"In As You Like It Shakespeare weaves delightful variations on the pattern of romantic love."
As You Like It is remarkable among Shakespeare's plays for ending with four marriages, something of a record even among comedies. Love is a central theme of the play, although in some of its variations it cannot quite be said to be romantic! The love relationships may, at first glance, appear to be stock types: Rosalind and Orlando representing romantic hero-heroine love, Silvius and Phebe combining love in the lower classes with unrequited love, Audrey and Touchstone a darker attempt to seduce, and Celia and Oliver simple tying up of loose ends. However, Shakespeare makes the theme interesting not just through the sheer variety of relationships that he explores, but also through the unusual elements he brings to each.
The Rosalind-Orlando relationship could be stock hero-heroine love, but for the interest Shakespeare adds by way of Rosalind's luminous character and the humour of Orlando encountering and being attracted to Rosalind in her guise as a "saucy lackey", Ganymede. The way in which they meet and fall in love is traditional -- Rosalind is won over by Orlando's manly labours and good looks at his wrestling match with Charles, and performs her feminine office of mercy by trying to dissuade him from what appears to be such a disastrous venture. It is true love at first sight, another traditional feature of such a romance. However, a new dimension is added by Rosalind's disguise as Ganymede and her suggestion that Orlando pretend to court her. Orlando's attraction to her in her boyish guise is unexpected and sends the audience into fits of laughter. His gradual progression from a brusque retort to Ganymede's cheeky question, "I pray you, what is't o'clock?" to interest, as indicated by his questions about who time trots, ambles, and gallops with, to attraction, as can be seen by his addressing Ganymede as "pretty youth",and sentences laden with innuendo, such as "Fair youth, I would I could make thee believe I love," and his eager agreement -- "Now by the faith of my love, I will" -- to pretend to woo Ganymede in Rosalind's place. Rosalind, on the other hand, charms the audience both with the depth of her true love for Orlando, which Shakespeare portrays both seriously and comically, and with the quickness of her wit and her sense of humour when dealing with Orlando. Rosalind abuses women with wit and vigour, calling them "fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant", declares that lovers are madmen who should be whipped, and threatens to "laugh like a hyen" and "weep for nothing". Her lively intelligence and sense of humour add spice to her relationship with Orlando, as does the dramatic irony in their situation -- she gets several good laughs out of that, one of them being her answer to Orlando's question "But will my Rosalind do so?" -- "By my life, she will do as I do." However, in spite of her self-assurance before Orlando, the audience is totally in sympathy with her, knowing her true love for Orlando, which she unintentionally demonstrates many times. She reacts so romantically to Celia's teasing that she is comical -- the barrage of questions that she insists Celia answers in one word, and declarations such as "O ominous, he comes to kill my heart" -- not to mention the extreme, but funny distress she suffers when Orlando is late, and her covered-up faint at the news that Orlando is wounded. Though very much the traditional lady and knight in love, such touches serve to make Rosalind and Orlando more than stereotypical noble lovers.
Touchstone and Audrey, on the other hand, are hardly romantic lovers. Touchstone's original intentions with Audrey are extremely simple and do not include any legitimate marriage ceremony. This is a love relationship at the other end of the spectrum which turns out happily in the end, ironically because of Jaques' interference, which actually does some good for once. This is the one love in the play that I would not class as "delightful" as I think that Audrey is being taken advantage of, and Touchstone, while an admirable character with regard to his behaviour with Rosalind and Celia, is insufferably condescending and shows off most annoyingly. Audrey seems to think that Touchstone is better than she is simply because she cannot understand his "courtly" speech, accepting all manner of insults, such as "to cast away honesty upon a foul slut, were to put meat into an unclean dish", and being completely taken in by the false marriage that Sir Oliver Martext is about to carry out. She would probably be happier with William, who appears to share her simple, honest outlook on life and loves her, as opposed to the baser emotion Touchstone seems to feel for her. However, if not romantic or delightful, this certainly is a variation from the more idealised forms of love that the other pairs of lovers share. [The latter are more romantic/delightful by contrast/juxtaposition.]
Phebe and Silvius are pastoral lovers, and also an example of unrequited love. Silvius' declarations of love are highly romantic -- "Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?" -- and his devotion to disdainful Phebe arouses our sympahy, as well as our amusement at the silly things that Silvius' desperation is driven to -- "How many actions most ridiculous / Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy?". The evergreen theme of unrequited love is not all that holds our attention to this pair, though. Phebe's attraction to Rosalind adds a whole new dimension to Silvius' unfortunate passion. A great deal of entertainment is afforded by the way Phebe, in her turn, is driven into doing silly things for the sake of her love, and the way she too is humiliated by falling in love with someone who scorns her. Even more amusing is Rosalind's dismay at being fallen in love with, evident in such lines as "Why look you so upon me?" and "I pray you do not fall in love with me, / For I am falser than vows made in wine." The comical nature of the general lovesick situation is highlighted in the scene just after Oliver's arrival in the Forest of Arden, when Phebe tells her faithful swain Silvius to "tel this youth what 'tis to love". Silvius repeatedly describes a "facet of love" and declares that such is his love for Phebe, echoed by Phebe, who declares that so is she for Ganymede, and Orlando, who declares himself for Rosalind, and Rosalind, who insists, more and more impatiently and desperately, that so feels she for no woman. This repetition, and the general helplessness in the face of love shown by the formula "If this be so, why blame you me to love you?" makes the scene hilarious. Rosalind's difficult situation in terms of love is part of the humour, as she looks progressively more and more wild-eyed, and so is her alarmed reaction to Orlando's declaration "If this be so, why blame you me to love you?", apparently made to her -- in her guise as Ganymede!
Celia and Oliver are the last lovers to meet. Their love is somewhat improbable, not because it is at first sight, but because Shakespeare offers us so little about it. It seems to have been tcked on at the end in order to finish happily marrying off every young person onstage. However, As You Like It is a comedy -- and ignoring the improbability of Celia's and Oliver's falling in love, it does serve the comic nature of the play. It means a happy ending for Celia, who has been such a faithful friend to Rosalind throughout the play that she deserves a reward. It rewards and confirms Oliver's repentance -- Celia has proven herself so good that it would be unlikely for her to fall in love with a villain. [Isn't love blind?] There is a pleasant symmetry in her cousin Rosalind's marriage to Orlando and Celia's marriage to Orlando's brother Oliver. The audience will also be greatly amused at the fact that although Celia has been teasing Rosalind ever since she fell in love with Orlando, she herself is not proof to sudden and irrational love. All in all, their marriage is necessary for the comic resolution of the play.
The many love relationships in As You Like It are delightful in their romanticism and the humour which Shakespeare has dashed into each of them, enhancing the happy nature of the play. Various situations of love are explored -- true love at first sight, unrequited love, even a hint of homosexuality in Orlando's attraction to Ganymede and Phebe's falling for Ganymede, who is really a woman. Their contrasting variety causes them to complement one another in the play's theme of love and the foolish things it makes people do, making As You Like It both entertaining and romantic.
Written by Ng E-Ching, 1A01B, 24 September 1995.
Last Edit: 9 months 3 weeks ago by William Shakespeare.
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