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Shakespeare’s As You Like It – The Romantic Love of Silvius and Phebe

As You Like It: The Romantic Love of Silvius and Phebe

There are several types of love depicted in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. One variety of love portrayed in this comedy is romantic love, the romantic literary ideal which became popular in the Middle Ages. According to the courtly love tradition a lover worships his lady and serves her, suffers all sorts of indignities for her sake, and thinks only of her. He must be loyal to her for life, no matter how badly she treats him, or how much he suffers for unrequited love. A true lover never ceases to adore his lady, and when he speaks of her he only uses poetic language and style. These conventions of courtly love are clearly exemplified in As You Like It in the romantic attachment of Silvius and Phebe.

When Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone arrive in the forest of Arden they meet Silvius and Corin, an old shepherd, who are engaged in a conversation about love. Corin is advising his friend on how to treat the woman he loves. However, Silvius doubts the old shepherd’s authority in such matters, for although Corin admits having been drawn into acts of madness for the sake of love during his youth, he cannot recall any of them. Silvius clearly manifests that if Corin has forgotten even the most insignificant detail of the actions love made him run into, then he has never been truly in love. Even more, Silvius also explains that a true lover never ceases to adore his lady in speech, even if this moves his listener to discomfort, and further explains that sincere love may drive a lover to interrupt a conversation out of passion. To prove this last point, Silvius suddenly interrupts his speech passionately crying the name of Phebe, his beloved, several times.

Silvius reflects the behavior of the courtly lover, who is capable of the most foolish actions for the sake of his beloved, and who suffers the pangs of unrequited love and the abrupt separation from his lady. His only concern is love and, although he is uneducated, his language is lofty, poetic, and artificial when he speaks in praise of Phebe. Indeed, both Phebe and Silvius speak in elaborate verse in order to comply with the courtly love conventions. In their courtship, Silvius praises her virtues and begs for the slightest sign of affection, and Phebe scorns and rejects him all along.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It – A Pre-oedipal Reading

A Pre-oedipal Reading of As You Like It

In these lines we see how Orlando saves his brother from a snake and a lioness. This is basically what leads to their reconciliation. On the surface this seems fairly simple, but by using a pre-oedipal reading on this passage I’ll make it a bit more complex. I will try to show that this passage depicts Oliver’s liberation from his mother. I will also point out how Oliver is unable to achieve this liberation himself, and how he needs to be helped by his brother Orlando.

Already in line 106 we get a glimpse of Oliver’s problem: “A wretched ragged man, o’ergrown with hair,” He is unknown and unrecognisable, even to his own brother. You can see that he is an adult person by his hair (beard), but he has not got an identity as a man. Oliver suffers from the same problem as Orlando had before he met Duke Senior, in the respect that he does not have a father-figure to identify with. Rowland de Boys, who was his biological father, is dead. His only substitute, Duke Frederick, has threatened to take his estates from him, and thereby denying him his identity.

A snake is crawling towards Oliver’s mouth. If we take a closer look at this snake in a pre-oedipal context it is fairly obvious that it is a phallic symbol. As I said it is moving towards Oliver’s mouth. If we regard the snake as a symbol of a penis, the vagina is represented by Oliver’s mouth. On that basis, we can claim that Oliver is about to be “penetrated” and violated. We also witness a reversal of gender roles as we notice that the snake is female. This might represent Oliver’s (or indeed, men’s) fears of being effeminated.

What’s more, Oliver is sleeping. In other words he is not fully aware of the situation he is in. He is also defenceless. He therefore needs someone to enlighten him and to save him. This is where Orlando comes in. He is now a representative of the “liberated” man, having found his “father” in Duke Senior, and having proved his manhood by being valiant and gentle. The mere sight of him makes the snake “impotent”, and it escapes. Orlando has now saved his brother from the threat of becoming effeminate.

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