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As You Like It (The New Folger Library…

As You Like It (The New Folger Library Shakespeare) (original 1623; edition 2004)

by William Shakespeare

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Title:As You Like It (The New Folger Library Shakespeare)
Authors:William Shakespeare
Info:Simon & Schuster (2004), Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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As You Like It by William Shakespeare (1623)



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New prompt for 117S students:

Sweet Transvestite

How is gender constructed in As You Like It? What is considered masculine and what is considered feminine? How do members of both sexes perform masculinity—what is the relationship between biological sex and socially constructed gender? How do clothes make the man? How does a male actor playing Rosalind on the renaissance stage change how we view her cross-dressing within the text? How is magic associated with transvestism? Please craft a focused argument, supported with close readings of the text, in response to one or more of these (or other) questions.

Old (comparative) prompt for all the texts we covered in 117A:

Catch Me If You Can

Compare methods of courtship from two plays of your choice. Some potential avenues of inquiry include:

-Compare a battle of wits--like that of Benedick and Beatrice--and a less antagonistic suit, like how Lysander woos Hermia.
-Analyze the relationship between "hunts"; juxtapose amorous courtship with hunting animals.
-Explore how other relationships are affected by courtship, such as same-sex bonds or familial ties.
-Examine how different lovers--such as Venus and Orlando--use Petrarchan language.
  Marjorie_Jensen | Nov 12, 2015 |
William Shakespeare

As You Like It

Longman, Paperback, 1992.

8vo. xxx+248 pp. New Swan Shakespeare. Edited by J. W. Lever. Introduction [v-xxvi], notes and Glossary [242-8]. Illustrations by H. C. McBeath.

Written, c. 1599.
First published, 1623 [F1].
This edition first published, 1967.
Twenty-sixth impression, 1992.


- 1. The Nature of the Play As You Like It
- 2. The Story
- 3. The Characters
- 4. Construction and Ideas
- 5. The Style
- 6. Imagery
- 7. As You Like It as a Comedy

As You Like It
Act I, Scenes 1–3
Act II, Scenes 1–7
Act III, Scenes 1–5
Act IV, Scene 1–3
Act V, Scene 1–4



Dramatis Personae:

Duke Senior: in banishment in the Forest of Arden
Duke Frederick: his brother, usurper of the Dukedom
Amiens, Jacques: lord attending Duke Senior
Le Beau: a courtier
Charles: a wrestler
Oliver, Jacques, Orlando: sons of Sir Rowland de Boys
Adam, Dennis: servants of Oliver
Touchstone: a clown
Sir Oliver Mar-text: a vicar
Corin, Silvius: shepherds
William: a country fellow

Rosalind: daughter of Duke Senior
Celia: daughter of Duke Frederick
Phebe: a shepherdess
Audrey: a country girl

Lords, Pages, Foresters, and Attendants

The scenes are laid at Oliver’s house; the Duke’s court; and in the Forest of Arden.


After Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is the third comedy by Shakespeare that I have read. It confirms my initial impression that Will is a greater tragedian than he is a comedian. As it often happened with Dr Johnson, who was profoundly incapable of appreciating the Bard, he was extremely wide of the mark when he remarked that:

In his tragick scenes there is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy instinct.[1]

Sheer claptrap. “The thoughts and the language” are equally important in tragedy as well as in comedy. It cannot be otherwise. It is the same author looking at the same life. It is just the angle that is different. The same, of course, is true of “incident and action”. From this point on, it’s a matter of personal preference.

Spoilers ahead!

As You Like It is a fine play, in several ways better than Much Ado. For instance, the intoxicating verbal virtuosity is never used as an end itself, mounting one pun after another with tedious regularity; there is a greater scope and a greater depth below the sparkling surface; last and least, the plot is actually more interesting if not more believable. (Truth to tell, Oliver’s and Frederick’s conversions, both wisely hidden offstage, are more believable than the debacle, also offstage but described in greater detail, that convinces Claudio in Hero’s infidelity.) On the other hand, As You Like It has neither the formal perfection nor the dramatic drive of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; for that matter, it doesn’t have its depth and variety, either. I am curious if Will improved in Twelfth Night, but that will have to wait awhile.

