Shakespeare's Staging
As You Like It
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Friday, 22 April 2005 06:05


As You Like It: Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, 1998. Rosalind: Anastasia Hille; Celia: Tonia Chauvet; Touchstone: David Fielder; Director: Bailie; Designer: Christie; Photographer: Donald Cooper. Courtesy AHDS.


This play has been judged one of the lightest and most elegant of Shakespeare's comedies, befitting its artificial mode as a pastoral set in a mock rural landscape of the Forest of Arden, with both realistic and feigned shepherds and shepherdesses. It involves a typical multiple permutation of characters and situations: four pairs of lovers, two sets of adversary brothers, two ducal courts, two heiresses, and two clowns. One of this last pair, Touchstone, is exceptionally subtle, and may reflect the character of Robert Armin who replaced Will Kempe, with his the broader humor. It ends with four marriages. All these revolve round the cathartic ambiguity of the play's central character of Rosalind, who flees the court of her usurping uncle disguised as boy, but affects a female attitude in soliciting courtship when she finds her admirer Orlando in the Forest. Thus we have a uniquely complex role for the original Elizabethan boy actor: at some points he is a boy actor playing a princess who is disguised as a boy pretending to be a girl with her fiancé. One wonders at the mental agility and performance skills which this complexity required of the role's first boy actor (consider this effect in modern terms in 6.1.5). It is almost equally testing of a modern actress, who may lose the emotional poise required (6.1.4). Modern set designers have a great deal of fun deciding which season of the Forest is appropriate, often favoring Winter, but evolving to Spring. © HMR


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Chicago Shakespeare Theater - As You Like It - Performance History

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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. © HMR

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