Among the 5 Shakespeare plays I had read before last year, As You Like It was one that I chose to read myself rather than get assigned in class. I was going to save the rereading till later, but it seems like a good choice now after The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
1/ Shakespeare is clearly fascinated by the kind of hate that seems to have no reason.
“OLIVER […] I hope I shall see an end of him; for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he…”
(Act 1 scene 1)
Oliver is talking about his own brother Orlando. It’s not really without reason though—it is envy, and even though he keeps Orlando at home without an education and treats him like a servant, Orlando is still more popular and that makes Oliver hate him more. However, his change near the end of the play is not (wholly) unconvincing.
2/ Why does Shakespeare have 2 characters named Jaques in the same play—a discontented lord in the Forest of Arden (“All the world’s a stage”), and a brother of Oliver and Orlando? What’s the significance?
Two things should be noted: firstly, the character of the bitter, discontented lord is Shakespeare’s creation and not in Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde. The name Jaques is close to “jars”.
“DUKE SENIOR If he, compact of jars, grow musical,
We shall have shortly discord in the spheres…”
(Act 2 scene 7)
(compact of jars: made up of discord)
Secondly, Lodge’s Rosalynde does have a middle brother, and I’ve read that he’s more developed and more important in the story than Shakespeare’s character, but he isn’t called Jaques. Clearly, Shakespeare wants to link the two characters together, but why?
3/ When talking about the actors in Shakespeare’s comedy, Jonathan Bate says:
“Cooke and Tooley were there, with several other apprentices, including one “Ned,” […]. Little is known about the characteristics of the leading apprentices, who seem to have been Tooley and Cooke. It may perhaps be inferred that one was a lot taller than the other, since Shakespeare often wrote for a pair of female friends, one tall and fair, the other short and dark (Helena and Hermia, Rosalind and Celia, Beatrice and Hero).” (Soul of the Age, ch.21)
I do remember that Helena is taller than Hermia (“Though she be little, she is fierce”), and Beatrice is taller than Hero (Benedick says Hero is “too low for a high praise” and “too little for a great praise”). In As You Like It, there seems to be a mistake at the beginning of the play when Le Beau talks about the cousins, because Rosalind is clearly the taller one—later on, she dresses up as a man because she’s “more than common tall”, and Celia is described as “low”.
4/ See my blog post about Jonathan Bate’s analysis of counter-voices in As You Like It and in Shakespeare in general.
Quite early on in the play, when we’re introduced to Duke Senior and his talk about the sweet life in the Forest of Arden, quite immediately after, Shakespeare brings in Jaques’s perspective even though he’s not even present in the scene:
“FIRST LORD […] Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of the country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what’s worse,
To fright the animals and to kill them up
In their assigned and native dwelling place.”
(Act 2 scene 1)
I must thank Himadri (Argumentative Old Git) for pointing out the parallels between this play and The Tempest: an exiled duke takes over a remote and wild place, away from court, and makes it his new dukedom; and Jaques, like Caliban in The Tempest, pointedly asks what right the duke has over the forest.
However, if we cannot know what Antonio is like as a duke in The Tempest, in As You Like It, Shakespeare lets us see what Duke Frederick is like—he’s a tyrant.
To go back to Jaques, I don’t see him as an animal rights sympathiser. To me, he likes wrongfooting people and being contrary. In the end, he alone refuses to join in the celebration.
5/ As You Like It is one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays and it’s not hard to see why (even if I myself don’t include it in my top 10, generally preferring the darker plays).
“JAQUES I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as lief have been myself alone.
ORLANDO And so had I; but yet for fashion sake I thank you too for your society.
JAQUES God b’ wi’ you; let’s meet as little as we can.”
(Act 3 scene 2)
Hahahaha. Whatever you think about Jaques—whether or not you like him—he is funny.
“JAQUES Rosalind is your love’s name?
ORLANDO Yes, just.
JAQUES I do not like her name.
ORLANDO There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened.”
Must save that for future use.
I forgot how witty Orlando was.
“JAQUES By my troth, I was seeking for a fool when I found you.
ORLANDO He is drowned in the brook. Look but in and you shall see him.”
Hahahahaha. He loses to Rosalind though. Whereas Benedick and Beatrice are a perfect match, Rosalind is much wittier and more intelligent than Orlando.
It’s impossible not to like Rosalind.
“ROSALIND They say you are a melancholy fellow.
JAQUES I am so; I do love it better than laughing.
ROSALIND Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.”
