“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”

As You Like It

Act Four

By Dennis Abrams

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Act Four:  Rosalind/Ganymede has convinced Orlando to take a more realistic view of love, but complicates things still further by taking on the personality of Rosalind while still dressed as Ganymede, and persuading Celia/Aliena to “marry” them in a mock ceremony.  AsYouLikeIt3(And people thought Victor/Victoria was groundbreaking!)  Phoebe, meanwhile, has addressed a love letter to Ganymede, but Rosalind scornfully returns it.  Oliver bursts in, clutching a blooded cloth, and narrates how he has been saved by an lioness by Orlando’s valor, and the two brothers are reconciled.  Rosalind/Ganymede faints.

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Rosalind, it seems to me, manages to disengage herself from the battle of the sexes by satirizing both sides.  The infuriatingly changeable “mistress” she acts in Act Three is the stuff of male stereotype, but Rosalind blurs the boundaries, concluding that “boys and women” are as bad as each other.

Paradoxically, it is disguise that enables Rosalind to be entirely herself – quizzical, interrogative, scurrilous, completely irrepressible.  It has often been said that she outshines Orlando, her supposed equal, entirely (I tend to agree with that); the exchanges between them often seem to have an air of pupil and teacher.  (And as Bloom points, out, in Shakespeare, it’s almost always the heroines who marry down.)  Discussing the strategies by which Orlando might best woo his beloved, Rosalind/Ganymede decides that they will rehearse what to do if she refuses him:

Rosalind:

Well, in her person,  I say I will not have you.

Orlando:

Then in my own person I die.

Rosalind:

No, faith; die by attorney.  The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and all this time there was not a man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love.  Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned, and the foolish chroniclers of the age found it was Hero of Sestos.  But these are all lies.  Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

Rosalind quite cheerfully calls upon the great lovers of history to illustrate her point – Troilus and Cressida, whose tragic love affair was caught across the battle lines of Troy (dramatized by Shakespeare just a few years later); and Hero and Leander, separated when Leander drowned while swimming in the Hellespont to see his lover.  Despite the flippancy of her tone, though, there is basic good sense in what she says:  it is all well and good for men to moon over their mistresses, but there is a lot more to life than star-crossed love.  This sturdy pragmatism reveals that while she sees exactly what Jaques sees, she is not deterred by the prospect.

But clearly, Rosalind is not impregnable.  She confides to Celia that, for all of her sardonic words on the subject, she is already sunk “fathom deep” in love, so outright that she “cannot be out of the sight of Orlando.”  Her emotions towards him are frequently close to As you like it 2the surface:  she has already been reduced to the point of tears by his casual inability to turn up on time, and it isn’t long, as we saw, that she comes close to giving the game away by swooning, in a dangerously and recklessly unmanly fashion, at the news that he has been hurt by a lioness.

But by this stage of the play, falling in love has become completely infectious.  Following Oliver’s lightning fast conversion to the good (inspired by Orlando’s nobility in saving him from the lioness), he rapidly proposes to Celia – a match that some critics have found it difficult to defend, but is at least a guarantee that his redemption is authentic.  And love becomes so prolific in Arden that even Touchstone longs to leave the incurably single life of a Shakespearean fool and develops a serious crush on Audrey.  The unlikely pairing of the professional man of words and the always tongue-tied goatherd somehow exemplifies not just the total range of love accommodated in the play, but its inexplicable power to draw even the most unusual of couples together.  Touchstone’s reasons for marrying at least have the merit of being honest, as he tells Jaques:

As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling.

A rather different perspective on love is offered by the shepherd Silvius, enters the play in the company of his “true labourer” colleague Corin.  Given that Silvius sounds like he’s never been near a sheep in his life, it is difficult at first to imagine what they have to talk about – until, that is, Silvius begins a lament about the cruelty of his mistress Phoebe, which continues non-stop through the end of the play.  In a comedy in which falling in love seems implausibly easy, the relationship between Silvius and Phoebe will prove to the most tortured of the lot – not least of which because Phoebe, spurning Silvius, then falls for Rosalind/Ganymede.  This is a pretty neat twist on the theory of scornful mistresses outlines by Rosalind earlier in the play, but nonetheless creates the only seeming barrier to love that As You Like It presents.

