As You Like It
Shakespearean passions – What Were Shakespeare’s Themes
As you Like It is one of Shakespeare’s famous comedy plays. More specifically pastoral comedy, which refers to work dealing with shepherds and rustic life; it presents an idealized view instead of a realistic view of rustic life. The film version, from 1963, was essentially a recording of a play, as I watched it seemed as if I was at a true live play being performed. The set was very simple, you could hear the sound of the actors footsteps on the ground at certain points, and the quality of sound is not consistent throughout the film. This created the feeling of watching a play, the slight mishaps of at actors, even the occasional disruptions. Considering these facts I felt that I can truly say that found the written play and the film to be equally enjoyable.
This play touches upon the order of hierarchy, injustice, religious allegories, false identity, stereotypes, and homosexuality. While this play is a comedy and brings enjoyment and laughter to its audience the deeper underlying meanings behind characters actions, and words are what seize the attention and focus of the viewers In this film Jacque says the famous line, “All the worlds a stage and every man and woman merely players’. This line is referring to the many roles individuals carry in their lives; mother, wife, worker, student, and so on are all roles an individual person can take on in their lifetime. Jacques line capable of reflecting on the conflict of identity for people who struggle with realizing their malleable identify. The theme of identity and mistaken identity is reflected in many of Shakespeare’s plays, prominently the comedies. Identity is a lifelong hurdle people deal with. This was an extreme topic to be discussed during its time, yet, it was believed not to be seen in this way back then, just as a simple comedy. which is why it is a beneficial topic among these plays.
By reading the play before watching the film I was able to notice more details, symbols, and dialog, along with more evidence of idealism in the movie that I did not notice reading. The film allowed the characters more exaggerated and apparent that their behaviour and actions belong to idealists; sporadically breaking into songs, cutting themselves off from society, and by making irrational life decisions. In the time frame of the plot a contrast between the film and written play is obvious. In a line by Duke Senior a time line of the play is set, “Here feel we but the penalty of Adam, the seasons’ difference, as the icy fang and churlish chiding of the winter’s wind”. This quote allows readers to determine that they have been in the forest for more than one seasons change, whereas in the play they did not show weather change in the backdrop. In my mind while reading the play I imagined them struggling through the winter, yet while I was watching that piece of information seemed to be missed.
Shakespeare used characters personalities and hidden identities to create a comic affect in this play. During the time it was released, the 16th century, many people were beginning to increase their sense of individuality and becoming self-conscious. Both the written and performed play demonstrate Shakespeare’s belief in the fluidity of one identity. The title of this play can then be interpreted as the idea of choice, or an awareness of domination over ones own self.
Characterization of Rosalinda and Celia from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Everyone likes strong female characters, but what makes a female character? Many medias and literature force women into old stereotypes, not giving us the the three dimensional, developed character, filled with negative and positive things. A character with a realistic background and gets developed by the plot, not to develop the plot. Shakespeare’s plays are filled with strong female characters, characters that explore many issues like feminism and gender- roles, making Shakespeare’s works extraordinary and ahead of his time. In As You Like It, we are introduced to Rosalind and Celia, although both typical heroines, with similar backgrounds, they serve different purposes in the plot, and both are powerful in a different way, with Rosalind receiving more attention.
Disguised as Ganymede, she is more protected, one of the reason why she took on the disguise in the first place. Rosalind can also have more freedom not only in movement and actions, but also in position and power. With her wits she takes full advantage of these new-gained abilities and use other men to her benefit in her quest for love with Orlando, her lover.
As Rosalind tests the waters by talking with Orlando, she also slowly shapes him into the lover she desires. This creates process creates great irony and the embodies the concept of disguise within disguise. She teaches him how to woo women and how to love her. All this happens without Orlando having little control nor knowledge of this situation, creating even more irony, whilst depicting the loss of power men once had over women.
“Rosalind, poor girl, with all her strength and elasticity, is not always able to stand up firmly against the flood of emotion which pours over her heart. For example, after the mock marriage, her doubts again begin to overwhelm her, and she asks Orlando how long he would have her; a question which her situation makes touchingly pathetic.” (White, Shakespeare-Online.com)
The follow citation from Richard Grant White’s Studies in Shakespeare describes Rosalind’s double sided personality and character through the use of disguise. Being Ganymede she is impudent, flippant, swaggering and confident appearance. Beneath the unmasked identity is also the unmasked personality. Rosalind is sweet, compassionate, caring and leans more toward the feminine side, even more than Celia.
Compared to Celia, Rosalind is very much similar. They both have similar backgrounds, nurtured in a similar way and certainly have some of the wittiest conversations in the play. Rosalind however is not a copy of Celia. Celia serves more as a mirror to reflect Rosalind’s strength and character. Without it she herself may never know. Celia have also defended Rosalind on numerous occasions. Like Cheering Rosalind up: “I pray thee Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry” (1.2 Shakespeare). Or suggesting an adventure into the forest. This allows Rosalind to display her wit, beauty, emotion, love and strength. Without Celia acting as a chaperon, scenes of dramatic irony may never be known, such as Ganymede’s conversation with Orlando.
Even with Celia’s support, Rosalind still eventually gave in to her emotions and embraced Orlando and the patriarchic society, but who can blame her? No one can control love. Although this leads to the reduction of Rosalind’s power and independence, it is step is also part of the restoration of the natural order, giving power back to the men. “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.” ( 4.1 127-29 Shakespeare). True to her words, it will be difficult for females to remain in power in a marriage without jeopardizing the relationship. Rosalind has, however, thoroughly tested Orlando, and he seems to be the special man she needs in her life. Assured, she accepts the patriarchal closure.
Most would say Rosalind is stronger than Celia, but the two works like light and dark. Just like how cannot see light if there is no dark, Rosalind’s unique character and qualities can’t be seen without Celia to expose and compare to. Shakespeare has successfully used the duo to express his views on social issues during his time, through art. Rosalind and Celia are icons of modern feminism. But is one really stronger than the other? Does Rosalind having more lines and being more developed make her the better one?
The Theme of Freedom William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
To what extent do you agree with the view that, in the Forest of Arden, characters find freedom in spite of enforced banishment?
Within ‘As you Like it’, we can see that through enforced banishment, many of our protagonists are able to find freedom within the play and therefore are able to further define themselves in the Forest of Arden. Rosalind is able to find greater liberty in the Forest of Arden where she is free of societal pressures and stereotypes. Arguably, the forest is a place of change, in which Rosalind’s disguise as a man, serves to empower her and allows her to further be herself. Therefore, we see that our protagonist is able to throw of the constraints of patriarchy and to further explore her character without her sex inhibiting her ability to interact with other characters within the play. When entering the forest, we can see this immediately take effect when Rosalind states ‘I could find 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’. This serves to evidence that by assuming the disguise of a man, she is able to remove the stereotypes of women in Elizabethan England and to further empower herself. Arden allows Rosalind to show more independence and arguably be more true to her real character then if she was dressed as a woman. By arriving in Arden, there is foregrounded a clear juxtaposition in the reaction of the two women to the forest. We see that Rosalind is ‘merry’ in the forest, and is relishing the moment where she is free of society and can be truly herself. However, it can be argued that she has become a stereotype of the patriarchy. Wen becoming a man she finds her ‘courage’ and is no longer truly herself. Therefore, it can be argued that despite her newfound freedom, she still is being controlled by society. On Arriving Rosalind announces to Celia that ‘this is the Forest of Arden’, in which she constructs the forest as a place where she can create a new identity for herself as ‘Gademede’. However, despite Rosalind’s freedom gained through her disguise, Celia as ‘Aliena’ is confined to the archetypal stereotype of the female. She complains that she ‘cannot go no further’ and loses the strength shown earlier in the play evidences by her decision to flee her farther in her love for Rosalind. The only time that we see Celia show her happiness is when with Oliver, and when she is given the chance to ‘buy’ a part of the forest and pin it down through her ownership. Consequently, it is arguable that Celia has not gained freedom in the forest. Instead, she has also conformed to stereotype. But, generally, it can be seen that Rosalind is granted freedom within Arden.
