Source of Shakespeare's As You Like It

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Q. Writes a note on the sources of ‘As You Like It’.


      Shakespeare did not attach much importance to the originality of the plots. He was one of the greatest plagiarists the world has ever produced. He takes the existing story. But he shapes it anew, recreates its characters and gives to it brilliant touches. The genius of Shakespeare lies in the treatment of the plot and in the delineation of character.

Source of ‘As You Like It’

      Shakespeare’s source for As You Like It is Lodge’s romance, Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie. Lodge himself built his romance on The Tale Gamelyn, sometimes erroneously attributed to Chaucer. Of the three sons of Sir John of Boundys, the eldest hates the youngest (Gamelyn) because to the latter had been bequeathed the bulk of their father’s property. There is a good deal of duplicity and violence—including a wrestling match—but Gamelyn receives timely help from Adam and Spencer, becomes the leader of the outlaws, and ultimately wreaks his vengeance on his cruel brother Sir Ote.

Basic Story: A Folk Lore

      The basic story is a folklore. The tale of the old king who had three daughters, of whom the elder two were wicked and the younger was good, belongs to the same primitive world of imagination as the tale of the knight who had three sons, the eldest of whom was wicked and robbed the youngest, who was gallant and good, of inheritance. The youngest son triumphed, like Jack the Giant Killer, over strong man, a wrestler, joined a band of outlaws in the forest became their king, and with the aid of an old servant of his father, the wily Adam Spencer, in the end had his revenge on his brother and got his rights.

Lodge’s Story

      Lodge retained some traces of his boisterous elements of this old story and some from The Tale Gamelyn. In his ampler but more human version, the father (Sir John of Bordeax) has three sons again, Saladyne, Femadyne, and Rosader. The reason for Saladyne’s hatred of Rosader is the same as in the Tule. Besides the enmity between the eldest and youngest sons of Sir John, Lodge introduces the usurper king and the banished king and their daughters Alinda and Rosalynde. When the girls leave for the forest on account of the usurper Torismond’s attitude towards Rosalynde, Alinda becomes Aliena and Rosalynde becomes Aliena’s page, Ganymede. In the forest, Rosader saves his brother from a lion, and the brothers are reconciled. Later, when the brothers rescue Aliena and Ganymede from certain ruffians who set upon them Saladyne and Aliena are naturally brought close together. Thus a specific situation has been created to render plausible Aliena and Saladyne falling in love, even as Rosader’s wrestling match had been the occasion for Rosalynde falling in love with him and inspiring love in him. Lodge mentions also the shepherds Montanus and Corydon and the shepherdess Phoebe. After the three marriages take place, the second son of Sir John comes to announce that the usurper is approaching to give fight to the rightful King. “To be short,” says Lodge, “the Peers were conquerors. Torismonds armie put to flight, and himself slain in battle. The Peers then gathered themselves together, and saluting their king conducted him royallic into Paris, where he was received with great joy of all the citizens. “All the main actors get their foil desert, and joy is the word for everybody.”

Shakespeare’s Treatment of the Source

      This gave Shakespeare the outline of the plot. “Shakespeare does not greatly modify main plot; though he concentrates it.” On a superficial view, it appears that Shakespeare’s play is little more than a rehash of a Euphuist story written by Lodge.

      Yet whatever Shakespeare touches is recreated. There is a sea change. And there seems to be no trace of borrowing. The result is the sweet wholesomeness. It is characteristic of Shakespeare’s alchemy that what he took over from his ‘sources’ should have emerged from the forge of his dramatic art as purer and brighter metal.

      Let us now compare Lodge’s novel with As You Like It and find out the changes made by Shakespeare.

A Changes in Names

      Shakespeare has made the following changes. Lodge’s Rosalynde is Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Sir John of Bordeaux is Rowland de Boys.

      The assumed names Ganymede and Aliena are the same in the novel and the play. Touchstone, Jaques, Audrey are characters entirely Shakespeare’s own. Amiens, Le Beau, Dennis, Sir Oliver Mantext, William and other minor characters are necessarily peculiar to the play.

Changes in the Incidents

In the novel there is a tournament with wrestling. In the play there is only a wrestling match.

In the novel the old man has two sons who were killed outright. He exhibits indifference at their fate. There is a tender touch in the play. The father laments the injuries of his three sons with a pitiful dole.

After the wrestling, King Torismond treats Rosader courteously on hearing of his parentage. After the wrestling in the play Duke does not treat Orlando well and wishes that he had “been son to some one else.”

King Torismond fears that Rosalynde may many one of his nobles and thus become a formidable rival for the throne. Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind in a fit of capricious anger. The reason of banishment in the novel is therefore more convincing.

Alinda is banished because she sides with Rosalynde and speaks in her defense. Celia herself accompanies Rosalind. This shows deeper love between Rosalind and Celia.

Rosalynde adopts male attire and represents herself as the page of Alinda. Rosalind and Celia are brother and sister.

The cousins set out for the forest alone. Shakespeare creates the character of Touchstone who accompanies the maidens in the flight. In the play there is a lot or mirth and sparkling which we miss in the novel.

The verses on the trees are written by Montanus to Phoebe. In the play Orlando writes the verses and addresses them to Rosalind.

In the novel Aliena is attacked by robbers. Rosader comes to her rescue, but is wounded and would have been over powered but for the timely arrival of Sahdyne, already reconciled to him. This incident accounts for Saladyne’s falling in love with Aliena. This incident is entirely omitted by Shakespeare. The love between Oliver and Celia in the play is not convincing as it is in the novel

In the novel a priest performs the marriage. In the play Hymen officiates at the nuptials.

In the novel the restoration is accomplished by a revolt of twelve peers against King Torismond. King Gerismond, Saladyne and Rosader join the peers. In the battle Torismond is slain. In the play Duke Frederick alaimed at the members resorting to the Duke in the forest, raises an army and marches to the forest. He meets a hennit who converts him. Then he resigns his crown to his banished brother, restores their forfeited estates to the exiles, betakes himself to a monastery, where he is joined by the ‘melancholy’ Jaques Shakespeare has carefully avoided all suggestions of sorrow because his aim is to keep up the mirthful and romantic atmosphere in the play. But the sudden conversion of the Duke Frederick is less convincing than in the novel.

There is in Lodge’s romance a long interval between the quarrel of the brothers and the wrestling match; but Shakespeare’s version makes them consecutive incidents on two following days. Shakespeare thus gains, in concentrating the matter which is important for the drama (it is not important in the novel).

In the novel there is a scene which depicts the old knight, the father of the brothers, on his death-bed. Shakespeare cuts out this scene and thus gains in concentrating his story.

After the success in overthrowing the wrestler the hero goes to attack his brother. This scene is eliminated by Shakespeare again to concentrate his story. So Shakespeare has left out a good deal.

And Shakespeare has added four character. Jaques the philosopher, Touchstone the critic and parodist of love, Wiliam the dumb yokel and Audrey the sluttish goat-girl.

      Thus we come to known that “Shakespeare added virtually nothings to the plot of Lodge’s novel. There is no comedy in which, in one sence, he invents so little”. And yet we find that he has eliminated all the gross and needless elements to concentrate and refine his story. The play as it is before us is a masterpiece. It is one of the three sweet comedies of the middle period of Shakespeare’s dramatic career.

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