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three pairs of lovers with space

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Chapter Three.  As You Like It.


In Part One I sought, firstly, to make clear the largely historical, corporeal existence of the female character.  Secondly, I studied the mysterious nexus between her mind, her body and her more metaphysical existence in the political and philosophical world of Renaissance thought. 

Now, though A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the earlier play, As You Like It will be discussed first, simply because it is such an obvious example of double-shifted gender-representation.[1]  Twelfth Night will be considered next because, though the play is quite different from As You Like It in many other respects, the same double-shifting of gender in the female character forms a strong bond between the two.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, on the other hand, is so vast in its subtleties and involves so many different kinds of representation that it will be addressed last.  The convention for taking the plays in chronological order is therefore set aside.

Harold Oliver’s introduction to his edition of As You Like It leads with:

As You Like It is one of only four of Shakespeare plays in which the woman has the leading part ... One of the most fascinating aspects of As You Like It is the skill with which even the part of Rosalind is kept within the compass of the boy — who can more easily play the part of a girl who for much of the time is disguised as a youth (Ganymede), even though “she’ is sometimes “pretending” to be a girl![2] 

The first page of As You Like It, from the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, 1623

This view studies some important aspects of the representation of women at its most transparent level and it deals with the representation of women by cross-dressed boys as a given, simply accepting the original tradition without anger.  Yet it is faintly patronizing and goes against the grain of much else that has been stated in this study.  Katherine Kelly leaves no doubt in the strength of her conviction that, in As You Like It at least:

the most confident — even swaggering — breeches part in Shakespeare is that of Rosalind/Ganymede, who parodies wooing, wedding, and cuckolding in a virtuoso display of comic personation.  Not only does this boy outwit, outtalk, and outperform all of the other actors in the play, he does so with an inventive vitality that confers upon this part a witty “masculinity” informed by references to the art of playing.[3]

In this representation of the female body and persona, then, there still exists the unavoidable, the clarion-theme of Dympna Callaghan: that the representation of women-without-women then reduced women to the status of the dispossessed and the abused in both their absence from the stage, and in their paying-presence in the audience.  Specifically:

the exclusion of women from the stage and their simultaneous inclusion as customers — the fundamental characteristic (contradiction) of the institution of theatre in early modern England — does not exculpate the theatre from charges of misogyny.[4]

When, at the same time, women were then portrayed in a denigratory manner, Callaghan argues that this exacerbated the abuse.[5]  Her main drive in this is to centralise the female body’s representation and the politics therein, from the point-of-view of actual history.  She further maintains the strong opinion that the women who now play the women’s parts in Shakespeare are as much female-impersonators as the boys for whom the original parts were written.  This, because the texts themselves were written in such a way as to make a textual adumbration of the disparaged woman indelible within them.  There is much evidence to support such a view.  An example of my own in support of this lies in the revelation of Imogen/Fidele’s real identity in Cymbeline, Imogen speaks to Guiderius and Arviragus:

                                                            O my gentle brothers,
                        Have we thus met? O never say hereafter
                        But I am truest speaker. You call’d me brother,
                        When I was but your sister: I you brothers,
                        When ye were so indeed.

Imogen—though speaking joyfully—is self-denigratory in seeing herself as “but your sister”.  This itself is no joke, or slip-of-the-tongue.  It is a reflection of the Elizabethan value-system that placed the worth of brothers over the worth of sisters, of men over women; the latter so often made to act as metaphors for frailty, inconstancy, duplicity, lightness of intellect, viciousness and almost anything else that is known to man as unmanly.[6]  The frisson of equivocation in these deliberately-staged situations in which the rent in the kirtle may be seen to reveal the breeches beneath, will commonly be found in what follows.  Yet it is also subtle and diverse throughout this play.  Even so, there will be much evidence in support of Harold Oliver’s relatively moderate claims about the practicalities of the male-only display.  There is also, variously, Katherine Kelly’s enthusiasm for the fun-filled artifice, and room for Callaghan’s pungent and sometimes very dark political analysis as well.

