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Romantic Love in William Shakespeare's As You Like it and Twelfth Night

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Romantic Love in William Shakespeare's As You Like it and Twelfth Night


The fickleness of romantic love is a major theme in William Shakespeare’s comedies As You Like It and Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Shakespeare’s implicit social commentary takes the fundamentally masculine perspective of romantic relationships, which argues that a clear-cut dichotomy exists between love and physical attraction.

According to evolutionary psychological theory, females often tend to automatically associate the emotion of love with physicality and the physical act of sex because an emotional bond with a mate is necessary in order to establish a secure family unit. Males, conversely, intellectually separate love from sexual desire because the essential masculine drive is to father as many offspring as possible, and to have strong emotional bonds with numerous mates is impracticable (Kenyon). By presenting women disguised as men who become the subject of other women’s “love” at first sight, Shakespeare argues that the feminine notion of a correlation between emotion and attraction is a fallacy worthy of comedic contempt.

Amiens’s song from As You Like It sums up this argument. He sings, “Most friendship is feigning, most loving, mere folly” (As You Like It, II.vii.182). This is an ironic piece of verse, because it is sung in the forest by one of the attending lords of the banished duke. The reader could interpret the duke and his entourage as being symbolic of Robin Hood and his merry men (Moncrief), yet one would find it difficult to imagine Little John telling Robin Hood that his own friendship to Robin was feigning.
Love at first sight is treated contemptuously in both As You Like It and Twelfth Night. In th...


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...at they were physically attracted to Ganymede and Cesario, respectively. They were mistaken, however, when they attributed their attraction to the emotion of love. Love, in Shakespeare’s artistic portrayal of it, is a deceptive, ethereal phenomenon; false, fleeting, and unreliable.


Works Cited

Kenyon, Paul. “Evolutionary Psychology.” SALMON (Study and Learning Materials On-line). 4 Apr. 2000. Univ. of Plymouth Dept. of Psychology. 1 Nov. 2005. . Path: PSY364 Evolutionary Psychology support materials; Evolutionary Psychology.

Moncrief, Kathryn M. Lectures on As You Like It. Oct. 2005. Washington College, William Smith Hall, Room 322.

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.

---. Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.


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