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December Books 13) As You Like It

13) As You Like It, by William Shakespeare

This was one play which I knew almost nothing about. I very much liked it, and I regret that I have never seen it on the stage. It concerns Rosalind, daughter of the deposed Duke and niece of the usurper, who flees to the forest of Arden, and Orlando, who falls in love with her, plus a couple of memorable supporting characters - the clown Touchstone and the sardonic Jaques. Rosalind herself, along with Portia and Beatrice, is one of the great Shakespearean female roles; she does her best to seize control of the situation, even if it means disguising herself as a man (and she gets to deliver the epilogue). Events off stage ensure that there is a happy ending, but that isn't really the point; once Shakespeare has got them all to the forest, we just watch the characters interact, and it is fun. As occasionally happens, I had a thouught about how I would stage this, which is that I would imply the Rosalind / Celia relationship to be somewhat Sapphic, and see how that affects the rest of the play.

It would be more fun on stage, and despite the generally good Arkangel production, I think this is one play where you really need the visuals. Niamh Cusack is great as Rosalind (who twice appears to refer to herself as Irish, so that is a neat touch, though if you think about it too much you start wondering why the rest of the ducal family aren't also Irish).

Jonathan Bate's book, which I was reading at the same time, has a couple of interesting points to make about As You Like It. He points out that the plot is basically plundered wholesale from Thomas Lodge's novel Rosalynd of 1590, but that the bits people tend to remember - Jacques (with his Seven Ages of Man), Touchstone, and Rosalind's impersonation of herself - are all Shakespearean additions. He also speculates that William, the thick country lad, is Shakespeare's own self-deprecatory portrait. I can't help but play the autobiography game myself: there are two sets of feuding brothers in this play (and likewise there were feuding brothers in Much Ado About Nothing); was this written at the time when Shakespeare's younger brother Edmund moved to London to try his luck in the theatre? He would have been 19 in 1599.

Anyway, this was better than I had anticipated.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
londonkds
Dec. 29th, 2008 10:18 am (UTC)
I'm surprised you haven't seen this, it always seems to me to be pretty frequently produced.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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