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As You Like It | Essays



Observations on As You Like It

 

As You Like It will be for many of you a rather difficult play to appreciate and interpret simply on the basis of a reading. The reasons for this are not difficult to ascertain. The play is, as I have observed, a pastoral comedy, that is, a comedy which involves a traditional literary style of moving sophisticated urban courtiers out into the countryside, where they have to deal with life in a very different manner from that of the aristocratic court. This play, like others in the  Pastoral tradition, freely departs from naturalism, and in As You Like It (certainly by comparison with the History plays) there is little attempt to maintain any consistently naturalistic style.

 

This can create problems for readers unfamiliar with the conventions of pastoral, especially those who find it just too artificial and incredible to grasp imaginatively. After all, how are we to understand the unmotivated family hatreds which launch the action? We are simply not given any sufficiently detailed look at why Oliver hates Orlando (he himself does not understand the reason) or why Duke Frederick hates Duke Senior and turns on Rosalind so suddenly or, what is most surprising of all, why the nasty people whose animosities have given rise to the plot so suddenly and so conveniently convert and become nice people just in time to wind the plot up happily under the supervision of the goddess Hymen, the Greek deity of marriage, who arrives as an unexpected but welcome guest.

 

But these features of the plot which we might find unconvincing if we demand naturalism (that is, if we insist on treating the play as a "Hence" story) are little more than standard plot devices in "And then" stories, common in a genre like pastoral, which makes no claims to naturalistic motivation. Such plotting serves to launch and to conclude the comic confusion. The main point of the play here, after all, is not the working out of a carefully constructed plot, but rather the various encounters which take place in the Forest of Ardenne. In fact, the structure of the play is less a carefully complex and unfolding plot than a series of conversations between characters who happen to run into each other amid the trees.

 

You will notice, for example, that most of the central part of As You Like It consists of often random encounters between different characters in the forest. In many cases, they have no particular reason to talk to each other. What these serve to bring out is a series of conversations about life (and particularly about love) in which we witness different attitudes clashing. The effect is to take us through a variety of responses to shared concerns and to get us responding to our own sense of the appropriate ways to deal with experience.

 

To put this another way. The pastoral style of As You Like It does not encourage a deep psychological approach to any of the characters, to the logic of their motivation. If that's what we demand from a story to make it interesting, then this play is not going to satisfy us. We are not in that sort of a world. There is far more direct pressure on us to see in the interactions between characters the exploration of some themes, especially issues concerning love. That is not to say that the characters are not theatrically interesting and worth talking about; it is rather to insist that the characters here are serving thematic purposes more obviously than they are in more psychologically plausible plays. So there's little point in seeking to penetrate deeply into the plausibility of the psychological motivation or of the coincidences.

 

To take one obvious example of a thematic concern, very common in pastoral, we notice in the play a repeated contrast between court and country life. The purpose here is not to provide some naturalistic contrast, for the picture of life in the country is obviously idealized a good deal (although not totally, for there are references to the harsher aspects of life away from the comforts of the court and to the realities of working for an absentee landlord). Nor is the purpose any romantic celebration of the values of country living as somehow more authentic than city life. The pastoral is primarily a vehicle for a (usually) gentle satire on urban values, on some of the corrupting manners of the court (like flattery and excessive attention to clothes or fine language). And we can see this clearly enough in this play. But there is no sense in As You Like It that, given a free choice, any of the principal characters (except Jaques) would actually prefer to live in the country rather than the court.

 

The other great difficulty with As You Like It for inexperienced readers is much of the humour. Here again, what makes little sense on the page (and doesn't come across as very funny) generally works much better in a production. This point is generally true of all comedy, where the physicality of the human interaction (something not always readily apparent from the text of the play alone) is an essential key to understanding and responding to what is going on. That aspect of comedy, especially Shakespearean comedy, is one reason why, in the curriculum of this course, the comedies are underrepresented. The only quick way to overcome this problem is to focus on seeing the play in production (and there's a useful BBC video version available in the college library).



The Philosophy of Jaques in As You Like It  

 

Jaques is one of the characters in Shakespeare`s comedy As You Like It. We- as audience and readers- learn that although he was previously a libertine, he now seems to have turned to philosophy in his quest for a new identity. As a philosopher he questions much of what he sees around him.

            At one point Jaques analyses what it is to be a man (II,vii, 60-166). He sees the world as a stage wherein men and women are players, and their different ages represent different acts and scenes in the play. His descriptions suggest that the roles are largely beyond the players` control; that a script for the play has already been written by an exterior force. But there is a sense of contradiction in all this; the stages Jaques outlines for us (presented to his audience as universal) do not account for his own role. Since this is the case we must either presume that Jacques is somehow exceptional or that the roles are not as fixed as people imagine. One can always argue that Jaques is an outcast of some sort. On the other hand, the Duke Senior is eager to offer him a position at court, thereby giving him an opportunity to obtain an acceptable role within the framework of a hierarchical, society, but Jaques turns down the offer. He needs to widen his horizon, and is so impatient about learning more that he does not even stay to celebrate with the rest of the uke`s men."To see no pastime, I." (V,iv,194). Instead he wants to go to Duke Frederick: "Out of these convertites,/ There is much matter to be hear`d and learn`d" (V,iv,183-184).

            Jaques has no particular interest in being part of an established society. He creates his own role and his own destiny. By his mere presence in the play we are made aware of the infinite choices that confront human beings in their lives. Rosalind is the only other character in As You Like It who really challenges established roles, but whereas she (in all likelihood) returns to court and is satisfied with the new development (after all, she brought it about), Jacques is unwilling to let go of his freedom and independence introduced to him in the green world.

            Jaques first attempts to challenge established norms by putting on a fool`s appearance: "O that I were a fool!/ I am ambitious for a motley coat." (II,vii,42-43) He further announces: "Give me leave to speak my mind" (II,vii,58-59).In this way he can serve as a cleanser of "the foul body of th`infected world" (II,vii,60). He knows that at "the pompous court" (V,iv,181) he can only speak his mind if people think him a fool, whereas here in the woods, in the green world, he is free to say and do as he chooses. He seems to have no wish to be bound by courtly rules or any other rules for that matter. Jaques is on the whole very much a contrast to the other characters in the play, what they take seriously he does not, what they think is funny, he does not. He fascinates as well as annoys his companions; among other things he ridicules Orlando`s infatuation with Rosalind, showing a very cynical side of himself. But he too can on occasion be happy and agreeable (IV,ii).

            Jaques`s main concern seems to be freedom to say and do what he wants. He is not willing to compromise as he must do if he returns to court. He sticks to his principles and is not overly concerned with what other people think of him. In this sense he is very much like *"The Contrary Woman",a woman who never gives in. He goes in the opposite direction of his friends, both physically and spiritually. They follow the roles as set up for them in Jaques`s speech about a man`s seven ages, he proves their potential invalidity.

 

* "The Contrary Woman" is a Norwegian folktale about a woman who even floats upstream.



Gender in As You Like It

 

One of the most intriguing aspects of the treatment of love in As You Like It concerns the issue of gender. And this issue, for obvious reasons, has generated a special interest in recent times. The principal reason for such a thematic concern in the play is the cross dressing and role playing. The central love interest between Rosalind and Orlando calls into question the conventional wisdom about men's and women's gender roles and challenges our preconceptions about these roles in courtship, erotic love, and beyond.

At the heart of this courtship is a very complex ambiguity which it is difficult fully to appreciate without a production to refer to. But here we have a man (the actor) playing a woman (Rosalind), who has dressed herself up as a man (Ganymede), and who is pretending to be a woman (Rosalind) in the courtship game with Orlando. Even if, in modern times, Rosalind is not played by a young male actor, the theatrical irony is complex enough.