My major criticism of this play is not the absurd artificiality of its plot. This is to be expected. Drama, like opera (which is merely dramma per musica), is an artificial art by definition.[2] People fall in love at first sight and experience sudden changes of heart that bear no relation (or do they?) to the so-called “real life”. Incredible coincidences and fateful feats of eavesdropping abound. Nor are these things absent from Shakespeare’s mightiest tragedies. The inherent artificiality of drama can only be increased in verse drama, though in truth much of As You Like It (as of Much Ado) is in prose.

My major problem is that the play never fulfils its initial dramatic promise. The beginning is superb. The predicaments of Orlando and Rosalind are clearly established in the first two scenes, their falling in love at the wrestling match (I.2.) and their separate flights into the Forest of Arden (I.3. and II.3.) provide a solid basis for a fine drama to unfold. It doesn’t. Somewhere at this point, around the end of the second and the beginning of the third act, the play starts losing dramatic intensity. Characters talk more and do less. What’s worse, neither what they do nor what they talk always makes dramatic sense or is terribly exciting/funny/profound (choose you favourite). Jacques’ famous speech “All the world’s a stage” (aka “The Seven Ages of Man”, II.7.138-65) is a splendid piece of cynical poetry, but its dramatic relevance is nil.[3] I do wish Shakespeare could have thought of something more ingenious for that critical encounter between Orlando and the disguised Rosalind in III.2 or something less contrived for the final scene. Indeed, the whole of the final act is positively insipid: the farce is not funny enough, the comedy is not serious enough.

As always with Shakespeare, it is the characters that turn his ordinary plots into extraordinary experience. By no means are they more “real” or “believable” on the whole, especially in comedy where farcical exaggeration is common, but the points to appreciate are, first, their variety and vividness, and second, their completely realistic and convincing presentation of truth in certain situations. This is what Shakespeare the poet is eminently capable of doing (never mind that a good deal of the play is in prose). Moreover, the characters are the weapons that he uses to delve deeply into a number of topics, from several variations on the “Love Will Save the World” hymn to the heredity of hate, the relativity of time, the Nature vs Fortune and the Court vs Country debates. This is so craftily done that you may miss it if you don’t read carefully.

I can see why Rosalind is often hailed as one of Shakespeare’s finest female parts. In my still limited acquaintance with the Bard, she easily ranks with such epitomes of mesmerising femininity like Juliet, Portia, Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth. “Rosalind is not a complete human being”, said the only Shakespeare hater worth reading, “she is simply an extension into five acts of the most affectionate, fortunate, delightful five minutes in the life of a charming woman.”[4] ‘Tis most true, yet not quite. There is more in Rosalind that you have dreamed in your philosophy, George.

Those boys that played the women in Elizabethan times must have been very accomplished actors indeed. For much of the play Rosalind is disguised as a man, “the satisfyingly dizzying situation of a boy playing a woman playing a boy” (Bill Bryson), but I guess this gender confusion was not of great help to the boy-actor; he still had to retain a certain degree of femininity even in disguise. The dramatic benefits of the cross-dressing are, of course, obvious. Rosalind can speak her mind with unprecedented frankness and control the action as much as she likes. Even as a woman, she can be unforgettably brave. When Duke Frederick, a fine sketch of the ever-suspicious despot, banishes her, she fearlessly confronts him and brilliantly exposes his half-baked arguments (I.3.35-56):

Within these ten days if that thou beest found
So near our public court as twenty miles,
Thou diest for it.

I do beseech your Grace,
Let me the knowledge of my fault bear with me.
If with myself I hold intelligence,
Or have acquaintance with mine own desires,
If that I do not dream or be not frantic, –
As I do trust I am not – then, dear uncle,
Never so much as in a thought unborn
Did I offend your Highness.

Thus do all traitors:
If their purgation did consist in words,
They are as innocent as grace itself:
Let it suffice thee that I trust thee not.

Yet your mistrust cannot make me a traitor.
Tell me whereon the likelihood depends.

Thou art thy father's daughter; there's enough.
So was I when your Highness took his dukedom;
So was I when your Highness banished him.
Treason is not inherited, my lord;
Or if we did derive it from our friends,
What's that to me? My father was no traitor.
Then, good my liege, mistake me not so much
To think my poverty is treacherous.

Rosalind’s greatest “male” moments are her two scenes with Orlando (III.2., IV.1.) and her blistering dismissal of Phebe (III.5.). These scenes repay careful study.

