THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES Like most of the major characters in As You Like It, William Shakespeare experienced life in both the country and the city. His birthplace- Stratford, on the Avon River- was a bustling country town. He arrived in London, the social, commercial, and intellectual center of England, during the reign of Elizabeth I, at the height of the English Renaissance. All classes of Englishmen, including artisans, the new middle class, and the nobility, shared a keen desire to be entertained. The influx of wealth from the New World had given many of them money to spend.
Since Shakespeare’s plays were- and still are- crowd please rs, he quickly became one of the most successful playwrights of his time. It should be helpful to examine a few ways in which As You Like It reflects the interests of the audience for which it was written. For example, Elizabethan audiences took great pleasure in the type of complex wordplay practiced by Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone. During the Renaissance, the English had begun to take their own language seriously for the first time. It had previously been considered too coarse for the expression of subtle ideas or fine shades of meaning.
(“Serious” writing was still done in Latin. ) Shakespeare probably shared his audience’s enthusiasm for exploring the potential of their native tongue. As You Like It draws upon an Elizabethan genre (type of literature) known as the pastoral romance. As escapist literature, the pastoral romance (a love story with a country setting) was extremely popular.
... Then, they are there to thrill and entertain the audience. Furthermore, Shakespeare included them to please King James. The witches also play ... to God. The witches are still important to a modern audience. Many countries, especially African, have a strong supernatural culture; they ... suicide of Lady Macbeth. The paranormal is also exhilarating in times of need. It explains the unexplained; we know so ...
Its conventions were as fixed and artificial as the formula plots of today’s romance novels. These love stories were set in idealized country locales, where life was pure and innocent. The rustic settings were populated by shepherds and shepherdesses who thought only of love and spoke of their passion in elaborate (and sometimes awful) verse. Love at first sight was commonplace. The characters suffered the pangs of unrequited love. In the forest settings of these stories, you might encounter a lion, a magician, or a band of thieves.
Elizabethans would have recognized the poetic rustics Silvius and Phebe from As You Like It as stock characters out of such a pastoral romance. They would have enjoyed seeing Rosalind save Orlando from becoming just another lovesick young man like Silvius. Many noble Elizabethan households kept professional fools such as Touchstone for entertainment. His role was actually written for Robert Armin, who had been a professional fool before joining Shakespeare’s acting company. Jesters occupied a special place in Elizabethan society.
They could mix with both kings and servants. As long as they pleased their masters, they could say almost anything they wished. Often, Shakespeare’s fools tell the truth when nobody else will. As you will see, Touchstone exposes pretension and foolishness wherever he finds them.
The romance and humor of As You Like It are played out against a backdrop of danger and political intrigue. Rosalind and Orlando both flee the city under threat of death. Much is made of the “envious court,” where nobody can be trusted and where flatterers are always seeking to add to their own power. This darker side of life was also a part of Shakespeare’s England.
When Elizabeth became queen in 1558, she inherited both religious tensions and grave financial difficulties. Fortunately, she was a shrewd politician and skillfully played her noblemen against each other, so that no individual could gain enough power to threaten her. A very real threat to Elizabeth was posed by Mary, Queen of Scots. Until Mary’s execution in 1587, Elizabeth lived with the fear that the Roman Catholics might rally around Mary and mount a rebellion. In this play, Duke Frederick fears that Rosalind’s graces will remind the people of her father and cause them to revolt. So As You Like It does mirror the concerns of Shakespeare’s audience.
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But what about the author, what of Shakespeare the man? Very little is actually known about him. Neither he nor anybody else of his era ever recorded the story of his life. A few facts are known. He was born in Stratford, a small English country town on the Avon River, and baptized on April 26, 1564. Since infants were generally baptized at three days, his birth date may have been April 23. His father was John Shakespeare, a prosperous Stratford businessman and town council member.
William’s mother, Mary, was the daughter of a well-to-do landowner. William was the eldest of their six children. Shakespeare almost certainly attended the local grammar school. There, his studies would have included Latin, rhetoric (grammar, composition), and literature. In November 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior. Anne’s age, combined with the fact that their first child was born only six months after the wedding, has led some scholars to believe that the marriage was one of necessity.
That may not be the case, however, because at that time it was socially acceptable for an engaged couple to sleep together. William and Anne had two girls, Susanna and Judith, and one son, Hamlet, who died young. Nobody knows what work Shakespeare did while in Stratford. He may have been a schoolteacher or a private tutor in a wealthy household. Like Orlando in As You Like It, he had to leave his birthplace to find his future.
Unlike Orlando, who fled to the country, William headed for the big city, London. (Legend has it that he had to leave Stratford after being caught hunting illegally on a large estate, but no records exist to verify that story. ) In London he became first an actor and later a playwright. Along with success, he found envy. The first mention of Shakespeare in London is in a pamphlet by a rival playwright, Robert Greene.
In “A Groats worth of Wit” (groat: an old English coin worth four pennies), Greene warned fellow university-educated playwrights of an upstart actor (Shakespeare) who had the gall to write plays. Nevertheless, Shakespeare became the most successful playwright of his day. He was an actor (of small parts), a playwright, and a partner in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theater company favored by Queen Elizabeth. Her successor, James I, elevated the company to the rank of King’s Men in 1603. Although plays were a popular form of entertainment, they weren’t highly regarded as literature. To secure his artistic reputation, Shakespeare wrote poems.
... torture and downfall. Work Cited Page Shakespeare, William. Othello. Oxford School Shakespeare. Ed. Roma Gill Oxford: Oxford ... he is not deserving of Desdemona’s love. Iago is perhaps the most racist character ... said by Iago. Throughout the novel, racism plays a crucial role in persuading Othello to think ... to its deep personal roots of the couples love. The handkerchief was given to Desdemona by ...
Between 1592 and 1601, he penned three long narrative poems- Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucre ce, and The Phoenix and the Turtle- as well as a famous series of sonnets. As You Like It premiered in 1599 or 1600, about the same time that Shakespeare’s company moved into the Globe Theatre, across the Thames River from the city of London. Shakespeare’s reputation had been firmly established by nineteen previous plays. Among the eighteen to follow would be his four great tragedies- Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. By 1612, Shakespeare had returned to live in Stratford, where he owned a fine house called New Place. He died there, presumably on his birthday, April 23, 1616.
As You Like It was rarely performed in the first century after Shakespeare’s death. In 1723 an enterprising London producer combined the play with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to create a collage called Love in a Forest. But by the nineteenth century, As You Like It had become one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed works. The Romantic spirit of that time probably helped the play to find new favor with audiences. In addition, many leading ladies wanted to play the showcase role of Rosalind.