Significantly, in Arden we see that the forest offers a chance for freedom from the pressures and the life of Court. Many of the Characters in the play find freedom, despite their enforced banishment, from the court driven social hierarchy. However, it can also be seen that individuals within the play are unwilling to leave the court behind. Duke Senior refers to the men that followed him into the forest as his ‘brothers’. If we take a Marxist approach, we can see that Duke senior has broken down the class boundaries between him and his followers by showing them to be equal. However, it is ambiguous to how much class boundaries are broken down. Duke senior is still seen as a leader of the men. This is made more prominent when Duke senior says that he ‘finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones’. This raises the question of how far detached is he from the court. It is arguable that the Duke is trying to impose aspects of the court life upon nature, evidencing that he is not free from court and that he longs to be back where his brother is. Touchstone also symbolizes the impact of class in the play due to his status as an educated man. We are able to see Touchstones freedom from social structure and social conformity through Touchstone’s marriage to Audrey. She is only a simple goatherd, and would therefore cause the contemporary audience to judge the marriage as inappropriate. This is further evinced when Touchstone says ‘many a man has good horns’. The aforementioned ‘horns’ are an example of cuckoldry jokes that are a sign of a deceived husband. We further see this cuckoldry when Audrey fails to understand Touchstones language such as ‘poetical’ and ‘foul’, ensuring this laughable absurdity of this scene. This scene’s purpose is merely to create humor in contrast to the previous ‘pure’ love we have already seen, between Orlando and Rosalind. However, it can also be seen as a symbol of the power that the upper class had over their subordinates.
Touchstone as a symbol of freedom within the play also challenges marriage within the forest of Aden. In a place where there is freedom we see that Touchstone is marrying more for lust and desire then love. This is a direct juxtaposition of the marriage of Celia and Oliver; however, it is more alike to that of Orlando and Rosalind. We see that Orlando is self-interested and is more in love with the idea of love, and then he is in love with Rosalind. Touchstone explains his reasons for marrying through to Jaques as being ‘As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires’. This clearly shows that the marriage is far from idealized. Instead Touchstone explains his marriage as being there to satisfy his natural instincts and desires. Therefore, we can see that within the Forest of Arden, Touchstone does not have complete freedom; moreover, he is just trying to satisfy himself through marriage.
In Conclusion, we can see that there are aspects of freedom within the play. The freedom for the characters to love who they wish, symbolized by touchstone, but also, characters freedoms to express them. The women’s disguised in the men’s clothes symbolize freedom; however, they arguably deny themselves this by conforming to stereotypes
Heteronormativity: a Performative Art
The play As You like It written by William Shakespeare explores ideas of lust, love, and sexuality. It follows a multitude of characters; however one of the most significant is Rosalind, the daughter of an exiled Duke who escapes the city in order to avoid the wrath of her uncle, accompanied by her cousin. She travels into the woods disguising herself as a man by the name of Ganymede where she meets her love Orlando again, but this time as a man instead of herself. The cross-dressing that occurs in the forest causes a conflict in terms of sexuality due to the blending of the binary genders.
The role of Rosalind in As You Like It suggests that gender roles and heterosexuality is a performance that must be played within the confinements of society. Rosalind playing the role of a boy parallels the boy actor playing the role of Rosalind. In Shakespearian time younger boys were hired to play female roles because of their high pitch voice, slender bodies, and shorter stature. Rosalind complicates this tradition making a gender meta of being a woman, played by a boy, acting as a boy, performing as a woman to Orlando. The homosexual undertones are excused in the play because “in the renaissance, sexuality was defined by practice” (Budra 101) meaning that it was okay to profess love towards the same gender as long as it was not physically acted upon.
This common view allowed the male actors to profess their love to another man without it being seen as gay. As Rosalind does not incur any “physical acts” as she cross-dresses, all the affections for her by Phoebe, as well as of Ganymede for Orlando, would not be considered a crime by audiences who may have an issue with the romantic tensions that develop between the characters. Gender roles are satirically revealed through Rosalind’s perceptions of how each gender should act. Rosalind’s views on what it means to be female versus male are so stereotypical that it is a tool for Shakespeare to make fun of the roles set for gender by society. When Rosalind is planning to dress like a man she speaks on the weapons she will carry like “many other mannish cowards have/ That do outface it with their semblances” (1.3.119-20), stating that men bluff their bravery with their appearance because men have the role to be the brave gender. She later speaks on the weakness of females saying that she wants to “disgrace [her] man’s/ apparel and to cry like a woman; but/ … doublet and hose ought to/ show itself courageous to petticoat” (2.4.4-7), meaning that because she is dressed like a man she must be courageous and she can’t show the weakness of a woman. Rosalind also pushes these gender stereotypes when speaking as a man telling Orlando that “I thank/ God I am not a woman, to be touched with so many/ giddy offenses” (3.2.342-4), acting as if she, because she is dressed like a man, should never be the subject of courtship as it is the role of a woman to be wooed, since men do not participate in such a “giddy offence”. Celia also joins in on these gender roles when saying “that’s a brave man: he/ … swears brave oaths and breaks/ them bravely” (3.4.37-9), portraying men as cheaters and deceitful. Rosalind’s depictions of men as brave and women as the weak gender waiting for a man to woo them, portrays the views on gender roles within the city. She suggests that men and woman have to act a certain way, even if they do not truly fit the role, in order to fit into society. Her views are contrasted by rural born characters upon entering the forest.
The gender reversal of Rosalind into Ganymede in the forest allows for the exploration of love for Orlando and Phebe. Rosalind in order to protect herself in the forest transforms herself into “Ganymede, who, in mythology, was the cup bearer to Jove and his homosexual lover” (Budra 101), and chooses a name that in the renaissance was a “symbol of homoeroticism” (Budra 101), rather than a common name. When choosing her name she tells Celia that “I’ll have no worse a name than Jove’s own page” (1.3.122), fully knowing the connotations that come with her chosen name. The name chosen starts the confusing gender-bending and possible homosexual relationships that occur in the forest. Rosalind performs as Ganymede performing as Rosalind to make Orlando stop the exaggerated treatment of love. Orlando in his courting methods states his love for Rosalind in a performative way, portraying her femininity as a result of her being delicate and shy. He follows the gender stereotypes however is using them to court Ganymede, a supposed man. The situation is further complicated because the audience knows the actor is a boy so whether or not he is Rosalind or Ganymede he remains a boy under all the gender performances. Phebe also is subject to the homoeroticism as she falls in love with Ganymede who is actually Rosalind, falling in love with Ganymede because of his feminine qualities. She likes “his complexion” (3.5.116) as well as the “pretty redness in his lip” (3.5.120) and cheeks. She likes that he looks young, is slender, and not as tall as other men, like the shepherd who vies for her attention through the play. She is attracted to the character whose namesake, once again, is the mythical representation of homoeroticism which hints that Phoebe is also inclined to a homosexual lust. This attraction can only develop once Rosalind escaped from the city into the rural world. It is in this country scene that Shakespeare really plays with the concepts of sexuality and cross-dressing.
