As You Like It
This is one of Shakespeare’s most peculiar comedies, and yet it is often taken as the prototypical comedy. It has a good deal of serious material mixed in with some plain old-fashioned silliness. It has a pattern of action that runs contrary to expectation — slumping in the middle, and having its functional ingredients at both ends. It offers an almost static pastoral reality embedded in a political play filled with hatred and connivance, and then resolves the chief political problem (which has sent everyone out to the woods in the first place) by a completely arbitrary sequence of offstage dodges, both unanticipated and largely unexplained. And yet it remains the favorite play of many readers, and it certainly has many of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters and most renowned speeches. Harold Bloom pronounced Rosalind his favorite Shakespeare character, and it’s very hard to disagree.
The play is a treasure-trove of thematic material, but chief among them the issue of concealment as a form of revelation, and the temporary journey outward (here, into the woods) as an inward journey of self-discovery. The play also catalogues the varieties of romantic love:
- ...love in the starry-eyed romantic mode (Celia and Oliver — cf. Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing, Miranda and Ferdinand in The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet);
- ...love as a sparring match (Rosalind and Orlando — cf. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, perhaps Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew);
- ...love as comfortable faithfulness in opposition to the traditionally romantic (Silvius and Phoebe);
- ...cynical opportunistic love (Touchstone and Audrey — cf. Borrachio and Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing.);
- ...love denied (William and Audrey —; cf. Portia’s unsuccessful suitors in The Merchant of Venice);
- ...love renounced (Jaques — cf. both Malvolio and the clown in Twelfth Night, the Duke in Much Ado About Nothing.)
The different versions of the play may emphasize each of these points differently.