As You Like It is still popular today. Audiences enjoy its blend of humor and romance, and fall in love with Rosalind just as Orlando does. As You Like It William Shakespeare THE PLAY THE PLOT Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, is fed up. Since his father’s death, his oldest brother, Oliver, has refused to give Orlando either the proper education or the money that Sir Rowland intended for him. Oliver hates Orlando. When he learns that Orlando intends to try his skill against a professional wrestler named Charles, Oliver incites Charles to kill Orlando in their match.
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The country is ruled by Duke Frederick, who seized the throne from his own older brother by force. The wronged brother, Duke Senior, has been exiled to the Forest of Arden with many of his lords. His daughter, Rosalind, however, has remained at court. She and Duke Frederick’s daughter, Celia, love each other like sisters. Observing Orlando and Charles preparing for their match, Rosalind and Celia fear that the wrestler will hurt Orlando. Much to everybody’s surprise, Orlando defeats Charles.
But when Duke Frederick finds out that Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, who was once his enemy, he coldly dismisses the young man and leaves. The ladies offer Orlando a word of congratulation, and as they do so, it is clear that Rosalind and Orlando have already fallen in love. Duke Frederick accuses Rosalind of stealing the people’s affection away from his own daughter. As a punishment, she must leave the city or be put to death. Celia, who cares more for Rosalind than for her wicked father, resolves to run away with her cousin to the Forest of Arden. For safety’s sake, Celia disguises herself as a peasant girl, named Alien a, while Rosalind dons a boy’s outfit and assumes the name Ganymede.
They convince Duke Frederick’s court fool (clown), Touchstone, to go with them. When Duke Frederick discovers that Celia and Rosalind are missing, he assumes they are with Orlando and angrily commands Oliver to find them and bring his daughter back. Meanwhile, warned by his father’s old servant Adam that Oliver intends to murder him, Orlando has fled with Adam to the Forest of Arden. After a long, hard journey, the ladies and Touchstone arrive in the forest. Rosalind arranges with Corin, an old shepherd, to buy a cottage for them and a flock of sheep.
Orlando and Adam finally reach Arden. Tired and starving, they find a haven in the camp of Duke Senior (Rosalind’s father) and his lords. Orlando now turns his thoughts to love. He writes passionate but amateurish poems to his beloved Rosalind and hangs them on the trees. He doesn’t know, of course, that she is in the forest. She discovers the poems and is thrilled that Orlando is near.
Disguised as Ganymede, Rosalind finds Orlando in the forest and strikes up a conversation with him. He never suspects her true identity. Adopting a cynical attitude toward women, Rosalind tells Orlando that his lovesick behavior is foolish. She offers to cure him of love by playing a game with him. She will pretend to be his Rosalind.
... and fears and she actually listens and understands. Love is when you share the same glass, because ... rather than complaining she starts kissing you instead. Love is when you carry ALL the shopping bags ... remembers a carton of milk for breakfast cereal. Love is when you find yourself having a great ... holding hands and neither remembers initiating the contact. Love is when she comes over to your place and ...
If he will woo her, she will demonstrate how impossible women are. Although he doesn’t want to be cured, Orlando agrees to play along. They plan to meet the next day to begin the “love cure.” While waiting for Orlando to keep their appointment, Rosalind observes a young shepherd named Silvius wooing Phebe, a shepherdess. Phebe scorns Silvius, who swears that her rejection will kill him. Rosalind soon has heard enough. She steps in and berates Phebe for her cruelty.
Thinking that Rosalind is a man, Phebe immediately falls in love with her! Rosalind, of course, rejects Phebe and quickly leaves. Orlando finally arrives for his first dose of love cure. After Ganymede demonstrates how difficult women can be, Orlando leaves, promising to return shortly. Silvius shows up with a letter from Phebe to Ganymede. He assumes that it’s an angry message. But when Rosalind reads it aloud, he’s dismayed to learn he’s brought a love letter.
Rosalind sends the crushed lover back to Phebe. Then Oliver, Orlando’s brother enters, bearing a message for the “youth” Rosalind. It seems that Orlando has just saved Oliver’s life by fighting and killing a fierce lioness that was ready to attack. As a result, Oliver has seen and renounced the evil of his ways. Celia and Oliver fall in love at first sight. Their joy only increases Orlando’s sadness at being separated from Rosalind.
Ganymede offers to make Rosalind appear the next day by magic. The following day, all the lovers gather at Duke Senior’s camp. Touchstone arrives with Audrey, a country wench he’s decided to marry. Rosalind reveals her true identity, paving the way for a joyful conclusion to the story. Rosalind will marry Orlando; Oliver and Celia will wed; Phebe, seeing that Ganymede is a woman, decides she loves Silvius after all; and Touchstone and Audrey will marry.
Before the celebrating can begin, a message arrives that Duke Frederick, who set out into the forest with the intention of killing Duke Senior, has met an old religious man along the way and been converted. Duke Senior’s lands and position are therefore restored to him. After music and dancing, Rosalind asks the lovers in the audience to bid her farewell with their applause. [As You Like It Contents] THE CHARACTERS.
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ROSALIND Rosalind’s function in the plot of As You Like It is vital. Once circumstances have driven all the major characters to the Forest of Arden, Rosalind either causes or contributes to all the major conflicts. It is she who resolves them all in the end. She’s a complex and deeply human character. In Act I, you are first struck by her wit as she and Celia joke about such subjects as love and luck.
At the same time, Shakespeare reminds you that Rosalind is an outsider, even in the court where she has grown up. Her father, the rightful duke, has been exiled. Although Rosalind misses him terribly, she will laugh and joke for her friend Celia’s sake. Rosalind has the ability to rise above her own deeply felt emotions.
Her love for Orlando makes her feel as giddy as any lovesick adolescent. (Look at her excitement when she learns that Orlando is in the forest. ) She could easily surrender to the temptation to run around reciting poetry and swearing to die for love. Instead, she administers a love cure to Orlando that makes both of them stand back and take a good look at how ridiculous many conventional attitudes toward love really are. Thus, she avoids confusing the “idea of love” with love itself.
She is also remarkably clever. She makes up the love cure on the spot and quickly invents an uncle and a magician to justify the stories she tells. And she’s practical enough to be sure that she and Celia acquire a place to live as soon as they reach Arden. Rosalind is a good judge of character. She appreciates the skill of Touchstone, the court fool, and immediately sees through the pretensions of Jaques, Duke Senior’s melancholy attendant. She has only to observe Silvius and Phebe for a few moments in order to size up their situation accurately.
Finally, you should take note of her courage. She boldly tells the usurping duke that her father was no traitor. It also takes spunk to go on a dangerous journey disguised as a man because highwaymen would probably attack the man first… ORLANDO Readers’ opinions about Orlando tend to fall into two camps. Some view him as the embodiment of all the virtues a Renaissance gentleman should possess.
