As You Like It As You Like It (Vol. 90)
by William Shakespeare

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(Shakespearean Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 72,430 words.)