In stark contrast to—particularly Callaghan’s opinions—Ann Blake stoutly defends “the success of the boy actors on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage in ‘transforming’ themselves into women”.  Equally as strongly and clearly as Callaghan, Blake asserts that the dramatists of the period obeyed the theatrical conventions “of boys playing women and confident in their ability to do so, wrote without restraint for them”.[7]

In passing, also, but of signal importance in Blake’s paper, the acceptability of female exclusion and cross-gender portrayal was at least partly established by women being regarded as the weaker sex and incapable of achieving man’s notional perfection in the ancient Aristotelian sense.[8]  It was therefore not merely an unavoidable constraint that they might not use women, but also that it was thought quite appropriate to portray women with boys because they—the boys—also followed men in all things.  Certainly, boys were seen as having not yet achieved man’s maturity, yet by tacit inference, they were at least the rightful successors to man’s notional perfection and would rise to that state themselves, in time.[9]  The patriarch stoutly defends his own, and it must be inserted, here, that life in the crowded tiring-rooms, in particular, and in the busy activities of an acting-troupe in general, would have been markedly easier and more relaxed without women present to distract the eye and perhaps cause affectional and sexual jealousies among the men.[10]  This, certainly when touring—a situation in which the senior actors, like the knights with their squires and pages of former times—must have thought that they could travel the most lightly and easily without women as a notional encumbrance.  A fact that must be repeated at this stage is that respectable women were then much less free to move and act in self-volition than boys, youths, or young men.  Alternately, the use of notionally non-respectable women would have been unthinkable at that time.

Additionally, among several other scholars cited in this thesis, Robert Kimbrough observes that Shakespeare creates large spaces for his female characters.  Focusing upon the androgynous element in As You Like It particularly, he argues that though this is a “relatively simple play”.  I disagree: it consists of not just the creation of the character of Rosalind, but the creation of a multi-faced persona who illuminates two entirely different environments: a gossip-filled court and a timeless forest.[11]  Yes, and the transition between the two.  It follows from this that the sheer possibilities for Rosalind’s display are made even more interesting by the outward gender-swapping, and by the interplay between this process and the actor’s real gender: an argument supported by the textual evidence in the long exchanges firstly with Orlando, and then separately with Oliver, in which Rosalind-disguised makes much of how she “counterfeits” her manhood in being Ganymede.

As You Like It has many levels to consider that raises the work far above a mere drag-show, or the performance of cross-dressed parts as mere expedience.  As Kimbrough argues, though, William Shakespeare takes every opportunity to display the subtleties of situations in which a girl becomes a boy, or the reverse of that.  It is clear from the text that she finds herself actually feeling how it is to be the Other.  She both fears the experience and delights in the exercise of a new dimension for thought and action that is far beyond her normal experience.[12]

The historical picture is well drawn by many scholars, but particularly by Kimbrough in citing Juliet Dusinberre and Phyllis Rackin in their studies of the professional and semi-professional companies, the private and public performances,  the performers, the plays themselves, and the audiences of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  Kimbrough, particularly, cites Phyllis Rackin’s view of the ethereal androgyne:

For a Renaissance audience, the sexual ambiguity of the boy heroine in masculine attire was likely to invoke a widespread and ambivalent mythological tradition centring on the figure of the androgyne.[13]

This view applies more particularly to the educated members of Shakespeare’s audience, but it is certainly no incidental, or surface notion.  It may also be decided that it was a direct intention of the author to engage the audience in an undertaking that accepted the boy actor as a true androgyne at various times within the play.  Certainly, the relative degree of rigidity that Kimbrough notes in the medieval concepts of gender seems not to have influenced the drama of the 1590s.[14]   Rather, it is possible to theorize that the Deuteronomic strictures of the radical protestants of Shakespeare’s time also made the sheer flexibility of perceived gender upon the stage all the more delightful and interesting to the mainstream of Elizabethan audiences.  This, since it would have constituted an open flouting of a notionally old-fashioned, highly moralistic set of strictures; those seen by Elizabethans when they looked back to a former age.  This freedom in display itself would have been, simply, a part of the system of information that continued to stimulate new and independent thought in all spheres of existence in the English Renaissance.

The new display of androgyny itself must have moved the deep-thinkers towards more fully exploring sexual distinctions, and the inevitable blurring of those same distinctions that the sheer expedience of using cross-dressed actors had forced upon the drama’s authors.  This was actually a new display in the sense of it being more subtle and at the same time more openly-intended than the simpler expedience of using male actors that had existed in the medieval era.  Still given no choice about the gender make-up of the troupes in Shakespeare’s time, invention saved the day.

