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Rosalind and the Masks in Shakespeare’s As You Like It

Rosalind and the Masks

In this essay I would like to focus on Rosalind’s – or rather Ganymede’s – preoccupation with the outward show of things. Whether this is a result of her cross-dressing, the reason for the same, or the playwright’s way of revealing his presence is not as yet clear to me, but Rosalind’s constant insistence on the truth of masks and on the other hand her readiness to doubt this same truth fascinates me.

When she decides to dress up as a boy, Rosalind seems to think a mannish outside sufficient to convince the world at large (I.iii.111-118). She is “more than common tall” and therefore all she needs is a “gallant curtle-axe”, a “boar spear” and a “swashing and a martial outside” to hide her feminine anxiousness. Taking it for granted that noone will have the hunch to look beyond her male costume, she reasons that since cowardly men are able to hide these feminine qualities, she should be able to pass off as a man, simply by behaving mannishly.

Being so totally dependent on her own disguise not being found out, it is funny how she proceeds to doubt anyone who does not put on an outward show fitting to their claims to feeling. The first to be put on the stand in this fashion is Orlando. As Ganymede Rosalind refuses to accept Orlando’s claim to being the desperate author of the love-verses (s)he has found hanging on the trees on the grounds that he has no visible marks of love upon him.

A lean cheek, which you have not; a blue eye and sunken, which you have not; an unquestionable spirit, which you have not; a beard neglected, which you have not (…) Then your hose should be ungartered, your bonnet unbanded, your sleeve unbuttoned, your shoe untied, and everything about you demonstrating careless desolation. (III.ii.363-371)

He is, in other words, not exactly the picture of the despairing suitor. Neither does Jaques measure up to Rosalind’s expectations of the melancholy traveller. She greets him with a “they say you are” (IV.i.3), and sends him off with the order of:

Look you lisp, and wear strange suits; disable all the benefits of your own country; be out of love with your nativity, and almost chide God for making that countenance you are; or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola.

Effective Use of Conflict in Shakespeare’s As You Like It

As You Like It: Effective Use of Conflict

It is easy enough to discount the presence of conflict within As You Like It, swept away as we are by the sparkling wit of the play, its numerous songs, and the use of stage spectacle (such as the masque of Hymen). But precisely what enables Arden to have such a profound effect on the visitors (Rosalind, Orlando, Duke Senior et al.) is the fact that it is a retreat from the “painted pomp” of the “envious court”. The twisted morality of the court, where Duke Frederick hates Rosalind for her virtue, is very much necessary for the purpose of the drama of the play; it is only through the disparity between the court and the Forest of Arden that there is dramatic significance in the movement to Arden and the play of Arden. So while the world of As You Like It is one of reduced intensity (even while the cynic Jacques is loved by the Duke Senior, who loves to “cope him in his sullen fits”), it would be too glib to dismiss conflict from the play.

Admittedly, much of the charm of the play lies not in the perfunctory plot: the news told by Charles, about Duke Senior’s banishment to a place where he and his followers “fleet the time carelessly” like Robin Hood and his merry men, is so old that its only purpose seems to be to speed up the exposition. As You Like It entices us because it is willing to sacrifice plot considerations and credibility — for instance, in the sudden transformations of Oliver and Duke Frederick — to pursue seemingly pointless moments such as the songs. The sheer number of musical interludes, from “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” to “What shall we …

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…ibutes to the play’s charms as William is summarily dismissed by Touchstone (using his wit as usual); this satire of the pastoral convention of overcoming obstacles to love is humorous. Likewise, Phebe’s insults of Silvius and Ganymede’s chiding of Phebe draws laughter from the audience.

To conclude, therefore, conflict is not absent from the play totally. It is As You Like It’s knowledge and recognition of the dangers of love “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” and is still capable of being love struck: the affection being like “Bay of Portugal”, and how it plays off that against the comedic exuberance of its interludes, verbal sparring and digressionary expositions, that provides the drama of the play. “Sweet”, indeed, “are the uses of adversity”.

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