(Act 4 scene 1)
Jane Austen would have loved that exchange, as she writes in Persuasion: “like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits” (Ch.12). But it’s not only Persuasion, all of her novels advocate balance: between sense and sensibility, between emotional display and restraint, between pride and humility, between vivacity and quiet introspection, between openness and reservedness, between a persuadable temper and a resolute character, and so on. Rosalind too seems to like balance.
“ROSALIND […] Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”
(Act 4 scene 1)
As Ganymede, she mocks affectations of love, though she chides Phebe for mocking Silvius’s excessiveness.
“ROSALIND […] 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…”
Rosalind is playing a role, though we can see that she has no illusions about love and marriage. This is why she’s the most beloved of Shakespeare’s female characters: she’s very much in love without losing her head; and has no illusions without becoming cynical.
Tony Tanner says:
“Her disguise affords her detachment, even while her engaged feelings ensure her involvement; so that she can comment ironically, wisely, angrily (to Phebe), wryly, sadly, happily on all the lovers, including herself. She can look at love from every angle, so that her vision and comprehension is much wider and more inclusive than the partial attitudes displayed by goatish Touchstone and soppy Silvius.” (Introduction)
I agree. And Rosalind is delightful. If I have to name the most charming and endearing female characters in fiction, I would mention Rosalind, Beatrice, Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Natasha Rostova (War and Peace), and Shi Xiangyun (Hong lou meng).
To me, more interesting is the development of the female lead in Shakespeare’s comedies: Rosalind seems to be a combination of Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and Rosaline from Love’s Labour’s Lost—she has the wit of both; like Beatrice, she is vivacious and sharp-tongued; like Rosaline educating Berowne, she educates Orlando. If Rosalind disguises herself as a man, so does Viola later in Twelfth Night, and Viola also has her intelligence and sensitivity, but she has issues (how else do you explain Viola’s love for Orsino, and her behaviour even after he threatens to kill her?). In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare also goes further in his exploration of gender and love: not only does Olivia fall in love with Viola in male disguise, the same way Phebe in As You Like It falls for Rosalind disguised as Ganymede, Orsino also develops feelings for Cesario and continues calling her Cesario and boy after she reveals herself to be Viola.
Of course, one may argue that there’s some of it in As You Like It.
“PHEBE If this be so, why blame you me to love you?
SILVIUS If this be so, why blame you me to love you?
ORLANDO If this be so, why blame you me to love you?
ROSALIND Why do you speak too, “Why blame you me to love you?”
ORLANDO To her that is not here, nor doth not hear.”
(Act 5 scene 2)
This could be Shakespeare’s joke with the audience, but Orlando does seem to like Rosalind as Ganymede, though he pretends it’s still the role-playing game. But Shakespeare goes further in Twelfth Night: unlike Orlando, Orsino never sees Viola in women’s clothes for the entire play.
6/ Tony Tanner says:
“At the time Shakespeare wrote this play, there was something of a vogue for pastoral and woodland (Robin Hood) plays, and Shakespeare’s contribution is an unparalleled exploration of the genre of pastoral. He leads his characters into a curiously suspended, time-out-of-time, pastoral moment or interlude, and then sets about exposing, testing, mocking, celebrating, elaborating pastoral’s conventions, assumptions, and pretensions—in the process, not only laying bare its manifest limitations, but also revealing new possibilities in its artifice—it’s obvious artifice.” (Introduction)
On the one hand, Shakespeare makes fun of the idealisation and romanticisation of country life (himself being a country boy), partly through the counter-voices of Jaques and Touchstone, and partly through the country characters, such as Corin.
“CORIN […] But I am shepherd to another man
And do not shear the fleeces that I graze.
My master is of churlish disposition
And little recks to find the way to heaven
By doing deeds of hospitality…”
(Act 2 scene 4)
Life isn’t all sweet on the countryside.
On the other hand, Shakespeare “[reveals] new possibilities in its artifice”, as Tony Tanner says, and he turns the forest into an unreal place, almost like the woods in A Midsummer Night’s Dream—just without fairies. There is evil at the beginning of the play, but by the end, it has evaporated away, thanks to the forest.
Comparing As You Like It and Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde, Tony Tanner says that Shakespeare drains all violence from his source. Orlando is very different from Lodge’s character, and the ending is also changed.
On my rereading, I still find As You Like It an enjoyable play but don’t like it as much as many other Shakespeare plays—among the comedies, I prefer Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example. The best thing about the play is, as everyone would say, Rosalind. She is wonderful.