Sexuality in Shakespeare's As You Like It

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Sexuality in As You Like It

In a romantic forest setting, rich with the songs of birds, the fragrance of fresh spring flowers, and the leafy hum of trees whistling in the wind, one young man courts another. A lady clings to her childhood friend with a desperate and erotic passion, and a girl is instantly captivated by a youth whose physical features are uncannily feminine. Oddly enough, the object of desire in each of these instances is the same person. In As You Like It, William Shakespeare explores the homoerotic possibilities of his many characters. At the resolution he establishes a tenuous re-affirmation of their heterosexuality. In this essay I will show how individual characters flirt with their homoerotic inclinations, and finally reject these impulses in favor of the traditional and socially accepted heterosexual lifestyle. I will explore male to male eroticism through the all-male court in the forest and through Orlando's attraction to Ganymede. I will inspect female to female attraction through Celia's attachment to Rosalind and through Phebe's instant attraction to the effeminate boy, Ganymede.


In Duke Senior's forest retreat, Shakespeare creates a setting ripe with homoerotic potential. In the first lines Duke Senior speaks he rejoices in the 'sweetness' of the woodland life. 'Now my co-mates and brothers in exile, / Hath not old custom made this life more sweet/ Than that of painted pomp' (II.i.1-3). He clearly considers this woodland lifestyle more pleasant than that of the court. One of the primary distinguishing factors between the court and the forest is the absence of women. Despite the fact that the members of Duke Senior's court have been without women for a long while, through...

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...esires and affections. In the end, however, he bows to social convention, reigns in his characters' wandering or errant lusts and loves and tethers each of them down to a pleasant, if tenuous, life of heterosexuality.


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Shakespeare, William. 'As You Like It.' The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1997. 1600-1656.

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Barroll, Leeds, et al., eds. Shakespeare Studies. London: Associated UP, 1998.

Charney, Maurice. All of Shakespeare. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.
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