Others consider him dull and even stupid. Even his brother Oliver, who hates him, admits that Orlando is well thought of in the community. He’s considered gentle and naturally noble. Although he’s physically strong (as his defeat of Charles the wrestler proves), he will not harm his brother. He should respect his older brother, and he does.
Later, even after Oliver has plotted to kill him, Orlando only hesitates a moment before risking his life to save Oliver’s. When Orlando and his faithful old servant Adam are starving, Orlando will not eat a bite until he has seen to the old man’s needs. Such courtesy must be a product of his nature, because he’s been denied a gentleman’s education. So, Orlando is strong, gentle, and noble. Is he witty and intelligent, too? He does outsmart Jaques in a contest of words. But nobody would read his love poems and find much to praise in them.
As a lover, he tends to be a bit sappy. Without Rosalind’s help, he could be another Silvius. Does that make him a fool? Rosalind must see hope for him. Under her guidance, he does improve. Do you see Orlando’s weaknesses as indications that he’s noble but not very intelligent? Or do you regard them as the kinds of imperfections that make him more human? . CELIA In Act I, Celia has just as much to do and say as Rosalind.
She fades into the background, however, as the play goes on. Although she remains undeveloped, many readers find her a charming character. She and Rosalind share a deep, loving friendship, and her importance is a function of that relationship. First, she serves as a confidant, a person with whom Rosalind can talk openly about her feelings. While Rosalind hides her true emotions in her scenes with Orlando, she is absolutely honest with Celia. What raises Celia from dramatic device (someone serving merely to help the play along) to a character who is interesting in her own right is her wit.
From their first appearance, Celia matches Rosalind in her ease with words. Since Celia doesn’t fall in love until nearly the end of the play, she also retains her cool judgment. Thus, when Rosalind expresses her own romantic feelings, Celia is there to undercut them with pointed jests… JAQUES Jaques (pronounced “Jake-ways” or “Jake-week”) has been the focus of much debate. Is he a caricature of the many self-styled social critics Shakespeare saw around him? Or is he a genuine critic of society who voices Shakespeare’s own cynical view of life? Many readers see Jaques as a “railer,” a professional griper who adopts a melancholy pose. Is he profound or foolish? That you can even ask such questions is a tribute to Shakespeare’s genius in portraying his major characters.
You can take different views of them, just as you can of real people. Duke Senior and his followers treat Jaques with a certain amount of respect, but they clearly derive more amusement than instruction from his pronouncements. Touchstone patronizes Jaques, although Jaques doesn’t realize it. Orlando plainly tells Jaques that he hates his company. Rosalind accuses him of being a traveler who pretends not to like his own country only to get attention. Are these assessments correct? Readers who see Jaques as Shakespeare’s spokesman point to his speech about the Seven Ages of Man.
If Shakespeare wanted to satirize Jaques’s cynical views, would he have Jaques express his sentiments so beautifully? On the other hand, does the play as a whole support such a viewpoint? Would Shakespeare have picked Jaques as his spokesman? You must make up your mind based on your interpretation of the text. Jaques is what Elizabethans called a “humor” character. To the Elizabethans, humor meant temperament. A humor character is based on an exaggerated personality trait. Elizabethans believed that a person’s temperament (mood or personality) was regulated by the balance of four bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy. According to this theory, if the balance of your bodily fluids changed, your mood would alter.
If a person was constantly sad and gloomy, like Jaques, Elizabethans believed he had too much melancholy (also called “black bile”) in his system. That’s why there are references to “the melancholy Jaques.” . TOUCHSTONE Many noble households in Shakespeare’s time kept “licensed fools.” These fools were essentially entertainers. They wore “motley,” a patchwork coat of various colors. Touchstone, the fool of Duke Frederick’s household, becomes Rosalind and Celia’s traveling companion when they escape to the Forest of Arden. Like Feste in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or the Fool in King Lear, Touchstone is a “wise” fool.
Under the guise of spouting amusing nonsense, he reveals the truth about the people he meets. Touchstone’s name describes his function. A touchstone was used to test the purity of precious metals- that is, to determine the genuineness or quality of a thing. This fool unmasks pretension and foolishness wherever he sees it. His primary technique is mimicry.
For example, the first time he hears Silvius carrying on about Phebe, Touchstone does a funny imitation of the lovesick shepherd. He accomplishes two things: He makes the audience laugh, and he points out the absurdity of Silvius’s behavior. He uses the same approach on the melancholy Jaques, who finds sad morals everywhere. Touchstone mimics him by delivering a gloomy but meaningless sermon about the consequences of time passing, making Jaques believe he’s found a kindred spirit. Touchstone reveals that Jaques’s pronouncements may not be as profound as Jaques would like people to believe.
Touchstone doesn’t always mimic the person he’s talking to. With Corin and William, he imitates a learned man from the city. His manners and his “learned examples” are all nonsense, but the shepherds are fooled. Shakespeare uses Touchstone to clarify one of the satiric points of As You Like It- that real shepherds are not “poetical,” like their counterparts in pastoral romances.
Touchstone’s courtship of Audrey parodies the pure, spiritual love that Silvius talks about by demonstrating the opposite extreme. Silvius sees love as something poetic and marriage as the fulfillment of a great spiritual longing. Touchstone regards marriage as a way to fulfill one’s sexual urges. He purposely chooses an ugly woman and clearly states his intention to leave her once he tires of her. As you read each of Touchstone’s scenes, ask yourself, Whom is the fool mimicking? What point is he making? .
OLIVER Orlando’s brother Oliver starts the play as a villain. When you first meet him, he is arrogant and cruel. He has stolen Orlando’s inheritance by refusing to give him a gentleman’s education or the money that their late father intended for Orlando. When Orlando wins acclaim by defeating Charles the wrestler, the jealous Oliver plots to murder his brother. Several times in Act I, Oliver is called “unnatural.” That means he respects neither his dead father’s wishes nor the laws of God, according to both of which he should love and care for his brother. His ill treatment of the faithful old servant, Adam, demonstrates his contempt for all the Old World virtues.
Some readers believe that Oliver is motivated by envy. He says in a soliloquy (monologue) that people love Orlando and, as a consequence, ignore Oliver. Thus, he’s an example of what Duke Senior calls the “envious court.” Other readers hold that Oliver’s psychological motivations are beside the point. He is not a study of a good man ruined by envy. He’s evil because Shakespeare needed him to be. (The same is often said of a much more fully developed villain- Iago in Othello.