The first point to settle is whether Orlando recognises Rosalind in disguise. H. J. Oliver has argued with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch that he does not.[5] For my part, the play is far more effective if he does. This is not just more believable. It is a much better comedy, too. The text could easily support such interpretation. It’s just a question of fine acting to carry it out. I don’t know about stage productions, but in neither of the movie versions I saw (see below) was this the case.

The Rosalind-Orlando scenes are a veritable Encyclopaedia of Love, as concise, comprehensive and profound as there ever was one. Their falling in love (I.2.), during which Rosalind is of course a woman, is the classic case of “who ever loved that loved not at first sight”. This famous line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is later actually quoted by Phebe (III.5.81). It is a fascinating, if shamelessly personal, topic for reflection how much of the “love at second/third/etc. sight” is really love and how much merely affection caused by rather selfish motives like similarity of interests. Be that as it may, it is left to Rosalind to define the essence and universality love as best as they can be defined in a few lines (III.2.343-6):

Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.

Nor is her epigrammatic summing-up of the changing nature of both men and women less memorable. Again, below the glittering surface and the rich imagery of the language there are dark undercurrents suggesting that love is not exactly picnic: its transitory nature and its tempestuous character are only two of the obstacles that lovers have to negotiate (IV.1.117-35):

ROSALIND: Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her.
ORLANDO: For ever and a day.
ROSALIND: Say “a day” without the “ever.” No, no, Orlando; men are April when they woo, December when they wed; maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyen, and that when thou art inclined to sleep.[6]
ORLANDO: But will my Rosalind do so?
ROSALIND: By my life, she will do as I do.
ORLANDO: O, but she is wise.
ROSALIND: Or else she could not have the wit to do this. The wiser, the waywarder: make the doors upon a woman's wit, and it will out at the casement; shut that, and 't will out at the key-hole; stop that, 't will fly with the smoke out at the chimney.

This is comedy at its best. If acted well – and who can act it better than the imaginative reader in his or her head? – it is supremely funny, yet it deals with serious issues at the highest level – and it doesn’t take any great perspicacity to discover and interpret (for yourself) these issues. I am amazed when I see eminent Shakespearean scholars declare that plays like As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “should not be taken too seriously”. On the contrary, they should be taken extremely seriously. Otherwise you might just as well not read them at all. Any sitcom would do instead. The fact that they also contain a fair share of pure farce and outright nonsense which must not be taken too seriously is quite another matter.

The Silvius-Phebe subplot is a nice depiction of the harsh-mistress-and-the-scorned-lover predicament in a very limited space. “Say that you love me not, but say not so / In bitterness”, says Silvius, with detachment hardly credible in a man who has raved to Corin (II.4.17-37) how madly he is in love and how nobody has ever loved so. Phebe is adamant: she refuses his advances and mocks his passion with gusto. This prompts Rosalind, disguised, to appear and deliver a tremendous tirade worth quoting in full (III.5.34-63).

And why, I pray you? Who might be your mother,
That you insult, exult, and all at once,
Over the wretched? What though you have no beauty –
As, by my faith, I see no more in you
Than without candle may go dark to bed –
Must you be therefore proud and pitiless?
Why, what means this? Why do you look on me?
I see no more in you than in the ordinary
Of nature's sale-work. 'Od 's my little life,
I think she means to tangle my eyes too!
No, faith, proud mistress, hope not after it;
'T is not your inky brows, your black silk hair,
Your bugle eyeballs, nor your cheek of cream,
That can entame my spirits to your worship.
You foolish shepherd, wherefore do you follow her,
Like foggy south, puffing with wind and rain?
You are a thousand times a properer man
Than she a woman. ‘T is such fools as you
That makes the world full of ill-favoured children.
'T is not her glass, but you, that flatters her;
And out of you she sees herself more proper
Than any of her lineaments can show her.
But mistress, know yourself: down on your knees,
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love;
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can; you are not for all markets.
Cry the man mercy; love him, take his offer;
Foul is most foul, being foul to be a scoffer.
So take her to thee, shepherd: fare you well.

The funny thing – and if acted well, it is indeed very funny – is that all this is quite counterproductive. Far from being offended or anything of the sort, Phebe is quite smitten. She falls head over heals in love with Rosalind/Ganymede there and then (III.5.64-5):

Sweet youth, I pray you, chide a year together;
I had rather hear you chide than this man woo.