Thus, the relatively radical feelings of humanistic centralization of individual will and conscience could only have added strength to the challenge to the notionally old values.  There was also now a more markedly spatial view of both the physical and the metaphysical aspects of humankind’s existence.  In this vein, neoplatonism was a strong thread of interest among educated people in Renaissance audiences, and the image of the divine androgyne—never far from their minds because of this—added another dimension to the way that the cross-dressed parts were viewed.  Phyllis Rackin, at least, sees this in the context of both Shakespeare’s and Lyly’s unequivocal approval of the cross-dressed tradition and the philosophy that lay behind it in making both the figure and the enacted self of the androgyne possible.[15]

As a study of the process of transition from one gender to another, Kimbrough’s research also notes that Rosalind’s change of outward gender takes full advantage of the possibilities for fun, at the one end of the scale, and also the humour lying in her discomfort and her initial sense of sexual alterity, at the other.  In As You Like It, Kimbrough sees the girl as displaying a lively wit in her male clothes and also displaying a freedom of action that would not normally be possible in an Elizabethan girl’s life.  When Rosalind has got used to her disguise:

she can be relaxed, giddy, and giggly, which in public would be very un-ladylike.  With Orlando, she can be one of the boys, wise-cracking, shoulder-thumping, slightly salacious, and pragmatically knowing, in an eye-winking way.  And with Phebe, with her sex hidden, Rosalind is able to reveal the maturing range of her attractive human person.  In disguise, Rosalind grows into a fuller human self.[16]

All of this is artifice of the highest order; the frisson of amusement lying in the fact that the audience’s knowing eyes never really lose sight of the boy who is now a girl pretending to be a boy.  Yet throughout all of this there was still the spiritual androgyne’s presence.  So, on the one level there was a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy, and on a notionally higher level there was the fuller human self-perception that came from Neoplatonist philosophy.  We must also accept that there were hundreds of shades of grey between the polemical-moralists who hated the whole business of cross-dressing, and the play-goer who loved the sheer sexual ambiguity of “the robed and painted boy” which Elaine Aston and George Savona describe as being such a vibrant, essential part of the “project of creative collaboration” between the dramatist, the players and the audience.[17]

It remains a simple fact that the elements of representation that so enlighten one cultural envelope will eventually fade and disappear.  The focus on a play’s very nature is quite different for those who follow.  Very much to the point in this respect: Lesley Anne Soule argues that the text of As You Like It has suffered a great deal of misinterpretation in the last two centuries.  Specifically, “traditional criticism and performance have created the character myth called Rosalind”.  Of great importance, this “encompasses a myth of the ideal female”.  Soule’s argument makes clear that the culture within which the play-text is performed, actually bends the meaning of the text and the characterizations to its own, widely—at that time—accepted view of life.[18]   Such an essential idea as to what actually it is that constitutes an ideal of womanhood would surely have been uppermost in the thought of the performers and the audiences of any age.[19]  Particularly, this “character myth” is, as Soule remarks:

shaped largely by received notions of what social and sexual roles in our culture should be like, Rosalind has grown into a major ideological model — Shakespeare’s ‘ideal woman’ — and has been endowed with every conceivable virtue.[20] 

Firmly she goes on to say that this view has led to the opinion that Rosalind is even  worthy of a notional promotion from “the rather light piece” in which she finds herself, to a “higher form of drama” altogether.  That is to say, tragedy.[21]   One thing certain in Soule’s view, is that the gamin/gamine with the impish grin had been swept beyond the backdrop and indeed beyond the historical memory of those who followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In all of the above examples from Callaghan, Blake, Oliver, Kimbrough, Soule and others, lie very interesting tensions between all of the elements that this work has set out to pull together as a coherent view of a complex picture.  According to Soule, though, the representation of the character, Rosalind, has become a subversion of the “feminine fiction of Rosalind ... providing a paradigm of character-actor interplay”.[22]  Theory is all very well, but in practical analysis, the original sprightly Shakespearian boy was later transmuted to a representation of a virtuous, totally adult person.  Significantly, this transmutation of the changeling into the character-morph of ideal womanhood unavoidably causes the loosest perception of the divine-androgyne to become far more tenuous than it had ever been in the original tradition.

