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The Deeper Meaning of As You Like It
Shakespeare's As You Like It is a good play for anyone to read or see. Some readers would enjoy one aspect of it, some would enjoy another. But all would, in general, enjoy the play. Albert Gilman says that Shakespeare intended to imply that all that people need to live together in harmony is "good sense, love, humor, and a generous disposition." (Gilman lxvii) This play is deeper than the surface, and that is part of its appeal to every kind of person.
As its title declares, this is a play to please all tastes. ".For the simple, it provides the stock ingredients of romance....For the more sophisticated at d, it p propounds...a question which is left to us to answer: Is it / better to live in the court or the country?....For the learned and literary this is one of Shakespeare's most allusive plays, uniting old traditions and playing with them lightly... (Gardner 161)
The title of the play came from a note to his "gentlemen readers" in Thomas Lodge's book, Rosalynde, in which he said, "I f you like it, so." (Lodge 108) People interpret different lines and actions of the characters as they wish, and we know Shakespeare would not object; it says so right in the title of the play! Actors and Directors have taken this literally, and have made various changes to the script, such as having Phebe gnaw on a turnip or an apple between her lines and having Rosalind kiss the chain before giving it to Orlando.
The characters in As You Like It are easy to understand because they follow their simple wishes; they do something because it suits them. For example, Oliver hates Orlando because he wants to. There is no reason for him to resent him, none at all: "... for my soul, though I know not why, hates nothing more than he." (Shakespeare 8) Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind because people felt sorry for her for her father's sake. Finally, Rosalind herself had no other reason than a simple whim to not tell Orlando who she really was.
Touchstone added the humor to the story, and Jacques added the melancholy. Shakespeare entered both of these characters into the play to balance each other. He also added Audrey and William to give all of the characters someone to love.
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Because Duke Frederick had banished the whole court, there was no one left. So he went to the Forest to "seek the enemies so necessary to his existence." (Erickson 189) While he was there, he was changed by a religious old man, popularly thought to be a hermit, and gave the crown back the Duke Senior. He realized that he was wrong in banishing everyone to the Forest of Arden. It wraps up the play very well and adds to the public appeal more than merely killing the tyrant.
Silvius and Phebe were not as big a part of As You Like It as Montanus and Phoebe in Rosalyade. Play-goers would be more interested in the main love-afTair, rather than spending a lot o f time on those two. Silvius thought he loved Phebe, where he probably really loved love itself. "He's fall'n in love with your foulness, and she'll [Phebe] fall in love with my [Ganymede's] anger." (Shakespeare 69) Phebe did not treat him with respect and was not worthy of his love. Joseph Locket says "Silvius' longings for Phebe show...a losing of the self rather than finding of the lover, and more worthy of mockery than respect." (Locket 2)
Orlando is the "handsome, well-mannered, young hero" (Gardner 161) necessary to a good romance. His whole sense of self came from his heritage. He saw himself as the son of Sir Rowland de Boys. When he won the wrestling match, he won the right, in his mind, to claim his father's name. When Oliver came into the forest to find his brother and was attacked by the lioness, Orlando saved him. The kindness he showed to Oliver started with the willingness of Duke Senior to share his meal with Adam and Orlando.
Rosalind, under the disguise of being Ganymede, could get away with a lot more than she could as herself. As Rosalind, Ganymede could not te11 Phebe to "sell when you can, you are not for all markets." (Shakespeare 69) She could "spoof love and yet be a lover," (Gilman Ixiv) Through the tool of Ganymede, Rosalind was acting out "parts scripted for women by her culture." (Howard 198) She used the laws of society to achieve her own ends.
Rosalind's disguised love-play is not merely a game with hapless Orlando, but an education: he must care enough to keep his promises and appointments, and respect her enough to speak as well as kiss.
