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What is this play about? Well, nothing really. Here is a summary of the plot (try to pay attention):
Orlando and his brother Oliver are nobles in the court of Duke Frederick. They argue over money left to them by their father. Oliver plans to kill Orlando who runs away into the forest of Arden (as you do). Rosalind is the daughter of the former duke (Duke Senior), who was deposed by Frederick and (of course) fled into the forest of Arden . She is accused of treason and (guess what?) flees into the forest of Arden with her pal, Celia, who is Frederick’s daughter. For no apparent reason, Rosalind dresses up as a boy and changes her name to Ganymede. When Frederick finds them gone, he believes they have run off with Orlando. He blames Oliver, seizes his estate, and tells him that if he wants it back he must find Orlando within a year. Orlando loves Rosalind, and decides to demonstrate this by hanging love poems on trees (obviously). Oliver arrives in Arden and is attacked by a lion (errrm?) only to be saved by Orlando. Oliver repents and says he's sorry, then meets Celia and falls in love. Various marriages are arranged. A messenger arrives saying that Duke Frederick was on his way into the forest with an army, planning to kill everyone, when he met a wandering monk, renounced all worldly things, gave his title and lands back to Duke Senior and his followers, and presumably went off to find God. Everyone is happy. The play ends.
As you may have gathered from the above summary, this is a very silly play. The middle section is almost entirely free of any kind of plot; instead it relies on characterisation and the interaction between different characters. It must be said that sometimes this works. Rosalind is one of the strongest and most interesting of Willy’s female characters, even if she is a transvestite; whilst the melancholic Jaques pronounces what is certainly the most famous speech in the play:
‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…’
The play deals with themes like love, friendship and loyalty, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the play is the nature/culture juxtaposition that it sets up. Culture (as represented by the court) is seen as in many ways corrupt, whereas nature (the forest of Arden) is presented in a somewhat idealised form. This draws on a tradition that was popular in Elizabethan England – the PASTORAL tradition which tended to offer a rather romanticised view of nature and the countryside. If ‘As You Like It’ is about anything, then it is probably a critique upon the rather simple world-view of the Pastoral school.
Despite this, I still find it dull and ultimately empty. If any of Shakespeare’s plays can be said to lack depth, then this is one of them. It bears no real comparison to ‘Hamlet’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, or ‘Richard II’. Maybe it’s just too avant-garde for me.
Shakespeare was aware that the play might not please everyone – that’s why he called it ‘As You Like It’.
I love this play, cos occasionally you just want something shallow and silly. The character of Rosalind is indeed a great role - I saw Emma Thompson's sister Sophie play it with the RSC many years ago, she was great!
BJEEE 03.03.2001 01:45
Woops, clicked Helpful by accident to start. Good op. Ben :)