 

The most obvious issue raised by the cross dressing is the relationship between gender roles and clothes (or outer appearance). For Rosalind passes herself off easily enough as a man and, in the process, acquires a certain freedom to move around, give advice, and associate as an equal among other men (this freedom gives her the power to initiate the courtship). Her disguise is, in that sense, much more significant than Celia's, for Celia remains female in her role as Aliena and is thus largely passive (her pseudonym meaning "Stranger" or "outsider" is an interesting one). The fact that Celia is largely passive in the Forest of Ardenne (especially in contrast to Rosalind) and has to wait for life to deliver a man to her rather than seeking one out, as Rosalind does, is an interesting and important difference between the two friends.

 

These points raise some interesting issues. If becoming accepted as a man and getting the freedom to act that comes with that acceptance is simply a matter of presenting oneself as a man, then what do we say about all the enshrined natural differences we claim as the basis for our different treatment of men and women? Given that Rosalind is clearly the most intelligent, active, and interesting character in the play and that these qualities would not be likely to manifest themselves so fully if she were not passing herself off as a man, the play raises some interesting questions about just what we mean by any insistence on gender differences as more than mere conventions.

But the issue is much more complicated than that. For Rosalind's assumed name, Ganymede, is a very deliberate reference to the young male lover Zeus carried up to Olympus, and it points us to what might be a very strong element in the courtship game between Orlando and Rosalind and in the feelings Phoebe has for Rosalind, namely homoerotic desire. There's little in the play to suggest this explicitly, but a production which showed, say, that Orlando's feelings were becoming involved with Ganymede, so that the pretend courtship has a strongly erotic undercurrent, would not be violating the text. Perhaps it's hard to distinguish totally between Orlando's feelings for Rosalind and Orlando's feelings for Ganymede. And that challenges all sorts of conventional expectations about erotic love, in order to "probe the surprisingly complex issue of what is natural in matters of love and sexual desire" (Jean Howard, Introduction to As You Like It in The Norton Shakespeare).

 

That's why the play wedding ceremony that Rosalind and Orlando go through with Celia playing role of officiating minister (in 4.1) is, for all the acting going on, quite powerfully charged. Celia, who loves Rosalind, supervises the wedding of the two people presenting themselves as men, and under the obvious fun of the make believe there's a powerful sense of the sexual attraction the two have for each other. It's worth asking at this point just how much Orlando might know or suspect or what feelings are keeping him in this game. There seems little doubt that underneath his play acting he is experiencing a strong bond with Rosalind/Ganymede, something which emerges as even more ironic if we sense (from the style of the production) that part of him either recognizes Rosalind or is responding to the same characteristics in Ganymede that make him so in love with Rosalind. The BBC production is worth attending to for its presentation of this complex moment in the play.

 

This point is underscored by the very strong instant desire that Phoebe finds for Rosalind/Ganymede, which seems at first not unlike the feelings Orlando has for Rosalind. Phoebe, of course, abandons her love as soon as she learns that Rosalind is a woman, but the play confronts us with the question about the validity of those feelings. If a set of men's clothes is the only thing distinguishing conventional sexual arrangements from alternatives, we are invited (at least) to wonder somewhat about the extent to which conventional arrangements do not exhaust the erotic possibilities.

The play, of course, in its closing scene celebrates conventional heterosexual marriages. But by that time it has offered us, at least by powerful suggestions, some erotic alternatives, without condemning such possibilities as inherently unnatural. And, depending upon how some of these key scenes are played, a production of As You Like It can evoke in the audience some very interesting and (perhaps) ambivalent feelings about mature sexuality.

 

This point seems to be emphasized in the epilogue spoken by the newly married Rosalind, where the boy actor playing the role calls attention to the fact that he is not a woman, as if to remind us (maybe) that the happy union of Orlando and Rosalind in which we take such delight has explored other possibilities than heterosexuality. This point can be underscored strongly if Orlando is present with Rosalind during this epilogue (say, holding her in his arms) and the actor playing Rosalind is removing his make up (e.g., wig).  And, of course, if the actor playing Rosalind has made some erotic connections with the audience, then his final revelation in the Epilogue will force the audience member to confront some of his own feelings about gender attachments.

As I say, it's rare to see Rosalind nowadays played by a boy, although there have been all-male productions in modern times. And so the epilogue is often omitted or edited. As it stands, the boy actor's offer to kiss the desirable grown men in the audience ("If I were a woman") gives the last words of the play an ironic and erotic resonance that challenges gently the heterosexual weddings we have just celebrated.



Role Of Jaques in As You Like It

 

The essentially healthy emotional intelligence of Rosalind and Orlando and their suitability for each other emerge from their separate encounters with Jaques (in some editions Jacques), the melancholy ex-courtier who is part of Duke Senior's troupe in the forest. Both Rosalind and Orlando take an instant dislike to Jaques (which is mutual). And in that dislike we are invited to see something vitally right about the two of them.

 

For Jaques is, in effect, the opposite of everything Rosalind stands for. He is a moody cynic, who likes to look at life and draw from it poetical contemplations at the generally unsatisfactory nature of the world. He is, in a sense, an initial Hamlet-like figure (the comparison is frequently made), someone without any motivating erotic joy, who compensates for his inadequacy by trying to drag everything down to the level of his empty emotions and by verbalizing at length in poetical images. He takes some pride in what he calls his very own brand of melancholy which can suck the joy out of life as a weasel sucks the protein out of an egg (an interesting image of the destruction of new living potential), and he spends his time wallowing in it. His own social desire seems to be to find someone else to wallow in the same emotional mud as he does. But the spirits of the other characters, especially of Rosalind and Orlando, are too vital and creative to respond favourably to Jaques's attempts to cut life down to fit his limited moods.

 

That judgment no doubt sounds quite harsh. And perhaps it is, for Jaques is a relatively harmless person, who deceives no one (nor does he try to), and his poetical reflections, like Hamlet's, are often seductive. But we should not let the fame of some of his utterances (particularly the famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech in 2.7, a frequently anthologized piece of so-called Shakespearean "wisdom") conceal the fact that his approach to life is thoroughly negative. He sees no value in anything other than calling attention to the world's deficiencies. He does not recognize in the fellowship, music, and love all around him any countervailing virtues.

 

This point is made really explicit at the very end of the "Seven Ages of Man" speech (2.7.138-165). As Jaques concludes his cynical evaluation of the emptiness of human life by talking about how in old age men become useless lumps of flesh ("Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything"), Orlando enters carrying Adam. The latter is the living denial of everything Jaques has just said, for Adam is very old, but has actively striven to help Orlando with generosity, love, and a sense of duty, qualities which confer upon him an emphatic and obvious value. The dramatic irony in that entrance points us to the severely limited and limiting understanding of the world which Jaques has just uttered.

 

[As an aside, it might be worth remarking that this habit of excerpting speeches of Shakespeare and setting them up as "gems" outside of their immediate dramatic context has the unfortunate tendency to immortalize a passage as some special insight into the nature of life when it is, in fact, quite the reverse. The speech of Jaques is, along with the advice of the Polonius to his son, the most famous example of this problem. Far from being a particularly mature earned insight into anything important, Jaques's speech is an indication of his limited and unwelcome sense of the unsatisfactory nature of life. The entrance of Orlando and Adam underscores this point.]

 

Oscar Wilde, in one of his most famous apophthegems, once defined a cynic as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. That definition applies very well to Jaques, and it helps us at once understand why Rosalind and Orlando will have nothing to do with him. Rosalind understands that love comes at a price. Time will change things, and a commitment in love brings with it the risk of infidelity (and there is much talk of that in the play). But she will not therefore deny its value or refuse to take the risk. On the contrary, she determines to extract the full value from her excited feelings for Orlando, not by freezing those feelings in some sour poetical reflections but by experiencing them moment by moment, no matter what the future may bring. Orlando also is too full of the spirit of life to find anything in Jaques's gentle but persistent pessimism at all worth bothering about.