Homoerotic love is contrasted between Orlando and Phebe as Orlando falls in love with Rosalind dressed as Ganymede and Phebe falls in love with Ganymede who is actually Rosalind. Orlando and Phebe portray the freedom of sexuality that occurs outside the confines of societal norms. The forest acts as an escape from gender norms and allows for the experimentation of gender role reversal. The moment Rosalind is shown in the forest she says “O Jupiter” (2.4.1), calling for Ganymede’s homosexual lover. Celia also changes her gender role when saying “Something that hath reference to my state:/ No longer Celia but Aliena” (1.3.125-6), changing from the role of being in the city as a Dutch’s daughter to being a female in the forest, a role alien to her. When Celia finds Orlando under a tree Rosalind states that “It may well be called Jove’s tree” (3.2.234); Orlando becomes Jove and Rosalind becomes Ganymede in the forest changing their identity as well as their relationship. While disguised, she is able to critique, coach, and inevitably test Orlando’s affections for Rosalind. She attacks his “clichés of romantic love” (Budra 105) to try to push Orlando past “the traditions that define love” (Budra 105) to find true love. Rosalind uses to role reversal to see if Orlando loves her more than the cliché gendered speeches he gives.
The roles also shift between the natural born city and rural characters. Rosalind has city views on how men should act so she is blunt with Phebe so as not to give her fake persona away. Phebe as a rural-born character does not follow these societal given roles for females and acts with confidence rejecting Silvius. This boldness coming from Phebe leads to Rosalind becoming agitated with her and begins a long speech on why an unattractive female like Phebe should “thank heaven … for a good man’s love” (3.5.58), forcing feminine roles on the societal stereotypically non-feminine Phebe as Rosalind herself plays a man. Rosalind, a character who brings the gender norms of the city into the forest, has trouble understanding that women may act outside gender roles and that they do not have to “perform” as a soft-spoken female. She excuses her role only because she is performing as Ganymede and therefore gains this gender fluidity, but specifically only while in the country. The characters are only allowed to return to society once they re-adapt the heteronormative roles. When Rosalind reveals herself and settles all conflicting sexual interactions at the end of the play, her ability to return to city life is also announced. It is only after Rosalind removes her disguise to the other characters at the end of the play that she is able to return to the city and civilization. She also ensures in that final scene that “all the lovelorn characters swear fidelity to heterosexual unions before revealing herself” (Budra 102) to them.
The country setting had acted as an escape from civilization, one that several of the characters seem to revel in. However, the return to civilization after a time in the pastoral seems to be accepted by the characters. Not only are the characters planning to return to civilization, but the audience is brought “back to the reality of the social space of the theater and their own, more regulated, sexual selves” (Budra 102) at the end of the play. While the wilderness is seen as a place to escape to, the city is inevitably where most of the civilized characters wish to return to. The exploration of sexuality then, too, is only experienced while outside the city, where one doesn’t have to follow the rules. Shakespeare has the actor who plays Rosalind come forward to the audience at the very end of the play. The actor breaks character, informing the audience that if he was a woman he would kiss as many men in the audience that would please him, however will not because he is, in fact, a boy. Just as Rosalind exposes herself to return to civilization, the actor who plays her must expose himself to the audience in order to return them to the “real world”. Shakespeare is allowed to make a play with homosexual and gender-bending themes because he excuses himself in the epilogue. As You Like It “continually exposes the reality behind the social constructs” (Budra 105) that audiences would have been used to. By having an actor come out on stage at the end of the play to break character Shakespeare is able to smooth out some of the gender and sexual confusion that has ensued by having a character like Rosalind. He creates a wall between the audience and the confusion of her meta gendering to distance them from the situation.
As complicated as it was to have a boy performing as a woman acting as a man who was pretending to be a woman, that character comes forward and breaks the illusion that the play is a reality. Once that illusion is broken, the tension created by that gender fluidity is also able to be broken. The audience doesn’t have to try to work out if the play stepped outside of the sexual norm of the society because it ends with a character coming forward to say it wasn’t real. That exploration of sexuality through cross-dressing does not occur within the realm that the audience lives in, just as it did not occur within the walls of the city.
Gender in As You Like It
Present day conceptions of gender would appear to be different to what they were in Shakespeares day. Clear cut divisions of male, female and neuter are apparent. One would need to look back to the time of Shakespeare to try and see the different view of gender identity. Using the play As You Like It and the characters portrayed within it one might be able to see how our concept of gender may well be challenged. Gender role in this play does appear to be confusing at first glance. Men playing women who fall in love with men and these women acting within an act to be men. Men wooing women played by and then wooing the men portrayed by these acting women. By carefully going through the text of As You Like It (Greenblatt, ed., PP1591-1657) one can try to dig in to the characters portrayed and discover any challenge to our views of gender identity. During this essay I will point out some of the texts and criticisms that I would suggest lead to the Shakespearean gender identity and this will show how it has altered over time.
I would suggest that Shakespeare explores homoerotic possibilities in several characters. A good example of this is the relationship shown between Rosalind and Celia. Rosalind is called a traitor by Duke Frederick (Greenblatt, ed., p1610) and Celia is very quick to respond to try and help her. The deeper implication of their friendship appears to be pointed out when Celia says (Greenblatt, ed., p1610, lines 66-70):
But now I know her. If she be a traitor,
Why, so am I. We still have slept together,
Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together,
And wheresoeer we went, like Junos swans
Still we went coupled and inseparable.
This would appear to suggest that their friendship is more intimate than is apparent and Juliet Dusinberre in As WHO liked it says that the play rewrites the record of female desire so that women want to read it. I will return to Rosalind and Celia later in this essay.
Gender conception is also challenged with the scene at Duke Seniors forest home (Greenblatt, ed., pp1612-1613). There are no woman in the forest retreat and there appears to be no desire for them either. This seems to be an all men together lifestyle which is described as being sweet. Duke Senior says (Greenblatt, ed., p1612, line 5) Here we feel not the penalty of Adam and this line alone really points to the no women feelings amongst the men.
One needs to look at the relationship of Rosalind and Orlando and Rosalinds disguise as Ganymede. To do this one needs to discover the meaning behind the name Ganymede.
The name Ganymede has social and literary connotations and suggests male to male desire. Ganymede was a young boy from mythology that Jove fell in love with. The boy replaced Joves wife as his lover. In Shakespearean times the name Ganymede was used to describe a male prostitute and more specifically the name given to a young male lover of an older man. The term was fully understood at the time and I would suspect that Shakespeare used it to implicate a homoerotic overture between Orlando and Ganymede. The idea of a homoerotic relationship between these two would also be backed by the speedy acceptance by Orlando of the situation. Orlando describes Ganymede as fair and good and woos and flirts with him as he would have with Rosalind.