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To continue with Camille Paglia:

“Shakespeare’s reflections upon androgynous personae were inspired by the Renaissance ferment in sex roles, which hit England later than Italy.  The distance between these national phases of the Renaissance is illustrated by the fact that Shakespeare and Marlowe were born the same year Michelangelo died at age eighty-nine.  [MY NOTE:  Surprising!]  Puritan preachers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period inveighed against effeminate men and masculine women wearing men’s clothes.  Thus Shakespeare’s transvestite comedies address a public issue and take a liberal position on it.  Unlike Botticelli, who allowed Savonarola to destroy his pagan style, Shakespeare never yielded to Puritan pressure.  In fact there is a turn toward decadence rather than away from it in his Jacobean plays.  Shakespeare continued to believe in sexual personae as a mode of self-definition.  This theme is treated in different ways in his two principal genres.  His sonnets circulated in manuscript among an aristocratic coterie of Apollonian exclusiveness.  But the plays were for the mixed social classes of the Globe Theatre, the democratic ‘Many’ whom Plutarch identifies with Dionysus.  Hence the psychic metamorphoses of Shakespeare’s androgynes were an analogy to the rowdy pluralism of his audience.

That boy actors played girls is consistent with As You Like It’s claim that boys and women are emotionally alike.  Rosalind as Ganymede claims she cured a man of love by pretending to be his beloved:  ‘At which time would I, being but a moonish youth, grieve, be effeminate, changeable, longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every passion something and for no passion truly anything, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this color.’  There are intimations here of the charming vexations of pederasty.  Virgil’s Mercury says, ‘Woman is forever various and changeable.’  Verdi’s duke agrees:  ‘La donna e mobile.’  Woman is mobile, changeable, fickle.  Boys are moonish, as Rosalind puts it, because their mercurial inconstancy of mind resembles the ever-altering phases of the feminine moon, ruler of women’s lives.  Shakespeare is speaking of adolescents, more proof that Van den Berg is wrong to say adolescence was never noticed and therefore did not exist before the Enlightenment.  Rosalind’s speech is a catalog of rapid shifts of persona, that giddy free movement among mood-states which I identify with the fun-loving but deceitful Hermes/Mercury.  Are boys and women volatile by hormonal alchemy?   Some male artists and writers have the nervous sensibility and delicate trembling fingers of women.  Sensitivity begins in the body, which mind and vocation follow.

Shakespeare elsewhere broadens his model of androgynous volatility to include special men or men in special situations.  ‘The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/Are of imagination all compact’”  artists and lovers are like lunatics, literally moon-men (Midsummer V.i.7-8). To love ‘is to be all made of fantasy.’  The true lover is ‘unstaid and skittish in all motions’ save the beloved’s image.  The lover should wear ‘changeable taffeta,’ for his mind is ‘a very opal.’  Love dematerializes masculinity.  Things are glimmering, wavering, liquefied.  Art and love dissolve social habit and form, a Dionysian fluidity.  Shakespeare’s clowns also inhabit a déclassé world of androgynous freedom.  The medieval fool or jester had licenses access to satiric commentary and multiple personae.  In King Lear Shakespeare gives the asexual fool Zen-like maxims of truth, toward which the pompous king makes his painful way.  In Romeo and Juliet the jester role is played by the ill-starred nobleman Mercutio, named for his unruly mercurial temperament.  His speech is a made rush of images, metaphors, puns.  Woman, boy, lunatic, lover, poet, fool:  Shakespeare unites them emotionally and psychologically.  They share the same fantastical quickness and variability.  They are in moonlike psychic flux, which becomes manic-depressive instability in the frantic Mercutio.  As a poet, Shakespeare belongs to this invisible fraternity of mixed sex.  Inwardly, he too is a mercurial androgyne.  Sonnet 29 charts one of his crushing mood-swings – low, lower, then up and away with the lark of sunrise.