 

I don't mean to over-emphasize the kill-joy quality of Jaques. He is generally harmless enough, particularly in this play where everyone recognizes him for what he is and where he has no particular interest in pulling others down to his level against their will. If they don't want to sit down with him and rail against the first born of Egypt, he's content to move away on his own. But it's significant that he's not a fully participating member of the final celebrations and that he is going to remain in the forest. He has learned nothing and, indeed, is incapable of learning anything, simply because he is not open to experience (in terms of the earlier analysis I offered of Richard II and Hamlet, Jaques is a "chatterer"). He's made up his mind what life is all about, and he is seeking confirmation of a pre-set attitude.

Traversi's summary comment on Jaques hits the mark precisely:

 

. . . Jacques' motive is, in the last analysis "observation," the gratifying of a self regarding curiosity based on a kind of personal impotence, an inability to participate fully and naturally in the processes of life; and, since his attitude is one which implies throughout an incapacity for genuine giving, for the positive acceptance of an order, at once natural and distinctively human, beyond the isolated self--the acceptance by which, in love or otherwise, the self is at last justified--he remains a mere marginal presence in the process by which that order is finally . . . consummated. (An Approach to Shakespeare, Vol. 1, p. 328)



The Character of  Touchstone in As You Like It

 

As You Like It features, like so many of Shakespeare's plays, a professional clown, Touchstone, and it's worth paying some attention to his role for what it contributes towards establishing and maintaining the upbeat comic spirit of the play. For the jester is the constant commentator on what is going on. His humour, pointed or otherwise, thus inevitably contributes to the audience's awareness of what is happening, and the way in which other characters treat him is often a key indicator of their sensibilities.

Touchstone is one of the gentlest and happiest clowns in all of Shakespeare. He comments on the action, makes jokes at other people's expense, and offers ironic insights about their situation. But throughout As You Like It, such traditional roles of the fool are offered and taken with a generosity of spirit so that his remarks never shake the firm comic energies of the play. When he ridicules Orlando's verses, Rosalind laughs along with him. When he points out to Corin (in 3.2) that the shepherd must be damned for never having lived at court, Corin takes it as good natured jesting (which it is). When Touchstone takes Audrey away from her rural swain, William, there are apparently no hard feelings (although much here depends on the staging). In this play, the professional jester participates in and contributes to a style of social interaction which is unqualified by any more sober and serious reflections. This makes Touchstone very different from the bitter fool of King Lear or from the most complex fool of all, the sad Feste of Twelfth Night , both of whom offer comments that cast either a shrewd, melancholy, or bitter irony on the proceedings.

 

Touchstone himself becomes the target of much humour by his immediate attraction to Audrey, the "foul" country lass. There is something richly comic here, seeing the staunch apologist for the sophisticated life of the court fall so quickly to his animal lust. But the satire here is very good humoured. Touchstone himself acknowledges the frailty of his vows and does not attempt to deceive anyone about his intentions. He knows he is serving his lusts and that that is no good basis for a lasting and significant marriage. But the play builds up no severe indictment against what he is doing, and Audrey herself makes no protest. So this most unlikely of unions becomes part of the celebration of love at the end of the play, an expression of the comic variety of the experience, rather than offering any ironic commentary.



The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It

 

Central to the pastoral vision of As You Like It is the setting in the Forest of Ardenne, especially the contrast between it and the ducal court. In the former, there is a powerful political presence which creates dangers. Deception lurks behind many actions, brothers have secret agendas against their brothers, and people have to answer to the arbitrary demands of power.

 

In the Forest of Ardenne, however, life is very different. For one thing, there is no urgency to the agenda. There are no clocks in the forest, and for the exiled courtiers there is no regular work. They are free to roam around the forest, prompted by their own desires. There is plenty of food to eat, so the communal hunt takes care of their physical needs. That and the absence of a complex political hierarchy creates a much stronger sense of communal equality hearkening back the the mythical good old days. The exiled Duke himself attests to the advantages of living far from the court, free of the deceits of flattery and double dealing and welcomes Orlando to the feast without suspicion.

 

And, most important here, especially in comparison with the history plays, is the importance of singing. As You Like It is full of songs-not performances by professional court musicians, but impromptu group singing which expresses better than anything else the spontaneous joy these people derive from life in the Forest and the joy they give back to others. The songs indicate clearly the way in which in the Forest people can shape their actions to their moods-a situation totally unlike the court where one has to consider one's actions much more carefully.

 

Hence, the Forest of Ardenne provides for the exiled courtiers an important freedom to experiment with their lives, to discover things about themselves. In the Forest people can talk openly with whoever they might happen to meet on a stroll through the trees, and that might be anyone, given that in the Forest no one owns any particular territory (there are no rooms, palaces, roads-unlike the court where there is a preoccupation with property) and thus one might well meet and have to deal with a person whom one would never get close to in the court (that can have comic results, of course, as Touchstone's conversations with Audrey and William demonstrate). In the Forest life is, as I have observed, lived more immediately in the moment with whatever life presents at the moment. Such an approach to life is impossible in the politically charged world of the court.

 

That freedom makes possible Rosalind's transformation and her taking charge of the courtship and makes an interesting contrast between Rosalind and Viola (in Twelfth Night)-the latter is not nearly so free to take charge, because she is still operating in a social environment with a clear structure of authority, which she has to respect. Hence, the fortunate outcome of that play relies upon her patience and luck far more in the case of Rosalind, who is the driving force in her courtship (Viola's desires very nearly are unfulfilled).

 

We should note, however, that the Forest of Ardenne is not an entirely idyllic setting. The Duke pays tribute to the often brutal weather, and there are some dangerous animals lurking in the underbrush. Corin, the shepherd, informs us that he works for another man-a slight but significant reminder that even in this pastoral setting the realities of power are not entirely absent.

And, of course, there is never any sense here (as there might be if this were a Romantic vision of life) that the Forest is a suitable place to live on a continuing basis. Given the opportunity to return to the court, all the exiles (except, significantly, Jaques) seize the chance. The Forest has done its work-it has educated some, repaired fraternal relationships, brought the lovers to a fuller awareness of their own feelings. Now, they can return to what will be, we sense, a much better and fuller life in the court.



The Language of Love in As You Like It

 

The most obvious concern of As You Like It is love, and particularly the attitudes and the language appropriate to young romantic love. This, I take it, is obvious enough from the relationships between Orlando and Rosalind, Silvius and Phoebe, Touchstone and Audrey, and (very briefly) Celia and Oliver. The action of the play moves back and forth among these couples, inviting us to compare the different styles and to recognize from those comparisons some important facts about young love.

 

Here the role of Rosalind is decisive, and much of one's response to this play (especially in performance) will depend upon our reaction to her. Rosalind is Shakespeare's greatest and most vibrant comic female role, and there's a old saying to the effect that in any successful production of As You Like It, the audience members will all leave the theatre in love with her.

She is clearly the only character in the play who has throughout an intelligent, erotic, and fully anchored sense of love, and it becomes her task in the play to try to educate others out of their false notions of love, especially those notions which suggest that the real business of love is adopting an inflated Petrarchan language and the appropriate attitude that goes with it.

