Audience and Multiple Personality in "As You Like It"

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Dramatic irony reaches a unique extreme in As You Like It, a play confirming Bertrand Evans' hypothesis in Shakespeare's Comedies that audiences are pleased when they share knowledge with an attractive character on stage that is not accessible to other characters. Rosalind's disguise as a boy conceals her identity in a variety of intense relationships: with her father Duke Senior, her boyfriend Orlando, and her would-be lover Phoebe. The resulting multilevel interactions mesh smoothly with a remarkable series of parallel love affairs: Rosalind and Orlando, Phoebe and Corin, Audrey and Touchstone, Celia and Oliver. Like many of Shakespeare's comedies these complexities evolve in a transcendent Green World, here the Forest of Arden (an amusing Warwickshire permutation of the plot's original setting in the French Ardennes), where routine reality is delightfully suspended. Perhaps the open-air character of the Globe Theatre may have helped the text's skillful evocation of harsh outdoor reality by songs and references to winter, but the play does require great dexterity and poise in its principal actors, above all Rosalind, Celia, Touchstone and Jaques. All too often modern actresses lose the emotional detachment which the original boy-actor necessarily brought to the role of Rosalind: a boy playing a princess pretending to be a boy playing a girl. Modern actresses necessarily lose one layer of this multiple personality, and too often sink to merely acting as a girl unselfconsciously in love, a very un-Shakespearean state of mind, if we think of Sonnet 138. Lope de Vega stresses that his heroines, like Rosalind, always outsmart their lovers, who mostly behave as obtusely (not to say suicidally) as Orlando at first.

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Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond