue” (ll. 232, 238). But the whole structure of the comedy works to confirm Rosalind's intuitive sense that Orlando is her rightful mate.

Crucial to bringing about their union is the influence of the benevolent father. That figure includes not only Duke Senior but also Orlando's late father and Shakespeare himself as creator and orchestrator. The first speech of the play is Orlando's, and its subject is his spiritual patrimony. As “the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys,” he says, he has within him “the spirit of [his] father” (I.i.20). That legacy makes him chafe against the “servitude” in which Oliver, his cruel elder brother, keeps him. Oliver has seized his inheritance and refused to school or train him. Orlando confronts Oliver with these charges, whose response is to scorn and strike him. Orlando, more than a physical match for his persecutor, “seizes him” and threatens to throttle him. He refrains from carrying out the threat, however, partly at the behest of old Adam, the loyal family retainer, who pleads, “For your father's remembrance, be at accord” (ll. 58-59). Oliver, however, does not deserve accord. He is, as he soon accuses Orlando of being, “a secret and villainous contriver against his natural brother” (ll. 152-53). Hypocritical and envious, he arranges the wrestling match with the aim of having the burly Charles murder the young man. His motives are as baseless and as obsessive as Duke Frederick's toward his brother: “My soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he” (ll. 152-53). This generation of brothers, however, will be redeemed: the spirit of Sir Rowland is moving events toward benevolent and happy ends.

First, Orlando wins the match, soundly defeating Charles and gaining Rosalind's admiration and love in the process. Obstacles only enhance this initial attraction. The paranoid Duke Frederick, while praising Orlando at first as “a gallant youth,” sees his heritage as a reason to nullify all reward: “The world esteemed thy father honorable / But I did find him still mine enemy” (I.ii.206-07), he pronounces. Scolding Orlando for not having “another father,” he sweeps off with all his train. Rosalind is stung into sympathetic defiance. She overcomes her maiden modesty to solace the young man: “My father loved Sir Rowland as his soul, / And all the world was of my father's mind” (ll. 216-17). Later, when Celia expresses amazement at Rosalind's falling so suddenly “into so strong a liking with old Sir Rowland's youngest son,” Rosalind retorts with the same point that she made to Orlando: that her own father “loved his father dearly” (I.iii.25-28). Celia calls this a silly motive. But in Shakespeare's plays, as in real life, affinities often extend through the generations. Both absent fathers are giving a symbolic blessing to Rosalind and Orlando's union.

Old Adam is the living confirmation of Orlando's benevolent parentage. He addresses the young man affectionately—“O you memory / Of old Sir Rowland”—and commends him to his face as “gentle, strong, and valiant” (II.iii.3-4, 6). Adam has come to warn his favorite not to return to his brother's house. Oliver has reacted to the wrestling victory by cutting Orlando off entirely, and the young man can see beggary or theft as the only courses left to him. But Adam, emblem of “the constant service of the antique world,” gives Orlando his life savings and pledge to go with him and defend him. The nostalgic strain that permeates the romances sounds in this episode: the longing for a “golden world” (I.i.111) in which such qualities as Adam represents, “truth and loyalty” (II.iii.70), can thrive. So Orlando, too, escapes from the corrupt court to the Forest of Arden. There the prevailing presence is another father, Rosalind's, who lives like “Robin Hood of England” in a spirit of amity and trust.

Unlike Prospero, Duke Senior does not have supernatural powers, nor does he act as a director of his daughter's courtship. But through both example and direct intervention in Orlando's plight, Duke Senior helps bring about the happy resolution. In the face of betrayal and exile, he has remained exuberant and resourceful. His first speech in the play contains the maxim that he lives by: “Sweet are the uses of adversity” (II.i.12). He tells his “brothers in exile,” former courtiers who have joined him in the forest, that they are well rid of the “painted pomp” of the “envious court” (ll. 1-4). He extols the benefits of their pastoral life, friendship, simplicity, and integrity, and asserts that the message of the greenwood is to find “good in everything.”

For all his optimism, the duke is no fool or weakling. He has drawn men to his service because he understands their needs and treats them justly. Those qualities are evident in his treatment of the desperate Orlando. The young man, in anguish at old Adam's collapse from hunger and exhaustion, invades the Duke's rural banquet “with sword drawn” and demands that the courtiers “eat no more” (II.vii.88). The sardonic Jaques responds with wry witticisms at the aggressor's expense. The Duke, in contrast, is perceptive and generous. He asks Orlando what has caused his lapse in “civility”—“distress” or “rude despis[ing] of good manners” (ll. 91-93). The young man responds that he is not brutish by nature; still, however, he is threatening them with death. Duke Senior teaches him a lesson in “gentleness.” “What would you have?” he asks, and offers, “Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table” (ll. 101, 103). All the fire goes out of Orlando's rage. He expresses amazement at the Duke's courtesy. In an ironic reversal, he has found in the wild none of the savagery that he has come to expect at the court. The lesson takes instant effect: “I blush, and hide my sword” (l. 119), he says. Orlando then shows his own altruism by refusing to “touch a bit” (l. 133) of the food until he has fed Adam. He thanks the Duke and wishes that he be “blest” for his kindness. This first meeting between father and future son-in-law confirms their mutual sympathies and their shared belief in “sacred pity” (l. 123).

When Orlando returns with Adam, Duke Senior continues to play the spiritual guide and perfect host. He refrains from questioning the young man and provides music while the famished pair eat. The song that accompanies their feast concerns the lowest sin in the Duke's credo: “man's ingratitude.” No “sting” of “winter winds” is “so sharp / As friend remembered not” (II.vii.174-76; 188-89). The scene taking place against that musical backdrop demonstrates the exact opposite: Orlando “whisper[s]” (l. 192) his story and the Duke recognizes his resemblance to Sir Rowland. Dropping the disguise of the forester, he confirms what Rosalind has said earlier about the friendship in the older generation: “I am the Duke / That loved your father” (ll. 195-96). All the humane values lacking in the bitter song—generosity, loyalty, gratitude—inform this new bond.

The Duke's influence extends beyond this initial meeting. It is in going later on “to attend the Duke at dinner” (IV.i.164) that Orlando stumbles upon the great test of the old values. The treacherous Oliver, having been ordered by Duke Frederick to capture Orlando “dead or living” (III.i.6), has gone into the Forest of Arden to hunt him down. But it is the “most unnatural” brother (IV.iii.123) who turns out to be in mortal danger. Orlando stumbles upon him asleep under a tree, menaced first by a “green and gilded snake” and then by a starving lioness. Orlando unwittingly frightens off the serpent, and then is twice tempted to leave Oliver to the beast's clutches. But “kindness, nobler than revenge” (l. 129), wins out, and he attacks the lioness with his bare hands.

Shakespeare wisely chose to narrate rather than dramatize this fairy tale rescue, and to have the would-be victim relate the “unscene.” The battle between ruthless beast and dauntless young hero would be hard to stage convincingly. So too would be the idyllic outcome: Oliver's repentance and the reconciliation between the brothers. Some twelve years later in Shakespeare's career, in The Tempest, a parallel conflict is less perfectly resolved. Prospero forgives his evil brother, but Antonio does not repent and the wronged Duke admits that he remains perfidious. Despite the nostalgic tone of the romance, it is darker than the comedy, where the brother's conversion is instantaneous and complete. Again, the prevailing benevolent force in As You Like It is “the gentle Duke.” In another off-stage scene, Orlando leads Oliver to his new mentor, who provides Oliver with “fresh array” and “commit[s]” him to his “brother's love” (IV.iii.144-45). Only then does the brave Orlando reveal the wound that he received. He also shows the newfound trust in his brother that the Duke has urged. He sends Oliver in quest of “his Rosalind,” bearing the “napkin,” “dyed in his blood” (ll. 155-56) as evidence of the reason for his missed appointment.

The encounter of messenger and recipient marks the turning point in the play. Rosalind, hearing from Oliver the story of her lover's courage and seeing the red sign of his suffering, “swoons” (stage direction, IV.iii.157). It is the undeniable proof of her love, her body's declaration of her bond with Orlando. While she does not then confess her true identity to Oliver, she cannot keep up her insouciant front, and he chides her with “lack[ing] a man's heart” (ll. 164-65). Celia, worried about her cousin's pallor, cuts short Rosalind's feeble pretense of “counterfeiting” and insists on leading her home to rest. So it is Duke Senior who has, wittingly or not, brought the lovers to this mutual sympathy. He has rescued Orlando, confirmed the young man's native integrity, sanctioned his heritage, and provided Oliver with the succor that leads to his repentance and the brothers' reconciliation. In all this time, he has not interacted directly with his daughter. Does he know of her plight?

The play offers only elliptical evidence. Rosalind recounts for Celia's amusement another unscene in which she met the Duke in the forest. He asked about her “parentage,” she answered wittily it was “as good as his,” and “he laughed and let me go” (III.iv.32-34). If he guesses her identity, he does not try to force her hand, nor does she, despite her precarious circumstances, choose to reveal herself and cling to him. To Celia, she claims to be bored with this subject: “What talk we of fathers when there is such a man as Orlando?” (ll. 34-35) she demands. Rosalind has her father's independent spirit and single-minded sense of purpose. She feels no need of his direct aid. In her pursuit of the man she loves, “truly the lady fathers herself” (Much Ado About Nothing, I.i.98).

What does Rosalind accomplish in donning the guise of Ganymede? She gets Orlando to let down his guard; after his isolated upbringing, he is comfortable with other men in a way that he cannot be with women. She has a chance to try out her theories, born of self-doubt, on the fickleness of romantic attachment. Most important, she can test the depth of his love for Rosalind. Seeing the trees of the forest laden with verses written in her honor, Rosalind cannot doubt that the writer is infatuated. The poems commend Rosalind's “beauty,” “majesty,” and “modesty.” But, as she may sense, these are superficial qualities, their praise inspired by one brief meeting. Besides, Touchstone is present at their discovery to mock the “false gallop” of their faulty meter and to undermine their rapturous tone with a bawdy parody. Rosalind is equally contemptuous of the anonymous versifier—until Celia begins to hint that it is Orlando. For all of Rosalind's boyish bravado, she does not have, as she tells her cousin, “doublet and hose in [her] disposition” (III.ii.186-87). Usually the soul of wit, Rosalind loses all sense of humor on this subject. “The devil take thy mockery!” she exclaims to the bemused Celia, and then appeals to her sisterhood for sincere understanding: “Speak sad brow and true maid.”

When Orlando himself appears, Rosalind's immediate instinct is to mask all these hopes and doubts. Ganymede's comic misogyny is the perfect disguise. In two parallel scenes, “he” lists the “giddy offenses” (III.ii.330) supposedly typical of women and defines love as “merely a madness”: “changeable,” “proud,” “fantastical” (ll. 376; 385-86). Ganymede's avowed purpose is to cure Orlando of this insanity by posing as his Rosalind and enacting all the shallowness and inconstancy of his beloved. The actual effect of this daring game is to keep pushing Orlando to greater protestations of devotion without risking her own self-esteem. As Rosalind admits, in a delicious double entendre, a woman is more apt to believe her lover when he professes that he feels ardor “than to confess she does” (l. 367). She treats Orlando's protest that he will die if his love goes unrequited with sardonic dismissal. He is taking too exalted a view, she maintains mischievously. The accounts of the tragic fates of legendary lovers are “lies”: “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (IV.i.96-98).

Rosalind even goes so far as to put Orlando through a mock nuptial, with Celia acting as parson. Ganymede undercuts every protest of constancy with arch jibes at both sexes. Men, she claims, are “April when they woo, December when they wed” (IV.i.134-35). Rosalind, she predicts, will welcome Orlando to her bed “and twenty such.” She will then use her “wit” to exculpate herself, for, she warns, “You shall never take her without her answer unless you take her without her tongue” (ll. 157-59). Orlando is shocked by these quips, but his own constancy is unshaken. As proof, he promises her “with no less religion than if thou wert indeed my Rosalind” (ll. 181-82) to keep his vow of meeting her again at two o'clock—and goes off to his fateful rescue of Oliver.

Celia, a silent witness to these encounters, is outraged by Rosalind's “male” chauvinism: “You have simply misused our sex in your love-prate” (IV.i.185-86), she charges. But Rosalind is unrepentant—in, fact, exhilarated. “O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz,” she chants, “that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love!” (ll. 189-90). For Orlando has passed every test of faith: he is as sincere and devoted as she could wish. Shakespeare implies here, as in Much Ado, that the woman's initial fears about infidelity are not groundless. The bawdy Touchstone and the cynical Jaques are present in the greenwood to remind us of the worldly take on romantic idealism. As You Like It, like all the comedies, is full of jokes about cuckoldry. Even the song about the killing of the deer, which follows the love scene, has as chorus a bawdy pun: “the horn, the horn, the lusty horn” (IV.ii.17), it reiterates, is every man's fate.

Rosalind's depiction of this worst-case scenario acts as a sort of charm against such cynical resignation. She is much more of a realist about love than her starry-eyed suitor. She wants to believe in Orlando's fidelity, but she will not allow herself to do so without proof. Her astuteness about the nature of love is shown in her reaction to the shepherd Silvius's infatuation with the scornful Phebe. Rosalind is frank about the marriage mart, advising the uncouth Phebe: “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets” (III.v.60). At the same time, she urges her to “thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love” (l. 58). When Silvius meekly accepts Phebe's continued abuse, Rosalind reacts with scorn. She cuts short Celia's expression of sympathy. “He deserves no pity,” she pronounces, and she berates him to his face as “a tame snake” (IV.iii.67, 71). The phallic pun suggests both Rosalind's worldly knowledge and her respect for manly assertiveness.

Orlando has appeared at first to fail the final test of his love by missing his appointment. In fact, the episode confirms every aspect of his worth. He has rescued his brother, borne his wound in silence, and remembered his vow to his beloved. His last conscious thought is of her: the reformed Oliver reports that Orlando “cried, in fainting, upon Rosalind” (IV.iii.150). Rosalind's corresponding faint at the sight of the napkin “dyed in his blood” (l. 156) is irrefutable proof of their bond.

When Rosalind meets Orlando again, he has regained his strength and she has recovered her insouciance. The news of Oliver and Celia's sudden infatuation—this is the play that cites Marlowe's line “Who ever loved that loved not at first sight” (III.v.81)—sets Rosalind happily scheming anew. First, she demands that Orlando swear by the sincerity of his faint: “If you do love Rosalind so near the heart as your gesture cries it out” (V.ii.59-60). Then she undertakes the role of “magician” when she claims to have means to grant each couple their hearts' desire. Rosalind is no Prospero; she does not possess actual magic powers. But the forces of both fate and inventiveness are with her. In this play, it is the daughter, not the father, who acts as matchmaker. Duke Senior plays a benevolent but supporting role.

At the ceremony, the Duke is still the nominal authority figure. He has been invited by Orlando, who gratefully recalls his forest host and offers to “bid the Duke to the nuptial” (V.ii.41). But it is Rosalind who is in charge. Duke Senior again fails to recognize his daughter, still in disguise, though he does “remember in this shepherd boy / Some lively touches” of Rosalind (V.iv.26-27). Ganymede asks for his formal consent to the banns: “You say, if I bring in your Rosalind, / You will bestow her on Orlando here?” (ll. 6-7). But it is she who has arranged the quadruple wedding, of Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, Touchstone and Audrey, and, of course, herself and Orlando, and she who conducts the ritual. First she goes off to don her feminine garb. Then to each couple, she recites the terms of their marriage contract as a final test of commitment. To her own father and fiancé, she makes identical vows—“To you I give myself, for I am yours” (ll. 110-11), a reminder of what Desdemona calls the daughter's “divided duty.”

Larger forces are present to second Rosalind's arrangement of these “bond[s] of board and bed”: Hymen, god of marriage, appears to join “eight that must take hands … in Hymen's bands” (V.iv.122-23). The joyous celebration is further blessed by the bounty of Providence. The third son of Sir Rowland de Boys, absent during the rest of the play, enters as messenger-ex-machina to announce the miraculous transformation of Duke Frederick. Entering the forest to exact revenge, the evil duke has come under Arden's benevolent influence and undergone a religious conversion. Deeply repentant, he restores his brother's usurped dukedom and retires to a life of prayer and contemplation. Duke Senior, bountiful as ever, promises that all will “share the good of [his] returned fortune” (l. 168). Even before this news, he has welcomed Celia, daughter of his treacherous brother, “in no less degree” (l. 142) than his own daughter. His warmth and optimism permeate the forest, which he celebrates as a place of things “well begun and well begot” (l. 165). He urges all to join in “our rustic revelry.” Even the malcontent Jaques is moved to compliment his liege lord's “patience” and “virtue” as “well deserv[ing]” his “former honor” (ll. 171, 180-81). But it is Rosalind, in the Epilogue, who gets the last word. In As You Like It, the father is an essential supporting figure, but, like The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night, this is the daughter's play.

Alastair Macaulay (review date 3 April 2000)

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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 production is quaintly pretty-pretty tourist-fodder. As designed by Kaffe Fassett and Niki Turner, the Forest of Arden is punctuated by 2-D trees with luminous leaves, and with piles of huge bright tapestry cushions on the patterned floor beneath. In male disguise as Ganymede, Rosalind wears a sweater of the same elaborate patterning.

Doran can do serious: viz. Timon of Athens at the Barbican. In spite of a callow Merchant of Venice, he has grown in recent seasons into an accomplished Shakespeare director. And I have seen productions of As You Like It which were far more wrong-headed and far uglier. His is an inoffensive staging. So why am I offended by it?

Largely because it is a stunning disappointment to see Alexandra Gilbreath—who has made striking impressions in two leading roles in two recent Doran productions—give us a Rosalind so limited and so mannered. Gilbreath has grown up chiefly with the RSC. She has force, originality, spontaneity, and lustre: the “Watch me” quality of the natural star. But she has also alarming vocal limitations: shallow breathing, a tight and throaty vocal tone, and a ludicrous Mae West habit of nudging the final word of a line and then sliding down it. However, she has occasionally curbed this habit, and it was to be hoped that the RSC, with its famed voice department and verse-speaking classes, would help her to free up her voice for this 2000 season, in which she tackles not only Rosalind but also (from June to October) Juliet.

Alas, her whole conception of Rosalind is shallow, twinkly-bright, and audience-biased. The way she faints neatly to face the auditorium sums up her whole performance. To be ingenuous, she lets her mouth hang open a lot; to be adorable, she keeps smiling and turning her bright eyes and choirboy face to the light. How many fathoms deep is she in love? About one inch; her affection is a puddle.

Her vocal mannerisms have become maddening. Her squeezed way of speaking has too little variation for a long role like this. It actually deprives her of spontaneity: by the time she delivers the Epilogue, we know her all too well—and we have stopped believing a word she says. Playing Celia beside her, Nancy Carroll, a young actress of very little experience, makes an altogether more authoritative impression: not least because, with a clear voice and effortless attack, she makes simple music and artless eloquence from her lines.

Just how often does this production disregard the text? Anthony Howell makes an attractive, sober and arresting Orlando, but it is nonsense to say that he has a “nimble wit”. Gilbreath/Rosalind is by no means “more than common tall”, especially beside a taller Celia. As Phebe, Daniella Tilley—who, like David Acton as Sir Oliver Martext, overacts outrageously—does not have “black silk hair” but a curly auburn mane. Declan Conlon is a dull, reasonable Jacques: he turns the most original lines to tedium.

Django Bates's music—scored with vile cheap-mindedness—is among the production's shallowest ingredients. Will I ever see Orlando win the wrestling match by fair play? In this production, his victory is particularly unsporting. Odd, amid this production: a production in general so harmless that it is an effort to stay awake in it.

Ian Shuttleworth (review date 5 January 2001)

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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 that time, perhaps it is the change of venue, perhaps a rethink has taken place … but for whatever reason, on its unveiling at The Pit I found it utterly delightful.

The space certainly has something to do with it. In David Fielding's blank white cube of a redesigned Pit, the various environments—the sombre court and in particular the changing seasons in the Forest of Arden—need to be delineated other than by set, and so why not use big throw cushions turned over to reveal huge floral motifs and a selection of Kaffe Fassett jumpers and cardies moving gradually from monochrome to gaudy warmth? Yes, it still looks fairly daft, but daft within the compass of a Shakespearean festive comedy, not outright ridiculous.

Alexandra Gilbreath, whose Juliet I bemoaned last year as too mature, here shows a ceaseless, inexhaustible vivacity of voice and face as Rosalind. The joy of Gilbreath's Rosalind is that at every instant she is “on”—not in a limelight-hogging way, but constantly alive to and interacting with the stimuli around her.

She is not alone in this; Nancy Carroll as her prissier cousin Celia is likewise alert and responsive at all times, and it can be a secret treat, during the Rosalind/Orlando wooing scenes, to look periodically over to the side wall where Celia is crouched unobtrusively, pretending to read a book but keenly eavesdropping. But Gilbreath's animation is entrancing. She rides the switchback of Rosalind's quick-change emotions through the latter acts by keeping a tight hold on the unexpected, even unrealised fervour of her love for Orlando. She may eschew one or two of the standard Rosalind tricks, but she misses none.

This is, as I say, a festive comedy, and that is Doran's guiding light; his happy ending is so comprehensively happy that, uniquely in my experience, even the lovelorn William gets a girl. Declan Conlon's Galway accent is well suited to the lines of Jaques, but the melancholy lord is not this time an equal partner in events, and at the denouement his minor-key modulation sounds only briefly and softly.

The court itself is a black and brutal place, with Ian Hogg's Duke Frederick basically a well-spoken, sadistic thug, but it is not allowed to overshadow the sylvan frolics in Arden. Doran casts no new light on the play, to be sure, but rather paints its conventional colours invigoratingly afresh.

Patrick Carnegy (review date 29 March 2003)

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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 Liberty's bazaar for the display of luxuriant knitwear in the style of Kaffe Fassett.

This sort of thing tends to happen when there's a desire to duck the melancholic view of love that pervades the text. Rosalind's strategy is to enjoy it—for as long as she can—by playing games with her Orlando, but even she suspects that love may be merely a madness. No, it will never do to lay an exotic carpet over a forest so rich in the spiny hawthorns and brambles to which Orlando entrusts his odes and elegies to his beloved.

In his directorial debut with the RSC Gregory Thompson is right in wanting us to feel the sharpness, and to fear the pain. And there's little harm in Hilary Lewis's costumes hinting that we should see the play through Jane Austen's eyes.

So far well and good, though Thompson's inexperience on the Swan's thrust stage is evident in an overly ingenious ramp whose sections are variously reassembled to create shooting-butts, trees, diving-boards and other superfluous and distracting conceits. Away with it! What did work beautifully was his transmuting the exiled courtiers into the very trees on which Orlando pins his verses, and then into as credible a flock of grazing, munching sheep as you could wish. So credible indeed that Touchstone, while quizzing the shepherd, treads in something unmentionable and makes as if to clean his shoes on the rear flank of the offending animal. All this was entertaining enough and in the true spirit of theatrical caprice.

The problem, however, is that the central casting is so awry. Rosalind's protestation that she has no doublet and hose in her disposition is consistently belied in Nina Sosanya's briskly masculine ‘Ganymede’. How could the director have allowed her to bark out her lines with such relentless emphasis, so little variety of tone and nuance, as to turn the character into a little monster? Against this, Martin Hutson's Orlando can find no defence other than an embarrassed passivity, a stupidity that is simply not to be found in the role. This is the male manipulated to the female tarantula's fancy and it is not a pretty sight.

What is crucially missing is that sense of a sudden infatuation nurtured on both sides by the knowing ambiguities of role-play. At some point Orlando's mask needs to slip just far enough to show that he is wise to Ganymede and can become a party to the love-game, not just its luckless victim. And where was the relish for veiled allusion and innuendo indispensable in any Rosalind? She needs must have the power to charm the birds from the trees, to have males and females in the audience equally in love with her, and we saw only a tomboy strutting her stuff.