Rosalind, the alchemical Mercurius, symbolizes comic mastery of multiple personae.  Viola and Rosalind discipline their feelings, while the minor characters are full of excess and self-indulgence.  Both women patiently maintain their male disguise in situations crying out 3813-004-FB5C4187for revelation.  They differ, however, in their speech. Viola is discreet and solicitous.  Rosalind aggressive, mischievous, bantering, railing.  Riffling through her endless personae with mystical ease, Rosalind seems conscious of the fictiveness of personality.  She theatricalizes her inner life.  She stands mentally outside her role and all roles.  Rosalind’s characteristic tone is roguish self-satire:  ‘Make the doors upon a woman’s wit, and it will out at the casement; shut that, and ‘twill out at the keyhole; stop that, ‘twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.’  Her own darting wit is this gusty draft in the closed household of Renaissance womanhood.  Rosalind turns words to smoke, a spiritualistic emanation of her restless motility of thought.  Her performance is manner, not décor.  Rosalind fulfills Christopher Isherwood’s definition of camp:  she mocks something, her love for Orlando, which she takes seriously.  Her supreme moment of high camp is the wooing scene, where she pretend to be what she really is – Rosalind.

The Mercurius androgyne has the reckless dash and spontaneity of youth.  Despite our racy modern bias, if Rosalind were to keep her male disguise, she would cease to grow as a character.  Shakespeare’s plays, I said, esteem development and process, Dionysian transformation.  Rosalind transforms herself by going to the forest, but she would stagnate if she stayed there.  Her valiant Amazon personality would be diminished and trivialized.  She would turn into Shakespeare’s other mercurial androgyne, the cavorting sky-spirit Ariel, who is all shape-shifting and speed, changing himself to Harpy and sea-nymph.  Ariel, the trickster Till Eulenspiegel, and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (a boy played by an actress), demonstrate the feminizing effects of psychic mutability on males.  This reverses the principle I found in Michelangelo, where monumentality masculinizes women.  Rosalind must put an end to her proteanism and rejoin the Renaissance social order.  Modern productions completely miss the severe pattern of ritualistic renunciation in As You Like It.  Rosalind is not Peter Pan, nor is she Virginia Woolf’s reckless, cigar-smoking Sally Seton.  Rosalind is never madcap or flippant.  Behind her playfulness of language and personae is a pressure of magisterial will.  Multiplicity of mood tends toward anarchy.  Shakespeare’s Renaissance wisdom subordinates that multiplicity to social structure, containing its exuberant energies in marriage.  In the Renaissance as now, play must be part of a dialectic of work, or it becomes decadent.”

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And…from Harold Bloom:
“Jaques’s fine complexity abides in the charm and energy of his negations.  When he should be rhetorically crushed by Rosalind’s unanswerable wit, he at first rebound with a satiric gusto that wins our bemused affection.

Jaques:

I prithee, pretty youth, let me be better acquainted with thee.

Rosalind:

They say you are a melancholy fellow.

Jaques:

I am so.  I do love it better than laughing.

Rosalind:

Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure, worse than drunkards.

Jaques:

Why, ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.

Rosalind:

Why then, ‘tis good to be a post.

Jaques:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation, nor the musician’s, which is fantastical, nor the courtier’s, which is proud, nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious, nor the lawyers,’ which is politic, nor the lady’s, which is nice, nor the lover’s, which is all these:  but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travel, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

‘Tis good to be a post’ either goes right by Jaques, or else is evaded by his insistence that this melancholy is original and individual.  But his self-affirmation is voided by Rosalind’s next salvo:

Rosalind:

A traveler!  By my faith, you have great reason to be sad.  I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s.  Then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

Jaques:

Yes, I have gained my experience.

Rosalind:

And your experience makes you sad.  I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad – and to travel for it too.

The rather lame ‘Yes, I have gained my experience’ is the mark of Jaques’s defeat, but Shakespeare grants his melancholic a dignified end.  With nearly everyone else in the play either getting married or returning from pastoral exile, Jaques nevertheless departs with a flair:  ‘So to your pleasures:/I am for other than dancing measure.’  He will go out with the judgment that marriage is a ‘pastime,’ and we wonder again whether he does not speak for a partial Shakespeare, perhaps for the man rather than the poet-playwright.  Jaques may be only what Orlando calls him, ‘either a fool or a cipher,’ but his highly stylized linguistic gestures partly succeed in saving him from himself.

