As You Like It is another great example of Shakespeare taking his gender swapping plot device to the fore once more with the much beloved As You Like It. One of the Bard’s more well known comedies, the play is a great example of potentially serious and deadly circumstances all managing to turn out well in the end.
The play tells a sequence of events in the Forest of Arden. In this Duchy in France the current Duke has in fact usurped his position and his niece Rosalind, the daughter of the deposed Duke, is only allowed to remain in court because she is so beloved by her cousin Celia. In this initial setting we meet the young man Orlando, who falls in love with Rosalind the moment they meet. Unfortunately this Orlando is persecuted by his brother Oliver and this is but one of the factors that keeps the young lovers apart. The usurper Duke decides to banish Rosalind and because of her deep friendship with Celia the two girls decide to flee into the Forest of Arden together.
Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede and Celia decides to call herself Aliena. Accompanied by the jester Touchstone it turns out that in the Forest of Arden Rosalind’s father is hiding in exile with his loyal followers. In here all the characters collide until we finally reach our happy ending.
Relationships and self awareness are no new topic for Shakespeare but in As You Like It love, friendship and brotherhood are the topics which the play revolve utterly around. It’s ultimately a happy play, one of resolutions. Many of the bad things that happen to our characters before they all come together in the Forest of Arden happen off stage. Even the older or more melancholy characters make it out of the other end of the play. Contrasts abound: the differences between the structured nature of court and the freedom and naturalism of the forest. Without the literal barriers of the castle the restrictions which people live by are far more open. The realms of possibility are most greatly seen in Rosalind and Touchstone. Rosalind changes who she is, becoming quite the Swiss pen knife of people as she pretends to be herself as she’s pretending to be her alias as she’s covering up her true identity (yes, you did read that right). In contrast Touchstone follows the tradition of many of Shakespeare’s great jesters by being deeply insightful whilst inducing many of the best laughs.
If you’re not familiar with As You Like It, you might be familiar with this most famous quote, straight from the mouth of Touchstone himself:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
I enjoy this play immensely and even if it seems to very much live in a bubble of happiness. The world Shakespeare conjures up via the isolated world of the Forest is beautifully escapist and bright.
Last scene of all that ends this strange, eventful history,
is second childishness and mere oblivion.
I am sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.