Returning to Rosalind and Celia one can find more evidence of their deep relationship when they are discussing Orlando (Greenblatt, ed., pp 1634-1635). They are in deep conversation about Orlando and Rosalind is singing his praises to Celia. Rosalind says she loves his hair, his and his love. Celia replies that his hair is the same as Judass, his kisses cold as ice and that his love is hollow. So here one can see that Celia is jealous of Orlando.
Celia is not the only woman in love with Rosalind. When Phoebe first discovers Rosalind as Ganymede she falls in love. She would appear to be attracted to Ganymedes femininity and goes on to describe his physical attributes (Greenblatt, ed., p1638, lines 120-125):
His leg is so-so; and yet tis well.
There was a pretty redness in his lip,
Than that mixed in his cheek. Twas just the difference
Betwixt the constant red and mingled damask.
Whether or not Rosalind feels romantic towards Phoebe it is apparent that she is pleased that another woman is erotically and physically attracted to her. Rosalind seems to confirm this in the line (Greenblatt, ed., p 1654, line 113) to Phoebe, Nor neer wed woman if you not be she.
Shakespeare has, I would suggest, deliberately woven in homoerotic potential throughout this play. From the hints of homosexuality of Duke Senior and his friends in the forest to Orlando wooing a boy whose name is associated with male to male lovers. He has pointed to female homosexuality in Rosalind and Celia and even brought in the character of Phoebe to back this up. It should be noted, however, that at the end of the play all the characters end up in heterosexual relationships.
Where does this leave one with the original question and does this evidence point towards a challenge to ones conception of gender identity? One should realise that at the time that Shakespeare was writing there was great social change. The period of enlightenment was well under way. Attitudes to urinating and defecating
in public view were altering. In a patriarchal society women were viewed in a different light to what they are now. I would suggest that there was basically only one gender during this period. Woman were considered to be the same as males, but because they had no male organs they were lesser males and treated accordingly.
Ann Thompson (Stanley Wells, ed., p4) puts forward a previously suggested idea that Shakespeares own sexual identity may have been in doubt. This may well be part of the reason for him including the multi-gender eroticism in this play. She goes on to point out that transvestism was widespread in this period as it was in the Renaissance. It would appear that homoerotic themes in As You Like It (Greenblatt, ed., pp1591-1657) may well have been a reflection of how Shakespeare perceived the society of the day.
Victor L. Cahn takes a slightly different look at gender identity in his book. He tends to perceive the romantic side of the play showing how different critics have widely varying ideas. However, he does say that (Cahn, p.651): the combination of masculine boldness and feminine sensitivity that makes her [Rosalind] so alluring to Orlando. So even in a romantic look at the play the double gender identity of Rosalind still pushes through.
Mario DiGangi gives one a final vision. He refers to the line (Greenblatt, ed., p1602, line 102-103) as they did in the golden world. He suggests that this line refers back to the renaissance myth of Orpheus who established an all male community. This community was established to avoid the dangers of female seduction and sexuality. This compares with Duke Seniors lifestyle and the homosexual implications of this would appear to be almost undeniable.
In concluding this essay I would suggest that Shakespeares vision of gender identity is a challenge to ones own. The point I have already made about women being lesser forms of men may have been acceptable in his day. In our enlightened society this would not be acceptable.
The main point of gender identity in Shakespeares day was that it would appear that for men cross-dressing, homosexuality and casual affairs would have been more acceptable than now. The thought of willy-nilly cross-dressing and the general wooing of the same sex would definitely challenge modern day views on gender.
The Depiction Of Race In Branagh’s Adaptation Of ‘As You Like It’
“In the latter part of the 19th century, Japan opened up for trade with the West. Merchant adventurers arrived from all over the world, many of them English. Some traded in silk and rice and lived in enclaves around the ‘treaty ports.’ They brought their families and their followers and created private mini-empires where they tried to embrace this extraordinary culture, its beauties and its dangers…” (On-screen text)
Branagh uses 19th century Japan to envision a culturally diverse Shakespeare’s As You Like It, where the feudal lords of the medieval France of the play are now lords of mini-empires created by English colonizers in Japan. These lords are not originally of noble blood but are rich, opportunistic merchants who have reinvented themselves as royalty. Away from the European societal norms, this reinvention facilitates the possibility of not only a black lord but also his match with a white Duke’s daughter. While the period, place, and races have been changed, Branagh retains the original Shakespearean language. Although by the end of the eighteenth century slavery was abolished in France, blacks were still seen as an inferior race. But just as the forest is outside the conventions of the court, a colonial outpost in Japan also has different conventional parameters and cultural hierarchies than the aristocracy of France. There is thus much cultural and racial flexibility in the movie. As stated by the opening on-screen text, we see that the European colonizers have quasi-adapted Japanese culture. But even in the first scene, when they are watching a kabuki performance and the military coup is being staged, Oliver is standing away from the other white characters who are sitting in a group. There is a hint of exclusion or an imaginary boundary which he can’t seem to cross.
For their part, the Japanese characters are given very marginal roles in the film and have problematic characterizations. Charles, who is a sumo wrestler instead of a boxer in the movie, basically sits silent in his conversation with Orlando; all his lines are spoken by a white man. Phoebe is featherheaded and superficial. She embodies Nietzsche’s idea of women, that is, “When thou goest to a woman, take thy whip!” She cruelly rejects Silvius but falls in love with Rosalind’s criticism, which itself also becomes an issue. Though she uses the same lines as in the play, the features described as ugly are “inky brows, black hair” — characteristic Asian features. Hence, the entire scene almost verges on racism.
Almost as though reflecting these racial constructs, Edward Said in his book Orientalism discusses how non-Europeans are treated as Other to show white supremacy and civility. William is portrayed as a simple-minded Japanese peasant who is a silent spectator, ridiculed and physically abused by Touchstone until he runs away. Touchstone here asserts his manliness and right to Audrey not only by using wit but by actually using physical violence. The white court fool, who is of a lower hierarchy among the European colonizers, asserts his superiority in comparison to an Asian character. Duke Frederick, the antagonist, like his samurai soldiers has black Samurai hair and wears black samurai clothes. But when he converts and becomes civilized, his appearance become Europeanized. The movie even uses elements of Chinese culture like feng shui meditation garden and characters performing tai chi to represent, or misrepresent, Japanese culture. Branagh has fallen in the trap of creating an Orientalist image by blurring cultural differences and nuances in the process. This Eurocentric attitude leads to a very stereotypical and superficial depiction of Japan.
There is currently some debate on whether this cross-cultural adaptation is a success. On the one hand, Trevor Johnston notes that “Branagh’s fifth foray into celluloid Shakespeare brings us this rather stodgy version of the Bard’s wise comedy of old Japan. Shakespeare, of course, didn’t set it in the Far East, but Branagh’s conceit is that a Japan in transition with the arrival of foreign traders makes an ideal background for a story reliant on transformation and disguise.” However, Heather Boerner asserts that “Branagh’s idea to move the play from England to Japan is brilliant and adds a new layer of interest. Plus — ninjas and sumo wrestlers. What could be better? The antic second half, full of Three’s Company-style mistaken identities, quick banter, and a very happy ending will satisfy the romantics in the audience.”