She is "teaching her future mate how to get beyond certain ideologies of gender to more enabling ones." (Howard 198) Through her interactions with Orlando as Ganymede, Rosalind is accomplishing much. Her ultimate end is a "rational relationship," rather than one of "heady emotionalism." (Locket 2) She wished to keep her intelligence and dignity instead of having a relationship such as Audrey and Touchstone (based on lust) or Silvius and Phebe (based on his love of her "foulness"), but she still wanted the bliss of romance. "No wonder she seems so modern, and pleases so many modem audiences." "...Rosalind does not so much woo Orlando as educate him in the proper way to love." (Locket 1)
Shakespeare crams his first act with incident in order to get everyone to the forest as soon as he possibly can and, when he is ready, he ends it all as quickly as possible. (Gardner 165)
Shakespeare begins the play in the court, then quickly goes to the Forest. He spends little time in the court because not much happens there, and Shakespeare leaves no room for boredom here. As You Like It is a play based on place, as opposed to time. This comedy, like most of Shakespeare's other works, was taken from another source. Shakespeare took Rosalyade and "stripped Lodge's plot down to the bare bones and added no subplot of his own." (Gardner 164)
Shakespeare's tragedies are violent and merciless, but he omitted much of the violence from As You Like It that was included in Rosalynde. The wicked uncle was converted in the Forest instead o f being killed in the battle at the end o f the story, and, at the wrestling match, Charles was thrown, but his neck was not broken. Shakespeare made his villains not quite so villainous, "in the spirit of a playful comedy." (Locket 1) Charles, who wrestled Orlando, was not as evil as in Rosalynde, as he did not do it for money but was deceived by Oliver. Even Oliver does not treat Orlando as badly as Saladin treated Rosader, and Duke Frederick did not banish his own daughter like Duke Torismond did.
Shakespeare made his characters more equal in character value; not only did he make his villains better, he also made his heroes worse, with the exception of Rosalind and her father, Celia was not thrilled at the opportunity to play the priest and "marry" Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando, as she was in Lodge's version, and Celia was in a bad mood far the remainder of that scene. Orlando, when he disrupted the Duke Senior's dinner, was much more harsh, abrupt, and forceful than Rosader in the same situation. Duke Senior was the same as Gerismond in showing kindness to Orlando/Rosader when the latter demanded food. Shakespeare's Rosalind was better than Lodge's Rosalynde, for when they gave Orlando/Rosader the necklace, Rosalynde gave it to him to toy with his emotions. Rosalind had honest intentions in that action. "Shakespeare's people are more human, with virtues and flaws for all." (Locket 1) This made the play more lifelike, adding to its charm.
Unlike his other comedies, As You Like It did not have the "broad humor." This might have been because of their recent loss of the company's funnyman, Kempe. Out of this, however, Shakespeare has created "the most re6ned and exquisite of the comedies." This is probably why Audrey's former lover, William, makes such a short appearance. He is the closest of all the characters in the play to a "gross clown." (Gardner 162)
When someone first sees or reads this play, it is just a cute story with romance, nature, and some violence; what else could one want? This is for the "simpler" play-goer. However, if someone who is more "sophisticated" read up on the characters and studied their motivations and personalities, the whole play would become real and much more interesting because the audience/reader would understand more how they feel. The "learned and literary" would study and analyze each sentence and phrase and research why Shakespeare used certain words or referred to a specific person or event. As You Like It can be read, studied, and/or ana1yzed, depending on the tastes o f the readers and actors. Someone might not like a story because it is too light or too complicated, but a different person might enjoy it for the same reason. As You Like It appeals to all tastes, for it can be whatever the reader wants it to be.
1.) Erickson, Peter B. "Sexual Politics and Social Structure in As You Like It." As You Like It. Ed. Sylvan Barnet.
New York: Signet Classics, 1998. 180-195.
2.) Oardner, Helen "As You Like It." As You Like It. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classics, 1998.
3.) Gilman, Albert. The Introduction. As You Like It. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classics, 1998.
4.) Howard, Jean E. "Cross Dressing in As You Like It' As You Like It. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet
Classics, 1998, 196-199.
5.) Locket, Joseph. "Instruction Versus Deception: From Rosalyade to As You Like It."
6.) Lodge, Thomas. Rosa1ynde or Euphues' Golden Legacy. As You Like It. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York:
Signet Classics, 1998. 107-146.
7.) Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. 1-104.