AS YOU LIKE IT · SHAKESPEARE

MEN HAVE DIED FROM TIME TO TIME, AND WORMS HAVE EATEN THEM, BUT NOT FOR LOVE.

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Talk about a rushed ending! I just finished reading the last two acts of As You Like It, and much like Twelfth Night, it ended before I realized what was going on.

But let’s talk about Rosalind.

Today in class, the professor asked us what we thought of Rosalind and Orlando’s relationship. My hand shot up before I had my thoughts together.

“It’s what Viola and Orsino’s relationship could have been,” I said. “Rosalind is taking this opportunity to make sure that Orlando treats her the way she deserves to be treated. Viola had that opportunity as well – she just never took advantage of it.”

Nobody disagreed with me. But, our professor said, some people say that Rosalind is being manipulative. I shook my head quite violently. Rosalind, manipulative? I have no doubt that that piece of critique came from the mouth of a man. We all agreed that Rosalind is only working to ensure both her and Orlando’s happiness. Nothing about her trick is mean, unless you go out of your way to see it as such.

“What,” I said, “is wrong with a little guidance?”

Guidance, my professor agreed, was the correct word. Not manipulation. Poor Rosalind! What a terrible criticism of her character, and an unfounded one at that.

Rosalind is the real gem of this play. She orchestrated four marriages at the end – four! Truth be told, the marriage between Oliver and Celia came as quite a shock to me. I know the forest changes people almost instantaneously (and always for the better), but still. Celia is spirited and witty, and nothing about Oliver seems to mesh with her. But, alas, all characters must fall victim to Shakespeare’s obsession with marrying everybody off at the end of a good comedy.

Jaques leaves us in search of a new location for him to whine in. Good bye, Jaques! I wish you’d had fewer lines, you big baby.

Rosalind’s epilogue was quite curious to me. Comedies do not typically have a chorus, so the inclusion of Rosalind’s speech to the audience was a surprise. What is it for? Well, perhaps it is to ease us back into reality. We have been swept away by the Forest of Arden and all it has to offer. But here is a reminder, courtesy of Rosalind, that what we saw was not quite real. She is, in fact, a male actor in women’s clothing, and it’s time for us to come back to reality.

But Rosalind really is wonderful, isn’t she? Gender roles simply do not apply to her – she makes both a man and a woman fall head over heels for her. What’s more, she manages to play matchmaker in the midst of all the nonsense happening in the forest. What a wonderful multi-tasker! And an incredibly self-aware one, at that.

I love Rosalind. Orlando’s pathetic, lovey-dovey poetry did not become her. She knows who she is, and because of this, her marriage to Orlando will be one full of happiness.

AS YOU LIKE IT · SHAKESPEARE

TRULY, THOU ART DAMNED, LIKE AN ILL-ROASTED EGG, ALL ON ONE SIDE.

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Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Celia (Romola Garai) in Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 adaptation of As You Like It.

Twelfth Night has gone back to my bookshelf, and As You Like It has become the latest victim of my pencil-markings and post-its. This story is a brand new one to me – where I have spent years agonizing over Twelfth Night, I’ve only spent around five hours agonizing over the first three acts of As You Like It.

Let us get what – or rather, who – I do not like out of the way. With every passing act, Jaques has proven to be incredibly annoying. His obsession with dwelling in his melancholy is exhausting, and makes him out to be a fool. His demands to hear more music also brought forth memories of Duke Orsino – memories which I prefer to keep repressed. Let me be plain: Jaques is exactly the kind of person I would reflexively smack across the face. He criticizes so many things, and yet never makes a move to fix them. Instead, he just marinates in a stew of his own tears.

How fortunate we are for Rosalind, then! While Jaques laments non-stop, Rosalind moves to change what she finds worthy of criticism. She is incredibly clever – so much so, that I am already a bit unhappy with the fact that she is going to end up with Orlando. This is Viola and Duke Orsino all over again – except Orlando isn’t nearly as frustrating a character. But why do our witty heroines always end up with such sub-par men? There is no real answer to this, unfortunately. Such is Shakespeare.

What’s really wonderful about Rosalind is that anybody can relate to her. Very easily, in fact. She is cynical about love – and you’ve felt that same cynicism. At the same time, however, she is hopeful, and finds herself simultaneously swept away by her love for Orlando. She is not defined exclusively by her cynicism or her love-sickness – she is human, so she feels both. And who doesn’t? What person hasn’t scoffed at love? And what person hasn’t been seduced by everything love can offer if only given the chance?

Much like Viola, Rosalind finds great freedom through her disguise. She has already convinced Orlando that she can “cure” him of his love-sickness – but only if he calls her by his love’s name: Rosalind. It’s a trick that is played for laughs, but how clever of Rosalind to basically take Orlando under her tutelage, so that she may be treated the way she wants and deserves by play’s end. If only Viola had been so forward with Duke Orsino.

Despite not being a magic-ridden play like The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there is something distinctly magical about As You Like It. Much of it takes place in a forest, and people’s feelings and dispositions change so instantaneously, that you can’t help but think that it’s because of the setting. Who else will the forest inspire to change? Only continuing the play will tell.

I am reading this play at a tumultuous and upsetting time in my life, sadly. But the specific brand of comfort that Shakespeare brings about is so, so welcome. And to think – I would have never gone this far, never delved this deep, had it not been for my tenth grade English class. Back then, I thought that Richard III would be my first and only foray into Shakespeare. I was so wrong.

Thank goodness.