01 May 2013

As You Like It

As You Like It. A comedy, where, once again, everyone ends up in the forest. Those forests are popular places. We've seen them in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and of course, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The forest is a place of imagination where anything can happen. I suppose there's probably some Freudian symbolism in there somewhere, but my background is linguistics, not English lit or psychology. If you're reading this, feel free to comment on forest symbolism and enlighten me.

This play, once again, has one of those fun female roles. To be fair, much of Shakespeare is populated by interesting women (wait until we get to Taming of the Shrew). Rosalind's character is witty, smart, and not afraid to stand up for herself, although she also knows when it is wise to retreat. She ends up dressing as a man for most of the play, since she and her cousin Celia need some sort of chaperone when they are wandering through the forest.

The plot goes thusly: Rosalind's father, the Duke, has been forced into exile by his brother, Celia's father. Eventually, Duke Frederick, Celia's father, decides that his niece must also leave the court, and Celia refuses to be parted from her best friend. So Rosalind disguises herself as a boy and the two leave the court together, accompanied by Touchstone, the court's fool. In the meantime, Rosalind's love interest, a man named Orlando, also flees to the forest to escape his murderous brother. In the forest, the banished Duke also resides.Through a series of convoluted meetings, Rosalind is re-united with her father and wed to her lover Orlando. Orlando's brother Oliver meets Celia, and taking her for a shepherdess, falls in love with her and is willing to renounce his inheritance in favour of Orlando. The brothers are then reconciled, since Oliver no longer wants to kill Orlando. Rosalind also plays matchmaker for a shepherd and shepherdess (although the shepherdess takes a little more convincing, since she's fallen for Rosalind in male guise). Touchstone the fool is paired with a country woman named Audrey, although their union appears to be more about lust than love. By the end of the play, the usurping Duke has also wandered into the forest, where he runs into a holy man who convinces him to relinquish his brother's lands and titles and turn hermit. So everyone has a happy ending, although Touchstone and Audrey are predicted to have a turbulent marriage.

As You Like It has never been my favourite comedy. It's funny, and when staged well, it can be great. But there are so many subplots and lovers that it can be difficult to follow if it is staged poorly. It does have the famous "All the world's a stage" speech, delivered by an associate of the true Duke in Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166. There is also Rosalind convincing Orlando that she will cure him of his love for the fair Rosalind if he shows up and courts her (since he thinks she's a man at that point), which is entertaining. But the story's never captured my imagination, and I don't find much matter in it for discussion. The usurping Duke's about-face in the final scene makes very little sense, especially since his conversion is conveyed by messenger and it doesn't fit with his words and actions in the earlier acts. The part I like the least, I think, is rather unfortunately one of the main devices which drives the plot. The love-at-first sight phenomenon, which plagues the play, rarely convinces me. It's certainly easier to establish in a short amount of time, but it tends to feel unconvincing unless played by very skilled actors.

Well, there's my take on As You Like It. Our next foray into Shakespeare will take us to Padua, in The Taming of the Shrew.

Favourite Quotes
"Invest me in my motley; give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through ahd through
Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine." Jaques, As You Like It, II.7.58-61

"It is meat and drink to me to see a clown. By my troth, we that have good wits have much to answer for." Touchstone, As You Like It, V.1.11-12

"It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue." Rosalind, As You Like It, Epilogue

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