 

Rosalind falls in love with Orlando at first sight (as is standard in Shakespeare), becomes erotically energized, and remains so throughout the play. She's delighted and excited by the experience and is determined to live it to the full moment by moment. One of the great pleasures of watching Rosalind is that she is always celebrating her passionate feelings for Orlando. She does not deny them or try to play games with her emotions. She's aware that falling in love has made her subject to Celia's gentle mockery, but she's not going to pretend that she isn't totally thrilled by the experience just to spare herself being laughed at (she even laughs at herself, while taking enormous delight in the behaviour which prompts the mockery).

 

At the same time, Rosalind has not an ounce of sentimentality. Her passionate love for Orlando does not turn her into a mooning, swooning recluse. It activates her. She takes charge of her life. She knows what she wants, and she organizes herself to seek it out. If she has to wait to pursue her marriage, then she is going actively to enjoy the interim in an improvised courtship and not wrap herself in a mantle of romantic attitudinizing. She initiates the game of courtship with Orlando and keeps it going. She has two purposes here. This gives her a chance to see and court Orlando (in her own name) and thus to celebrate her feelings of love, but it also enables her to educate Orlando out of the sentimental pose he has adopted.

 

Orlando, too, is in love with Rosalind. But his view of love requires him to write drippy poems and walk through the forest hanging them on trees. He sentimentalizes the experience (that is, falsifies it), so that he can luxuriate in his feelings of love rather than focusing sharply on the reality of the experience. In their conversations, Rosalind/Ganymede pointedly and repeatedly deflates his conventional rhetoric. This comes out most clearly in her famous reply to his claim that, if Rosalind rejects him, then he will die.

 

No, faith; die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned; and the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love. (4.1.81-92)

 

It needs to be stressed that Rosalind's view of love is highly intelligent (that is, emotionally intelligent) and sensitive. This is not the statement of a cynic, because we know that Rosalind is very much in love, passionately eager to be with Orlando or to talk about him as much as she can. But the experience is not corrupting her response to life. She will not permit herself or Orlando to be deceived into thinking love is something other than the excitingly real experience she is going through-love is the most wonderfully transforming experience for her but it is not the sum total of everything life has to offer (as Orlando's poems make out). This fusion of passion and intelligence, shot through with a humour which enables her to laugh at herself as much as at other people, makes Rosalind a wonderfully attractive character.

 

This complex attitude first emerges when she discovers Orlando's poetry. Of course, she knows the poetry is really poor, and she can laugh heartily at Touchstone's damning parody of all the words which rhyme with "Rosalind." But at the same time she is erotically thrilled that Orlando is around and that he is in love with her. Rather than being embarrassed by the wretched sentimentality of her lover, she simultaneously loves the fact that her feelings are returned and can laugh at his attempt to express them. This is not laughter at Orlando, but at the incongruity of the situation and joy at the mutuality of their feelings.

 

Consider also her sense that the youthful love she is now enjoying will not last. She knows that and is not going to shield herself from that awareness in conventionally romantic platitudes: "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" (4.1.124-127). Of course, time will change the passionate excitement she now feels. But she's not going to act like Marlowe's Nymph who denies the passionate shepherd his love because she's afraid of the destructive powers of time. No, she will not let any future fear interrupt or qualify the enormous joy she derives out of being in love right at this moment. What the future will bring will happen. That is no reason not to appreciate the immediate joys of the love she feels for Orlando.

 

No, that same wicked bastard of Venus, that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen, and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses everyone's eyes because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I am in love. I'll tell thee, Aliena, I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando. I'll go find a shadow and sigh till he come.

 

Here she is, in part, laughing at herself as a victim, one more person hit by naughty Cupid. But she's obviously thrilled by the experience and is not going to deny herself one bit of the joy she is feeling.

Rosalind becomes the pivot around whom the other lovers move, because she is the only one with a maturely intelligent sense of the difference between love and sentiment. Thus, she can deliver stern lectures to Silvius and Phoebe about how they are denying themselves the joys that are possible because they have a false sense of love. Silvius's excessively conventional Petrarchan attitudes simply encourage Phoebe to close him out of her feelings and to develop a false sense of her own importance, as Rosalind points out very bluntly: "Sell when you can. You are not for all markets" (3.5.61). She is telling Phoebe, in effect, to wake up to the realities of the world in which she lives and to abandon the sentimental dream in which she has locked herself, thanks to the language in which she and Silvius understand their feelings.

 

It's significant that throughout much of the play, when Rosalind talks to others about love, she talks in prose, rejecting the formal potential of a more imaginative language, in order to keep the discussions anchored in the reality of everyday life. Rosalind wants love, but she will have it only in the language of everyday speech, without the seductive embellishments of poetical conventions, which corrupt because they take one away from the immediately reality of the experience.

 

Orlando profits from Rosalind's instructions because he is basically an emotionally intelligent person as well. His commitment to playing the role of the conventional lover is only luke warm; as Rosalind observes, he doesn't have the appearance of such a literary poseur. Significantly, his poetry is very bad, and he's not going to mind acknowledging the fact. He does not love his own words more than his own true feelings and hence does not strive to develop his abilities as a poet and quickly moves into the prose conversations with Rosalind/Ganymede. It's an interesting question whether or not he might recognize or have his suspicions about Rosalind/Ganymede well before the ending. There's an intriguing possibility that he knows her all along, but recognizing that she is in charge of the game, he is only going to drop the pretense when she gives him the cue. I've never seen this interpretation attempted, but if I were producing the play, I would like to try it.







The Deeper Meaning of As You Like It                

      Shakespeare's As You Like It is a good play for anyone to read or see. Some readers would enjoy one aspect of it, some would enjoy another. But all would, in general, enjoy the play. Albert Gilman says that Shakespeare intended to imply that all that people need to live together in harmony is "good sense, love, humor, and a generous disposition." (Gilman lxvii) This play is deeper than the surface, and that is part of its appeal to every kind of person.

As its title declares, this is a play to please all tastes. ".For the simple, it provides the stock ingredients of romance....For the more sophisticated at d, it p propounds...a question which is left to us to answer: Is it / better to live in the court or the country?....For the learned and literary this is one of Shakespeare's most allusive plays, uniting old traditions and playing with them lightly... (Gardner 161)

The title of the play came from a note to his "gentlemen readers" in Thomas Lodge's book, Rosalynde, in which he said, "I f you like it, so." (Lodge 108) People interpret different lines and actions of the characters as they wish, and we know Shakespeare would not object; it says so right in the title of the play! Actors and Directors have taken this literally, and have made various changes to the script, such as having Phebe gnaw on a turnip or an apple between her lines and having Rosalind kiss the chain before giving it to Orlando.

The characters in As You Like It are easy to understand because they follow their simple wishes; they do something because it suits them. For example, Oliver hates Orlando because he wants to. There is no reason for him to resent him, none at all: "... for my soul, though I know not why, hates nothing more than he." (Shakespeare 8) Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind because people felt sorry for her for her father's sake. Finally, Rosalind herself had no other reason than a simple whim to not tell Orlando who she really was.

Touchstone added the humor to the story, and Jacques added the melancholy. Shakespeare entered both of these characters into the play to balance each other. He also added Audrey and William to give all of the characters someone to love. Because they don't add anything to the plot, these two are not mentioned much. Jacques, because he has the same name as Orlando's brother, was probably meant to be the "Second Brother." But because of his attitude and his outlook on life, Shakespeare realized that "the born solitary must have no family." (Gardner 164)

Because Duke Frederick had banished the whole court, there was no one left. So he went to the Forest to "seek the enemies so necessary to his existence." (Erickson 189) While he was there, he was changed by a religious old man, popularly thought to be a hermit, and gave the crown back the Duke Senior. He realized that he was wrong in banishing everyone to the Forest of Arden. It wraps up the play very well and adds to the public appeal more than merely killing the tyrant.

