Essay on “As You Like It”

In As You Like It we enter a brave new world of comedy. This play reveals a larger poetic reach and an ampler view of human absurdity than Shakespeare’s earlier comedies. As You Like It deals with the way in which the disenfranchised become the enfranchised and with the way in which an inimical world is saved through marriage. Orlando, an impoverished young man of ability and character, has been cheated of his birthright by his envious older brother; Rosalind of estimable qualities, has been deprived of her birthright by her father’s younger brother. The sin of Orlando’s older brother, Oliver, is matched by the sin of Duke Senior’s younger brother, Duke Frederick. The way in which a brutal, loveless world is turned into a world where those who have been cheated and deprived are rewarded by and through love is the ethical subject of Shakespeare’s magnificent play.

Help With Essay on “As You Like It”

Help With Essay on “As You Like It”

Shakespeare in As You Like It has added a new interest to romantic comedy by providing his spectators with satiric glasses which distort all the characters and all that they do. The faces even of Jaques and Touchstone seem slightly awry as we behold them through these lenses, for even these figures have been fashioned to fit into the whimsically conceived life of Arden. Like their truly pastoral companions, they are thus twice removed from the harsh world of reality.

The follies which they half represent and half deride arouse no bitterness. Their satire, devoid of the venom distilled by human envy, is mollified to harmonize with Shakespeare’s characteristically humane spirit of ridicule. It does not submerge the love story; it only gives it the charm of psychic distance. As You Like It, enriched by a union of romance with a joyous critical attitude, stands forth as a romantic comedy to please both the simple and the subtle-minded among the spectators composing an audience either in Shakespeare’s day or in ours. A man can successfully pass as a woman, a woman can be successfully passed off as a young man (as, say, Viola in Twelfth Night). Rosalind, in As You Like It, disguises herself as a boy, and is also able to deceive her lover with the impersonation.

In a play in the pastoral mode, like As You Like It, we expect something like allegory, in which everything is overstated; we expect readily perceived patterns and systems, and we get them. Act I begins with the future Duke, Orlando, giving a speech; Act II begins with the past Duke giving a speech; Act III begins with the present Duke giving a speech. The concern for Nature and Art, the rhetorical debate about the Forest and the Court, the disguises, the long, involved lists, the “rejection” scenes, the sudden appearance and disappearance of “signal” characters, the parodic subplot, the elaborate ceremony near the end — all are the expected features of a particular kind of fiction.

As the action moves to a deliberate end, the dramatized episodes echo and mirror one another in a self-reflexive, sophisticated, qualifying manner. At the end of the action the rescued, redeemed world will begin its long backward movement into despair and melancholy: the reductive system of the Ages of Man will exert, we know, its crushing, inevitable force. But we, the audience, do not and will not see that fall. We are granted the view of a saved society, and we are shown that such a realized concord depends upon nature, time, wit, fortune, necessity, love, and art. For As You Like It is a very sophisticated pastoral play. The reason that the play is so profound is that its main subject, love and melancholy, is so difficult. The play-answer requires a god, Hymen, rather than a brother, as in Much Ado, or a father, as in Twelfth Night.

The dramatist manipulates his dramatic action in such a way that Jaques’ sour generalities are immediately shown to be ridiculously false. The wretched malcontent urges Orlando ‘to rail against our mistress the world and all our misery’ just before the lover meets his Rosalind for a joyous antiphonal. The poet also places the famous soliloquy of the seven ages of man in a context which neutralizes its tone and contradicts all its assumptions. Adam’s hunger and Orlando’s desperation stimulate Jaques’ cynical review of the seven futile stages of man’s life. But the Duke’s sympathy and benevolence turn the woeful pageant into a scene of contentment and joy. Amien’s song which follows undergoes the same transformation. He begins with a lyric variation on Jaques’ eternal theme.

Touchstone is also greatly amused at the proofs that the lovesick shepherd Silvius gives of the authenticity of his passion for Phebe. Silvius laments: Touchstone, as the Duke says, ‘uses his folly like a stalking horse and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit’. . Phebe is practicing duplicity, using the innocent Silvius as the bearer of her love to Ganymede. Her present Cupid-like attitude would seem to prove that, once married to Phebe; Silvius will become a cuckold and be a civil beast.

Rosalind heartlessly reveals the truth of Phebe’s duplicity to Silvius and then tells Silvius that he should tell Phebe that she should love him, Silvius. The important point is that, since Phebe has fallen in love with Ganymede, Silvius will be enabled to marry Phebe, for once Ganymede becomes Rosalind, Phebe will lose the object of her desire. As Silvius leaves the stage in order to return to Phebe, Oliver enters. Oliver, who has come from Orlando, replaces Silvius on stage: one gives way to the other. After Silvius presents Ganymede with an expression of Phebe’s love for Ganymede, Oliver gives Ganymede a present from Orlando. Both Silvius and Oliver are messengers: one delivers a letter; the other presents a bloody handkerchief and delivers a tale. Significant props again. As Ganymede, the untouched Rosalind responds to the letter with cold honesty and harsh wit. As the moved Rosalind, Ganymede responds to the bloody handkerchief by fainting, but only after Oliver has completed his story.

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