Marginalization of Plot in As You Like It

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      The plot of As You Like It is perhaps the least important plot in all of Shakespeare's plays, at least in terms of the consequences of problematic situations and people's actions. Indeed, the most negative critical comments have come from scholars who perceive carelessness or even indifference in Shakespeare's fabrication of the plot. Albert Gilman sums up this dearth in his introduction to the play:

      What is unusual is the extraordinary dispatch with which the plot unfolds. Almost everything that is to happen, happens in the first act In the ensuing acts Shakespeare scarcely concerns himself with the troubles that were introduced in the first act. Except for three short scenes we are always in Arden, where the dangers we are chiefly aware of are falling in love or being worsted in a discussion.

      To close out the play, the two villains are abruptly converted from villainy, and the four couples are very speedily wed - Oliver and Celia before the audience has witnessed one private conversation between them.

      At certain points, Shakespeare's off-hand treatment of the plot almost escapes attention. When Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, first chances across Orlando in Arden, she says, "I will speak to him like a saucy lackey, and under that habit play the knave with him. Do you hear, forester?". As the scene moves along, the audience may not even have time to wonder why Rosalind fails to discard her disguise, though nothing is truly preventing her from doing so. Later, when she tries to persuade Orlando to accompany her and be cured of his lovesickness, after expressing mild skepticism that she can do so, he reverses himself and says,

"Now, by the faith of my love, I will". Thus, despite all her previous questioning about the Sincerity of Orlando's love, Rosalind seems to ignore the fact that he follows her for the express purpose of falling out of love with her; if Orlando fellows not to fall out of love but because he has already seen through her disguise, the audience is given no indication of that.

      Shakespeare's summary treatment of the play's action seems above all to reflect that Shakespeare did not intend the plot of the play to be the essence of the play. In effect, limiting plot development allows for the greater development of the characters through casual, unforced, and thus particularly revealing, dialogue. Gilman, in highlighting the primacy of the dialogue and the characters relationships in his introduction, playfully asks, "Who has not looked at his watch during the last act of a well-made plot and sighed to think of the knots still to be untied? We had rather be in Arden where the wicked are converted by fiat and lovers marry in half-dozen lots."

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