This is hardly the first, or the last, time when a woman, or a man, falls in love with somebody who perpetually insults him/her. This theme, one of the many inexplicable contradictions of love, was of course developed in greater detail in Much Ado. Rosalind’s commendable appeal for kindness, buried though it is under plenty of invective, should not be overlooked. Frustrated lovers must be treated gently, however fed up one might be with them sometimes, for at least two reasons: first, kindness is not a favour we bestow on our fellows but a right we owe them; and second, harshly rebuked lovers are more likely to be dangerous. Note, also, that Rosalind addresses Silvius rather critically. How often have you seen, in fiction or in life, people humiliating and debasing themselves, losing all traces of dignity and self-respect, for love?

It is a huge mistake to regard the play as Rosalind’s one-man (more or less literally) show. As fine a Shakespearean scholar as Harold Goddard has fallen into this silly trap.[7] It’s a lot more complex. First of all, Rosalind would hardly exist without Orlando. Second, the two clowns, the melancholic Jacques and the perverse Touchstone, provide a good deal of running commentary and even participate in the action. Third, minor couples like Silvius-Phebe and Touchstone-Audrey are relevant explorations of different sides of love than Rosalind-Orlando. Fourth, even the most episodic characters have their dramatic (Adam, Duke Frederick) or philosophical (Corin, Duke Senior) significance.

Orlando is a wonderful character. Certainly, he is not your ordinary lover, a dreamy and airy Romeo. Rosalind is quick to note that he does lack the usual signs of the lover (“lean cheek”, “a blue eye and sunken”, “a beard neglected”, etc., III.2.323-31). What he does not lack are courage, integrity, goodness and even brains. His decision to take Adam with him endears him to the reader just as much as Celia’s to follow Rosalind in exile. On the other hand, he dares desecrate the Forest of Arden by hanging poems on the branches and carving “Rosalind” on the barks. This schoolboy mentality is the clearest proof we have that he is in love. Although it is Rosalind who directs their “homosexual” scenes, he does have his share in them. My personal favourite is his eloquent summation of love’s essentially non-verbal character:

ROSALIND: But are you so much in love as your rhymes speak?
ORLANDO: Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.

ROSALIND: What would you say to me now, an I were your very very Rosalind?
ORLANDO: I would kiss before I spoke.

Celia is a minor character clearly devised to temper Rosalind’s excesses of both mirth and sorrow. This she does supremely well. She is not quite as imaginative and intelligent as her “coz”, but she does have a good deal of common sense and an instinctive grasp of the subtleties of love. Thus she immediately recognises Rosalind’s first-glance infatuation with Orlando (I.2.); her anxious “Shall we go, coz” and “Will you go, coz?” are rather charming attempts to prevent the inevitable. She knows only too well that “the oath of a lover is no stronger than the word of a tapster; they are both the confirmer of false reckonings” (III.4.25-6). She is always ready to make fun of Rosalind’s lovesickness, usually at the expense of Orlando’s perfection (“wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful”, III.2.170). But she can be serious, and even caustic, too. After the shenanigans in IV.1, she directly accuses Rosalind – jokingly or not, as you like it – that she “misused our sex in your love-prate: we must have your doublet and hose plucked over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest” (IV.1.166-8). Their Nature vs Fortune debate (I.2.25-47, an Elizabethan version of Nature vs Nurture) is merely a “sport” (so is love, for that matter), but there is a great deal of substance in it. Significantly, they quickly recognise how difficult it is to distinguish between the two forces:

ROSALIND: What shall be our sport, then?
CELIA: Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.
ROSALIND: I would we could do so; for her benefits are mightily misplaced; and the bountiful blind woman doth most mistake in her gifts to women.
CELIA: 'Tis true, for those that she makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favouredly.
ROSALIND: Nay, now thou goest from Fortune's office to Nature's. Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature.
[Enter TOUCHSTONE, the Clown]
CELIA: No? when Nature hath made a fair creature, may she not by Fortune fall into the fire? Though Nature hath given us wit to flout at Fortune, hath not Fortune sent in this fool to cut off the argument?
ROSALIND: Indeed, there is Fortune too hard for Nature, when Fortune makes Nature's natural the cutter-off of Nature's wit.
CELIA: Peradventure this is not Fortune's work neither, but Nature's, who perceiveth our natural wits too dull to reason of such goddesses and hath sent this natural for our whetstone; for always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits. How now, wit; whither wander you?