The film is a unique postcolonial rewriting of a vital text in Eurocentric Canon. Agree with his choices or not, Branagh purposefully contextualizes As You Like It in the socio-political sphere of 19th Century Japan. But the racial relationships are neither suitably developed nor aptly explored. Though the film does, like the other movies of Branagh, try to show an inclusive inter-racial world, it drastically falls short in its uninformed approach to the culture it is trying to depict.
Henry IV and As You Like It: The Relationship Between Older and Younger Males
Compare the relations between older and younger men in the following extracts; pay close attention to the use of dramatic language and the opportunities offered by the text for different emphases in production: 1 Henry IV, 2.4.109-62 (Bevington ed., pp. 182-6) and As You Like It, 2.3.27-77 (Brissenden ed., pp. 131-3)
The two extracts differ dramatically in their approach to the relations between older and younger men. In summary, the As You Like It scene is serious and moving, conducted in verse, concerned with issues of faithfulness, and uses Biblical references for metaphors. The scene from Henry IV is humorous, conducted in prose, concerned with betrayal and falsehood, (even if it is set in a farcical context,) and refers to common sayings in its metaphors and oaths. Both scenes examine the comparison of an old world to the new, to different levels of significance. The potential exists in both scenes to perform them in opposition to the audiences expectations – comic elements could be introduced into the As You Like It scene, and the Henry IV scene could be darkened in places.
The extract from Henry IV is conducted in prose throughout; its use can be allotted by social distinction, for superior characters to inferiors, or it can be used by one of high status to another, as a calculating insult. In this case though, it is appropriate for the surroundings of the Eastcheap tavern, and is used among persons of varying status to express their friendship. Hal effectively moves between the prose world of Eastcheap and the noble world of exalted blank verse. The use of prose in the tavern is simply a different register and does not necessarily make it an inferior form; Falstaff’s prose often seems to speak more truth than the elevated language of the courtiers. The use of prose here also has the effect of increasing the pace of the scene, and the brisk exchanges of short pieces of dialogue support this:
HAL: Why, you whoreson round man, what’s the matter?
FALSTAFF: Are you not a coward? Answer me to that. And Poins there?
POINS: Zounds, ye fat paunch, an ye call me coward, by the Lord, I’ll stab thee.
1 Henry IV 2.4.134-39
By contrast, the As You Like It extract is conducted in blank verse. It’s unrhymed, measured iambic pentameter was the most popular poetic form, or vehicle, of English Renaissance drama. It tends to be used by high-ranking characters, as a mark of respect to each other, or to talk down to inferiors. In this extract, however, Adam would be considered an inferior of Orlando, yet they converse in blank verse without the intention of insult. A lowly character such as Adam, like that of Caliban in The Tempest, gains reverence and status by his use of verse, and shows the mutual respect and friendship between the pair. Adam’s rhyming couplets in his final speech give formal heightening to his resolve, and an audible marker to the conclusion of this part of the play, which, apart from the small scene 3.1, takes place in the forest. The blocks of dialogue are much larger here, and the use of verse slows the scene down, allowing the audience to contemplate it fully. It is important that the audience should hear what is being said here, and understand the nature of Orlando’s and Adam’s relationship, whereas much of the humour in the Henry IV scene requires less attention, and has already been anticipated earlier in the play when we hear Poin’s scheme in 1.2.
An actor can vary the register and tone of their speech to build character from their role and to interact with other roles in the scene, since there are potentially multiple performances within each speech. Varying the second-person pronoun between ‘thou’, ‘thee’, or ‘you’, and their possessives, ‘thy’, ‘thine’, or ‘your’, was a crucial method of indicating status and register in the early modern period. The use of ‘thou’ expresses affection between family and friends, or condescending superiority to an inferior, or contempt towards strangers. In Henry IV, Hal refers to Falstaff as ‘thou’ in friendly terms, but switches angrily, possibly in jest, to ‘you’ when Falstaff continues to ignore him, ‘How now, woolsack, what mutter you?’ [2.4.129]. Falstaff switches between ‘thou’ and ‘you,’ and although it is textually unclear, the scene could be directed in such a way as to make him refer to Poins as ‘thou’ and Hal, ‘You, Prince of Wales!’ [2.4.133] as ‘you.’ In this period, one would use ‘you’ to either someone of status as an inferior, or someone one did not know well – Falstaff could be implying both these sentiments, as he is angry that Hal thought himself too good for the raid, and let down by a friend, someone he should have known well. In the As You Like It extract, Orlando refers to Adam as ?thou’ throughout, as is common from masters to servants, but here it seems to express their friendship. However, Adam still feels the need to refer to Orlando as ‘you’, up until his final speech where their loyalty to each other is confirmed and he announces, ‘Master, go on, and I will follow thee,’ [2.3.70] although retaining the title of ‘Master,’ to preserve some distinction of status.
It is interesting to note that many allusions in the As You Like It extract are drawn from the Bible, emphasising the formal, sombre nature of the scene. For example:
ADAM: Take that, and he that doth the ravens feed,
Yea providently caters for the sparrow,
Be comfort to my age.
As You Like It 2.3.44-46
Is a reference to God’s feeding the ravens in Psalm 147 : 9, Luke 12 : 24, and Job 38 : 41. God’s concern for the sparrows is mentioned in Matthew 10 : 29, and Luke 12 : 6. The phrase, ?yet I am strong and lusty,’ [2.3.48] reiterates, yet inverts the meaning of, Psalm 73 : 4, where the psalmist complains that the wicked, who are strong and lusty, or vigorous, always seem to be better off. Adam’s implication here, however, is that he has kept his strength because he has not given into worldly temptations. Additionally, the lines:
ORLANDO: …none will sweat but for promotion,
And having that do choke their service up
Even with the having.
As You Like It 2.3.61-63
Could be derived from the parable of the sower, Matthew 13 : 22, where the world is choked up by the deceitfulness of riches. In the Henry IV extract, however, it is noticeable that the allusions pertain to alterations of common sayings of the day, rather than the authority of the Bible. ‘There is nothing but roguery to be found in villainous man,’ [2.4.119-120] is a variation on the saying, ‘there is no faith in man,’ and ‘…thy lips are scarce wiped since thou drunk’st last’ [2.4.147-8] is a ironic variation on the saying ‘you licked not your lips since you lied last.’ ‘Then am I a shotten herring,’ [2.4.24] uses the saying, ‘as lean as a shotten herring,’ (one which has spawned and is especially thin and emaciated,) ironically due to Falstaff’s large size. Additionally, Falstaff makes some very unusual oaths, in keeping with the comic nature of the scene. Instead of the traditional ‘By God…’ or, ‘By Heaven…’ or, ‘…may God strike me down,’ etc., he uses oaths such as, ‘Ere I live this life long, I’ll sew nethersocks,’ [2.4.111-2] ‘…then am I a shotten herring,’ [2.4.24] and, ‘I’ll never wear hair on my face more,’ [2.4.132-3]. An interesting display of parallelism from Falstaff occurs at line 145-5, ‘I am a rogue if I drunk today’ and line 158-9, ‘I am a rogue if I were not at half-sword with a dozen of them two hours together.’ This adds humour to the scene as it is ironically significant that Falstaff is a rogue as he was not at half-sword with a dozen men – no-one could accuse him of lying. Other examples of parallelism include the mention of ‘a thousand pounds’ at line 139, and again at line 153, supposedly the amount stolen from the gang. Elsewhere in the play, the sum is 300 marks, or 200 pounds, but the exaggeration here is appropriate to Falstaff’s previous hyperbole, ‘I would give a thousand pounds I could run as fast as thou canst.’ In the As You Like It extract, Orlando’s closing speech ends with the word ‘content,’ which was used by Celia in her final couplet before leaving the court for the forest [1.3.137], giving a circularity of plot – both characters are wrongfully banished from their home, and seek refuge, peace, or ‘content’ in the forest.