) When you see Oliver at the end of Act IV, he has undergone a complete and miraculous conversion. His forsaking of evil serves two purposes: It parodies the types of sudden conversions found in pastoral romances, and it allows Celia to fall in love with him, thus providing another couple for the climactic wedding scene… SILVIUS AND PHEBE These two rustics, or country folk, are the typical shepherds and shepherdesses of pastoral romances. Though uneducated, Silvius and Phebe speak in verse. Their sheep must be wandering loose somewhere, because their only concern is love. The roles they play are determined by convention.
Phebe proudly scorns Silvius, who constantly pursues her, swearing eternal love. He seems actually to believe that her frowns can kill him, and he’s always ready to die for love. When Phebe falls in love with Ganymede, she expresses the same sentiments. Can a modern audience appreciate these characters? Of course. Most people who have ever been in love can identify with Silvius (and later with Phebe).
Can you? If you regard them as people (rather than as literary parodies), they become embodiments of all the ridiculous extremes to which love can drive almost anybody…
CORIN, WILLIAM, AND AUDREY These three rustics are very different from Silvius and Phebe. Instead of speaking in elaborate verse, Corin, William, and Audrey express themselves simply and have very limited vocabularies. Corin befriends Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone when they first arrive in the forest. He arranges for Rosalind and Celia to purchase a cottage, some land, and a flock of sheep. Since he knows a lot about tending sheep, Rosalind and Celia hire him to look after their flock. Corin is a good, simple man.
Touchstone’s nonsense philosophy confuses him, but the fool cannot make Corin doubt his own values. Audrey is as earthy as Phebe is “poetical.” Before Touchstone can woo her, he has to promise to look after her goats. She understands very little of what he says and believes that he’s a courtier (a member of the royal court).
If Touchstone tells the truth, she is extremely unattractive. A great deal of humor is derived from her coarseness and lack of sophistication. At one point, for example, Touchstone has to tell her to “bear [her] body more seeming [properly]” (Act V, scene iv, lines 72-73).
After a distinctly unromantic courtship, she marries Touchstone. William is a country bumpkin who may have once been engaged to Audrey. When he comes to discuss the matter with Touchstone, the fool confuses him utterly and sends him on his way. Many readers consider William’s one scene a classic example of Shakespeare’s skill in comedic writing… DUKE FREDERICK AND DUKE SENIOR Duke Frederick is a usurper (someone who seizes power illegally).
He has taken the throne from his older brother, Duke Senior, and banished him to the forest.
Elizabethans believed that rulers were placed on their thrones by God. Therefore, a usurper offended God as well as man. Frederick lives in constant fear of being overthrown himself. (In that way he’s similar to another usurper in Shakespeare, Macbeth. Unlike Macbeth, however, Frederick has not committed murder.
) As a consequence, he is capable of swift mood changes and acts of terrible cruelty. He banishes Rosalind, because he fears that she is stealing the people’s affection away from his own daughter, Celia. He probably also fears that, as the daughter of the rightful ruler, Rosalind might inspire the people to revolt. All he cares about is preserving his own power. Duke Senior, on the other hand, is gentle, generous, and philosophical. He treats the lords who have joined him in exile like equals, although they still show him the respect due his position.
He gladly welcomes Orlando and Adam into their group. He tries to find good in everything, even their banishment. Although living in the forest is difficult, he claims to prefer that life to the lies, flattery, and deception he had to deal with in the city. Some readers question whether he really enjoys the forest as much as he says he does. They point out how willingly he returns to the city at the end of the play. Is he trying to convince himself that he likes the forest? Or is he pretending to be cheerful for his companions’s ake? .
ADAM Orlando’s faithful old servant, Adam, represents the virtues of the Old World. He clearly loved his master, Sir Rowland, and is now just as devoted to Sir Rowland’s son Orlando. He even goes so far as to give Orlando all the money he has saved. Orlando proves his nobility by treating Adam with love and respect. The wicked Oliver, on the other hand, mistreats Adam, thus proving his villainy… AMIENS The Lord of Amiens is one of Duke Senior’s men.
He engages in conversation with Jaques but, unlike the duke, does not dispute with him. Amiens’s main function is to sing songs about the forest life… LE BEAU Le Beau, a courtier, is one of Duke Frederick’s followers. He is a dandy, one who always dresses in the latest fashion, no matter how ridiculous it, or he, may look. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone band together to make fun of his posing.
He is not merely a figure of fun, however. After the wrestling match, he risks his own safety to warn Orlando that the duke may harm him… SIR OLIVER MARTEX T Sir Oliver is a priest, who shows up to marry Touchstone and Audrey. His name provides a clue to his character- he will mar (ruin) his text (the wedding ceremony).
By hiring this inept priest, Touchstone underscores his attitude toward marriage- that it is like the mating of animals. [As You Like It Contents] OTHER ELEMENTS SETTING The first act of As You Like It takes place in the city.
Here, a man-made order has been imposed. Oliver owns his house. The duke lives in the palace and rules the land. The wildness of nature has been tamed.
Trees grow in an orchard; grass is neatly trimmed into a lawn. The same rigid order is found in the city’s social structure. People know exactly whom they have to please in order to get ahead. Flattery and outright deception are commonplace. Almost all the action in Acts II to V occurs in the Forest of Arden. There, no such man-made order exists.
Except for the modest cottage purchased by Rosalind and Celia, ownership is never an issue. One scene is distinguished from another simply by its taking place in “another part of the forest.” Duke Senior never gives commands. His lords treat him like a respected older gentleman. There are similarities between this forest and the woodland settings of pastoral romances. It’s a rather magical place. In no real forest does the animal population include both sheep and lions.
An old, religious hermit lives there, and so, it seems, does Hymen, the god of marriage. Yet, there are realistic elements. The shepherd Corin has a hard life, and the duke and his men must contend with cruel winter winds. THEMES Here are some major themes of As You Like It. Some appear to contradict each other (like the first two).
As you study the play, you should decide which ones you consider valid.
1. THE PASTORAL LIFE In Elizabethan pastoral romances (love stories set in the country), rustic life was idealized as simpler, happier, and healthier than city life. Some readers believe this play expresses the same attitude. In the city, Rosalind’s and Orlando’s virtues arouse so much envy that both must flee to avoid being murdered. In the country, these two noble characters prosper. Virtuous Duke Senior seems to be happier in exile than he was at court.
Country folk like Corin and Audrey are simple, hardworking people. Silvius and Phebe may seem silly, but they are harmless and rather charming. Finally, both villains (Oliver and Duke Frederick) renounce evil as soon as they arrive in the forest. 2. A SATIRE OF THE PASTORAL LIFE Some readers believe that As You Like It exposes the absurdity of the so-called pastoral ideal. Duke Senior speaks about Arden as if it were the Garden of Eden, but he returns to the city the first chance he gets.
