Saturday, June 2, 2012

As You Like It

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As You Like It

1. As You Like It was written by William Shakespeare.

Historical Context

In the year 15, Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne of England. One of the most brilliant political minds of her century, she had presided over nearly fifty years of change and struggle, and brought her country to a position of global power where it would remain for centuries.

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The last half of the sixteenth century had been, as they say, pretty busy. On the cultural front, the printing press, invented about a hundred years before, was fundamentally changing the way literature reached ordinary people. The city of London had seen its population double in the decades following 156, to top 00,000 people for the first time, and a massive new middle class was influencing the economic, cultural, and literary development of the nation. The Renaissance Humanistic movement, spilling in from Europe, had ushered in a new era of interest in learning and the classics; and in the past half century, English writers and poets had, for the first time, begun to try to create literature in their native tongue that could stand up to the greatest works written in Latin, French, or Italian.

And in 15, a thirty-five-year-old playwright named William Shakespeare was enjoying his prosperity as one of the most successful people working in the London theatre. His acting company, called The Lord Chamberlains Men, had great favor with the Queen, and that very year the troupe was in the process of building its own theatre on the south shore of Londons Thames River; the theatre would be called the Globe.

As You Like It was written in this year, just after Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, and Julius Caesar, and just before the writing of Hamlet in 1600. Unlike many of Shakespeares plays, As You Like It seems to contain few references to the world outside the theatre; unlike the political history Shakespeare reworked in his history plays, or the commentaries on kingship and power that pervade his tragedies, Shakespeares comedy plays generally seem to be light-hearted works, meant to entertain and amuse, but not to provoke thought about anything more politically sensitive than the nature of love or poetry. To be sure, As You Like It contains good and bad rulers - Duke Frederick and Oliver are tyrannous siblings, who usurp the rights of their nobler kin, Duke Senior and Orlando - but their wickedness comes straight out of fairy tales, and, the nature of their badness left unexplored, it is easy to create a happy ending by simply letting them reform. Shakespeare seems to be more interested in developing characters like Rosalind, Orlando, Touchstone and Jacques, through whom he can explore questions of identity, semiotics, self-knowledge and (of course) love.

Some basic historical details are useful for a richer understanding of the play. For instance, modern readers should remember that all roles in Renaissance drama were played by men and boys, so that Rosalind and Celia (as well as Phoebe and Audrey) would really have been played by youths in womens clothing; this puts the theme of cross-dressing in a whole new light. And the mode in which As You Like It is written - in which noble people flee the court to a simpler life as shepherds and woodsmen - is part of an allegorical literary genre called the pastoral, which was based on classical writings and was extremely popular in Shakespeares day.

PLOT (Synopsis)

Before the play begins, Duke Senior, one of the protagonists of the play, has had his dukedom usurped by his younger brother, Duke Frederick. In a similar manner, Orlando, another protagonist of the play, has had his inheritance taken away by his elder brother, Oliver. The play opens in the orchard of Oliver, where Orlando and an old servant are talking. Oliver arrives, and a bitter quarrel ensues between the brothers. Adam, the old servant, brings about a

temporary reconciliation between the two, and Oliver promises to pay Orlando his share of the inheritance, which will make his a gentleman.

The next day, a wrestling match is held, in which Orlando is to compete against Charles, the professional fighter of Duke Frederick. Rosalind comes to watch the match with Celia,

Fredericks daughter. Orlando is delighted that he beats Charles, for he wants to make a good impression on Rosalind, whom he loves. Duke Frederick is impressed by Orlandos skill; however, when he learns that he is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, a close friend of Duke Senior, he is angered. As punishment, the Duke banishes Rosalind, Orlandos true love. In the disguise of Ganymede, she departs for the Forest of Arden, accompanied by Touchstone (the court fool) and Celia, who is disguised as Aliena.

Duke Senior, banished by his brother Duke Frederick, leads a life of exile in the Forest of Arden, where many young gentlemen flock to him every day. Duke Frederick, who is bent on finding Celia, heads to the forest to search for her. At the same time Orlando has decided to go to the forest, for he has learned that his brother, Oliver, intends to have him killed; he departs with his old servant, Adam.

When Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone arrive in the Forest of Arden, they purchase a shepherds cottage with the jewels and money that they have brought with them. They settle down to a comfortable and leisure life among the olive trees and sheep. Only Touchstone misses the comforts of city life and complains, When I was at home, I was in a better place.

Duke Senior has been looking through the forest all day for his courtier, Jaques, whose company he enjoys. Jaques is a melancholy realist who believes that everything is wrong with the society in the forest. The courtier has happened to meet Touchstone, the court fool, whom he likes. He enjoys spending time with Touchstone, because Jaques believes that fools are wise, while wise men are foolish to enjoy living in such a crazy world. He compares the whole world to a theater, and all the men and women as players on the stage of life.

When Duke Senior finally finds Jaques, they dine in the forest as the duke listens to the courtiers melancholy view of life. Suddenly Orlando rushes in with his sword drawn. Since his old servant, Adam, is dying of starvation, Orlando is ready to fight to get him some food. Orlando is pleased to learn that Duke Senior is a friend of his dead father and is willing to share his food. Orlando leaves to bring Adam, who he carries back to the duke. They are greeted

with music and song and accepted as members of the forest society.



Duke Senior - one of the protagonists of the play. His ducal rights

are usurped by his younger brother, Frederick. He leads a life of

exile in the Forest of Arden with some of his lords (co-mates and

brothers in exile). His ducal rights are restored to him towards the

end of the play when his brother has a moral conversion.

Duke Frederick - one of the antagonists of the play. He is a

contrast in every respect to Duke Senior, his elder brother, whose

rights he usurps during the play. Towards the end, however, there

is a change in his morals, and he tries to make amends for his past


Touchstone - a fool in the Dukes court. He accompanies Rosalind

and Celia to the Forest of Arden. Duke Senior rightly remarks that

he uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation

of that he shoots his wit.

Oliver de Boys - the eldest son of Sir Rowland de Boys and one of

the antagonists of the play. He denies his brother Orlando his

rightful inheritance and the education that is due to him. Wicked

and villainous by nature, he wants to have Orlando killed.

However, Orlando saves him from a deadly snake and a fierce

lioness, which changes Olivers attitude.

Orlando de Boys - the youngest brother of Oliver and one of the

protagonists of the play. To escape his brothers plot to kill him, he

goes to the forest, courts Rosalind, and weds her.

Rosalind - the daughter of Duke Senior and the heroine of the

play. Banished by Duke Frederick, she goes to the forest under the

disguise of Ganymede. She displays wit, intelligence, and

alertness. At the end of the play, she orchestrates all of the

marriages, including her own to Orlando.

Celia - the daughter of Duke Frederick. She serves as Rosalinds

companion. She is a fine and likable lady who is overshadowed by

the more commanding Rosalind.

Jaques - one of the lords attending Senior Duke. A melancholy

cynic, he is a critic of the society in the forest and all of life.


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