It has already been pointed out that the Henry IV extract is intended to be the start of a very amusing scene. Falstaff’s reprimanding of Hal and Poins for being cowards is ironic as the audience know they robbed him and his gang, acting far from cowardly. Other humorous aspects include Falstaff’s disgruntled manner of ignoring them, his outrageous oaths and curses, and the fact that we see him falling into Poin’s trap, and hearing ‘the incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue will tell,’ [1.2.174-5]. Falstaff makes a comic pose of pious virtue in his vows to make and darn stockings, replace soles, and sing psalms. Numerous references are made to Falstaff’s corpulence, a universal mirth-provoking topic, including, ‘Titan,’ [2.4115] the irony of ‘am I a shotten herring,’ [2.4.124] ‘one of them is fat and grows old,’ [2.4.125-6] ‘woolsack,’ [2.4.129] ‘whoreson round man,’ [2.4.134] and ‘ye fat paunch,’ [2.4.138]. Darker elements could be introduced into this scene, however, contrary to audience expectations. It has already been pointed out that the apparently random interchangeability of ‘thee’ and ‘you’ could be a calculated attempt to show Falstaff’s true anger and disappointment in Hal. Elsewhere in the play, there is little evidence to suggest that he knows of the plot, although it has been produced this way in Eighteenth-Century adaptations, but only by adding lines to the original script. How much sense of betrayal hides behind Falstaff’s comic grumpiness? Falstaff’s mention of, ‘a dagger of lath,’ [2.4.131] alludes to a stage property of the Vice figure in Morality plays, used as a comic weapon. In this allusion, parallels can be drawn between Falstaff and the Vice figure, who was not only hilariously comic but inherently evil. Therefore, the scene could also act as a precursor to Hal’s eventual rejection of Falstaff, adding a dark, ironic edge to the proceedings.
The As You Like It extract is taken from a serious scene between Orlando and his faithful servant Adam – this in itself is far removed from the bickering and deceitful scene between Hal and Falstaff. It is significant in context to the rest of the play, since it is the last scene in the court and concludes, in a sense, that section of the play. It also hinges on one of the play’s central themes – the comparison of an old and new world. It was pointed out that dark undertones could co-exist in the light-hearted Henry IV extract, and similarly, part of this scene could be played comically to break up the tension. When Adam offers Orlando the five hundred crowns of his life-savings, the container it is presented in has varied in performance from a tiny draw-string pouch to enormous buckets of pennies, almost impossible to lift. This depiction of two extremes presents Adam as a comical figure due to his stereotypical selfless, Christ-like role. The examination of the values of an old and new world comes when Orlando praises Adam for retaining traditional values, of working out of a sense of duty and not profit:
O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed!
Henry IV 2.3.57-59
This theme is also examined, albeit in a lighter way, in the Henry IV extract. Falstaff bemoans the modern world, claiming, ‘God help the while! A bad world I say!’ [2.4.126-7] it’s population, ‘a plague of all cowards.’ [2.4.110] This is a pointed jibe at Hal and Poins, yet approaches the same topic as the As You Like It extract.
In conclusion, Henry IV’s use of prose indicates its humorousness and the friendship between characters of different social status. As You Like It shows this too, yet it’s verse displays a more formal tone. It has been shown that both extracts can display sentiments contrary to audience expectations – the comic incorporates darkness, the sombre has the potential for humour. The Biblical allusions in this extract are replaced with comic oaths from Falstaff in Henry IV. Both extracts are linked by their examination of old and new world values.
Shakespeare, W. (1998). Henry IV Part I. (c. 1598) D. Bevington (Ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press
Shakespeare, W. (1998). As You Like It. (c. 1600) A. Brissenden (Ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press
The Forest Of Arden As An Utopianism Sanctuary
In the pastoral setting of the Forest of Arden in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the characters are physically removed from society, and thus from the political, economic, and sexual rules that govern social life. If Arden is a paradise, however, it is an illusory one. Shakespere initially represents Arden as a sanctuary where the characters can re-invent themselves in roles that were unavailable to them in society. The experience of inhabiting different personae, however, only renews the characters’ dedication to their traditional societal roles. Shakespere thus presents the Forest of Arden as a commentary on the permanent influence of society on individual identity.
In Arden, both Rosalind and Oliver have a chance to reinvent themselves. Rosalind, having fled the corrupt society of court, approaches the Forest of Arden as a place where she may be able to be free to be herself. In a move that suggests the particular oppression of women in Renaissance England, Rosalind re-imagines herself as the mythological male figure of Ganymede: a Trojan boy of great beauty and Zeus’ cupbearer (II.1.123). In Rosalind’s attempt to shed her identity in outside society as the daughter of Duke Senior, she chooses the identity of a strong male. Underneath her disguise, however, she clings fiercely to her femininity. Even in her man’s apparel, Rosalind insists that she can “cry like a woman” (II.4.5).
Oliver is presented initially as a greedy, evil character who denies his brother the right to an education. When the Duke orders him to enter Arden to find his brother who has fled, Oliver has a chance to redeem himself. After being saved from the lion and snake by his brother Orlando, Oliver comes across Rosalind and Celia. Upon asking who he is, Oliver announces to the women: “I do not shame / To tell you what I was, since my conversion / So sweetly tastes, being the thing that I am” (IV.3.134-136). Removed from the pressures of court, Oliver has the opportunity to judge his own character and redeem himself as an authentic person (“this thing that I am”). However, Oliver’s redemption – presented in distinctly religious terms – is one that fulfills the Duke’s order and thus renders Oliver more suitable to court life. For Oliver, Arden is not an escape from society, but a temporary opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of the social world.
Similarly, Touchstone and Duke Senior remind the reader that Arden is merely a temporary respite from human society. Its utopian character is illusory: Arden is not part of another world. Although Touchstone is one of the fools of the play, he is one of the only characters who resists folly in believing Arden to be a type of paradise. Indeed, Touchstone reminds us that in Arden, “from hour to hour, [they] ripe and ripe, / And then, from hour to hour [they] rot and rot” (II.7.26-27). Provocatively, Touchstone suggests that Arden is not a supernatural realm: in Arden as in nature, nothing lasts forever. While Arden’s pastoral landscape may appear fantastical and ideal, time moves on and things are always changing. Duke Senior also demystifies Arden. The Duke tells of the wonders of Arden; how the woods are free from the perils of court and and the penalty of Adam. He refers to the Biblical Garden of Eden and the fall of man, contrasting it to Arden: a golden world wherein the fall of man never happened. However, as he continues, the Duke reveals an ambivalence about Arden’s status as the mythical “golden world”. He states that with “the icy fang/ And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, / Which, when it bites and blows upon [his] body / […] [He shrinks] with cold” (II.1.6-9). In this description of the harshness of nature, the Duke suggests that Arden changes with the seasons and the weather will not stay perfect forever; it is the same in Arden as it is in human society.