The most remarkable thing about the two fools, Touchstone and Jacques, is that both of them are thoroughly unlikable fellows. This is not only my opinion. Most other characters in the play think so, too. And with good reason. The fun Rosalind and Celia make of Touchstone as soon as they see him is but one example.

In his indispensable study of Shakespeare’s complete plays, Harold Goddard has wisely quoted the dictionary definition of “touchstone”. This is “a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold and silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed by the metal.”[8] Precisely! Touchstone’s function is to reveal the precious in others. He has nothing like that in his make-up. Shakespeare must have had plenty of fun while he was creating this clown. He probably rubbed his hands gleefully when he reflected how many actors, critics, theatregoers and even readers would take him for a wise fellow whose function is to dispense wisdom to the others.

Touchstone is, in Rosalind’s apt words, a “dull fool” (III.2.101). (One is curious why she suggests to Celia that they should take him with them as “a comfort to our travel”, but never mind that.) In his scenes with Corin (III.2.) and Audrey (III.3.), Touchstone is not only violently upstaged. He is revealed as the shallow and condescending fool which in fact he is. Corin and Audrey, a shepherd and a shepherdess, simple country folk, show dignity, honesty and natural intelligence that make Touchstone’s rudeness, insincerity and superficiality all too obvious. He learns that a shepherd’s life can be just full and varied as a courtier’s, and that none too pretty and quite uneducated country wenches may possess virtues quite unknown in court. The lesson may be lost on him, but it’s not lost on us:

[III.2.32-48, 59-68]
TOUCHSTONE: Truly thou art damned, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side.
CORIN: For not being at court? Your reason.
TOUCHSTONE: Why, if thou never wast at court, thou never sawest good manners; if thou never sawest good manners, then thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd.
CORIN: Not a whit, Touchstone: those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court. You told me you salute not at the court, but you kiss your hands; that courtesy would be uncleanly, if courtiers were shepherds.
TOUCHSTONE: Instance, briefly; come, instance.
CORIN: Why, we are still handling our ewes, and their fells, you know, are greasy.
TOUCHSTONE: Why, do not your courtier's hands sweat? And is not the grease of a mutton as wholesome as the sweat of a man? Shallow, shallow. A better instance, I say; come.
CORIN: You have too courtly a wit for me: I'll rest.
TOUCHSTONE: Wilt thou rest damned? God help thee, shallow man! God make incision in thee! Thou art raw.
CORIN: Sir, I am a true labourer; I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.
TOUCHSTONE: That is another simple sin in you: to bring the ewes and the rams together, and to offer to get your living by the copulation of cattle…

(The Country vs Court debate, resoundingly won here by Corin, has a much more ambiguous postscript in the discrepancy between the words and the actions of Duke Senior. His famous eulogy to the forest (II.1.1-18) is proved to be phoney when, in the last scene, he declares his intention to go back to his dukedom as soon as he learns that his usurping brother has vacated the ruler’s place. Infirm of purpose, Duke Senior brings to mind another banished Shakespearean duke, Prospero in The Tempest, who makes the same mistake.)

[III.3.14-23, 25-31]
AUDREY: I do not know what “poetical” is. Is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?
TOUCHSTONE: No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.
AUDREY: Do you wish, then, that the gods had made me poetical?
TOUCHSTONE: I do, truly; for thou swearest to me thou art honest: now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign.
AUDREY: Would you not have me honest?
TOUCHSTONE: No, truly, unless thou wert hard-favoured; for honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar.
AUDREY: Well, I am not fair, and therefore I pray the gods make me honest.
TOUCHSTONE: Truly, and to cast away honesty upon a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish.
AUDREY: I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.
TOUCHSTONE. Well, praised be the gods for thy foulness! Sluttishness may come hereafter.

Note that both Corin and Audrey are content to state their opinions and leave it at that. It is Touchstone, no doubt out of some deep insecurity, who tries to push his ideas, not to say insults, down their throats. Perhaps “ideas” is too grand a word for his babble. This is not a man who says something because it is worth saying. Everything he says has but one purpose and this is to taunt others. He has the last word in both scenes, but there is no doubt, in my mind at least, who the moral winners are.