Silvius and Phebe were not as big a part of As You Like It as Montanus and Phoebe in Rosalyade. Play-goers would be more interested in the main love-afTair, rather than spending a lot o f time on those two. Silvius thought he loved Phebe, where he probably really loved love itself. "He's fall'n in love with your foulness, and she'll [Phebe] fall in love with my [Ganymede's] anger." (Shakespeare 69) Phebe did not treat him with respect and was not worthy of his love. Joseph Locket says "Silvius' longings for Phebe show...a losing of the self rather than finding of the lover, and more worthy of mockery than respect." (Locket 2)

Orlando is the "handsome, well-mannered, young hero" (Gardner 161) necessary to a good romance. His whole sense of self came from his heritage. He saw himself as the son of Sir Rowland de Boys. When he won the wrestling match, he won the right, in his mind, to claim his father's name. When Oliver came into the forest to find his brother and was attacked by the lioness, Orlando saved him. The kindness he showed to Oliver started with the willingness of Duke Senior to share his meal with Adam and Orlando.

Rosalind, under the disguise of being Ganymede, could get away with a lot more than she could as herself. As Rosalind, Ganymede could not te11 Phebe to "sell when you can, you are not for all markets." (Shakespeare 69) She could "spoof love and yet be a lover," (Gilman Ixiv) Through the tool of Ganymede, Rosalind was acting out "parts scripted for women by her culture." (Howard 198) She used the laws of society to achieve her own ends.

Rosalind's disguised love-play is not merely a game with hapless Orlando, but an education: he must care enough to keep his promises and appointments, and respect her enough to speak as well as kiss.

She is "teaching her future mate how to get beyond certain ideologies of gender to more enabling ones." (Howard 198) Through her interactions with Orlando as Ganymede, Rosalind is accomplishing much. Her ultimate end is a "rational relationship," rather than one of "heady emotionalism." (Locket 2) She wished to keep her intelligence and dignity instead of having a relationship such as Audrey and Touchstone (based on lust) or Silvius and Phebe (based on his love of her "foulness"), but she still wanted the bliss of romance. "No wonder she seems so modern, and pleases so many modem audiences." "...Rosalind does not so much woo Orlando as educate him in the proper way to love." (Locket 1)

Shakespeare crams his first act with incident in order to get everyone to the forest as soon as he possibly can and, when he is ready, he ends it all as quickly as possible. (Gardner 165)

Shakespeare begins the play in the court, then quickly goes to the Forest. He spends little time in the court because not much happens there, and Shakespeare leaves no room for boredom here. As You Like It is a play based on place, as opposed to time. This comedy, like most of Shakespeare's other works, was taken from another source. Shakespeare took Rosalyade and "stripped Lodge's plot down to the bare bones and added no subplot of his own." (Gardner 164)

Shakespeare's tragedies are violent and merciless, but he omitted much of the violence from As You Like It that was included in Rosalynde. The wicked uncle was converted in the Forest instead o f being killed in the battle at the end o f the story, and, at the wrestling match, Charles was thrown, but his neck was not broken. Shakespeare made his villains not quite so villainous, "in the spirit of a playful comedy." (Locket 1) Charles, who wrestled Orlando, was not as evil as in Rosalynde, as he did not do it for money but was deceived by Oliver. Even Oliver does not treat Orlando as badly as Saladin treated Rosader, and Duke Frederick did not banish his own daughter like Duke Torismond did.

Shakespeare made his characters more equal in character value; not only did he make his villains better, he also made his heroes worse, with the exception of Rosalind and her father, Celia was not thrilled at the opportunity to play the priest and "marry" Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando, as she was in Lodge's version, and Celia was in a bad mood far the remainder of that scene. Orlando, when he disrupted the Duke Senior's dinner, was much more harsh, abrupt, and forceful than Rosader in the same situation. Duke Senior was the same as Gerismond in showing kindness to Orlando/Rosader when the latter demanded food. Shakespeare's Rosalind was better than Lodge's Rosalynde, for when they gave Orlando/Rosader the necklace, Rosalynde gave it to him to toy with his emotions. Rosalind had honest intentions in that action. "Shakespeare's people are more human, with virtues and flaws for all." (Locket 1) This made the play more lifelike, adding to its charm.

Unlike his other comedies, As You Like It did not have the "broad humor." This might have been because of their recent loss of the company's funnyman, Kempe. Out of this, however, Shakespeare has created "the most re6ned and exquisite of the comedies." This is probably why Audrey's former lover, William, makes such a short appearance. He is the closest of all the characters in the play to a "gross clown." (Gardner 162)

When someone first sees or reads this play, it is just a cute story with romance, nature, and some violence; what else could one want? This is for the "simpler" play-goer. However, if someone who is more "sophisticated" read up on the characters and studied their motivations and personalities, the whole play would become real and much more interesting because the audience/reader would understand more how they feel. The "learned and literary" would study and analyze each sentence and phrase and research why Shakespeare used certain words or referred to a specific person or event. As You Like It can be read, studied, and/or ana1yzed, depending on the tastes o f the readers and actors. Someone might not like a story because it is too light or too complicated, but a different person might enjoy it for the same reason. As You Like It appeals to all tastes, for it can be whatever the reader wants it to be.

A Pre-oedipal Reading of As You Like It

 

In these lines we see how Orlando saves his brother from a snake and a lioness. This is basically what leads to their reconciliation. On the surface this seems fairly simple, but by using a pre-oedipal reading on this passage I'll make it a bit more complex. I will try to show that this passage depicts Oliver's liberation from his mother. I will also point out how Oliver is unable to achieve this liberation himself, and how he needs to be helped by his brother Orlando.

            Already in line 106 we get a glimpse of Oliver's problem: "A wretched ragged man, o'ergrown with hair," He is unknown and unrecognisable, even to his own brother. You can see that he is an adult person by his hair (beard), but he has not got an identity as a man. Oliver suffers from the same problem as Orlando had before he met Duke Senior, in the respect that he does not have a father-figure to identify with. Rowland de Boys, who was his biological father, is dead. His only substitute, Duke Frederick, has threatened to take his estates from him, and thereby denying him his identity.

            A snake is crawling towards Oliver's mouth. If we take a closer look at this snake in a pre-oedipal context it is fairly obvious that it is a phallic symbol. As I said it is moving towards Oliver's mouth. If we regard the snake as a symbol of a penis, the vagina is represented by Oliver's mouth. On that basis, we can claim that Oliver is about to be "penetrated" and violated. We also witness a reversal of gender roles as we notice that the snake is female. This might represent Oliver's (or indeed, men's) fears of being effeminated.

            What's more, Oliver is sleeping. In other words he is not fully aware of the situation he is in. He is also defenceless. He therefore needs someone to enlighten him and to save him. This is where Orlando comes in. He is now a representative of the "liberated" man, having found his "father" in Duke Senior, and having proved his manhood by being valiant and gentle. The mere sight of him makes the snake "impotent", and it escapes. Orlando has now saved his brother from the threat of becoming effeminate. But one threat remains; Oliver must differentiate himself from "the engulfing mother" in order to find a new father-figure. Here, "the engulfing mother" is represented by the very physical threat of "A lioness, with udders all drawn dry," (IV.iii.114) The fact that her udders are dry seems to point out that she is no longer of any use to her child (Oliver). It's time for him to leave her, but she will not let him go; "Lay couching on the ground, with catlike watch/When that the sleeping man should stir" (IV.iii.115-116). Into this we can read that she'll leave him alone as long as he stays with her, but if he tries to get away from her, she'll kill him.

            Once again, he has to be helped by Orlando. Orlando, who has at least partially found his identity, saves Oliver from the engulfing mother. At the same time he establishes a new identity for Oliver. Oliver gets recognised as Orlando's brother, and receives acceptance as a man.



