Rosalind: Character Analysis in The Play - As You Like It

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      Shakespeare has created some of the most marvelous female characters in his drama, comedy, as well as tragedies. Side by side with Hamlet and King Lear or Macbeth, they are also shining the tremendous figures of Miranda, Rosalind, Portia, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and many others. Among his comedies which include As You Like It also Rosalind is one of the greatest and most charming female personalities. She is the heroine of the play always bright, interesting, intelligent, humorous, and fascinating. Her character shows the dynamic capacity of wearing the personality of a bold and gorgeous lady. The most amusing feature in her character lies in the fact that her very appearance spreads a nameless charm over the other fellow characters.

Rosalind is the only daughter of Duke senior and in heart she is extremely kind.


      Rosalind is the only daughter of Duke senior and in heart, she is extremely kind when we first meet her, then we find her in a sad mood mourning the banishment of her father. But Rosalind never allows her common sense to be disturbed by her sadness and melancholy. She is always quick and alert in body and spirit can use her intelligence properly when the situation demands. One of the most lovable traits in her character lies in her caring and loving attitude. With the same passion and kind-heartedness. She loves both her sister Celia and her lover Orlando and her father also. For Celia, her sense of respect love, and honor can never be measured.

      Once in the Forest of Arden Rosalind appears as an entirely changed person and her character goes much more complex. In the Forest of Arden, we find Rosalind master in handling every complex situation between Silvius and Phebe, Touchstone and Audrey, Oliver and Celia. There we find Rosalind as an extremely intelligent female person a lady who is highly mature enough to recognize the various shortcomings of other characters. At the same time, Rosalind brilliantly recognized the true worth and dignity in the depth of her love for Orlando, which ultimately ends in winning him. Rosalind the court lady has come out from her all sorts of fantasies and stepped on the hard soil of reality.

      Her role in the Forest of Arden almost becomes a symbol of dominating, understanding, caring, loving, directing the course of action. The true character of Rosalind comes out in the Forest of Arden in the ideal bosom of nature and it is she who ultimately assumes the role of a problem solver, and at the end of the play it is mainly because of Rosalind all the loose connections, all the disconnected elements are joined together. Thus Rosalind plays the leading role in the whole drama, each moment proving her outstanding qualities of head and heart, which ultimately makes her one of the Immortal female characters ever created by William Shakespeare.

      Rosalind is one of the most glamorous young women of Shakespeare. In some respects she may be compared with Viola in Twelfth Night, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Rosalind is surety more witty and vivacious than Viola who is innocent and ‘never told her love’ and ‘sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief’.

      Rosalind is as witty as Beatrice. But while the wit of Beatrice is aggressive and challenging, Rosalind's wit is gaiety without a sting; the gleam in it has a sweet radiance; her sportive nature masks the depth of her love. She is as brilliant as Portia, but she cannot have a decisive victory over anybody because she had no antagonists like Shylock, and there is nothing in this drama which can claim the poignant interest aroused by the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice. So the depths of her character are not revealed in the play, and she evades analysis. We feel that she is perfectly charming, and that we could wish for no more exhilarating company with whom to fleet the time carelessly.

Her Personal Appearance

      The exiled Duke Senior's daughter and niece of Duke Frederick, Rosalind is the play's central character, in that she has both the most lines and brings about much of the play's resolution. She is downhearted from the beginning, as her father has been away in exile, and only when her heart is 'overthrown' are her spirits first lifted. Leaving the court in banishment, along with her fleeing cousin, she adopts the disguise of a man, Ganymede, largely so that she and Celia may appear less vulnerable to any would-be assailants. At this point, she endeavors to transform herself outwardly and bear "a swashing and a martial outside", that is, a swaggering, confrontational demeanor. Nevertheless, she confesses to yet also bearing "hidden woman's fear", and many of her lines in the forest reflect her attempts to reconcile her maidenly reserve with her intent to pass as a man.