Touchstone’s intention of marrying Audrey may well be nastiest joke in the whole play. In Mr Goddard’s fine phrase, “we see Touchstone at his moral nadir.”[9] He clearly doesn’t care at all about the girl. Indeed, he frankly admits that he prefers the impostor Sir Oliver Mar-text to marry them “for he is not likely to marry me well; and not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife.” (III.3.72-4). It may be argued, theoretically, that the worldly Touchstone is touched by Audrey’s ingenuous simplicity, much like Ferdinand and Miranda in The Tempest, but I don’t see how the text can support this interpretation. The only possible hints are his leaving Jacques to dissuade from the stunt with Sir Oliver and his going to some trouble to get rid of William, Audrey’s not exactly ardent suitor. This is not enough. I find it hard to believe that Touchstone, if he is so inclined, would not leave his wife no matter how proper his marriage is, and as for swift despatch of William it is nothing more than one of his typical verbal skirmishes. I am left with the uncomfortable notion that Touchstone intends the whole thing as an appalling practical joke. In the end, Jacques maliciously predicts that this marriage will last but two months (“thy loving voyage / Is but for two months victualled”, V.4.179-80), and it’s difficult to disagree with him.

“He who despises himself nevertheless esteems himself as a self-despiser.” So, reportedly, said Nietzsche. He might have meant Jacques. He is not the epitome of melancholy but of smugness and superiority. He boasts of his travels and fancies himself a man of the world who has the right to advice everybody about everything. He is not quite as obnoxious as Touchstone, but he does come close. Well, he is given of good deal of his own medicine by Orlando (III.2.) and Rosalind (IV.1.). Both demolish him with their neat repartee and deadly sarcasm:

[III.2.229-39, 248-58:]
JAQUES: I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love-songs in their barks.
ORLANDO: I pray you, mar no moe of my verses with reading them ill-favouredly.
JAQUES: Rosalind is your love's name?
ORLANDO: Yes, just.
JAQUES: I do not like her name.
ORLANDO: There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened.
JAQUES: What stature is she of?
ORLANDO: Just as high as my heart.
JAQUES: You are full of pretty answers.
JAQUES: The worst fault you have is to be in love.
ORLANDO: 'T is a fault I will not change for your best virtue. I am weary of you.
JAQUES: By my troth, I was seeking for a fool when I found you.
ORLANDO: He is drowned in the brook: look but in, and you shall see him.
JAQUES: There I shall see mine own figure.
ORLANDO: Which I take to be either a fool or a cipher.
JAQUES: I'll tarry no longer with you: farewell, good Signior Love.
ORLANDO: I am glad of your departure: adieu, good Monsieur Melancholy.

ROSALIND: They say you are a melancholy fellow.
JAQUES: I am so; I do love it better than laughing.
ROSALIND: Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.
JAQUES: Why, 't is good to be sad and say nothing.
ROSALIND: Why then, 't is good to be a post.
JAQUES: I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me m a most humorous sadness.
ROSALIND: A traveller! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men's: then to have seen much, and to have nothing, is to have rich eyes and poor hands.
JAQUES: Yes, I have gained my experience.
ROSALIND: And your experience makes you sad: I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad – and to travel for it too!

It is not surprising that Jacques should consider love Orlando’s “worst fault”. Classic sour grapes. Earlier in the play (II.7.64-9), Duke Senior makes it clear that Jacques has been quite a libertine in his day. Either because of his pathological temperament or because he never looked for it, he never found love. Therefore, it is impossible for him to comprehend that love is a force that can change people for good. He may be right about the real world we live in. But the Forest of Arden is not the real world. It is a fantastical place where love, though darker and more complex than it looks at first glance, is on the whole a benevolent and beneficial force. In this respect, our world would do well to emulate the Forest of Arden.

Jacques, however, unlike Touchstone, does two commendable things in the play. First, as already mentioned, he forces Touchstone to marry Audrey properly in church. Second, unlike Duke Senior, he renounces the courtly life in order to follow Frederick into the latter’s religious seclusion because “out of these convertites / There is much matter to be heard and learned.” (V.4.172-3). This is an admirable example of scientific curiosity. It is entirely disinterested. Its only purpose is the acquisition of knowledge in order to understand better the universe. This is, in itself, a highly commendable striving. It need not be coupled with Jacques’ loveless personality, much less with Iago’s sociopath mentality. Sadly, the few good qualities of Jacques are quite obscured by his presumptuous attitude. But at least he does have them: Touchstone has none.