Touchstone, despite so many of the critics, and the performance tradition, is truly rancid, in contrast to Jaques, and this more intense rancidity works as touchstone should, to prove the true gold of Rosalind’s spirit.  Little as I love Touchstone, it is impossible to resist wholly a character who can thus affirm his past (and future) career as a courtier:

I have trod a measure; I have flattered a lady; I have been politic with my friend, smooth with mine enemy; I have undone three tailors…

Touchstone fascinates (and repels) because of his knowingness; he is conscious of every duplicity, intended or not, his own or of others.  He is what Falstaff proudly (and accurately) insists the fat knight is not:  a double man.  Though Rosalind now provokes oceans of transvestite commentary, she floats over it quite untouched, precisely because she is not a double woman.  Endlessly volatile, she remains unitary, the perfect representation of what Yeats called Unity of Being.  She may well be the least nihilistic protagonist in all of Shakespeare, though Bottom the weaver is her close rival, as are the great victims:  Juliet, Ophelia, Desdemona, Cordelia, and the near-victim yet trouble survivor Edgar.  We cannot imagine Rosalind (or Bottom!) in tragedy, because, as I have noted, she seems not to be subject to dramatic irony, her mastery of perspective being so absolute.  Touchstone, an ironist even as Jaques is a satirist, is bested by Rosalind, not only through her superiority in wit but also because she see so much more than he does.  Jaques had quoted Touchstone, ‘a fool I’ th’forest,’ at his most characteristic.’  ‘From hour to hour, we ripe, and ripe,/And then from hour to hour, we rot, and rot.’  After chanting a doggerel in response to Orlando’s bad love verses, Touchstone addresses Rosalind:

Touchstone:

This is the very false gallops of verses.  Why do you infect yourself with them?

Rosalind:

Peace, you dull fool!  I found them on a tree.

Touchstone:

Truly the tree yields bad fruit.

Rosalind:

I’ll graff it with you and then I shall graff it with a medlar.  Then it will be the earliest fruit i’ th’ country, for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar.

Touchstone:

You have said; but whether wisely or no, let the forest judge.

The forest, as Touchstone knows, will judge as we judge: Rosalind has impaled him.  Rotten before he is half-ripe, Touchstone pursue his Audrey, whose good-natured idiocy is sublimely conveyed by her:  ‘I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul.’  Comparing himself to the exiled Ovid among the Goths, Touchstone delivers Shakespeare’s ultimate exorcism of the spirit of Christopher Marlowe, who haunts a play wholly alien to his savage genius:

Touchstone:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.  Truly, I would the gods have made thee poetical.

Audrey:

I do knot know what ‘poetical’ is.  Is it honest in deed and word?  Is it a true thing?

Touchstone:

No truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning, and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.

Many in the original audience must have appreciated Shakespeare’s audacity in alluding to Marlowe having been struck dead, supposedly on account of ‘a great reckoning in a little room,’ the tavern in Deptford where the poet-playwright was stabbed (in the eye) by one Ingram Frizer, like Marlowe a member of Walsingham’s royal Secret Service, the CIA of Elizabethan England.  The great reckoning ostensibly was a costly bill for liquor and food, in dispute between Marlowe, Frizer, and Walsingham’s other thugs.  Shakespeare hints strongly that it was a state-ordered execution, with maximum prejudice, and that the government’s subsequent campaign against Marlowe’s ‘atheism’ had resulted in misunderstanding of the verses and ‘good wit’ of the poet of The Jew of Malta, whose great line ‘infinite riches in a little room’ is ironically echoed by Touchstone.  Elsewhere in As You Like It, the ‘dead shepherd,’ Marlowe, is quoted with the famous tag from his lyric, ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”:  ‘Whoever loved that loved not at first sight.’  Touchstone, entrusted as Shakespeare’s implicit defender of Marlowe, also states Shakespeare’s own aesthetic credo:  ‘for the truest poetry is the most feigning.’  Marlowe, true poet, feigned and was misread.  Shakespeare, at last free of Marlowe’s shadow, gives us As You Like It as the truest poetry, because it is the most inventive.  Touchstone’s final words in the play praise the ‘If’ of poetical feigning.  Asked by Jaques to name in order ‘the degrees of the lie’ or contradictions that leads to the challenge to a duel, Touchstone achieves his most brilliant moment:

O sir, we quarrel in print, by the book; as you have books for good manners.  I will name you the degrees.  The first, the Retort Courteous; the second, the Quip Modest; the third, the Reply Churlish; the fourth, the Reproof Valiant; the fifth, the Countercheck Quarrelsome; the sixth, the Lie with Circumstance; the seventh, the Lie Direct.  All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may avoid that too, with an If.  I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If, as, ‘If you said so, then I said so.’  And they shook hands and were swore brothers.  Your If is the only peacemaker:  much virtue in If.

