Shakespeare's As You Like It - Importance of the Secondary Characters

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As You Like It: The Importance of the Secondary Characters

As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, is a radiant blend of fantasy, romance, wit and humor. In this delightful romp, Rosalind stands out as the most robust, multidimensional and lovable character, so much so that she tends to overshadow the other characters in an audience's memory, making them seem, by comparison, just "stock dramatic types". Yet, As You Like It is not a stock romance that just happens to have Shakespeare's greatest female role. The other members of the cast provide a well-balanced supporting role, and are not just stereotypes. Characters whom Shakespeare uses to illustrate his main theme of the variations of love are all more than one-use cardboards, as they must be fully drawn to relate to life. Those characters most easily accused of having a stock one-dimensionality are those inessential to the theme but important to the plot and useful as convenient foils, such as Duke Frederick and Oliver de Boys. The assertion of the question deserves this quote: "You have said; but whether wisely or no, let the forest judge."

There is no doubt, either in the critical or play-going mind, that Rosalind is the "grandest of female roles" (Hazlitt). She encompasses a multitude of character brushstrokes, from the love struck maiden to the witty arch tongue to the steel-backboned princess to the fiery Wise One (Hazlitt). To add to the demands of the character Shakespeare adds in an exterior sex change and further makes Ganymede pretend to be Rosalind to Orlando. Though this kind of "boy acting a girl acting a boy acting a girl" kind of transmogrifications were not uncommon upon the Elizabethan stage, the kind of mind and acting portrayed ...

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...bits of character that are definitely not stock, as in Charles' original concern for Orlando and Sir Martext's refusal to be made a fool of by Touchstone. These make them more than stock, but they are still as cardboard when compared to Rosalind.

As You Like It contains as many characters as there are in life, but Rosalind is used as the vehicle for the Ideal. Her main supporting characters are full of life, and though not as much as Rosalind, it is still life for all of it. The less important characters have to be more one-sided to keep the plot uncluttered, but sometimes the one-dimensionality jars, as with Oliver. Rosalind's vibrancy would overshadow any other character, for to produce an Othello opposite her would create a conflict that this greatest of comedies does not need.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Bevington
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