      In posing as Ganymede, Rosalind draws upon her ample reserves of wit, which, as a courtly lady in Elizabethan times, she may not have had much opportunity to use otherwise. When she intends to treat Orlando like "a saucy lackey", she guides the conversation with her witty remarks on the passage of time. She then arranges for Orlando to dote upon her, in her disguise as Ganymede, as if she were Rosalind, ensuring a sustained connection with him. She later lectures Orlando on the appearances and actions of one who is truly love-struck.

      Though liberated in terms of the attitude she can adopt around Orlando, Rosalind otherwise professes to be constrained by her disguise. As she, Celia, and Touchstone enter the forest, she notes a desire to "disgrace my man's apparel, and to cry like a woman". Similarly, when she faints at the news of Orlando's having suffered a grievous wound, she rises and first utters, "I would I were at home", then reflexively negates her emotional state, claiming she had counterfeited the swoon. Thee audience is left to decide whether such denials are positive steps for a woman of that era to take.

      Regardless of how much Rosalind revels in her man's disguise, the play's closure is very much a return to a state of female subservience. Indeed, from the outset, Rosalind is understood to be depressed largely because of the absence of any male figure in her life: her father has been exiled, and the fact that she only grows animated upon meeting Orlando sheds light upon her earlier suggestion that they divert themselves by "falling in love". Before revealing her identity, Rosalind refers to herself in speaking to her father as "your Rosalind" and requests confirmation that he will "bestow her on Orlando". Regarding Rosalind's return to her womanhood, Peter B. Erickson notes, "A benevolent patriarchy still requires women to be subordinate, and Rosalind's final performance is her enactment of this subordination". Erickson also notes that the epilogue, in which the male actor playing Rosalind reveals himself as male, presents a "further phasing out of Rosalind".

      Rosalind is more than common tail and is heavenly. Orlando describes her as possessing all the graces with which Nature can adorn a women:

Helen’s cheek but not her heart
Cleopatra's majesty
Atalanta's better part
Sad Lucretia's modesty
Thus Rosalind of many parts
By heavenly synod was devised.

Her Love for Celia

      Rosalind and Celia love each other intensely and stand the strain of every circumstance. Rosalind can forget her sorrow for the sake of Celia.

Well, I forget the condition of my estate, to rejoice in yours.

      In the forest when Celia sinks with fatigue, Rosalind conceals her own weariness, that she may comfort ‘the weaker vessel.’ There is no secrecy between them and they unfold their innermost secrets to each other.

      Although Rosalind is no less beloved of her uncle than his own daughter’ yet it was for Celia’s sake alone that She continued to live at the court after her father’s banishment.

Her Life in the Forest

      While at court Rosalind is a bit suppressed. Rosalind gives out her best only when she comes to the Forest of Arden. Here she is totally a changed woman. It is not until she has donned the doublet and hose, appears in the likeness of a page, and wanders at her own sweet will in the open air and green-wood, that she recovers her radiant humor, and roguish merriment flows from her lips like the trilling of a bird.”

Her Love for Orlando

      Rosalind had fallen in love with Orlando when he had overthrown the powerful court wrestler in the wrestling bout. Her love finds a free play, and develops in the wood. She is the ‘practiser’, the magician yet she herself is under a spell.

      She possesses maiden modesty. She is covered with blushes when she hears of her love’s presence in the wood.

Alas, the day! what shall I do with my doublet and hose?
She is under tremulous agitation when Celia delays her the name.
‘One inch of delay more is a South sea of discovery.’

Her Sympathy

      Her heart is filled with pity and kindness. Rosalind pities the fate of the old man, whose sons were punished by Charles. Her heart goes out in sympathy to Orlando when she appeals to him to refrain from the contest. And in the forest she sympathizes with all the lovers. It is she who unites Silvius and Phebe.

Her Vivacity and Sparkling Wit

      Her vivacity and wit are the two most outstanding qualities. Rosalind has the sprightliness of manner and sharpness of wit, she skips from one subject to another. She is effeminate, capricious, full of tears and smiles. She chides Orlando one moment and at the next she playfully beseeches him.

Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a
Holiday humour and like enough to consent.

      Rosalind is made up of sportive gaiety and natural, tenderness. She takes herself out of breath only to get deeper in love. Her heart seems a perennial stream of affectionate cheerfulness: no trial can breaks no sorrow chill, her love. An arch, roguish smile irradiates her saddest tears. No sort of unhappiness can live in her company. It is a joy to stand even her chiding.

      Rosalind has a fitting reply ready for everyone. The brightness of her wit and intellect has impressed itself upon Jaques, Silvius, Phebe, Touchstone and others. Her quick wit and love of frolicsome intrigue suggest to her means to converse with Orlando.

      But her merriment and whimsical impulses are but eddies on the stream of a nature that is a really deep in its tenderness and love. And beneath all her frolicsomeness, we feel that there is a firm basis of thought and womanly dignity.

Her Womanliness

      Yet she is tender, girl-like. Although in the forest she wears ‘the trappings and the suits’ of manhood, yet she continually reminds us that she does not carry ‘doublet and hose’ in her heart. She faints when Oliver brings her a handkerchief stained with blood.

Her Common Sense

      Underneath her lightness of heart there lies a fund of sound common sense. She is without sentimentality and knows how to save the situation. Viola in Twelfth Night saves the situation by the words ‘She took the ring of me.’ And Rosalind saves the situation by the words ‘I pray you, tell your brother how well I counterfeited. Rosalind is thus the ideal woman of Shakespeare. In this respect J.D. Wilson observes. “As You Like It is Shakespeare’s Arcodia, his escape play; it is also Shakespeare’s criticism of Arcadia and escape literature. But Rosalind makes it more than either of these; for she is his ideal women”.

Summing Up

      Mrs. Jameson has summed up the character of Rosalind in the most beautiful words:—

      “It is easy to seize on the prominent features in the mind of Beatrice, but extremely difficult to catch and fix the more fanciful graces of Rosalind. She is like a compound of essence, so volatile in her nature. To what else shall we compare her, all-enchanting as she is?—to the silvery summer clouds, which even while we gaze on them, shift their hues and forms, dissolving into air, and light, and rainbow showers?—to the May-morning, flush with opening blossoms and roseate hues, and charm of earliest birds’?—to some wild and beautiful melody, such as some shepherd-boy might ‘pipe to Amaryllis in the shade’? - to a mountain streamlet, now smooth as a mirror in which the skies may glass themselves, and anon leaping and sparkling in the sunshine or rather to the very sunshine itself? The first introduction of Rosalind is less striking than interesting; we see her dependent, almost a captive, in the house of her usurping uncle; her genial spirits are subdued by her situation—and the remembrance of her banished father; the playfulness is under a temporary eclipse.”

I pray’ thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be meny.

      Is an abjuration which Rosalind needed not when once at liberty, and sporting ‘under the greenwood tree’

      “Everything about Rosalind breathes of ‘Youth and youth’s sweet prime.’ She is fresh as the morning, sweet as the dew awakened blossoms, and light as the breeze that plays among them. She is as witty, as voluble, as sprightly as Beatrice; but in style altogether distinct. In both the wit is equally unconscious: but in Beatrice it plays about us like lightning, ‘dazzling but also alarming; while the wit of Rosalind bubbles up and sparkles like the living fountain, refreshing all around. Her volubility is like the bird’s song; it is an outpouring of a heart filled to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and all sweet and affectionate impulses. She has as much tenderness as mirth, and in her most petulant raillery there is a touch of softness:

‘By this hand, it will not hurt a fly.’

      “As her vivacity never lessens our impression of her sensibility, so she wears her masculine attire without the slightest impugnment of her delicacy How her heart seems to throb and flutter under her page’s vest ! what depth of love in her passion for Orlando !....

      The impression left upon our hearts and minds by the character of Rosalind—by the mixture of playfulness, sensibility, and what the French call naivete—is like a delicious strain of music. There is a depth of delight, and a subtlety of words to express the delight which is enchanting.”

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