I love to cope him in these sullen fits
For then he ‘s full of matter.

So says Duke Senior of Jacques (II.1.68-9). Shakespeare was certainly not in a “sullen fit” when he created As You Like It, but he is full of matter all right. He is full of fun, too. I can easily forgive his occasional (towards the end not so occasional) lapse of inspiration. I have addressed above but a few of the things that impressed me and I have by no means quoted all relevant passages. The play does seem inexhaustible. I am pleased there will be enough material for future re-readings.

Last and least, a few words about two movies.

The 1936 version is notable for Laurence Olivier’s first Shakespearean appearance on the screen and Elisabeth Bergner’s ebullient Rosalind, but the play is so heavily cut that it bears little resemblance to Shakespeare’s original. Most characters are retained, but the clipped dialogue has reduced them to mere shadows. Touchstone is changed out of recognition indeed. At least the essence of Rosalind and Orlando is preserved. Larry is somewhat wooden, but his impeccable diction and stunning athleticism impress; later they would be put to a better use in his other Shakespearean incarnations. Bergner is not a very exciting Rosalind actually, but she is an absolutely terrific Ganymede. Lines like “Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a holiday humour and like enough to consent” are not easy to act convincingly, but she manages them really well. The joint scenes with Olivier are fun to watch.

Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 adaptation, which he directs but uncharacteristically does not star in, is a much darker interpretation. It emphasises the dramatic, and even tragic, undercurrents (e.g. the usurpation, the banishment, the Orlando-Oliver quarrel) and the result, to my mind, is splendidly original and powerful. The contrast between the dukes (both beautifully played by Brian Blessed) is very effective. The comedy is not entirely neglected, but it seldom comes off nicely; Romola Garay’s infantile Celia helps a lot in this respect. There are countless other problems as well. The greatest actors (Adrian Lester, Richard Briers) are relegated to the smallest parts (Oliver, Adam), even though Alfred Molina (Touchstone) and Kevin Kline (Jacques) do excellent jobs with the clowns. Branagh’s direction suffers from his much too kinetic approach (characters walking and running around all the time) and even more from his aversion to close-ups. The Japanese setting is refreshing, but most of the forest scenes are rather drab. The text is much more complete than in the 1936 version, yet there are countless indefensible cuts of important lines. Finally, there are some preposterous plot changes. (Audrey a court lady?! A really bad joke!) All that said, this is an enjoyable and sometimes insightful adaptation worth seeing by everybody who enjoys the play.

Note on the New Swan Shakespeare edition

This is my first experience with this series. I hope it will not be the last.

Unlike the Arden, Oxford or even Penguin Shakespeare, the New Swan is designed for newcomers to Shakespeare. The text is not in any way simplified or adapted, but the spelling and the stage directions, as in all modern editions except facsimiles of early quartos or the first folio, are modernized. The Introduction provides an excellent overview of the background, the structure, the language, and the characters, but, unlike more robust scholarly editions, it does not attempt to leave a single stone unturned. For instance, there is nothing about textual matters.

The notes are extensive but exclusively concerned with explanation of obscure words, phrases and, quite often, whole passages. If you are a fairly experienced Shakespearean, you may well find many of these explanations too verbose or even superfluous. In the beginning of each scene there is a short and helpful summary of the action. If you need a thorough analysis of life and drama in Shakespearean times, you need to look elsewhere. The New Swan editors have wisely limited their work to the most essential “first need”:

Everything added has only one aim: to help the reader in his understanding of this particular play. He may well need further help in widening his knowledge of Shakespeare, or of drama as an art. But his first need is to follow the play and what the characters are saying; it is this purpose which has been kept chiefly in mind throughout.

The layout – play on the right page, notes on the left – is very effective and I wonder why it is not used more often. It is more convenient that either foot- or endnotes. The notes are marked with numbers on the right page and neatly printed in two columns on the left. Much of the free space on the left pages is occupied by Mr McBeath’s charming black-and-white illustrations.

The Glossary contains words that are used today in the same sense as they were in Shakespeare’s day, but are not among the 3000 “most commonly used English root-words”.

If you are new to Shakespeare, you can’t go wrong with the New Swan Shakespeare. If English is your second language, so much the better. The Bard has seldom been made easier to understand in unabridged condition. The only drawback is that sometimes his verse or prose may be a little crowded with numbers. But that can’t be helped. The language is that dense, allusive and versatile.