Like Rosalind, Touchstone takes advantage of his time in Arden to re-invent himself in a role that would not be available to him in society. Significantly, both characters pay for transgressing their societal roles. Rosalind’s disguise as Ganymede enables her occupy a masculine role in the process of courtship. She attempts to woo the man she loves and teach him how to be a better lover. In her time as Ganymede, she and Orlando form a homosocial bond and with this, a homoerotic attraction to one another. Rosalind cannot, however, take part in a sexual relationship with Orlando while in disguise. Upon realizing that a homosexual relationship will not be accepted in outside society, she abandons her disguise and submits instead to her future husband (V.4). Similarly, Touchstone attempts to re-invent himself as a married man for his own ends. When he is made aware by the vicar that marriage in Arden is unlawful, he responds: “[He] is / not like to marry me well; and not being well married, / it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my / wife” (III.3.83-86). Touchstone suggests that he does not believe in the bonds of marriage; yet in Arden, he is not afraid to follow through with the ceremony. He thus carries out his distorted fantasy of marrying Audrey in Arden in exchange for the promise of a void marriage back in human society. The Forest of Arden emerges as a realm where one’s fantasies of escaping societal roles ultimately lead to a re-inscription of those roles.
Shakespeare represents the Forst of Arden not as an ideal world, but rather a sanctuary where one can go to act freely, learn, and return to society with a new understanding of the permanence of individual identity. In Arden, people change, time changes and fantasies are fulfilled only temporarily. Ultimately, Shakespeare criticizes utopianism as an impossibility. Individuals re-enact their societal roles even in the absence of society.
Shakespere, William. As You Like It. Ed. Alan Brissenden.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Celebrating Women And Castigating Men In A Midsummer’s Night Dream And As You Like It
William Shakespeare is an author who is known best for his tragedies, such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar: plays in which the heroes lose. However, Shakespeare also wrote comedies, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It: plays in which the heroes win. Included in both of these kinds of plays are strong characters. A character is considered “strong” if they have a distinct personality, motivation, and conflict. Shakespeare was not known for writing what was mainstream at that time, instead creating cross-dressing characters, main female characters, and overall gender fluidity in his plays. He does maintain one feature, though: some of his strongest characters are masculine, even if they are not male, namely in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It. The contrast between Bottom’s proud masculinity and Rosalind’s disguised masculinity not only expresses the idea that a strong masculine character does not necessarily have to be a male character, but it also helps the reader to better understand both characters.
Masculinity can be defined, for the purpose of Shakespeare, as power. Masculinity is also pride, independence, strength (physical and emotional), and the ability to make a decision on one’s own. They also have the ability to deal with internal and external conflicts. Both Bottom and Rosalind demonstrate these characteristics in their own ways. Bottom’s main masculine characteristic is his pride. He focuses all of his attention on his acting abilities, and the most likely cause of this is that he’s not seen to have many other talents. However, he is quite confident in his acting abilities: “Let me play the lion too. I will roar, that I will do any man’s heart good to hear me. I will roar, that I will make the Duke say: ‘Let him roar again; let him roar again’ (I.II.66-69). Bottom believes himself to be able to play multiple parts at once, and be very good at playing all of these parts. Some of his conflicts include, of course, his donkey head, but once he begins to get attention from the Queen of the Fairies for this, he grows comfortable and arrogant with Titania’s fairies. He makes decisions on his own when he can, and when he can’t, he changes the situation around to the best of his ability so that it appears that he is in control.
Rosalind, on the other hand, is only masculine in disguise. She is a female, but she has a male counterpart: Ganymede. She is independent, and that gets in her own way as a female, such as when Duke Frederick exiles her. However, once she begins to dress and act as Ganymede, these issues seem to go away for the most part, only added by the fact that she claims it is easy for her to look like a man:
Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
A gallant curtal-axe upon my thigh,
A boar-spear in my hand, and in my heart,
Lie there what hidden a woman’s fear there will. (I.III.111-116)
Rosalind claims that she looks like a man, which will make it easier for her to pass as a man. However, it is not merely this physical disguise that helps her to become a believable man. Rather, it is her courage, her independence, and her forthrightness that truly make the disguise. In those times, a woman could dress like a man or a man could dress like a woman all he or she cared to, but unless the personalities matched what was thought of as “feminine/masculine,” it would not be believed. This is ironic because in Shakespeare’s time, all parts were played as men, so Rosalind’s character was played by a man acting as a woman who was acting as a man, with a masculine personality at all times. Her own gender identity is one of Rosalind’s many inner conflicts, including whether or not she is in love with Orlando. Then to prove her strength, she faced her gender conflict so that she could overcome her external conflict of being exiled and be free.
Disguise was a major theme in both of these plays. Disguises can hide one’s feelings, identities, and ambitions. When Bottom was disguised, it was not by his choice. Instead, he was transfigured by Puck to trick Queen Titania:
Bottom: Why do they run away? This is a knavery of them to make me afeard.
Snout: O Bottom, thou art changed! What do I see on thee?
Bottom: What do you see? You see an ass-head of your own, do you? (III.I.107-112)
In being transfigured, Bottom is no longer an actor or an independent man: he has become someone who is not much more than an interest of Titania’s affection. As a result, he has seemingly lost a part of his masculinity. Titania is making decisions for him, about where he will go and when he will speak, when decision-making and having power over a situation is one of Bottom’s favorite characteristics. By donning this forced disguise, Bottom’s own personality is hidden.
Rosalind, on the other hand, chose her disguise. She did this to take control over her life, to be free to make her own decisions after it seems like this opportunity will be taken away from her. Through this disguise, Rosalind discusses Orlando’s love for her, without him being aware that he is roleplaying as Orlando-Rosalind with Rosalind herself:
Rosalind: I would cure you, if you would but call me Rosalind and come every day to my
cote and woo me.
Orlando: Now by the faith of my love, I will. Tell me where it is.
Rosalind: Go with me to it and I’ll show it to you; and by the way you shall tell me where
in the forest you live. Will you go?
Orlando: With all my heart, good youth.
Rosalind: Nay, you must call me Rosalind. Come, sister, will you go? (III.II.408-417)
Here, Rosalind is taking her advantage of being Rosalind disguised as Ganymede, and putting herself in a position of power over Orlando. As a woman, Rosalind was given little say: her father was usurped and exiled, she was told what to do, and then she was exiled. As a man, however, Rosalind is independent, free, and able to help others make decisions rather than others making decisions for her. In other words, through this disguise, Rosalind becomes the complete opposite of herself, much like Bottom does, though in a different way. Gender fluidity is another major component of these plays, and this idea goes alongside with gender roles.
Gender fluidity is where characters move from male to female throughout the work, while gender roles help to define what is viewed as a male or female act. Bottom, for example, seems a very proud character at first, and pride is a male role: “If I do it, let the audience look to their eyes: I will move storms, I will condole in some measure. To the rest – yet my chief humour is for a tyrant. I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to tear a cat in, to make all split” (I.II.21-26). Here, Bottom demonstrates his confidence in his abilities, and the control he thinks he has over what roles he can play. Later on, though, he loses control. As previously stated, once he has been transfigured, there is a power shift where Titania is now in control of Bottom:
Come, wait upon him; lead him to my bower.
The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye,
And when she weeps, weeps every little flower,
Lamenting some enforced chastity.