Since the eighteenth century the ruling-element, as Soule sees it, has been mimesis and a consequent confusion in both public perceptions and in scholarly criticism about the actual “nature of the actor/actress in the theatre”.[23]   She expands this idea in an acutely feminist way by saying that the “idealized character” becomes an “ideal woman”, as well as “an idealized object for admiration, desire, and, most importantly, possession.”  Further, she argues that:

Critics have generally failed to see that Rosalind as Ganymede is more than a fictional character playing a fictional “actor” — it is also a real actor taking the stage from the fictional character.  In As You Like It, the metatheatrical is only one part of the structure of direct interaction between the Rosalind actor and the audience.[24]

Further still, quoting John Dover Wilson, Soule argues that the perception has arisen that Rosalind creates a “ ‘believable’ woman if ‘she’ is played by an actress.”  From all of this arises the troublesome question: that is to say, whether the character either needs to be, or was originally ever intended by the author to be, a “believable woman” [emphasis mine].  Soule, in particular, avers that this question is rarely asked.  Therefore, it remains that some of the most important nuances of the play would have, originally, depended upon the use of the young male actor rather than a real woman as Rosalind.  The metatheatrical element of the young male’s interaction between himself; the real him, and the young female, the character—the fictional Rosalind—in this discussion, is taken as central to the meaning of the play.

At this stage I would like to return a theme that I took up in Chapter One: that is to say, even the most ignorant member of Shakespeare’s audiences knew that the actor playing Rosalind was a boy to start with, and that Shakespeare, being bound by the rules in using only boys, would have coloured his entire composition with that fact in mind.  Finally, in this vein, there are passages in which the author wished his audience to see a true representation of womanhood, but even Shakespeare’s powers of persuasion would have, at times, been usurped by the direction and the style of acting of those who followed, even if we only consider the period between his death and the closing of the theatres in the 1640s.

It can be seen that even the most concerned of feminist scholars have acknowledged many of the above factors.  Obviously, each critic’s constructions of the consequences of those conclusions is interestingly different in a span of variable opinions between ideational extremes of the institutionalized abuse of women—or the simple acceptance of their representation by the young male actor—or the creation of a vehicle for the conveyance of a divine androgyne.  In the latter view, particularly, Phyllis Rackin’s changeling-figure—cited in Jonathan Goldberg’s study, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities—creates a paradigm of the longed-for “golden world” in which woman’s subservient status is actually improved by the fusing of male and female.  Such a notional promotion for women also addresses the descent of the pastoral form in Renaissance comedies from the Greek idyll and the Roman eclogue.  It is of great interest that the words which first refer to the golden world in As You Like It are placed in the mouth of a professional wrestler, rather than a character whom we might think would aspire to education, therefore a learned person with a knowledge of such things.  When Charles tells Oliver that in Duke Senior’s place of exile, the Duke and his many followers “fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world” (1.1.114 and 118-119), the wrestler steps out of his social and educational class.  Even so, a thorough survey of Shakespeare’s plays will reveal that gems of arcane knowledge often occur in the speech of a notionally lowly people.  As an immediate example from the play in question, it is Phebe, a simple shepherdess—as Agnes Latham points out—who is able to quote Marlowe:[25]

                        Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
                        ‘Whoever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight?’
                                                                                    (3. 5. 81-82)

Was Shakespeare really saying that the common people of his times knew these things?  Rather, I believe, it is the use of artifice that makes possible the transcendence of  class or gender and which causes these apparent mismatches of manner, and most importantly, expected knowledge.[26]  At least, Alexander Leggatt discerns a clear view of the almost-obvious.  Both Arden as a place, and Arden as an idea, produce a space within which anything may happen.  Specifically, the relatively cultured speech of Phebe and Silvius may happily exist beside the country burr of Audrey and Corin.[27]  The major point is that we may now only imagine what the woodland idyll sounded and looked like to the Tudor audience, yet quite obviously it was a crucible of love that escaped the stinking stews of Southwark, above all!  It was also a vehicle in which alterity was the established religion and dreary time was subjugated by delight in the discovery of new people, new ideas and new things. An Australian might actually smell the sweet tang of eucalypts: a Briton the subtle scent of linden-flowers.  Here, creeping in, though, is my view of Shakespeare’s love of working-people and his delight in their natural sagacity.  I shall return to this theme in Chapter Five.