The maddening thing was that there on the stage all night was an actress who would have known what to do. Continually arresting in the not-over-grateful part of Celia, Naomi Frederick would have had it in her to savour every ambiguity in Rosalind, would have truly made play with the role. The moment that said it all was in the two girls' response to the story of how Orlando had been bloodied in rescuing his ‘bad’ brother from the lioness—by rights it was Rosalind who should have fainted, but here she was of course too tough to show such weakness and, as though already anticipating the part, it was Celia who obliged for her.

John Killoran's Touchstone is a chipper, face-pulling presence but a little too pat with the quips and culpably innocent of the melancholic streak that should be there too. This is more than adequately made up for by David Fielder's excellent Jaques, the very model of a mystic Catholic depressive. David Stoll's lugubrious music for harmonium and brass underscored the darker side of a production that grappled a little too earnestly with the play. In truth it is among the hardest of all Shakespeare's comedies to pull off in the theatre. Certainly it embodies a distinctly undeceived view of love, but it cannot thrive upon the stage without some sense of enchantment in the central roles.

Further Reading

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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 & Noble, 1971.

Examines how Shakespeare used language to energize the complex dramatic action of As You Like It.

Brustein, Robert. “Ways to Please an Audience.” New Republic (4 October 1999): 35.

Contends that while Barry Edelstein's Williamstown Theater Festival production of As You Like It was disappointing, Gwyneth Paltrow gave an assured performance as Rosalind.

Carroll, William C. “Forget to Be a Woman.” In The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy, pp. 103-37. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Discusses how Rosalind's disguise in Arden allows her to represent “the transformed otherness of the lover even as it liberates her to be more truly herself.”

Clapp, Susannah. Review of As You Like It. Observer (26 March 2000): 7.

Disparages Gregory Doran's Royal Shakespeare Company staging of As You Like It, noting that it emphasized overwhelming theatrical effects and downplayed interpretation and performance.

Dusinberre, Juliet. “Pancakes and a Date for As You Like It.Shakespeare Quarterly 54, no. 4 (2003): 371-404.

Speculates that As You Like It may have been performed as early as February 1599 and considers the implications that such a date might have on the chronology of Shakespeare's other plays composed at the turn of the seventeenth century.

Lynch, Stephen J. As You Like It: A Guide to the Play. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003, 178 p.

Presents a comprehensive survey of As You Like It, focusing on the play's textual history, sources, structure, major themes, critical approaches, and stage history.

Stirm, Jan. “‘For Solace a Twinne-Like Sister’: Teaching Themes of Sisterhood in As You Like It and Beyond.” Shakespeare Quarterly 47, no. 4 (winter 1996): 374-86.

Outlines an approach to teaching As You Like It that combines anthropological theory, early modern studies, and Shakespeare's dramatic representation of sisterhood.

Tvordi, Jessica. “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night.” In Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women's Alliances in Early Modern England, edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, pp. 114-30. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Examines Rosalind and Celia's homoerotic alliance in As You Like It, maintaining that while Rosalind ultimately dissolves the alliance to conform to the heterosexual imperative, Celia “challeng[es] and refigure[es]” this imperative.

Wilson, Richard. “‘Like the Old Robin Hood’: As You Like It and the Enclosure Riots.” Shakespeare Quarterly 43, no. 1 (spring 1992): 1-19.

Maintains that As You Like It can be seen as a satire of social and political conflict between the Elizabethan court and its rural constituents.

Katherine Duncan-Jones (review date 4 April 2003)

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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 Richard II. But this was one of Johnson's least successful ventures, running at Drury Lane for only five performances. Analogously, Francesco Veracini's baroque opera Rosalinda ran for a mere ten performances at Drury Lane in 1741, and has never enjoyed a major revival. No adapted version has achieved the box-office success enjoyed by many “straight” productions from the mid-eighteenth century onwards.

Gregory Thompson's RSC production looks at first as if it will be faithful to the Folio text, even fussily so. “Touchstone” (John Killoran) is not listed under that name, for instance, but as “Frederick's Fool” (he is called simply “Clown” in the Folio speech headings). However, Shakespeare's merrily inventive celebration of free speech and social tolerance has been topped and tailed with sombre extensions that make us feel bad about enjoying the comedy. They compromise the text's crowd-pulling power, and not only because we are kept in the theatre for three-and-a-half hours, which is too long for any Shakespeare comedy. It opens with a sequence in which Orlando (Martin Hutson) wordlessly and wearily chops wood against the background of a steep, wintry hill.

