As You Like It: Acting and The Theatre

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     References to acting, roleplaying, scenes, and the stage are scattered throughout As You Like It, most prominently in reference to Rosalind's posing as Ganymede. when first meeting Orlando in the forest, she aims to "play the knave with him"; aside from her own role as a self-confident man, which is overlaid with her role as the fickle "Rosalind," she has much to say to Orlando about his playing the role of the lover, noting that he lacks the proper disheveled attire and that he is not as punctual as a lover ought to be. At one point she even entreats Celia to conduct a pretend marriage ceremony between herself and Orlando.

      Such references to acting would be natural, of course, in the context of a play presented on the spare stage of the Globe Theatre, where boys and men played the parts of the women and, generally speaking, the artifice of the production could not be ignored. However, the passage in which Jaques delivers the "Seven Ages of Man" speech accentuates the theatrical aspect beyond what is found in Shakespeare's other works. After the arrival of Orlando, who tells of the exhausted Adam, Duke Senior observes, "This wide and universal theater Presents more woeful pageants than the scene Wherein we play in". With these remarks, referring to both tragedy and drama, the duke lends gravity to Jaques's ensuing speech, about which Shakespearean commentators disagree. Some consider that Adam's consequent arrival is a negation of Jaques's speech as serious philosophy, in that the elderly man has just completed a substantial journey; on the other hand, Adam only reaches the realm of the duke because he has been carried by Orlando - as if he is indeed in the throes of the "second childishness" Jaques has just described.

      The central theme of Jaques's speech, that a single man goes through seven stages, or acts, in the course of his lifetime, echoes similar life-stage theories put forth by ancient thinkers, and the opening line, "All the world's a stage, was said to adorn the Globe Theatre itself. The speech is rich in detail and imagery, as Jaques paints miniature portraits of each of the stages of man's life, and as fits his character, he highlights the ridiculous, helpless, or ineffectual aspects of each stage. The baby is "mewling and puking, while the schoolboy whines as he is forced to attend school against his will. The lover's sentiments are made to seem absurd and extreme, as he sadly sings of "his mistress' eyebrow", of all possible body parts. The soldier seems to live in isolation from society and friendship, "full of strange oaths", as if belonging to a secret guild, and he is guided by negative, aggressive emotions like jealousy and anger; even when faced with the prospect of death, "in the cannon's mouth", he still gives priority to his reputation. The justice's belly is understood to be lined with capon - a castrated rooster, which serves as another symbol of the impotence of living creatures, because judges were often bribed with capons. As a judge, meanwhile, both his physical appearance and his intellectual state - he is "full of wise saws and modern instances", that is, he does not truly think independently - show him to be fulfilling his function in society without much thought or ability. Jaques's closing descriptions of the pantaloon and of the senile old man offer a vivid picture of every man's descent into obscurity: the pantaloon finds his body and his voice alike shrinking, while the final stage "is second childishness and mere oblivion". Thus, in Jaques's view, not only does man pass through a number of predictable stages but also within each stage the depth of his person is no greater than that of a stock character in a play, meriting a psychological description of a few lines at most. Regardless of how Shakespeare meant the "Seven Ages of Man" speech to be interpreted, its insistence that all men are simply following the scripts of their lives as co-written by Fortune and Nature is thought-provoking.

      The references to acting, roles, and theater in As You Like It may best be interpreted in the context of the play contrasted with the pastoral life. The characters of As You Like It, coming from the upper echelons of the court, would have been accustomed to civilization's comforts; while speaking with Corin, Touchstone regrets the absence of certain aspects of that courtly life, namely the abundance of society and food. Other characters function better than Touchstone in the forest milieu in that they are more willing or more able to "play the roles" of forest dwellers. In making frequent reference to the conventions In posing as Ganymede, Rosalind takes advantage of her disguise to comfortably interact with Orlando as if she were another man. Imagine the two roles reversed: Orlando has disguised himself as a woman in order to interact more comfortably with Rosalind. Conduct research on Elizabethan gender roles, and write an essay describing the ways in which such a role reversal would differ from the original situation. Then write a short prose piece portraying a meeting between Rosalind and the disguised Orlando.

      Read Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (the source for Shakespeare's As You Like It). Write an essay comparing and contrasting the characters of Rosalynde, from Lodge's work, and Rosalind, from Shakespeare's. Also, why do you think Shakespeare altered the character the way he did?

      Research the way religions have affected patterns of marriage in different parts of the world. Relate your findings to the class, making reference to at least two non-Western cultures.

      Time is one of the major themes of As You Like It. Write an essay on how you have felt the passage of time at different points in your own life, making reference to various passages in the play that relate to or contrast with your personal experience.

      Shakespeare devotes much attention to the roles of the goddesses Fortune and Nature in Elizabethan life, specifically in the lives of his characters. Write an essay describing how modern life has been shaped by Fortune and Nature, making reference to passages describing the two forces in As You Like It, and explaining how the balance between them has shifted over time. of dramaturgy, Shakespeare assists his urban crowds to lose themselves in the ethereal theater of the Forest of Arden.

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