"Compared with Rosalind, all the other figures in As You Like It are just stock dramatic types." How far do you agree with this criticism?
In this radiant blend of fantasy, romance, wit and humour, Rosalind stands out as the most robust, multidimensional and lovable character, so much so that she tends to overshadow the other characters in an audience's memory, making them seem, by comparison, just "stock dramatic types" as the question asserts. Yet, As You Like It is not a stock romance that just happens to have Shakespeare's greatest female role. The other members of the cast provide a well-balanced supporting role, and are not just stereotypes. Characters whom Shakespeare uses to illustrate his main theme of the variations of love are all more than one-use cardboards, as they must be fully drawn to relate to life. Those characters most easily accused of having a stock one-dimensionality are those inessential to the theme but important to the plot and useful as convenient foils, such as Duke Frederick and Oliver de Boys. The assertion of the question deserves this quote: "You have said; but whether wisely or no, let the forest judge."
There is no doubt, either in the critical or play-going mind, that Rosalind is the "grandest of female roles" (Hazlitt). She encompasses a multitude of character brushstrokes, from the lovestruck maiden to the witty archtongue to the steel-backboned princess to the fiery Wise One. [Illustrate with quotation, or at least reference.] To add to the demands of the character Shakespeare adds in an exterior sex-change and further makes Ganymede pretend to be Rosalind to Orlando. Though this kind of "boy acting a girl acting a boy acting a girl" kind of transmogrifications were not uncommon upon the Elizabethan stage, the kind of mind and acting portrayed by Rosalind would dwarf that of the others on stage, and make her stand out [show] for her deviousness and sense of fun.
Though the range of her acting sub-roles alone would make the other characters look pale, the depth of each of her "many parts" outshines many. As a woman in love she demonstrates a range of emotion and action that far exceeds that of either Celia, Phoebe or Audrey. It is her romance with Orlando that is the focus of the play, and the one held up as the ideal, and therefore gets most of Shakespeare's attention as a playwright. Rosalind's gushing first meeting with Orlando, a stark contrast to her masterly handling of Le Beau just before, shows a more vulnerable Rosalind. Rosalind's playful fantasising about Orlando after the wrestling match and after verses start appearing on trees shows a depth of infatuation not explored with the other characters, except Phoebe, though Phoebe is shown up to have a more stock kind of silly infatuation rather than Rosalind's more courtly lovesickness. Rosalind's momentary drops of her guise as Ganymede playing Rosalind, such as when she faints at seeing the bloody handkerchief, show that Rosalind is humanly less than perfect, and these involuntary glimpses of the true lover forced out by sheer emotion place Rosalind on a higher level of love than the more ordinary, stereotypical posturings of Phoebe and Audrey [Audrey's not capable of posturing]
As wit and philosopher Rosalind plays a dominant role, though here Celia, Touchstone and Jaques are less flat in comparison to Rosalind. Celia and Rosalind both show indomitable tongues when mocking Le Beau and confusing him utterly when asking him the colour of his sport, and though Rosalind takes over the action when they reach Arden, Celia shares the stage at Court with her in equal degree, acting as a sister when poking fun at Rosalind's melancholy, new love and cheering her up after her banishment. Even in Arden Celia has quite strong parts when dealing with Corin and the verses on the trees, conforming to no stock character, and shows human weakness in being unable to proceed in IIiv. Some would argue that all this points to a stock Court Woman, but then the same applies to Rosalind. Celia ends up as being less vibrant than Rosalind in that she demonstrates less range, but in her support role for Rosalind Celia does quite beautifully as a companion Ideal Woman. Touchstone plays the archetypical Fool, full of mocking wit and low humour, and within his forced stereotype manages to convey a sweep of character. [what is that?] He is a contrast to Rosalind in all he does, his vulgarity versus her puns and his low, deceitful courtship as opposed to her Courtly Romance. Touchstone's strength of character is on [a] par with Celia's, both playing support roles to Rosalind but having colour of their own.
Jaques would be a noteworthy character in the absence of Rosalind, and it is interesting that Jaques is never in the same scene as Rosalind until Jaques confronts Rosalind in IVi (and loses) and in the last scene where it is strictly necessary and characters have already been fully established. His consistent note of melancholy is not any stock character's, for in IV he declares that his type of melancholy is his own. He is no true Melancholy either, for he craves the company of men, and needs them to applaud his "wit". He speaks as much as Rosalind, and it is notable that Shakespeare gives him many great lines, such as the famous "All the world's a stage" speech which ranks with Hamlet's "To be or not to be" as the most acclaimed of Shakespeare's speeches. If Jaques were meant to be some colourness senex to be maligned Shakespeare would not have given him so much to say and defend, so Jaques must be one of those to whom the happy Ardeners must say: "As you like it." Jaques is unique just as Rosalind is unique, with such strange actions as weeping over the deer and wanting to purge the world. It is only in comparison with Rosalind that he fails, and his extremities shown as false and unrealistic in contrast with Rosalind's practical and love-filled perceptions of the world.
The male lovers all suffer in comparison with the female lovers, and this theme through all of Shakespeare's comedies is repeated here. Silvius and William are shown as stock drudge lovers, though Shakespeare gives Silvius an extra side with his rather genteel confusion at Rosalind's accusation that he wrote Phoebe's letter. Orlando is more of a stock hero than a Hamlet, full of bravado, righteousness and love. He never deviates from his course as true love and warrior, physically defeating wrestlers, evil brothers, lions and picnickers, while writing love-poetry to stick on trees and mooning after his Rosalind. As hero of the play he is dominated by the heroine, and she overpowers him through her wit.
One could nearly say that this kind of manipulated but good hero is a stock Shakespearean comedy hero in his own right, but Orlando's range of emotion deserves more than that, for no stock hero I know writes such bad poetry and pastes it all over the forest. His natural gentility in spite of his lack of schooling, and his pride in being his father's son, craete a kind of nobility that is not found in stock characters, as it gives motivation and a reason to behave in the way that he does.
This is in direct contrast to most of the rest of the characters in the play, who are decidedly more one-sided than legion in their personality. Duke Frederick and Oliver give really lousy reasons [vague] for the way they behave, and are patently there to push the main characters into Arden, and act as a rough contrast to the gentility of Arden. Their sudden conversions at the end of the play are similarly lacking in comparison to the study of Rosalind's behaviour. Adam is an archetypical good old servant who is really too good to be true, and disappears after performing his dramatic rather than thematic functions. Duke Senior and his lords are typical of the Arden they represent, unflappable in their goodwill and happiness. Duke Senior demonstrates complexity, though, in his acknowledgement that all is not well in Arden and when he says that: "This wide and universal theatre / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in". Charles and Sir Oliver Martext are sideshows, necessary for the plot, but they contain interesting bits of character that are definitely not stock, as in Charles' original concern for Orlando and Sir Martext's refusal to be made a fool of by Touchstone. These make them more than stock, but they are still as cardboard when compared to Rosalind.
As You Like It contains as many characters as there are in life, but Rosalind is used as the vehicle for the Ideal. Her main supporting characters are full of life, and though not as much as Rosalind, it is still life for all of it. The less important characters have to be more one-sided to keep the plot uncluttered, but sometimes the one-dimensionality jars, as with Oliver. Rosalind's vibrance would overshadow any other character, for to produce an Othello opposite her would create a conflict that this greatest of comedies does not need.
Written by Kenneth Wee, 1A01B, September 1995.
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