Silvius and Phebe aren’t even real shepherds. They exist only to demonstrate the absurd way rustics are portrayed in pastoral fiction. Real shepherds, such as Corin and William, are dim-witted clowns. Arden isn’t Eden- it’s a place where the winter winds will freeze you, if the wild beasts don’t kill you first. 3. VARIETIES OF LOVE As You Like It is a love story.
The word “love” has many meanings. Through its various characters and their relationships, the play comments on several varieties of love. a. Romantic Love The essence of romantic love, as portrayed in literature, is that love must remain unfulfilled. The lovers are separated by distance, circumstance, or some unkind act of fate. Therefore, they quietly pine away for each other.
This romantic ideal became popular in medieval times. By Shakespeare’s time, the conventions of romantic love had been refined into a formula by the writers of romantic prose and poetry. Silvius and Phebe act out those conventions. Rosalind and Orlando flirt with the formula but ultimately rise above it. b. Sexual Love In sexual love, fulfillment is the only consideration.
As Touchstone explains, people have needs. Marriage is an efficient, socially acceptable means to satisfy those physical needs. The love object need not be beautiful, noble, or inspirational- only available and willing. c. Balanced Love Rosalind and Orlando occupy a middle ground between the romantic and the purely sexual. They both feel the joy and excitement of romance, as they do inspire each other.
But they want their love to lead to fulfillment. Rosalind has only just met Orlando when she tells Celia that she wants him to be the father of her children. Is their love the most complete love found in this play? What evidence can you offer to support your opinion? d. Love as Friendship Rosalind and Celia enjoy an ideal friendship. They feel each other’s pain and enjoy each other’s good qualities. There is no envy between them.
Such friendships were frequently portrayed in Renaissance fiction, but the relationship was generally between two men. 4. FORTUNE AND NATURE The play can be viewed as a study of the difference between what people deserve and what they get. “Nature,” according to the Elizabethans, referred to the qualities a person is born with. “Fortune” was thought of as a force that determined a person’s worldly position. By Nature, Orlando is honest, virtuous, and noble.
Fortune, however, has deprived him of his birthright. His brother Oliver is petty and jealous, but Fortune has given him wealth and power. All the noble characters suffer in this play. In the end, the imbalance is corrected. 5. NATURAL VS.
ARTIFICIAL Affectations (pretensions) have always been good targets for satire. In As You Like It, Shakespeare exposes several forms of artificial behavior. The affectations of courtiers are parodied by Touchstone. Corin, William, and Audrey provide realistic examples of country folk in contrast to the artificial characters portrayed by Silvius and Phebe.
Rosalind systematically explains how the conventions of romantic love do not agree with the realities of life. While ridiculing pretense, Shakespeare celebrates genuine nobility and real love. 6. ROLE PLAYING “All the world’s a stage,” says Jaques, “and all the men and women merely players” (Act II, scene vii, lines 149-150).
Every person plays a variety of roles in real life-parent, child, friend, lover, enemy, and so on. Some of the characters in this play engage in playacting as well. Some of the role playing produces positive results. Rosalind’s disguise as a man enables her to teach Orlando a valuable lesson. Celia’s disguise allows her to escape from the court of her wicked father.
Touchstone amuses and instructs by assuming various roles at will. Other roles cause problems. Silvius and Phebe act out the limited conventions of romantic love; without Rosalind’s help, their relationship would remain static. Some readers consider Jaques a consummate role player. They hold that his criticisms come not from true feeling but from a desire for attention. 7.
ORDER VS. DISORDER Elizabethans believed that God established the order and rank of people and things. Whoever disturbed that order committed a sin. Duke Frederick upset God’s plan when he stole his older brother’s throne. Oliver committed a wrong by refusing to respect his late father’s wishes. These sins cause suffering.
The noble characters must endure hardship, and the villains can’t enjoy the power and wealth they ” ve stolen. By the end of the play, the natural order is restored. Both villains are converted, and God’s will once again prevails. STYLE You can learn a lot about the characters in As You Like It by examining the way they speak. For example, if you look at Orlando’s use of language in Act I, you will notice that his statements are bold and direct but always respectful. That suggests that he’s a noble young man, forced to stand up for his rights.
Oliver, in contrast, is snide and deceitful. The tyrant Duke Frederick often gives commands. His speeches contain neither wit nor poetry. Rosalind and Celia have a natural optimism and enthusiasm for life that no hardship can subdue. Their speech accordingly bubbles with wit and good humor. In the forest, when Orlando’s thoughts turn to love, his mode of expression changes.
He becomes fanciful and poetic in talking about Rosalind. Silvius and Phebe speak only in verse; love is all that matters to them. The severely limited vocabularies of Corin, William, and Audrey tell you that these are genuine rustics- uneducated, and familiar only with matters pertaining to sheep and goats. Some of the dialogue is written in verse (Silvius and Phebe’s, for example).
For these passages, Shakespeare used unrhymed iambic pentameter- that is, lines of ten syllables each, with every second syllable accented. Other characters, like Corin and Audrey, speak less formally in prose.
Most of the others alternate between two styles. Shakespeare’s language is loaded with imagery- words and phrases that make you see a picture. The imagery tells you something about the speaker’s character or his emotions. A good example is Jaques’s famous speech about the Seven Ages of Man (Act II, scene iii).
Jaques paints a picture to describe each age, from the “mewling and puking” infant to the old man who has entered “second childishness.” Each image reflects Jaques’s melancholy and overcritical nature. As you read, ask yourself: How is each character using language? What does his or her language reveal about that character? ELIZABETHAN ENGLISH All languages change.
Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents and their children. If language differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected that the English used by Shakespeare four hundred years ago will be markedly different from the English used today. The following information on Shakespeare’s language will help a modern reader to a fuller understanding of As You Like It. MOBILITY OF WORD CLASSES Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular classes in Shakespeare’s day. Adjectives were often used as adverbs. In Act II, scene iv, line 54, for example, “wiser” is used for “more wisely”: Thou speak est wiser than thou art ware of.
They could also appear as verbs. In Act I, scene iii, line 5, “lame” means “make [me] lame”: … come lame me with reasons. Nouns, including proper nouns, could be used as verbs. “Estate” is used to mean “leave as my estate”: … all the revenue that was old Sir Rowland’s will I estate upon you, …
(V, ii, 10-12) and “Phebe” means “treats [me] as Phebe would”: She Phebe me. (IV, iii, 39) CHANGES IN WORD MEANING The meanings of all words undergo changes, a process that can be illustrated by the fact that “prevent” used to mean “come before,” as in the biblical “He prevented [came before] the dawn.” Many of the words in Shakespeare still exist today but their meanings have changed. The change may be small, as in the case of “honest,” meaning “chaste,” in ‘Tis true, for those she makes fair, she scarce makes honest; and those she makes honest, she makes very ill-favored ly. (I, ii, 36-38) or more fundamental, so that “countenance” (I, i, 17) meant “lifestyle,”underhand” (I, i, 138) meant “unobtrusive,”villains” (II, ii, 2) meant “lower servants,”fond” (II, iii, 7) meant “foolish,” and “modern” (IV, i, 6) meant “trite.” VOCABULARY LOSS Words not only change their meanings but are frequently discarded from the language. In the past, “kine” was a plural form of “cow” and “lich” meant “corpse.” The following words used in As You Like It are no longer current in English, but their meanings can usually be gauged from the context in which they occur.
