What is the Date of Composition of As You Like It?

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      The best way to assign the date to the play lies in finding out the upper and lower limit of the date. Then by the help of internal and external evidences we can find out the nearest possible date. By external evidence is meant reference to the play in question in contemporary records of all kinds, the dates of which can be determined. Internal evidence refers to those items of knowledge or allusions which are found in the play itself and which refer to contemporary incidents which can be dated accurately. Approximately the lower limit is 1598 and the upper limit in the middle of 1600.

External Evidence

      The Register of the Stationers’ Company mentions As You Like It, Henry V, Much Ado, and Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour as to be unpublished. The entry referring to As You Like it was made on the register as 4 August. But the year was not mentioned. The previous entry, however, on the Register is dated 27 May 1600, while later entries referring respectively to the three other play Henry V, Much Ado and Every Man in His Humour, are dated 14 August, and 21 August 1600, and these three plays were printed in 1600-1. It is certain therefore that the intervening entry on the Register mentioning You Like It belongs to August, 1600. This is upper limit of the date of the play.

      As You Like It is not included in the list of Shakespeare’s plays given by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tomia published in the autumn of 1598.

Internal Evidence

      The song “It was a lover and his lass” is found set to music in Thomas Morley’s First Book of Ayres printed in 1600.

      The evidence to fix 1598 as the earliest date of the play lies in the line “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight,” a quotation from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander which was published in 1598. The presence of this line in As You Like It cannot be explained by the supposition that Shakespeare had seen a manuscript copy of Hero and Leander, or heard it recited. The manner in which the quotation is introduced implies that Hero and Leander, was so well known that the line would be recognized by the audience.

      Will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, these words sound rather like an allusion to a well-known fountain, and some have supposed that Shakespeare had in mind a fountain with a statue of Diana which was set up in 1596 on the Eleanor Cross in Cheapside. Stowe in the edition of his Survey of London (1598) speaks of the fountain as then perfect and in use, whereas in a later edition (1603) he describes it as ‘now decayed’. It is evident therefore that if Shakespeare alludes to the Cheapside fountain, the words of Rosalind must have been penned somewhere between the year 1596 and 1603.

      “They were all alike one another as half-pence are.” Half-pence was first coined in Elizabethan reign 1582—3; their use was discontinued in 1601.

      The following references prove the date of the play against 1600.

“By all the pretty oaths that are not dangerous”

“I have, since I three year old conversed with a magician, most profound in his art, and yet not damnable.”

“By my life I do; which I tender dearly”

      We find two Statutes in the reign of James I. In 1603 there passed an act against witchcraft and in 1605 there passed an act to restrain the use of oath upon the stage. But there is an earlier Statutes too against witchcraft.

Evidence of Metre, Style and Tone

      If we take meter, style and tone of the play into consideration, we will find that As You Like It belongs to the middle plays. As You Like it is termed as one of Shakespeare’s “three sunny or sweet-time comedies.” The influence of rhyme is still seen, as in all the plays of Shakespeare’s middle period. There is much prose as m Much Ado 1599 and Twelfth Night 1601.

      So we have seen that the play was written not earlier than 1598, and not later than 1600. Henry V and Much Ado were written before As You Like as is most probable, the inference is that the play was written either in 1599 or 1600.

      The external and internal evidence on the subject warrant the inference that As You Like It was written not earlier than 1598 and not later than 1600. We may with confidence assign its composition to 1599 or the early part of 1600. Henry V was certainly written in 1599, and Much Ado About Nothing between 1598 and 1600, and there is good reason for supposing that the latter preceded As You Like It. If; therefore in accordance with the evidence bearing on their dates of composition, we assign Henry V and Much Ado to the year 1599, it appears more natural to asign As You Like It to the early part of 1600.

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