Saturday, June 6, 2015

As You Like It

In many ways, "As You Like It" is the most pure, most essential of all Shakespeare's comedies. The "You" of the title, is presumably the audience; the sense is that Shakespeare is winking at them just a bit, and saying "Warring brothers? Misdirected lovers? Kindly shepherds? Wooded utopias? I will give you all of these, and as many as can be crammed into five acts." It's a tour-de-force, one that's difficult to imagine anyone else pulling off.

And what a cast of characters! Jacques is the melancholic clown, with Amiens his comic songster counterpart; Jacques gets the best lines of the play (the 'seven ages of man') and Amiens gets the best songs ("It Was a Lover and His Lass" was one of the top-40 hits of the Elizabethan era). The exiled Duke makes a fine master of ceremonies for both, while his usurping brother Frederick frets and fumes back home. The gallant Orlando and his cruel brother Oliver form shadow-doubles of the dueling Dukes, while Rosalind and Celia both represent and resist their fathers' wills, along with their own class and/or gender identities. A shepherd, a shepherd's boy, a couple of country lasses, and Touchstone, a second clown and second-fiddling courtier, make up the cast, and here's an easy prophecy: by the end, every one who lacks a partner shall gain one, willy-nilly.

For our in-class viewing, I'll be showing scenes from Sir Kenneth Branagh's Japanese-themed version, made in 2006 for HBO (if your cable system has an on-demand menu that includes HBO Movies, you should be able to see it for free). Branagh does not appear in it himself, but chooses a contrapuntal cast of actors, including black actors for Orlando and Oliver, Kevin Kline as a muted Jacques, and Alfred Molina as a Touchstone with Eraserhead hair. The Japanese setting seems odd at first -- Charles is a Sumo wrestler ?!? -- but once we're all in the Forest of Arden, it falls away as any artifice, and the play's once more the thing.

It's certainly true, though, that Shakepeare's notion of "comedy" is not very much like our own. You'd have to mix some modern genres -- romcom, action/adventure, and buddy film -- to get something that would have all its elements. Being "funny" is part of it, but it's not the main point.

So is this play, for you, "as you like it"? Your comments below.


  1. I thought that from the beginning of the story I would not enjoy this play. As theplay moved further along I found that I really did enjoy it. Although some of the scenes were so farfetched (Adam the butler leaving a cushy life in the palace to go live in the Arden forest with Orlando) was a little crazy, I liked the relationship that they had and how the roles of the relationship had changed as Orlando was now taking care of Adam who was much older than he. I also enjoyed how Duke Senior was portrayed in the play. Going from the palace which one would think was a great life to living in the forest, broke but enjoying life with his friends. I enjoyed seeing how Duke Senior was able to adapt and enjoy a much simpler life with his friends. The relationship that Rosalind and Celia share is quite funny. They have both long ago agreed that being in love is foolish. When Orlando enters the forest and Rosalind disguises herself as a man (Ganymede) to fool Orlando into his love for Rosalind. Celia is mad because Rosalind has gone against everything they have agreed upon but quickly changes her mind when Oliver enters the forest and she is now in love. The focus on the relationships of the characters in the play was what I enjoyed most. Although the relationship between Oliver and Orlando was horrible throughout the play I was happy to see that they were able to mend it after Orlando saved Oliver from the snake and the hungry lioness.

  2. Claudina pereria

    At first I was not really feeling the play but it turned out to be a good play. In reference to the clowns, I was expecting them to be in a silly costume and acting stupid. They were actually the opposite and they mingled with the crowd. Also I didn't find the clowns to be very funny and the melancholy, soft toned , seriousness was out of character for a clown in opinion. I really enjoy watching scenes from the play because it allows me to put faces to the characters and allowed me to enjoy the pay more. I did found it a little ironic how Duke Senior adapted so easily to his new lifestyle and surroundings. He was banished from his place of wealth and comfort, to a forest was he became hungry and homeless but he was still joyous and full of life. The way he adjusted to his new life style was a little fartched for me. Overall the play was good.

  3. I knew from the beginning that I would enjoy reading this play, I have always loved Shakespeare’s comedies. In my opinion this one started off kind of on the slow side but as the play went on I enjoyed it more and more. I enjoyed the relationship between Rosalind and Celia, the reader can feel how much they love and care for each other. To me Roselind dressing like a man (Ganymede) and fooling Orlando was a bit far fetch, especially when I watched the film because her feminine facial features are still very present. But that is how comedy was in Shakespeare’s day. What I love most of all about Shakespeare’s comedies is that everything becomes right in the end. Orlando and his brother become friendly and their relationship grew. Rosalind's father was no longer excelled, and 3 couples got married. All of this ends the play with a great “Happily Ever After” feeling, that is one of the may things that makes a Shakespearean Comedy so great.

    Ashley Ricci

  4. I thought this play was more of a portrayal of friendships than anything else. I enjoyed the friendship between Celia and Rosalind and also between Orlando and Adam. It reminded me of the biblical story about Ruth and Naomi. Naomi pledges that Ruth's people will become her people and Ruth's God her god. I was reminded of this because the characters in "As You Like It," transgress various boundaries for one another, trading their lives at court for a temporary stay in a forest. I admired how Celia remained loyal to Rosalind instead of to her own father. And I was moved by how Adam stayed with Orlando despite Orlando's lack of a real inheritance. I also thought the play was very progressive for its time in its portrayal of Rosalind as Ganymede. It was also progressive to have Celia play the role of a priest. This play was a relief to read after Richard the 3rd.

  5. I enjoyed this play a lot as it really did have a bit of everything you would want in a Shakespeare comedy. There was some action, some romance, some mystery, some drama and of course comedy. The characters in this play were all very interesting and unique as compared to some of the characters from the histories. I enjoyed that the play focused a lot on relationships whether it be the two Dukes, Rosalind and Celia, Orlando and Oliver, Orlando and Rosalind and more it was nice to read a play that looked at relationships just past a romantic level. I agree that it was a relief to read after Richard III, just because of how lighthearted it was in comparison. Even the movie version was enjoyable (although there is no way in reality Orlando doesn''t know that is Rosalind) but it was an a cool and unique screen adaptation. All and all I'd say I did in fact like it.

  6. This wasn't one of my favorites. I am very fond of Shakespeare's comedies and was a little disappointed. I realize this comedy is exactly what a comedy of his time was supposed to be but I like when he goes astray. Much ado about nothing is one of my favorites so I guess I was hoping this was more in line with that one. But it was still good.

  7. Through out this course this play was one of my favorites. It grabbed my attention right away and kept it while reading it. I did not realize that this play was considered a comedy, I almost viewed this as a love story. I like that we read this light story after the intense Richard III. I enjoyed the movie version but I will also never get how Orlando never knew that the girl he was serenading was in face Rosalind, I will that they did more dramatic reveal of her at the day of the wedding, But overall I did like it