[1] “Preface to Shakespeare” (1765) as reprinted in Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Walter Raleigh, London: Henry Frowde, 1908, p. 19.
[2] Goethe, as quoted by W. H. Auden, has wonderfully described opera as something that consists of “significant situations in artificially arranged sequence.” See “Notes on Music in Opera” in The Dyer’s Hand, Random House, 1962.
[3] It has been pointed out, again and again (e.g. by Mr Oliver, p. 356; see note 3), that the dramatic contrast between Jacques’ dismissal of old age and Orlando’s bringing as fine an old man as Adam is very effective. It is, rather, a lame excuse for irrelevant philosophizing. Bernard Shaw went much further in his intemperate – but thought-provoking – destruction of this famous speech:
Nothing is more significant than the statement that "all the world's a stage." The whole world is ruled by theatrical illusion. Between the Caesars, the emperors, the Christian heroes, the Grand Old Men, the kings, prophets, saints, heroes and judges, of the newspapers and the popular imagination, and the actual Juliuses, Napoleons, Gordons, Gladstones, and so on, there is the same difference as between Hamlet and Sir Henry Irving. The case is not one of fanciful similitude, but of identity. The great critics are those who penetrate and understand the illusion: the great men are those who, as dramatists planning the development of nations, or as actors carrying out the drama, are behind the scenes of the world instead of gaping and gushing in the auditorium after paying their taxes at the doors. And yet Shakespear, with the rarest opportunities of observing this, lets his pregnant metaphor slip, and, with his usual incapacity for pursuing any idea, wanders off into a grandmotherly Elizabethan edition of the advertisement of Cassell's Popular Educator. How anybody over the age of seven can take any interest in a literary toy so silly in its conceit and common in its ideas as the Seven Ages of Man passes my understanding. Even the great metaphor itself is inaccurately expressed; for the world is a playhouse, not merely a stage; and Shakespeare might have said so without making his blank verse scan any the worse than Richard’s exclamation, “All the world to nothing!”
From The Saturday Review, 5 December 1896. See Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson, Applause [1989], p. 25. The reference in the end is to the eponymous (anti)hero in Richard III (I.2.237, Penguin Shakespeare [2005]).
[4] Shaw on Shakespeare, ibid., p. 23.
[5] William Shakespeare, Four Comedies, Penguin Classics [1996], pp. 368-9.
[6] Cf. Teddie in Somerset Maugham’s The Circle (1921), Act III:
I don't think my sort of love tends to happiness. I'm jealous. I'm not a very easy man to get on with. I'm often out of temper and irritable. I should be fed to the teeth with you sometimes, and so would you be with me. I daresay we'd fight like cat and dog, and sometimes we'd hate each other. [...] I don't offer you peace and quietness. I offer you unrest and anxiety. I don't offer you happiness. I offer you love.
[7] Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, University of Chicago Press [1960], p. 283.
[8] Goddard, ibid., p. 290.
[9] Goddard, ibid., p. 288. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Nov 4, 2015 |
I haven't either read or seen this play. ( )
  RBeene | Mar 20, 2015 |
I've been made aware that modernists like to write fiction that is basically plot-free, where the point is to entertain with beautiful, glorious language, not to excite or inform. One modernist, John Barth, has argued that what he is doing is more reactionary than modern, that he was merely returning to what masters like Cervantes and Rabelais did.

Or, in this case, Shakespeare. He had already written one nearly meta-fictional play, Love's Labour Lost, where witty people did nothing but talk wittily about life. He revised and improved the idea for this play, where a group of people hide in the Forest of Arden and do little but discourse of love and life. I loved it all, but especially the typically plucky heroine and the two polar opposite clowns. ( )
1 vote Coach_of_Alva | Nov 23, 2014 |
More of Shakespear's drag king fetish; to hetero audiences, light entertainment only notable as the source of the "all the world's a stage" quote. ( )
  jhudsui | Nov 4, 2014 |
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As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns, and, as thou sayest, charged my brother, on his blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my sadness.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...
The little foolery that wise men have makes a great show.
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Duke Frederick has stolen the title and throne of his elder brother, Duke Senior. Duke Senior has taken up residence in the Forest of Arden with his band of loyal followers, leaving his daughter, Rosalind, behind at the court. Enter Orlando and Oliver de Boys, two brothers divided by their hatred for one another.… (more)

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