The most obvious concern of As You Like It is love, and particularly the attitudes and the language appropriate to young romantic love. This is obvious from the relationships between Orlando and Rosalind, Silvius and Phoebe, Touchstone and Audrey, and Celia and Oliver. The action of the play moves back and forth among these couples, inviting us to compare the different styles and to recognize from those comparisons some important facts about young love. Here the role of Rosalind is decisive. Rosalind is Shakespeare’s greatest and most vibrant comic female role. She is clearly the only character in the play who has throughout an intelligent, erotic, and fully anchored sense of love, and it becomes her task in the play to try to educate others out of their false notions of love, especially those notions which suggest that the real business of love is adopting an inflated Petrarchan language and the appropriate attitude that goes with it.
Rosalind falls in love with Orlando at first sight (as is standard in Shakespeare), becomes erotically energized, and remains so throughout the play. She’s delighted and excited by the experience and is determined to live it to the full moment by moment. One of the great pleasures of watching Rosalind is that she is always celebrating her passionate feelings for Orlando. She does not deny them or try to play games with her emotions. She’s aware that falling in love has made her subject to Celia’s gentle mockery, but she’s not going to pretend that she isn’t totally thrilled by the experience just to spare herself being laughed at (she even laughs at herself, while taking enormous delight in the behaviour which prompts…
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…anet Lloyd. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
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Marsden, Jean. I. The Re-Imagined Text: Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1995.
Odell, George C. D. Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving. Vol. 2 New York: Dover Publications, 1966.
Russell, Anne E. “History and Real Life: Anna Jameson, Shakespeare’s Heroines and Victorian Women.” Victorian Review: The Journal of the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada. 17.2 (Winter 1991): 35-49.
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. in The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin company, 1974.
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Comparing the Character of Life in As You Like It and King Lear
The Character of Life in As You Like It and King Lear
Through comedy and tragedy Shakespeare reveals the vast expanses and profound depths of the character of life. For him they are not separate worlds of drama and romance, but poles of a continuum. The distinction between tragedy and comedy is called in question when we turn to Shakespeare. Though the characters differ in stature and power, and the events vary in weight and significance, the movements of life in all Shakespeare’s plays are governed by the same universal principles which move events in our own lives. Through myriad images Shakespeare portrays not only the character of man and society but the character of life itself.
The difference between comedy and tragedy, success and failure, good fortune and catastrophe often seems to turn on a seemingly chance event. In All’s Well that Ends Well, Helene’s pilgrimage to win back Bertram succeeds on the basis of her chance meeting with the mother of a virgin whom Bertram is courting. Time is another crucial determinant. Often a split second or brief interval is the difference between life and death. In this small but all important gap of time, the character of life is revealed most clearly. In As You Like It, Orlando came in time to save Oliver from the serpent that was winding around his neck. Out of context, these events would appear as a very thin and frail fabric upon which to build great comedy and tragedy were it not for the fact that they are true to a deeper level of causality in life. Suzanne Langer has called comedy ‘an image of life triumphing over chance.’ It may be otherwise stated that in comedy the seemingly chance events of life move in favor of a positive resolution, whereas in tragedy they seem to conspire toward disaster. Helene Gardner observes that ‘comedy is full of purposes mistook, not “falling on the inventor’s head” but luckily misfiring altogether. In comedy, as often happens in life, people are mercifully saved from being as wicked as they meant to be.’ 5
Time as well as chance events are expressive of another set of determinants, another level of causality in the wider plane of life. The critical gap between human action and its results depends on the response of the environing life and expresses the character of life in the given circumstances.