HINDS (I, i, 19) farm servants INTENDMENT (I, i, 132) intention HUSS IF (I, ii, 30) housewife QUINTAIN (I, ii, 241) stuffed dummy used in jousting MISCONSTERS (I, ii, 255) misconstrues SWASHING (I, iii, 116) swaggering ROY NISH (II, ii, 8) coarse MEED (II, ii, 8) reward DOG APES (II, iv, 97) baboons COVER (II, v, 28) set the table BOB (II, vii, 55) jest CHARACTER (III, i, 6) inscribe FELLS (III, ii, 51) fleece PERCENT (III, ii, 65) consider BACK FRIENDS (III, ii, 155) false friends BREATHER (III, ii, 275) living human being QUOTIDIAN (III, ii, 356) severe, uninterrupted fever POINT-DEVICE (III, ii, 372) neat BOW (III, iii, 71) yoke CARLOS (III, v, 108) peasant LEER (IV, i, 64) complexion BASTINADO (V, i, 54) beating, cudgeling THRASONICAL (V, ii, 30) boasting VERBS Shakespearean verb forms differ from modern usage in three main ways: 1. Questions and negatives could be formed without using “do / did “: What said he? How looked he? Wherein went he? What makes he here? (III, ii, 216-18) And: This must I do, or know not what to do; (II, iii, 34) Shakespeare had the option of using forms a and b whereas contemporary usage permits only the a forms: a b Is Orlando going? Goes Orlando? Did Orlando go? Went Orlando? You do not look well. You look not well. You did not look well.
You looked not well. 2. Many past participles and past tense forms are used that would be ungrammatical today. Among these are “broke” for “broken” in Or if thou hast not broke from company (II, iv, 37) “eat” for “eaten” in Why, I have eat none yet. (II, vii, 89) “love-shaked” for “love-shaken” in I am he that is so love-shaked. (III, ii, 357) “begot” for “begotten” in…
that was begot of thought, … (IV, i, 202) and “writ” for “wrote” in To show the letter that I writ to you. (V, ii, 77) 3. Archaic verb forms sometimes occur with “thou” and “he / she /it”: Thou art not for the fashion of these times, (II, iii, 59) And: … knowest thou not the Duke Hath banished me his daughter? (I, iii, 90-91) PRONOUNS Shakespeare and his contemporaries had one extra pronoun, “thou,” which could be used in addressing a person who was one’s equal or social inferior. “You” was obligatory if more than one person was addressed: I beseech you, punish me not with your hard thoughts, wherein I confess me much guilty to deny so fair and excellent ladies anything.
(I, ii, 172-74) but it could also be used to indicate respect. Duke Senior often uses “thou” when addressing his subordinates but always receives “you” in return: Duke: Art thou thus bolden ed man by thy distress? Orlando: You touched my vein at first. (II, vii, 92 and 95) Frequently, a person in power used “thou” to a child or a subordinate but was addressed “you” in return. This invariably happens in the speeches between Adam and Orlando: Orlando: Why whither Adam wouldst thou have me go? Adam: No matter whither, so you come not here. (II, iii, 29-30) One further pronominal reference warrants a comment. The third person pronouns “he” and “it” were frequently interchanged: I’ll tell thee, Charles, it is the stubbornest young fellow…
(I, i, 140) And whistles in his [its] sound. (II, vii, 163) PREPOSITIONS Prepositions were less standardized in Elizabethan English than they are today, and so we find several uses in As You Like It that would have to be modified in contemporary speech. Among these are “of” for “about” in… who perceive th our natural wits too dull to reason of such a goddess…
(I, ii, 51) “of” for “from” in Rosalind: Where learned you that oath, fool? Touchstone: Of a certain knight… (I, ii, 59-60) “up” for “off” in To fright the animals and kill them up (II, i, 62) and “of” for “by” in… I were better to be married of him than of another; (III, iii, 81-82) MULTIPLE NEGATION Contemporary English requires only one negative per statement and regards such utterances as “I haven’t none” as nonstandard. Shakespeare often uses two or more negatives for emphasis, as when Celia advises Rosalind But love no man in good earnest, nor no further in sport neither, than with safety… (I, ii, 26-27) or when Orlando tells Jaques Nor shalt not till necessity be served. (II, vii, 90) or when Rosalind, in the epilogue, assures the audience What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play? (V, iv, 204-206) FORM AND STRUCTURE As You Like It is divided into five acts, which are subdivided into scenes.
Many readers have commented that almost all the major events of the play occur in the first act and a half. The city characters are introduced and the necessary history is explained (exposition).
Each of the major characters is given a reason to go to the Forest of Arden. After Act II, scene iii, only one short scene takes place in the city. In the country, nothing happens quickly except the characters’ falling in love. The tension of the plot grows out of Rosalind’s disguise.
When will she reveal her true identity? What will happen when she does? In that sense, Rosalind has the power to end the play whenever she chooses. She takes time to explore the consequences of her disguise while discussing matters of love and philosophy. More confusions and additional pairs of lovers are added until Act V, scene ii, when Rosalind decides that it’s time to unmask herself. The four marriages in Act V, scene iv, the repentance of both villains, and the restoration of Duke Senior’s dukedom all give the play an entirely happy ending.
Music and dancing follow, after which Rosalind turns to the audience and delivers a short epilogue. SOURCES Shakespeare didn’t create his plots from scratch but derived aspects of them from other sources. The basic story and many details of the plot of As You Like It come from a pastoral romance by Thomas Lodge entitled Rosalynde. (Lodge didn’t invent the story, either; he based it on a 14 th-century narrative poem called The Tale of Gamely n.
) Printed in 1590, Lodge’s novel supplies the story of the exiled king, the hostility between the two brothers, the young maidens in disguise, the escape from the city to the forest, and the lovesick shepherds. Lodge’s Rosalynde also woos her lover while she is disguised as a man. The hero saves his wicked brother’s life, after which the brother repents and falls in love with Rosalynde’s friend. Shakespeare’s alterations and additions are noteworthy. Lodge’s novel is bound by the conventions of the pastoral romance. The play is richer and more meaningful because it takes liberties with those conventions.