The identity of a particular character in this play that turns upon a changeling’s existence is a factor of extreme importance in the viewer’s access to the play in its original form.  The audience simply had to have some way of keeping track of the real, and the assumed identity of the cross-dressed player.  Assuming that the original audience of As You Like It knew some of the actors by sight and by style of performance—as Thomas Heywood has told us was the case—the situation might change, even so, when the young male actor, having been Rosalind in appearance since the beginning of the play, then becomes a young male in masculine attire.[28]

Significantly in variance, the young woman who plays the part of Rosalind now appears to the audience as a character-morph much closer to her own, natural form, and the expected form for the modern audience.[29]  Then, though, the process of tracking the characters through their changes of identity was achieved by such devices as the deliberate high-lighting of the taller and shorter actors which occurs in the actual text of As You Like It.  Le Beau’s answer to Orlando’s question: “Which of the two was daughter of the Duke/That here was at the wrestling?” which demonstrates this idea.  This courtier actually causes some real confusion by saying that “the taller is his daughter./ The other is the daughter to the banish’d Duke”, in 1. 2. 262-263.  Yet despite this blunder,[30] it is quite clear that the real intent of these lines is to make possible the audience’s tracking of a person made up as a young woman in one scene, then appearing as a youth in obviously masculine clothes, in another.[31]

The whole episode may also be taken as a metatheatrical comment on the subject of a physical, almost mechanical kind of representation in its sheer practicality, and although Agnes Latham in her introduction to the Arden Edition does not state it in as many words, the use of taller and shorter players at this point would make the subsequent scenes both more believable, and much easier to follow.  The taller cousin logically becomes the boy-in-disguise, therefore, and in this Latham supports Dover Wilson’s opinion that this constitutes an important part of the original meaning of this play.  An issue that supports the above arguments about the age of the Rosalind-player is that he is very likely to have been one of the older and more mature apprentices available in the company at that time, a factor over which great pains have been taken, elsewhere in this work.  What remains ascendant in this view is that a central dramatic situation was at least partly imposed upon the author by the actual boys that he had available to play the female parts at any one time.  This factor also appears at a later stage.


The next vital factor is the delineation of a sense of identity of the enacted central characters in a hierarchy within the blended, polymorphous representation; Rosalind first, then Ganymede second.  This is proposed as a priority for the author, and, perhaps more importantly, for the actors who performed the play.  It is made clear by a single word in a stage-direction that appeared in the original play-text: “Enter Rosalind for Ganymede”.  In Latham’s edition of the play, the direction appears as “Enter Rosalind as Ganymede”.  This notation appears at the beginning Act 2, scene 4.[32]  Obviously, this direction announces the moment of Rosalind’s first appearance in male disguise, but even though Latham had already speculated that the editors of the 1623 First Folio used as a source “a very neat manuscript” or a “good prompt copy, transcribed for the press”, there remains doubt about what originally was written as a direction in “Shakespeare’s own draft, or foul papers”.[33]  These papers will be accepted as being highly unlikely as the direct source for the First Folio, but the Norton Facsimile of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare simply says: “Enter Rosalind & Celia”.  Latham had pointed out that this copy “preserves very few typical Shakespearian spellings” these being probably produced by “a playhouse scribe” as the copy for the publishers.[34]  Despite the tenuous nature of such evidence, if the original stage-direction had said “Enter Rosalind for Ganymede”, then this is very revealing of what the author meant the actors to feel about the character, and what they would then attempt to represent: that is to say, the young male person acting the part of Rosalind was supposed to vanish in the perceptions of the players.  At least for part of the time and despite the character-morph that I have mentioned, above.  This alone would have added a further layer of difficulty for the young player’s skill to overcome.

The obvious extension of this is that when the young actor went out onto the stage dressed as Ganymede and in his obviously male character-morph, he was still to be thought of as Rosalind by the players.  Simply, he is Rosalind appearing for a second character, Ganymede.

I feel forced to strive for a closer focus on this because the equivocation,  for or as, holds such an essential connection with the central theme of this thesis.  That is to say, representation.  So I must enlarge the idea for a moment longer.  Specifically, in the Arden edition’s actual play-text, the word for is replaced by as throughout the direction at the beginning of Act 2, scene 4.   Searching for some clarity in the confusion, I found that the Alexander Text uses “Enter ROSALIND for GANYMEDE”.[35]  The Oxford edition preserves “Enter Rosalind in man’s clothes as Ganymede”.[36]   It must be noted, here, that Agnes Latham had already pointed out that there are significant variations between the F2, F3, and F4 versions of the play, so perhaps this explains the variant directions, but what this apparently utter confusion does reveal, may be cleared-up by seeing the original use of this one word, for as a singular idea that strikes right to the heart of the concept of representation as it was understood by the author and by the original players in this comedy.  It is here contended that, despite the ever-present possibility that a compositor’s error might have clouded the author’s original intent in this, the players saw Rosalind rising to the stage for Ganymede, not the boy, cross-dressed as Rosalind.[37]  It is therefore clear that Rosalind, as a living breathing person, was she herself who strode “manfully” out onto the stage, feeling a little odd in her unfamiliar clothes.  It is true that the bawdry in the text does occasionally betrays this stance at times, but it is here claimed that the overall dramaturgy of the play then insisted on the pretence that the Rosalind figure was actually a girl disguised as a boy.  In the spirit of the theatrical times, and despite the possible betrayal of the character-morph that I have specified, above, which will occur later in the play, the overall aim of the for was to perpetuate the art of artifice above all.