The Doubtful Truth of Masks in As You Like It 

 

The most obvious concern of As You Like It is love, and particularly the attitudes and the language appropriate to young romantic love. Here the role of Rosalind is decisive, and much of one's response to this play will depend upon ones reaction to her. Rosalind is Shakespeare's greatest and most vibrant comic female role.

The focus of this essay is Rosalind's preoccupation with the outward show of things. Whether this is a result of her cross-dressing, the reason for the same, or the Shakespeare's way of revealing his presence is not clear, but Rosalind's constant insistence on the truth of masks and on the other hand her readiness to doubt this same truth fascinates me.

            When she decides to dress up as a boy, Rosalind seems to think a mannish outside sufficient to convince the world at large (I.iii.111-118). She is "more than common tall" and therefore all she needs is a "gallant curtle-axe", a "boar spear" and a "swashing and a martial outside" to hide her feminine anxiousness. Taking it for granted that noone will have the hunch to look beyond her male costume, she reasons that since cowardly men are able to hide these feminine qualities, she should be able to pass off as a man, simply by behaving mannishly.

            Being so totally dependent on her own disguise not being found out, it is funny how she proceeds to doubt anyone who does not put on an outward show fitting to their claims to feeling. The first to be put on the stand in this fashion is Orlando. As Ganymede Rosalind refuses to accept Orlando's claim to being the desperate author of the love-verses (s)he has found hanging on the trees on the grounds that he has no visible marks of love upon him.

A lean cheek, which you have not; a blue eye and sunken, which you have not; an unquestionable spirit, which you have not; a beard neglected, which you have not (...) Then your hose should be ungartered, your bonnet unbanded, your sleeve unbuttoned, your shoe untied, and everything about you demonstrating careless desolation. (III.ii.363-371)

 

He is, in other words, not exactly the picture of the despairing suitor. Neither does Jaques measure up to Rosalind's expectations of the melancholy traveller. She greets him with a "they say you are" (IV.i.3), and sends him off with the order of:

Look you lisp, and wear strange suits; disable all the benefits of your own country; be out of love with your nativity, and almost chide God for making that countenance you are; or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola. (IV.i.31-36)

 

She seems thus constantly disposed to put emphasis on the exterior show of feelings. At the times when her own disguise falters for a moment, however, she very soon draws the fixity of other people's assumed identity into question. This is perhaps most clear in the scene where Orlando has failed to turn up the first time. Her anxiety - assisted by the fact that she is alone with Celia - compels her to lower her defences for a moment. Her instinctive attack on Orlando is against his semblance: "His very hair is of the dissembling colour." (III.iv.6) One moment later she seems to cancel this with her "I'faith his hair is of a good colour." (III.iv.9) Either she is now very confused, or she is saying that the ability to dissemble is a good thing.

            Had Rosalind been a human being, we might have seen this preoccupation with people's appearance as an expression of an insecurity towards her own identity, conscious or unconscious. An insecurity that would be quite natural in her situation of displaced heir and disguised female. Seen in this light she is either consciously playing with the identity of others in order to be more at ease with her own, or she is unconsciously expressing an anxiety as to whether she will really be able to carry off the act, without being exposed and without loosing her sense of self in the process.

"My way is to conjure you" says Rosalind (V.iv.208) in the epilogue, and as (s)he has conjured her fellow characters throughout the play, so has she conjured the audience. But as the audience is fully aware this is "only a play," and Rosalind only a character on stage. The perpetual reminders of the Act as opposed to the Real Thing can readily be seen - in cooperation with the epilogue - to express the playwright's warning against accepting as real the illusion he has created, in the twentieth century we would call it meta-fictionality.



As You Like It:  The Romantic Love of Silvius and Phebe

 

There are several types of love depicted in Shakespeare's As You Like It.  One variety of love portrayed in this comedy is romantic love, the romantic literary ideal which became popular in the Middle Ages. According to the courtly love tradition a lover worships his lady and serves her, suffers all sorts of indignities for her sake, and thinks only of her. He must be loyal to her for life, no matter how badly she treats him, or how much he suffers for unrequited love. A true lover never ceases to adore his lady, and when he speaks of her he only uses poetic language and style. These conventions of courtly love are clearly exemplified in As You Like It in the romantic attachment of Silvius and Phebe.

When Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone arrive in the forest of Arden they meet Silvius and Corin, an old shepherd, who are engaged in a conversation about love. Corin is advising his friend on how to treat the woman he loves. However, Silvius doubts the old shepherd's authority in such matters, for although Corin admits having been drawn into acts of madness for the sake of love during his youth, he cannot recall any of them. Silvius clearly manifests that if Corin has forgotten even the most insignificant detail of the actions love made him run into, then he has never been truly in love. Even more, Silvius also explains that a true lover never ceases to adore his lady in speech, even if this moves his listener to discomfort, and further explains that sincere love may drive a lover to interrupt a conversation out of passion. To prove this last point, Silvius suddenly interrupts his speech passionately crying the name of Phebe, his beloved, several times.

Silvius reflects the behavior of the courtly lover, who is capable of the most foolish actions for the sake of his beloved, and who suffers the pangs of unrequited love and the abrupt separation from his lady. His only concern is love and, although he is uneducated, his language is lofty, poetic, and artificial when he speaks in praise of Phebe. Indeed, both Phebe and Silvius speak in elaborate verse in order to comply with the courtly love conventions. In their courtship, Silvius praises her virtues and begs for the slightest sign of affection, and Phebe scorns and rejects him all along. This romantic and artificial attitude towards love was often portrayed in pastoral romantic literature, and Silvius an Phebe were names often given to the lovers in such genre. Thus, it may be said that Silvius and Phebe represent stock characters, the typical characters in pastoral romances who acted out the conventions of the courtly love tradition.

It may further be argued that As You Like It presents a parody of romantic love, achieved mainly through the character of Touchstone, who constantly mocks Silvius's behavior. When Silvius speaks of the follies a lover may run into, Touchstone, who is more practical rather than romantic, humorously mocks him by listing the foolish actions he has been capable of out of love. He even claims having once kissed the udders of a cow just because his beloved had milked them.

            Some of conventions of romantic love are also acted out, at least at a certain point, by other characters in the comedy. As mentioned before, all four couples fall in love at first sight, an unavoidable tradition in the romantic ideal. Rosalind and Orlando feel infatuated when they first see each other. Later, Orlando continues his courtship in the manner of a courtly lover, writing love poems in praise of Rosalind and feeling lovesick for being separated from her. Despite the fact that Orlando has seen Rosalind only once before, he quickly adopts her as the object of his adoration and devotion. Rosalind, for her part, adopts the same attitude and goes into exile with the image of Orlando as the perfect lover, enough reason to feel lovesick. Celia and Oliver also fall in love at first sight, and although very little can be seen about the nature of their love, for it is not so clearly analyzed in the play, they soon join the other couples in the wedding ceremony.




Comparing Rosalynde and As You Like It

 

Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde is an unwieldy piece, the romance is thick, heavy, and conventional. Yet when Shakespeare took it in hand, to rework the tangled web of disguise and romance into As You Like It, he changed much of the emphasis, by both altering and adding characters. Rosalynde is a celebration of love; As You Like It, a philosophical discourse on love..

 

Shakespeare cuts to the chase, eliminating much of the prologue to Rosalynde. We hear of old Sir Roland de Boys (Lodge's John of Bordeaux) only through Orlando's opening speech, not the extended deathbed collection of aphorisms Lodge provides (though this shade of Polonius perhaps influences old Adam's long-winded style). Likewise, the extended ruminations are cut entirely or, for the forest scenes, condensed into tighter dialogue. Lodge's grand tournament, with the jousting prowess of the anonymous Norman (proto-Charles) happens offstage, and we see only a wrestling match. Lodge's usurper favors Rosader after the tournament, but Shakespeare's Frederick spurns Orlando for his parentage and Oliver plots more quickly against his brother, further excising the plot-perambulations of the source and removing the months of tension and reconciliation that plague Saladin and Rosader.

