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The androgyne is a strong figure that mentally joins the female and male characteristics together as one (American Heritage). Androgyny does not only refer to the physical senses it also refers to the cultural and social aspects of daily life. There are two main types of androgyny that were applied during the Renaissance which are referred to as mythic and satiric androgyny (Orgel, 38). Satiric androgyny mainly deals with "feminized male figures and unfixed, unstable individual identities, and is essentially negative," (Hermaphrodites, 1). Mythic androgyny consists of "cross-dressers, water imagery and the fluid individual identity, and is essentially positive," (Hermaphrodites, 2).
As You Like It is based on the concepts included in Mythic androgyny. We find that Rosalind dresses as a man after she is banished from the court, yet her actions continue to revert back to her female characteristics. Her disguise would be considered cross-dressing and her changing could be considered as being the fluid individual identity. The fluid individual identity is a way of saying that she changes her own identity. When Rosalind is talking with Celia or Touchstone, she takes on her female identity, but when Rosalind talks with Orlando she takes on the male identity of Ganymede.
As You Like It starts out in the court, where Rosalind in a female dressed as a female, and Orlando is a male dressed as a male. Rosalind is being treated like a woman and she clearly acts like one. She attends the wrestling match, where her uncle, Duke Frederick, asks her and Celia, her cousin, to try on talk Orlando out of participating in the match. This is the point when Rosalind and Orlando meet, coerce, and begin having feelings for each other. Orlando does in fact defeat Charles, the Duke's wrestler. In this situation, Rosalind is portraying a female with typical female characteristics and Orlando is carrying out his male characteristics. In the court, they are in there true societal roles, but once they enter the forest of Ardenne those roles are dramatically changed.
"The androgynous woman literally incorporates the independence that the male was designed to exemplify prior to the introduction of woman, but the male who depends on a woman becomes effeminate and is perceived as missing something in the outline of maleness," (Rose, 25). While in the forest of Ardenne, Rosalind is dressing in and taking on the male persona.
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Orlando's love sickness, Silvius' love for Phoebe and the numerous other loves in the play lead me to say that one of the plays themes deals with love, the enchantment of love and the depths love. Orlando tells Ganymede, who we all know is really Rosalind, how in love with Rosalind he is (Shakespeare, III, ii). Orlando saying this to another man would not be unheard of, many men discussed their feelings or thoughts about women (Black, 1). Since Orlando is relaying his feelings to the woman that he loves it adds to the irony of the play. Rosalind is standing there dressed as Ganymede listening to the man she loves confess his love to her and there is nothing that she can do about it because she is a man. If he were telling her this while she was a woman there would be a very different reaction, but the androgyny of the situation is setting up a barrier between the two of them. Even if Orlando knows that it is really Rosalind on the other side of the cloths, he still has to play a long because he sees the male attire which stops him from acting further. The androgyny that is brought in by the disguise of Rosalind creates a hurdle between the couple. Even though Rosalind knows how Orlando feels about her, how much he loves her and how much he is devoted to her, she is still bound by the male threads and tells Orlando the he, in a sense, must prove himself to her by pretending that Ganymede is really Rosalind. This gives Rosalind a chance to learn just how deeply Orlando cares for her and how much she really cares about him. They would not know the true depth of their feeling had Rosalind been a woman at that point. Orlando would probably never have told her all of those things had she been portraying herself instead of Ganymede.
The next main theme of As You Like It deals with the manipulation of what people see, think, and feel. Phoebe says that she is so in love with Ganymede, but all Ganymede or I should say Rosalind, has to do is be cruel to her and push her in Silvius' direction. Rosalind, in this case, has a lot of insight on this matter, the matter of ways to push women away. Rosalind is privy to how women think and how they respond to certain actions since she is a woman. Because she brings this knowledge to the table she is able to thwart Phoebe's feeling by using just the right words. Had Ganymede really been a man instead he would not have been able to change Phoebe's feeling towards Silvius. The changing of Phoebe's feelings occurs at such a rapid rate that it is almost unbelievable. It is hard to believe that someone as fond of Ganymede as Phoebe was would change her mind so quickly. Yet it seems that this change would not have occurred if Ganymede had not been there. If Rosalind would not have decided to become a man, Phoebe would never have had someone else to fall for and she would have continued to push Silvius away without every giving him chance. Without the androgyny, the story would not have been able to follow the path that it took, because Rosalind would not have been in such a pivotal and powerful position. She would have been a woman in a man's world and she would not have been able to hasten the changes that were made in the people around her.
Once again, Shakespeare uses two different venues for his characters to be in. There is the forest and the city. While in the city everyone is who they should be. The women are the women and the men are the men. Everyone knows their place and deals with their individual problems. Once they reach the forest everything changes. Men turn into lovesick puppies and want the women that they love to return their affections and pay more attention to them. Where as the women are strong and control the situations. Rosalind goes from being a person in limbo, after she is banished from the court, to Ganymede who controls the happenings around her. If androgyny had not been apart of the play, Rosalind would not have dressed and acted like a man, there would have been no difference between the city and the forest. Rosalind would have remained a woman in limbo with no control over what was going on around her. Furthermore Orlando would have continued to be a strong man who would have helped save Rosalind from the dangers of the woods, instead of being the lovesick man who needed to be cured.
Had Shakespeare excluded the androgynous aspect of the play, the play would not have had any significant differences to many of the other plays that were written at this time. The play would have just been about a woman who gets banished from a court, flees to the forest, runs into the man she loves, he takes care of her, and they live happily ever after. That is a nice romance, but that is not what Shakespeare was shooting for. The androgyny allows ambiguity to be pulled into the story. None of the characters except for Rosalind are all knowing, which gives double meaning to the things that she says and the way we as readers see things. Androgyny is a key to the dynamics of the play and with out it As You Like It would just be another play.
"androgynous." American Heritage Dictionary. Fouth.ed. 2000.
Black, Robert. Ancients and Moderns in the Renaissance: Rhetoric and History in Accolti's Dialogue on the Preeminence of Men of His own Time. Journal of the History of Ideas 43, no 1 (1982 Jan.-Mar.): p. 3-32
Hermaphrodites: Gender Transgressoin, or Gender Transcendence. 2000. October 25, 2002 http://parallel.park.uga.edu/~mkozusko/634/hermo.html.
Orgel, Stephen.: Keilen, Sean. Shakespeare and Gender. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999.
Rose, Mary Beth. Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: literary and historical perspectives. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1986.
Shakespeare, William. "As You Like It." The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Wells: 1997. 1591-1657.