This lends force to Latham’s balanced, modern-critical view-point on the subject of Rosalind’s most obvious reality, and addresses this character’s intended function in the Forest of Arden as: “displaying Rosalind in her double character of pretended boy and real girl”.[38]  Which brings the discourse from the original tradition of four hundred years ago full-circle though to the modern practice of having a female actor as Rosalind, and back to the original practice again.  For Shakespeare’s players, and for their modern descendants, Rosalind is a girl.  The mental mechanism for keeping our perceptions in line for the purposes of the moment—the willing suspension our disbelief—whether as expedience, or just for the purpose of having fun, is therefore seen as achieved.  This was especially so then, if we may also acknowledge that the idea of “personation” had then been underlined as never before, and if the word for had appeared in that play-text direction for those first performances.

Katherine Kelly goes further in search of clarity in this discourse:

The concept of “multi-consciousness” can be extended to encompass both a dual awareness of the player-as-character and of the boy, even the alluring boy, as a self-conscious performer attempting to transcend the age, ability, and gender limits of his “boyness”.[39]

Scholars now, and everyone then, knew that Rosalind was actually male, but in the space behind the stage of then, it is maintained, there was an agreement to ignore this for the purposes of sending the young male out onto the stage as a convincing representative for Rosalind first, then Ganymede.  The audience could delightedly respond to the sometimes bawdy remarks that made the character much less clearly-defined, but the above use of the word for defines a clear gap between the modal space for the actors, and the modal space in which the audience responded.[40]  It is therefore possible also to agree with P.H. Parry, who, in reference to Andrew Gurr’s Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, argues that this would have become possible only after the 1590s, when a much greater degree of “sophisticated naturalism” appeared in both the source-texts and in the acting styles of the players.[41]  In this vein, but from a slightly different angle, Michael Shapiro firmly asserts that:

we are sometimes blinded by our heritage of theatrical naturalism: the English Renaissance theater never required its spectators not to know what they always knew.  Indeed, some of the richest moments in the drama of the period result from just such interplay between the audience’s view of the character and actor, its sense of mimetic illusion and theatrical reality, its awareness of representational effect and presentational means.[42]

This may be seen as giving two separate views of naturalism, but returning to the use of the word for in the stage-direction, a strong element is added when we see that representing Rosalind in such a way relates closely to the grammarian-philosopher J.L. Austin’s exploration of speech-acts as declarative locutionary acts.  In this case, a speech-act exists in the author’s use of the word for, for the purpose of guiding the actors.  It becomes a perlocutionary act in the response of the actors who then obey the stage-instruction.[43]  Austin’s study, further developed by J.R. Searle, sees words as performative acts and in this way, a single word in any sentence may create subtle differences in meaning, if, say, the word for is used instead of as.[44]  Thus, the antecedent or demonstrative adverb, as, that came into English in 1532: meaning some thing or some person as representing another, seems clear enough.[45]   The two words join as locutionary elements of speech or writing that cross the centuries as significantly different in meaning.[46]   Importantly, as Jonathan Culler would argue in his On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, it is not Shakespeare’s “state of mind at the moment of utterance” that should concern us, but “the conventional rules involving features of the context” that matter most.  In this there is a clear case for claiming that Rosalind’s coming onto the stage for Ganymede meant that the persona, Rosalind, was always to be seen as ascendant in the players& perceptions over Ganymede, or the reality of the young male who actually represented her upon that Elizabethan stage.[47]