This goes on far too long and provides no useful lead-in to his opening reminiscence to old Adam. Fortunately, it is soon forgotten amid the physical excitements of his scuffle with his brother and then of his wrestling match with Charles, staged here to make weedy Orlando's triumph seem a pure fluke. More seriously damaging is the addition made at the play's close. Just as the audience are getting up to leave the theatre, the doubled Duke (Michael Hadley) comes front stage, kneels down, and embarks on a slow and solemn intonation of the metrical psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd”, in which he is joined first by his fellow hermit Jaques (James Staddon), and eventually by the whole cast. Shifting the hasty but convenient religious conversions of Duke Frederick and Jaques from the play's margins to its centre is a mistake. Shakespeare has already provided a three-part conclusion: the musical appearance of Hymen to “make these odds all even”; the speech from Jaques de Boys that ties up the plot's loose ends; and the outrageously flirtatious Epilogue delivered by Rosalind in her bridal array, in which she urges men and women in the audience to use their enjoyment of her play and closing dance as a warm-up to the sexual “play” that they will perform privately when they get home. The additional fourth ending, downbeat and religiose, is a dreadful anticlimax. It undercuts the triumph of Nina Sosanya's splendidly confident, witty performance as Rosalind, and sends us out with a nasty feeling that we have been preached at, though not by Shakespeare.

The play proper is boisterous and largely enjoyable. Sosanya's Rosalind is complemented by the liveliest Celia I have seen (Naomi Frederick) plus a wonderfully feisty Phebe (Natasha Gordon). Yet here, too, there are gratuitous additions, physical rather than textual. The Swan's small stage is jam-packed both with Colin Peters's set construction and the whole cast, who in middle scenes all perform as trees, then sheep, then trees again, and finally as Audrey's goats. Though their ensemble skills are impressive and often funny, the addition of so much non-verbal humour to the text seems more of a drama school stunt than anything that much enhances our engagement with Arden.

Orlando doesn't need a human forest onto which to pin his verses, since the set already provides three massive mossy trunks, and the congested mass of trees/sheep/goats often obscures sight-lines. A pretty and engaging rendition of As You Like It is struggling to emerge from this production. The colourful early Victorian costumes (Hilary Lewis) are a delight, as are most of the songs, especially the soulful rendition of “It was a lover and his lass”. But it can be hard to see the textual wood for the marginal trees.

Alastair Macaulay (review date 20 August 2003)

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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 bittersweet crisis. Like an architect, Hall paces and blocks the play to show what's ornament and what's structure. It's his freshest, surest production for a good many years, and without being in any way innovative or even surprising, it's an As You Like It past 10 years.

Only in one enchanting way does he seem to impose anything upon the play—by means of John Gunter's lovely, simple designs. Characters who wear Elizabethan attire at court arrive in the Forest of Arden in modern dress. And the forest, found in snowy bare-branched winter, turns to verdant spring with Orlando's love rhymes, and even briefly drops some autumn leaves, as the loves of Phoebe, Silvius, Orlando, and Ganymede seem briefly irresoluble, before reverting to May-time radiance for the finale.

Where Rebecca Hall (daughter of Peter) was loud, fierce in The Fight for Barbara last month, here as Rosalind she's quietly lit from within. But, still slightly plebeian and flat, she's not a great Rosalind. Heartcatching, all the same.

She should learn much in terms of stylish delivery from David Yelland, a Peter Hall favourite who doubles as her father and uncle with nicely distinguished nuances, and above all from Michael Siberry and Philip Voss, the production's two most expert Shakespearians. Siberry plays Touchstone with rather too heavy a humour, Voss delivers Jacques with less spontaneity than I'd like, and yet these are actors whose very voices—ideally married to their diction—take complete command of us in every word. Eric Sykes, though a bit stumbly with words, doubles as a frail Adam and drunken clergyman, both endearing. The whole cast is good, and line after line wings home as if for the first time.

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As You Like It (Vol. 80)


Critical Commentary