 

But Shakespeare also takes care to lighten his villains, more in the spirit of a playful comedy than Lodge's sometimes grim pastoral. His Charles is relatively innocent, deceived by Oliver rather than entering willingly into his pay (as the Norman does with Saladin). Oliver, in turn, is not such a relentless foe as Saladin: he has no cronies to assist in binding up Orlando, he does not so mistreat his brother before us as happens in Lodge's pastoral. Even the usurper Duke, Torismond/Frederick, does not exile his own daughter in Shakespeare's play (only remonstrating her with "You are a fool"). And he is not killed in battle at the end of the play, but rather converted to a holy life, in much the same fate that Lodge's Saladin plans for himself in remorse ("[I shall] wend my way to the Holy Land, to end my years in as many virtues, as I have spent my youth in wicked vanities." (p.273)).

 

In contrast, Shakespeare darkens his heroes: they are not all the blithe, pastoral folk Lodge paints. Celia's single "Is it not a foul bird that defiles its own nest?" (p. 245) early in Rosalynde becomes Celia's more extended harangue at the end of IV.i. -- unlike in Lodge, Celia does not volunteer to marry Orlando and Rosalind, but is rather shanghaied into the task, to her chagrin. Orlando is not nearly as polite in his first appearance to the exiled Duke: "Forbear, and eat no more!" (II.vii.88) is rather more abrupt and impolitic than Rosader's polished and chivalric challenge. Shakespeare's people are more human, with virtues and flaws for all.

Amidst this simplification of Lodge's mass of material, Shakespeare also changes many emphases. Lodge's lovers do little but harangue each other about the legendary inconstancy of the other sex: Rosalind performs her share of carping, but also attacks the overwhelming over-romanticism of Orlando's love. Lodge's plentiful sonnets become objects of ridicule in As You Like It, material for the doggerel imitations of Touchstone's "Sweetest nut hath sourest rind, / Such a nut is Rosalind" (III.ii.109-110). And Rosalind's lessons to Orlando are meant to make him respect that "sour rind," not to put his love on a pedestal for worship. Touchstone and Audrey present raw sexual love, lust instead of romance; Silvius' longings for Phebe show the foolish extreme of Petrarchan love, a losing of the self rather than a finding of the lover, and more worthy of mockery than respect. Rosalind's disguised love-play is not merely a game with hapless Orlando, but an education: he must care enough to keep his promises and appointments, and respect her enough to speak as well as kiss (IV.i.). Orlando's wound is not merely the delay in the plot that Lodge makes it, but the occasion for his proof that the lesson is learned: Oliver's arrival with the bloody napkin shows Orlando's new-found sensibility.

 

Lodge's Rosalynde's characters concern themselves greatly with whether to love: Shakespeare's are more worried with the question of how to love. Rosalind strives for the triumph of rational relationships over heady emotionalism, a romance that will allow the woman to keep her intelligence and dignity intact, but still achieve romantic bliss. No wonder she seems so modern, and pleases so many modern audiences.



A Comparison of Time in Macbeth and As You Like It  

 In Shakespearean drama, a dynamic and explosive fusion of jealousy, pride, anger and ambition is characteristic for heroes behaviour. The tragedy was caused by the excessive flaw in character - self-respect and dignity combined with the feelings of hate and revenge. A disaster usually occurred to lead to destruction of the protagonist. Due to divine justice, punishment is inevitable and therefore no happy ending is possible. Therefore, time is the heros main enemy, mercilessly working against him. The mystery of tragedy is that once the protagonist has learnt a lesson of how to renew the order in himself, death is the only outcome /no memento mori, however/.

Comedy differs in the mood it approaches and addresses life. It presents situations which deal with common ground of mans social experience rather than limits of his behaviour it is not life in the tragic mode, lived at the difficult and perilous limits of the human condition.

In “Macbeth” the first scene presents a meeting of three witches during stormy weather. Shakespeare shows disturbed, angry nature - thunder and lighting represent light - daytime and dark night-time. Light is the metaphor for innocence, purity, truth, and goodness as opposed to dark - evil. It is also a suggestion that the innocent will suffer as well as the guilty. The fog and filthy air signify moral and spiritual obscurity and “the set of sun” means the end of the reign and kingship. The sun appears only twice when Duncan sees the swallows flying around the castle of death and during the army gathering to purify the earth of its shame (traitors).

There is very strong sense of predestination (when instead of if) while in “As You Like It” Orlandos flight is pathless and the meeting of lovers an act of Fate. In both plays the succession of the scenes is very swift; in tragedy the impression is that longer time elapsed than provided for because passage from thought to a critical resolution is difficult. The outcome of the comedy is obvious while Macbeth enters the spiral of decline within his imagination. Sleep has been banished the protagonist is aware of the nightmare; his only one dream is the murder which would break the cycle and show the way out of the nightmare liberation. But the world is a nightmare; “to be” means to escape to live in another world where:

“ Rebellious dead, rise never...

... and our high-placed Macbeth

Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath

To time and mortal custom” /IV.i.98/

Therefore, in tragedy there is conflict of two realities not only opposed but irreconcilable; illusory freedom and the main outlined goals in life are lost in the past or asserted before their time. In comedy, on the contrary, the heroes ideals are real and the power of the opposing forces illusory.

All is left is contempt the concept of man was crumbled to pieces in “Macbeth”:

“Time and the hour runs through the roughest day” /I.iii.146/

while in “As You Like It” time was the main factor which contributed to a resolution of all the problems posed and overcoming the difficulties.




Parallels between Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night


What is comedy?  Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia says: "A comedy depicts the follies and absurdities of human beings."  Webster's Dictionary defines comedy as: "A drama or narrative with a happy ending."  Shakespeare's play, Measure for Measure, fits both of these descriptions.  Follies and absurdities are present in the play: Lucio slanders the Duke, not realizing that his crude remarks are being spoken to the Duke himself; Angelo abuses his power thinking that the Duke is not present to know; and Ragozine happens to die in prison the day a head is needed to substitute for Claudio's.  The play also ends on several merry notes, consistent with the definition of comedy.  For example, Angelo's life is spared and he is forgiven; Mariana is married to Angelo; the Duke punishes Lucio humorously with marriage; Barnardine is pardoned; and Claudio is saved.  The parallels between Measure for Measure and three other Shakespearean comedies, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, also help to classify Measure for Measure as a comedy.  In Measure for Measure, like in The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, an arbitrary law or obstacle is eventually overcome; a disguised character affects the outcome of the play; a clown adds humor to the plot; a female character bears a large responsibility for the final resolution; and forgiveness and reconciliation mark the conclusion of the action.

            Some critics consider Measure for Measure a "dark" play because of the serious obstacles encountered by the characters.  However, doesn't The Merchant of Venice also have near-tragic hindrances that affect the comic plot?  In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio's life is at stake because of his bond to Shylock, and in Measure for Measure, Claudio awaits execution for his fornication with Juliet.  Comedy often begins with some kind of irrational law which blocks up the main thrust of the comic story, and the comic story somehow manages to evade or ignore the hindrance.  Sometimes, instead of the law, the play starts with a mood of deep gloom that is the main obstacle the comic action must overcome.  Twelfth Night, for example, opens with Duke Orsino's love melancholy, evident from his first lines: "If music be the food of love, play on/ Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,/ The appetite may sicken, and so die" (Twelfth Night, I, I, 1-3).  The depression prevalent in Twelfth Night also affects two female characters, Olivia and Viola, who are in mourning for their dead brothers.  The melancholic barriers in Twelfth Night are similar to the obstacles presented by the harsh rule of Angelo in Measure for Measure.  The ugly law of fornication that is strictly enforced by Angelo scowls at the characters in Measure for Measure from the beginning, and Angelo's temperament, in both his incorruptible and later phases, ensures that there will be enough gloom.