Shakespeare’s Rosalind is more three-dimensional and human than Lodge’s, partly because Shakespeare gives her a sense of humor. Shakespeare also peoples his forest with characters, such as Touchstone and Jaques, who refuse to accept the pastoral ideal. The simpleminded rustics, such as Corin, William, and Audrey, are totally unlike the poetic shepherds of pastoral romances. THE GLOBE THEATRE One of the most famous theaters of all time is the Globe Theatre.
It was one of several Shakespeare worked in during his career and many of the greatest plays of English literature were performed there. Built in 1599 for L 600 just across the River Thames from London, it burned down in 1613 when a spark from a cannon in a battle scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII set fire to the thatched roof. The theater was quickly rebuilt and survived until 1644. No one knows exactly what the Globe looked like but some scholarly detective work has given us a pretty good idea. When it was built, the Globe was the latest thing in theater design.
It was a three-story octagon (eight- sided building) with covered galleries surrounding an open yard some 50 feet across. Three sides of the octagon were devoted to the stage and backstage areas. The main stage was a raised platform that jutted into the center of the yard, or pit. Behind the stage was the tiring house- the backstage area where the actors dressed and waited for their cues. It was flanked by two doors and contained an inner stage with a curtain used when the script called for a scene to be discovered.
(Some scholars think the inner stage was actually a tent or pavilion that could be moved about the stage. ) Above the inner stage was the upper stage, a curtained balcony that could serve as the battlements in Hamlet or for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Most of the action of the play took place on the main and upper stages. The third story held the musicians’ gallery and machinery for sound effects and pyrotechnics.
Above all was a turret, from which a flag was flown to announce “Performance today.” A roof (the shadow) covered much of the stage and not only protected the players from sudden showers but also contained machinery needed for special effects. More machinery was located under the stage, where several trapdoors permitted the sudden appearance of ghosts in a play and allowed actors to leap into rivers or graves, as the script required. For a penny (a day’s wages for an apprentice), you could stand with the “groundlings” in the yard to watch the play; another penny would buy you a seat in the upper galleries; and a third would get you a cushioned seat in the lower gallery- the best seats in the house. The audience would be a mixed crowd- scholars, courtiers, and merchants and their families in the galleries; rowdy apprentices and young men looking for excitement in the yard; and pickpockets and prostitutes taking advantage of the crowds to ply their trades. And crowds there would be- the Globe could probably hold 2, 000 to 3, 000 people, and even an ordinary performance would attract a crowd of 1, 200.
The play you came to see would be performed in broad daylight during the warmer months. In colder weather, Shakespeare’s troupe appeared indoors at court or in one of London’s private theaters. There was no scenery as we know it, but there are indications that the Elizabethans used simple set pieces such as trees, bowers, or battle tents to indicate location. Any props needed were readied in the tiring house by the book keeper (we’d call him the stage manager) and carried on and off by actors. If time or location were important, the characters usually said something about it. Trumpet flourishes told the audience that an important character was about to enter, rather like a modern spotlight, and a scene ended when all the characters left the stage.
(Bodies of dead characters were carried off stage. ) Little attention was paid to historical accuracy in plays such as Julius Caesar or Macbeth, and actors wore contemporary clothing. One major difference from the modern theater was that all female parts were played by young boys; Elizabethan custom did not permit women to act. If the scenery was minimal, the performance made up for it in costumes and spectacle.
English actors were famous throughout Europe for their skill as dancers, and some performances ended with a dance (or jig).
Blood, in the form of animal blood or red paint, was lavished about in the tragedies; ghosts made sudden appearances amid swirling fog; thunder was simulated by rolling a cannonball along the wooden floor of the turret or by rattling a metal sheet. The costumes were gorgeous- and expensive! One “robe of estate” alone cost L 19, a year’s wages for a skilled workman of the time. But the costumes were a large part of the spectacle that the audience came to see, and they had to look impressive in broad daylight, with the audience right up close. You ” ve learned some of the conventions of the Globe Theatre, a theater much simpler than many of ours but nevertheless offering Shakespeare a wide range of possibilities for staging his plays.
Now let’s see how specific parts of As You Like It might have been presented at the Globe. If you could slip back in time and see As You Like It at the Globe, you might be surprised at the speed of the play. A modern production of Shakespeare takes at least two and a half hours, and that’s with part of the play omitted. But back in Shakespeare’s day, plays took only about two hours. This could be done because there was no real break between scenes, and no scenery had to be shifted. Instead, different parts of the stage could be used.
Imagine how this could work in As You Like It. The first scene of Act I would take place on the main stage; then the second and third scenes, set in rooms in the palace, could be acted on the inner stage. The first scene of Act II (remember, no break between acts) would be back on the main stage for the forest. The next scene, another room in the palace, could use the balcony stage. Then one side of the main stage could serve for Scene iii, in front of Oliver’s house, represented by the door. For Scene iv Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone could enter from the other side of the stage and Rosalind would announce, “This is the Forest of Arden.” Each scene would follow on the heels of the one before it, so that the play would move very quickly.
THE STORY ACT I, SCENE I LINES 1-23 Orlando de Boys has taken just about as much abuse from his brother, Oliver, as he intends to stomach. Their father, Sir Rowland de Boys, is dead, and Oliver, as the eldest brother of three, has taken charge of the family. Old Sir Rowland made Oliver promise to give his brothers, Jaques and Orlando, a good education. Oliver kept part of his word by sending Jaques off to school. Orlando, however, has been forced to remain at home and denied an education. Oliver also refuses to give Orlando the thousand crowns his father left him.
The play begins in Oliver’s garden. Talking to Adam, an old family servant for many years, Orlando lists his grievances. His brother treats him as if he were an ox or a horse. Actually, Oliver treats the horses better than he treats Orlando, because at least the horses are taught how to behave. Oliver acts as if Orlando weren’t his brother, even making Orlando eat with the hired hands. Although he hasn’t the means to fight back, Orlando declares he will no longer stand for this treatment.
It is always important when reading a scene in Shakespeare to look not only at what the characters say but also at how they say it. The imagery in this speech makes use of the Elizabethan sense of natural order. Elizabethans believed that whether you were an angel or a groundhog, you had a fixed rank ordained by God. One example of the application of that theory was the “divine right of kings.” Rulers were placed on the throne by God. If you deposed the king, you were offending God as well as man. By assigning Orlando a place lower than that of his animals, Oliver is violating the natural order, which places a man above a beast and a brother above a hired hand.
When Orlando says that his father’s spirit within him rebels against this servitude, he means that the right and natural order is trying to assert itself. NOTE: EXPOSITION One of the difficulties that faces any playwright at the beginning of a play is the handling of the exposition- information the audience needs in order to understand the situation. In several plays (such as Romeo and Juliet and Henry V), Shakespeare uses a prologue, in which a character speaks directly to the audience and sets the scene. Here, Orlando speaks to his servant, Adam, rather than to the audience. But by listening to his complaint, you learn all you need to know about the first major conflict of the play.
