The recent White House sex scandal raised issues about gender, desire, and an established social order - issues that questioned established social norms and ideas about the power and politics of sex. Our society is not the first to recognize the effects that sexual politics and gender relations have had on social order, however. The works of William Shakespeare are ample evidence that Elizabethan England was firmly in touch with these notions. Shakespeare’s keen observations and careful crafting demonstrate over and over again that the battle for power is an ever-present one, and that social order is an ever-changing phenomenon. Quite often, Shakespeare questions the "norms" of gender, desire, and social order, and does his best to show that these norms can easily be changed (often with hilarious consequences). As You Like It is a prime example. Rife with usurpations, cross-dressing, female aggressiveness, and even a god named "Hymen", Shakespeare does his best to throw the established norms into disarray. He takes the "rules" regarding gender, desire, and social disorder completely upside-down. As You Like It shows that, like a hymen, these rules are made to be broken.
The catalyst for the chaos the drives the play is certainly the violation of social order. Charles the wrestler tells us, "…the old Duke is banished by his younger brother the new Duke…" (I,i,99-100), and we are off and running. The old usurped Duke (Senior) has gone to live in the forest of Arden with several loyal followers, "and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England" (I,i,116). This allusion to the social outsider who robs from the rich and gives to the poor highlights how th...
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Harris, Laurie Lamzen, ed. Shakespearean Criticism : Volume 5. Detroit : Gale Research Company Book Tower, 1984.
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Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Eds., Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. New York : Washington Square Press, 1960.
Spurgeon, Caroline. Shakespeare's Imagery And What It Tells Us. London : Cambridge University Press, 1965.
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