Tie up my love’s tongue, bring him silently. (III.I.190-194)
Titania is ordering around not only her fairies, but also Bottom. He gets no say in whether or not he wishes to come with Titania, but rather he is tied up and forced to follow her. As A Midsummer Night’s Dream progresses, Bottom realizes that he has less and less control over his situations.
While Bottom’s characterization focused mainly on gender roles that were pushed onto him, Rosalind is a very gender fluid character. She moves from male to female with ease, maintaining her looks and her personality along the way:
Orlando: My lord, the first time that I ever saw him
Methought he was a brother to your daughter.
But my good lord, this boy is forest-born
And hath been tutored in the rudiments
Of many desperate studies by his uncle,
Whom he reports to be a great magician,
Obscured in the circle of this forest. (V.IV.28-34)
Rosalind passes easily for a man, fooling both her love and her father, while still looking like herself. Despite this, though, she was expected to follow gender roles as a woman, to listen to Duke Frederick and accept banishment (I.III.74-81). But when she “became” a man, she ignored gender roles and did as she pleased. Her character seemed to be more relaxed and comfortable as a male, and she was able to easily help Orlando determine how to interact with herself as a female. Then in the prologue, she discusses the strangeness of a woman being the lead in the Epilogue, which plays directly into gender roles, and also brings up what she would do “If I were a woman,” which highlights her gender fluidity (E.1-21). Rosalind flows between male and female and between the corresponding gender roles throughout the play, and this back-and-forth motion only becomes easier for her as As You Like It advances.
The proud and the disguised masculinity of Bottom and Rosalind play into one another, but they are also distinct from one another. Once Bottom has been defined as a proudly masculine character, it is easier to see that Rosalind is disguising her masculinity behind her female body at first before letting it out as a male. Similarly, upon understanding the point of Rosalind’s disguise, it is easier to understand the change in Bottom’s personality that occurred when his head was transformed into a donkey’s head. At first he was full of himself, insisting that he could play any part in the world to the best it was written. As time progressed, though, and he underwent more conflicts with other characters and situations, Bottom realized that he was not the center of the universe. On the other hand, once Rosalind had disguised herself as a man, her masculinity was unleashed rather than reeled in. She was more comfortable with herself, and did not accept being pushed aside. These two different masculine personalities helped the reader to better understand the other.
Gender fluidity, gender roles, and disguises are all very prevalent themes in Shakespeare’s plays As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These components are strung together to create characters who are diverse, well-rounded, strong, and independent. These characters encounter internal conflict, external conflict, and go through transformations of personality as well as form. Rosalind and Bottom are strong masculine characters, regarding the definition of masculine as independent, proud, and strong, although they are not both male. Shakespeare goes against the flow by making a female into a strong masculine character, but this only goes to show that even if you are a woman, you can still be a main character in the play that is your life. As Jaques said in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players. / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts” (II.VII.140-143). With today’s society, it is difficult to remember that all human beings are, in fact, all human beings. But upon the realization that a woman can be a strong masculine character in Shakespeare, that means that anything can happen.
Love As You Like It From A Different Perspective
Pastoralism as a literary device thrives on the juxtaposition of city life and country life. Pastoralists often stress that the burdens of the city can be alleviated and clarified by a trip into the country’s therapeutic environment. A sense of balance and rightness is often restored either through self-reflection or conversations with uncorrupted shepherds. Sojourns to these socially detached regions enable one to “explore ideas and play roles-on one’s own terms and for one’s own amusement” (Leggatt 192). Through the characters of Rosalind and Orlando in his comedic play As You Like It, William Shakespeare suggests that to find true happiness, one must visit the forest and be freed from worldly constraints. The city life burdens the two protagonists of As You Like It with social customs and conventions, as illustrated by their initially strained and stumbling speeches. Upon extracting themselves from the suffocating urban environment, both are able to openly embrace and develop their love in the Forest of Arden. The lessons learned and the emotions expressed in the forest (sans the restrictions of social propriety and expectation) extend far beyond the forest’s edge – they have existed all the while, and simply required an unclouded lens to be revealed.
Whether because of their self-consciousness about expressing their undying love for one another or the social standards that quiet such outbursts, Orlando and Rosalind’s “love dialogue at court is hesitant, groping, and shy” at best (Leggatt 194). Orlando, a character heretofore known to be quite eloquent and verbose when expressing his emotions to his brother, finds that he has “weights upon [his] tongue” and is “overthrown” with love, unable to speak to the beautiful Rosalind when she urges conference (AYLI.I.II.244-246). Love is depicted as “more an oppressive than liberating power,” as Shakespeare emphasizes by utilizing a number of conquering images (Leggatt 194). Similarly, Rosalind is awestruck by her newfound love. Upon Celia’s appeal that “Cupid have mercy” for her cousin has “not a word,” Rosalind admits that she has “not one to throw at a dog” (AYLI. I.III.1-3). Throughout this scene Celia urges the conversation onward, while Rosalind hesitantly – though dotingly – reveals her interest in the young man. Seen through this window, coated in the dust of antiquated convention and the grime of hesitation, the future for the relationship between Orlando and Rosalind appears murky and unpromising.
Having been chased out of civilization by either threat or banishment, both characters are forced to seek refuge in the forest. Upon entering the woods, they cast off their inhibitions, enjoying “considerable imaginative freedom in the forest” while also finding themselves in a “place of testing and education” (Leggatt 191). In direct contrast to his former inarticulacy, Orlando “finds his tongue, in surprisingly ornate, patterned verse,” littering the forest sanctuary with heartfelt poems “in witness of [his] love” for Rosalind (Leggatt 195, AYLI.III.II.1, 122-151). His ability to not only express his love but to do so in such a vulnerable manner and in such a public forum reveals a man uninhibited by personal and social reservations, capable of a level of self-expression that is only actualized upon entering the woods. Furthermore, while Celia had formerly dominated and guided the conversation about Orlando, Rosalind as Ganymede “comes into her own…starts developing her own ideas and using her own wit” (Leggatt 194). Rosalind seems to achieve a full role reversal, illustrated by her litany of inquiries about Orlando and her “rhymed, romantic contemplations” on love; she is driven by a desire to learn more and be more engrossed in the “madness” of love (AYLI.III.II.213-219, Leggatt 196, AYLI.III.II.386). As a third testament to their uninhibited expression of love in the forest, the scenes in which Rosalind (as Ganymede) and Orlando speak to no end about the tortures and raptures of love depict a sentiment that will withstand the seasons (AYLI.IV.I.136-146). Once cleared of the muck that clouds the relationship in an urban environment, the future for this couple appears clear and long-lasting.
Pastoralism is the cloth with which the dust-caked eyeglass is cleaned. Ever since their first encounter, Orlando and Rosalind have been secretly infatuated with each other, though both are initially too concerned with the standards of city life and their own pride to reveal their true emotions, thus clouding their ability to see their future. Clearing away these hindrances by entering the forest (and thus liberating themselves from social conventions), they freely articulate their love to their peers and each other. Because the eyeglass has at last been cleaned, their love and future together is clearer and truer. By leaving the court life and the threats of Duke Frederick and Oliver, Rosalind and Orlando are at last able to examine and nurture their love. The glass merely needed cleaning; now refreshed, they can return to the court with an uninhibited vision of their future.