‘Much virtue in If’ is a fine farewell for Touchstone, and teaches us to bear his nastiness to the shepherds, and his sordid exploitation of the too-willing Audrey.  Jaques, in the presence of Rosalind, loses satiric dignity; Touchstone, confronted by her, abandons the prestige of irony.  The play belongs to Rosalind.  To see the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of her greatness, the reasons she must be the most remarkable and persuasive representation of a woman in all of Western literature, is also to apprehend how inadequate nearly every production of As You Like It has been to Rosalind.

As You Like It is a title addressed to Shakespeare’s audience, yet the play also could be called As Rosalind Likes It, because she achieves all her purposes, which have little in common with the ambitions of the gender-and-power covens.  Article after article deplores her ‘abandonment’ of Celia for Orlando; or regrets the curbing of her ‘female vitality’ or even insists that her appeal to males in the audience is ‘homoerotic’ and not heterosexual.  I have not yet seen an article chiding Rosalind for spurning the shepherdess Phebe, though asYouLikeIt_Elliot_1961I live in hope.  Orlando, as all of know, is not Rosalind’s equal, but Shakespeare’s heroines generally marry down, and Orlando is an amiable young Hercules, whom Rosalind is happy to educate, in her ostensible disguise as the forest-boy Ganymede.  When Ganymede plays Rosalind in order to rehearse Orlando in life and love, are we to assume that her lover does not recognize her?  Aside from straining credulity, it would be an aesthetic loss if Orlando were not fully aware of the charm of his situation.  He is not brilliant, nor well educated, yet his natural wit is reasonably strong, and he is a livelier straight man for Rosalind than Horatio is for Hamlet:

Rosalind:

Come, woo me; woo me; for now I am in a holiday humour and like enough to consent.  What would you say to me now, an I were your very very Rosalind?

Orlando:

I would kiss before I spoke.

Rosalind:

Nay, you were better speak first, and when you were graveled for lack of matter, you might take occasion to kiss.  Very good orators when they are out, they will spit, and for lovers lacking – God warr’nt us! – matter, the cleanliest shift is to kiss.

Orlando:

How if the kiss be denied?

Rosalind:

Then she puts you to entreaty, and there begins new matter.

Orlando:

Who could be out, being before his beloved mistress?

Rosalind:

Marry that should you, if I were your mistress, or I should think my honesty ranker than my wit.

Orlando:

What, of my suit?

Rosalind:

Not out of your apparel, and yet out of your suit.  Am I not your Rosalind?

Orlando:

I take some joy to say you are, because I would be talking of her.

Rosalind:

Well, in her person, I say I will not have you.

Orlando:

Then in mine own person, I die.

Rosalind:

No, faith; die by attorney.  The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and all this time there was not a man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love.  Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned, and the foolish chroniclers of the age found it was Hero of Sestos.  But these are all lies.  Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

I have quoted the last sentence of this before, and wish I could find occasion to use it again, for it is Rosalind’s best, and therefore very good indeed.  The allusion to the Marlowe/Chapman Hero and Leander reinforces the matrix of irony that celebrates Marlowe’s influence as being absent from As You Like It, where the courtship proceeds from splendor to splendor as Rosalind almost uniquely (even in Shakespeare) fuses authentic love with the highest wit:

Rosalind:

Now tell me how long you would have her, after you have possessed her?

Orlando:

For ever, and a day.

Rosalind:

Say a day, without the ever.  No, no, Orlando, men are April when they woo, December when they wed.  Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.  I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hend, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey.  I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry.  I will laugh like a hyen, and that when thou art inclined to sleep.

Orlando:

But will my Rosalind do so?

Rosalind:

By my life, she will do as I do.

Orlando:

O but she is wise.

Rosalind:

Or else she could not have the wit to do this.  The wiser, the waywarder.  Make the doors upon a woman’s wit and it will out at the casement; shut that, and ‘twill out at the keyhole; stop that, ‘twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.

Orlando:

A man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say, ‘Wit, wither wilt?’

Rosalind:

Nay, you might keep that check for it, till you met your wife’s wit going to your neighbour’s bed.

