Shakespeare's As You Like It is both a gentle, pastoral comedy and a complicated, dark debate on the relationship between love, power and gender construction. At the centre of the play is Rosalind, arguably one of Shakespeare's most engaging, witty, intelligent, and lovable female characters. Rosalind is the epitome of Elizabethan femininity: beautiful, chaste, and charitable; and yet she is able to transcend traditional gender boundaries to become a powerful masculine figure, allowing Shakespeare to call into question the serious nature of gender and identity, while also adding to the comic relief of the play through the use of dramatic irony.
The serious potential of transgressing gender roles is explored through Rosalind's ability to subvert the limitations that society imposes on her as a woman (Howard 221) and gain power through masculine identity. Her transgressing of gender boundaries permits her to escape the restrictive system of male patriarchy that is Duke Frederick's reign, take control of her destiny, and initiate courtship.
A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh,
A boar spear in my hand, and in my heart
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will.
Rosalind's reason for her initial disguise is pragmatic. As a female, it is unsafe to travel to the forest of Arden alone. If Rosalind were to dress as a male, she would be protected from danger, for "beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold" (1.3.108). She thus recognises the advantage of being male from the start; with masculinity comes protection, power, and valour. Upon Arrival in Arden however, her reasons for her costume change. Disguised as a male youth, Rosalind sets...
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...d irony that ensue it. Through Rosalind Shakespeare is able to force the audience to question the concept of gender and gender roles, and play on powerful notions of masculine power and feminine constraint. The use of masculine disguise also augments the comic potential of the play with the literary device of dramatic irony.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books, 1998.
Irene G. Dash, Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays (New York: Columbia UP, 1981).
Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. London: Macmillan, 1975
Howard, Jean E. Cross Dressing in As You Like It. New York: Signet Classics, 1998.
---. Introduction to As You Like It in The Norton Shakespeare. Norton & Company,1997.
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. (Revised ed.). Penguin Books, 1996.
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