             Like Portia in The Merchant of Venice, the Duke in Measure for Measure disguises himself in order to intervene and turn the tide of the near-tragic plot.  Some critics, however, have a difficult time accepting the crafty Duke because he tricks and manipulates everybody in the play.  However, like the Christian idea of "providence" bringing events about in an unlikely and unexpected way, the Duke's mysterious and unusual workings eventually lead to a deep benevolence.  In the long run nobody in the play is physically hurt; the Duke shows mercy by punishing Lucio and Angelo only with marriage, and even the condemned criminal Barnardine is set free, except that he has another friar attached to him.  Like Rosalind, who masquerades as a male in As You Like It in order to test Orlando and manipulate the other characters, the disguised Duke serves as a puppeteer in the play, and tests the quality of his subjects.  Angelo, the hypocrite, and Lucio, the liar, fail but are penalized lightly and forgiven to keep with the comic ideal, while both Isabella and Escalus pass.  The Duke, like the majority of Shakespeare's disguised comedic characters, affects the outcome of the play, which parallels Measure for Measure with other Shakespearean comedies.

            In Measure for Measure, like in The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, there is a clown-like character or characters who adds humor to the plot.  The Merchant of Venice has Lancelot, As You Like It has Touchstone, Twelfth Night has Feste and his humorous lower-class friends, and Measure for Measure has Pompey, who is accompanied by other comic ruffians, the most prominent being Lucio.  What Pompey and Lucio do in Measure for Measure is similar to all of the other mischievous characters mentioned: they make the audience laugh.  Lucio does three humorous actions to liven up the plot: first, he slanders the Duke, unknowingly to the Duke himself; second, he serves as a cheerleader during Isabella's first encounter with Angelo; and finally, he makes rude yet amusing remarks during the last scene of the play.  A few critics find Lucio's final punishment of being forced to marry a whore troubling because Shakespeare spared the life of this slanderous liar.  However, one must consider that when choosing a punishment for the comic character, Shakespeare had only three choices.  First, he could have had the Duke execute Lucio; however, an audience that had been entertained by this genial rascal throughout the play would have been outraged to see him severely punished.  Second, Shakespeare could have had the Duke let Lucio off scot-free; however, this would have severely contradicted Angelo's punishment and left room for further disquietude.  Shakespeare therefore picks the third choice, which leaves room for Lucio's comic outlook on marriage: "Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging" (Measure for Measure V, I, 516-517) and helps to end the play on an amusing note.

            Another similarity between Measure for Measure and the typical Shakespearean comedy is the power of the female characters.  For example, Rosalind, in As You Like It, decides how the play will end when she says:

[To Silvius] I will help you if I can.  [To Phebe] I would love you if I could.  To-morrow meet me all together.  [To Phebe] I will marry you if ever I marry woman, and I'll be married to-morrow.  [To Orlando] I will satisfy you if ever I satisfied man, and you shall be married to-morrow.  [To Silvius] I will content you if what pleases you contents you, and you shall be married to-morrow.  [To Orlando] As you love Rosalind, meet.  [To Silvius] As you love Phebe, meet.  And as I love no woman, I'll meet.  So fare you well.  I have left you commands (As You Like It V, ii, 103-114).

Like Viola in Twelfth Night and Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Rosalind influences the other characters while disguised in men's clothing.  In Measure for Measure the females will not masquerade as men to cause the identity confusion that often affects the resolution of Shakespearean comedies, but instead play the bed-trick, which results in the same effect.  The bed-trick can be classified as a type of disguise because Mariana takes Isabella's place for a night, and like the other disguises mentioned from other plays, it allows a female character, Isabella, to influence the play's outcome.  Without the bed-trick, Angelo would not have sinned with Mariana, so there would have been no crime committed by Angelo to counter-balance Claudio's sin; and therefore no need for a reversal resulting in Isabella's forgiveness of Angelo.  After Angelo is publicly humiliated and forced to marry Mariana, the Duke orders that he be executed.  Mariana pleas for his life but is rejected, and in desperation, she turns to Isabella and says: "Sweet Isabel, take my part,/ Lend me your knees, and all my life to come,/ I lend you all my life to do you service" (Measure for Measure, V, I, 426-428).  Isabella's response shows that she forgives Angelo because Angelo's desire to sleep with Isabella was foiled; therefore Angelo did not commit the evil he intended because he was tricked into sleeping with the wrong woman, and does not, in Isabella's eyes, deserve to be punished for his intents.  In contrast, Isabella knows that Claudio died for a sin that Claudio actually committed.  She says:

Let him not die; my brother had but justice,/ In that he did the thing for which he died./ For Angelo,/ His act did not o'ertake his bad intent,/ And must be buried but as an intent/ That perished by the way./ Thoughts are no subjects,/ Intents but merely thoughts (Measure for Measure, V, I, 444-450).

Some critics see Isabella's actions as foolish; how could she not want to kill the man who she thinks murdered her brother?  The answer lies in Isabella's ethereal virtue.  She does the Christian thing which she earlier asked Angelo to do for Claudio: "judge not, that ye be not judged."  She said: "I would heaven I had your potency,/ And you were Isabel; should it then be thus?/ No, I would tell what 'twere to be a judge,/ And what a prisoner" (Measure for Measure II, ii, 66-69).  Isabella remains true to her word after the reversal takes place.  Isabella's capacity to forgive shows that she is ready to become a nun, or marry the Duke, whichever path she chooses, and leaves room for the happy ending expected in a comedy.

            A few critics despise the ending of Measure for Measure, and label the unresolved issue of whether the Duke marries Isabella or not as a flaw.  However, Measure for Measure is not the only Shakespearean comedy where bits and pieces of the plot are left unresolved.  In Twelfth Night, after Orsino decides he wants to marry Viola, he tries to help her regain her female attire; however, the reader learns that Malvolio has since imprisoned the Captain who has Viola's clothes.  Why Malvolio jailed the captain is never mentioned.  Another commonly used argument against the resolution of the play is its near-tragic ending.  However, the possibility of tragedy is a device commonly used in comedies.  For example, in The Merchant of Venice, Antonio is threatened with death, like both Claudio and Angelo are in Measure for Measure.  Once Claudio and Angelo are spared, the possibility of tragedy is struck down in Measure for Measure, and the action proceeds upward through the play's ending.  The last scene of Measure for Measure presents the vision of a renewed and regenerated society, with forgiveness, reconciliation, and the pursuit of happiness all over the place.  Like Measure for Measure, forgiveness and reconciliation also come at the end of The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.  At first glance, the unresolved plot fragments and the near-tragic denouement make it appear difficult to classify Measure for Measure as a Shakespearean comedy; however, when Measure for Measure is compared to Shakespeare's other comedies, its ending relates to The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.

            Not only does Measure for Measure fit the definition of comedy, it also parallels Shakespeare's other comedies.  Like The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, the plot of Measure for Measure overcomes an adversarial obstacle, possesses a disguised character who affects the denouement, touches the audience with the humor of a clown or ruffian, endures the influence of a powerful a female character, and ends with forgiveness and reconciliation.  The similarities between Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night help to place Measure for Measure in the same category with Shakespeare's other comedies.  Furthermore, the "problems" many critics single out in Measure for Measure are also present in The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, and further help to classify Measure for Measure as a comedy.