LINES 24-81 Adam warns Orlando that Oliver is coming. When the older brother enters, you see that Orlando was telling the truth. Oliver makes no attempt to hide his contempt for his brother. He behaves as if his brother has no business in the orchard and asks Orlando what he’s doing there, using the Elizabethan phrase “What make you here?” Orlando stands up to Oliver, sarcastically replying that he’s not making anything because he hasn’t been taught how. Oliver returns the sarcasm, concluding that if Orlando is not making anything he must be marring (spoiling) something.
Orlando agrees: he’s helping Oliver to spoil one of God’s creations- himself. NOTE: The wordplay in this exchange is remarkable. The entire sequence evolves out of Oliver’s use of the word “make.” Orlando cleverly twists the meaning of the word and throws it back at him. Oliver does the same, and so on.
This type of punning will be used frequently in the play to serve various functions. Here, the wordplay underscores the contempt the two brothers feel for each other. Orlando confronts his brother with the fact that Oliver’s behavior is unnatural and therefore wrong. Orlando emphasizes that he does not want to usurp his brother’s place. He respects Oliver’s privileges as the oldest brother. That, however, does not alter the fact that Orlando is a member of the family, too.
Even this respectful rebellion makes Oliver lose his temper. He hits Orlando, but the younger brother is by far the better fighter. Orlando “seizes” Oliver, according to the script (probably, in a wrestling hold- you will soon discover he’s an expert wrestler).
He will not let go until he has voiced his complaint. He repeats what he said in his opening speech- that their father made Oliver promise to educate Orlando, and Oliver has not done it. Now, Orlando wants to be trained as a gentleman or given his thousand crowns and left to find his own way.
NOTE: In Shakespeare’s day, the least expensive places were on the ground floor of the playhouse. There, members of the audience, called “groundlings,” stood for the performance. Since food vendors passed among them during the show, the groundlings did not always give the stage their undivided attention. Therefore, important information was often repeated several times, as it is here. After making his brother listen, Orlando releases him.
Oliver informs Orlando that, to be rid of him, he will hand over some part of his inheritance. Orlando repeats that he wants only what he’s entitled to, then leaves. Calling Adam an “old dog,” Oliver sends him away also. Adam says very little in this scene, but his presence helps make the difference between the brothers crystal clear. Notice that Orlando treats the old man, who was Sir Rowland’s servant, with respect, using him as a confidant. Orlando’s good relationship with Adam indicates that he’s like his father.
On the other hand, Oliver demonstrates how different he is from their father by calling Adam an old dog. Look at what Adam says to Oliver as he leaves: “God be with my old master; he would not have spoke such a word.” LINES 82-155 Left alone, Oliver declares his intention to put Orlando in his place without giving up a thousand crowns. He calls for his servant Dennis and asks whether Charles, the wrestler, is still waiting to talk to him. Dennis says that Charles is at the door. NOTE: Observe how swiftly Shakespeare gets his plot moving. Oliver needs some means to punish Orlando, and Charles conveniently waits outside.
The first act is dense with events. In later acts, the pace of the plot will slow down. More time will be given to character development and comic interaction between the characters. Charles, a huge, thickly muscled wrestler, lumbers in and greets Oliver. As the two converse, you learn about the situation at court. Notice Oliver’s pointed question: “What’s the new news at the new court?” You have to wonder why the court is new.
Then you find out: It is new because it is now headed by a usurper- “the old Duke is banished by his younger brother the new Duke.” Once again, the natural order has been disturbed. Today, you might wonder whether the old duke was deposed because he was a bad ruler. (In The Tempest, Shakespeare shows you that Prospero was easy to depose because he did not attend to business. ) You might allow for the possibility that the new duke led a just and necessary revolution.
But to the Elizabethan way of thinking, the old duke was clearly the ruler God intended for the country. The new duke must be in the wrong. What’s more, the new duke is the old duke’s younger brother. As Orlando has said, a younger brother must respect his older brother’s rights and privileges. Oliver questions Charles about the old duke’s daughter, Rosalind. It seems that Rosalind has not gone into exile with her father.
Because she and the new duke’s daughter are so close, Rosalind has stayed behind in the new duke’s court. Oliver then asks where the old duke will live. Look carefully at Charles’s answer, because it introduces a major theme of the play: They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England. They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world. In Shakespeare’s time, many people believed life in the country to be healthier, happier, and more natural than city life. Today you still hear people talking about the joys of getting “back to nature.” But is a person who lives in the country happier than a city person? There was a genre of literature in Shakespeare’s day called pastoral.
Pastoral novels, poems, and plays celebrated country life as an ideal existence. Shepherds, shepherdesses, and other rustic types were portrayed as naturally eloquent, graceful, and generally “close to God.” This play will examine that convention. The rumor that Charles reports holds that the old duke and his companions live in the forest as if it were a “golden world,” a Garden of Eden. When the action of the play moves to Arden, you can form your own opinion about the reality.
NOTE: This conversation provides more exposition. If you stop to think about it, Oliver would probably know all the news that Charles reports. The audience needs the information, however. Remember that Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed, not read. In a performance, the audience would have no time to stop and wonder why Charles is telling Oliver what he should already know. Oliver launches into his plot.
He asks if Charles will be wrestling the next day. Charles answers yes. In fact, that’s why he’s come to see Oliver. Charles has heard that Orlando intends to challenge him, and he’s afraid of hurting Orlando. Could Oliver talk his brother out of wrestling? Since Oliver secretly wants to get rid of Orlando, he convinces Charles that Orlando is evil and treacherous. He warns the wrestler that if Orlando loses the match but survives, Orlando will find some way to kill Charles.
Oliver lies skillfully. In his false description of Orlando, he presents an accurate picture of himself: He says that Orlando is “a secret and villainous contriver against… his natural brother.” Charles thanks Oliver for the warning and promises at least to cripple Orlando in the next day’s match. Shakespeare accomplishes two things in Oliver’s long speech to Charles. Oliver seems even more evil when you realize that he fully understands how wrong it is to plot against one’s own brother. He knows that Charles will be shocked to learn how unnatural Orlando is.
At the same time, the speech is humorous. One level of humor lies in the dramatic situation. You can imagine that Charles is powerful but rather slow-witted. It’s amusing to watch Oliver deceive him with fancy talk. There is also humor in the language.
After Oliver describes in juicy detail how horrible Orlando is, he adds, “I speak but brotherly of him”! LINES 156-65 In a soliloquy, Oliver talks about his feelings toward Orlando. Characters often voice their private thoughts in a soliloquy. Because they are alone and ta.