Orlando:

And what wit could wit have to excuse that?

Rosalind:

Marry to say she came to seek you there.  You shall never take her without her answer, unless you take her without her tongue.  O that woman that cannot make her fault her husband’s occasion, let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it like a fool.

She is marvelous here, but he (pace many critics) is no bumpkin: ‘But will my Rosalind do so?”  It is the wisest as well as the wittiest courtship in Shakespeare, far eclipsing the mock carnage of Beatrice and Benedick.”

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Bloom raises an interesting point:  Orlando, at some point, knows that Ganymede is his beloved Rosalind (otherwise he’s a complete fool and not worthy of our attention) so the question then arises…when does he know (or perhaps more importantly at what point in the play do we know he knows)?  James Shapiro, in his book A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (which looks at the year 1599, the year in which he wrote Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet) has one possible answer:

“My own guess – and Shakespeare sets things up so that it can only be a guess – and Shakespeare set things up so it can only be a guess – is that the first inkling we have that Orlando sees through her disguise comes when Rosalind playfully asks for his hand and tells Celia to ‘be the priest and marry us.’  It’s a lot more obvious in performance, where, asyoulikeit_mk_81112_369once Orlando takes her hand in his own, the physical reality of who she is becomes palpable to him, clear enough for him to turn to Celia and agree to what Rosalind (as ‘Ganymede’) has said:  ‘Pray thee marry us.’  Their game has gone too far for Celia’s comfort.  Playgoers at the Globe knew that Celia was being asked to participate in a ‘handfast’ or legally binding betrothal, and at first she adamantly refuses:  ‘I cannot say the words.’  She won’t be implicated in this contract, and if truth be told, she’s more than a little in love with Rosalind herself.  But Rosalind insists:  ‘You must begin, ‘Will you, Orlando-,’’  Celia at last give in reciting the familiar words:  ‘Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?’  Orlando’s reply, in the future tense-‘I will’- fails to satisfy Rosalind, who immediately asks:  ‘But when?’  Once more, Orlando hedges on his commitment, responding, ‘Why now, as fast as she can marry us.’  This won’t do for Rosalind.  Shakespeare’s contemporaries knew the difference between saying ‘I do’ and ‘I will.’  (Elizabethan lawyers called the first sponsalia per verba de praesenti, the latter, less binding, because it only commits to a marriage at some unspecified time, sponsalia per verba de futuro).  Rosalind persists – she wants to know where he stands.  ‘Then you must say, ‘I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.’  Orlando knows what he is doing, understands the difference between the playful and the real, and, hand in hand, repeats the words that bind him to her:  ‘I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.’  This the closest Shakespeare would ever get to staging an espousal.  Though a Friar had appeared at the end of Much Ado, like Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, he must urge the lovers to join him offstage – ‘to the chapel let us presently’ to perform the rite.  Insofar as holy sacraments, including that of matrimony, could not be performed in the theater, Elizabethan audiences would have found the espousal scene in As You Like It, where contractual words are spoken, especially powerful.  For Rosalind and Orlando, there could be no turning back.”

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Thoughts on the play?  On Touchstone and Jaques?  On Orlando?  On Rosalind?  Is she, as Bloom confidently states, “the most remarkable and persuasive representation of a woman in all of Western literature?”  Share!

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Our next reading:  As You Like It, Act Five

My next post:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

Enjoy.

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2 Responses to “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”

  1. GGG says:

    I too thought of Shakespeare while reading lines from Jacques. He has the kind of ironic understanding that connects us to Shakespeare.

    Hmmm, has anyone written that Orlando, rather than recognizing Rosalind, is actually falling for Ganymede? I like Orlando, but think of him a bit more of a handsome block rather than an ironic character who could pull off the double double understanding, but maybe different performances and different actors bring out one aspect or another more strongly.

    Although, Orlando is always careful to add “if you were Rosalind” to his declarations to Ganymede.

    I think of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby, befuddling Cary Grant.

    • GGG: Excellent point, and one that’s open for interpretation. Personally, I don’t want Orlando to be too much of a dunderhead, or he’s even less worthy of Rosalind! (And if you remember the first scenes of the play, he’s not exactly tongue-tied until he meets Rosalind — it’s love that does it to him.) In fact, I have a nice excerpt from Garber in today’s post covering some of this very topic.

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