Shakespeare could not have known that the lexis and sematic of such apparently simple words would shift, whether in a major meaning change, or in a significant subtlety, as in this case.  How could he have dreamt that people would so keenly be studying his plays all these centuries after they were penned?  The work of many scholars has, after all, gone to great pains in suggesting that Shakespeare would have wanted to be remembered for his poetry, rather than his plays.  Before moving on I should point out that there is a significant difference in the representation of the young actor in Shakespeare’s As You Like It from that which existed in Rosalynde, Thomas Lodge’s source-play of 1590.  In Lodge’s play, Rosalynde becomes Celia’s page, therefore her protector, and she is constituted as the traditional male figure as they go into the forest.  The point made in Shakespeare’s later version, as Agnes Latham argues, is that: “it is Rosalind who dresses as a boy because she is ‘more than common tall’ ”.  This is, after all, what the character, him/herself, actually states in 1.3.111.[48]

Much later in this play, the discourse is brought back to the central idea of physical androgyny in both principle and in action.  Oliver states “The boy is fair,/ Of female favour, and bestows himself/ Like a ripe sister” when speaking of the disguised Rosalind.  This, while “The woman” is “low/ And browner than her brother”, when he is speaking of Celia in 4.3.85-88.  This essential signalling of identities is very much to the point, in terms of the attitudes of the characters involved, and it reflects very strongly what the Elizabethan audience would have understood as the success or failure of the representation of female-by-male, and the reverse of that.[49]   The swapping of gendered personal pronouns in passages like the above achieves a picture of irresistible humour in the confusion—a positive pot pourri of impressions without any grounding in specious definition.  This ambiguity that arises from the text—as opposed to any possible sexual ambiguity in the style of the actor—therefore permeates almost every aspect of the staging of these scenes, but the sheer and deliberately  created androgyne quality of the staging itself is stated as the truly ascendant element. This occurs in lines 85 and 86 in the most strikingly obvious way as: “Of female favour (appearance)” yet “bestows (comports) himself/ Like a ripe sister”.  Even if he is seen merely as, say, a shepherd, the traditional male figure becoming the protector of a mere young woman, but any notional gender-tag is here almost nullified by a haze of variant indicators.  According to Bruce Smith, the “straight-talking soldier”, Thomas Lodge, provided far fewer opportunities for ambiguity in the source-play, Rosalynde.  Specifically:

We are never tempted to forget that Rosalynde is a woman: the Orlando-figure never takes her for anything but a man.  All of Lodge’s sexual jokes turn, in fact, on keeping that distinction clear.[50]

As always, it seems, William Shakespeare improves upon an older idea by adding levels of subtle complexity that did not exist in the source material.  As Smith further argues, in the Shakespearian version, the audience would have seen:

not a man falling in love with a woman dressed as a boy, but a man falling in love with a boy actor dressed as a woman dressed as a boy.  They would have not just read about the androgynously alluring adolescent; they would have seen him as a man and a boy flirting with abandon and getting away with it.[51]

To augment and somewhat temper any perception of outrageousness in Smith’s statement, an interestingly different psychoanalytical view of this very situation is available from Cynthia Marshall.  She argues that: “So thoroughly does Shakespeare’s work encompass our sense of textual possibility that even his apparent missteps take on interest and meaning.”[52]  Marshall then ably constructs a picture of the sexual-equivocation caused by the “loveplay in Arden” that the above discussion addresses.  “Ganymede’s masquerade as Rosalind opens up the equivocacy of Orlando’s desire and allows Orlando to love both Rosalind and Ganymede.  The fact is that the cultural envelope in which this play first appeared allowed that this kind of broad-minded variability of view as a matter of no great importance.  The crowd may smile or it may even laugh, or, it may squirm about in its seat a little uncomfortably.  Very few—except perhaps Phillip Stubbes, if were he to be present—would have taken offence at this signal representation.  That Orlando, in Marshall’s words, might think: “ ‘I desire him’—on condition that the idea is negated—‘I desire her, not him’ ”, takes at least some of the sting out of this equivocation for those who might have taken some small offence.  Marshall goes on clearly to argue that, after all, the prominent textual evidence makes clear that Rosalind “also wishes to be a boy interacting with Orlando”.  I find that this itself adds yet another layer of interest to the mixture of assumed and hinted sexualities and genders that are there for us to enjoy within the loveplay.   Finally, as Marshal offers:

Not only are Orlando and those readers or viewers who primarily identify with him allowed to acknowledge the titillating possibility of a boy lover, but Rosalind and those who identify with her are likewise allowed the fantasy of being male.  This wish seems, to most viewers, not at all surprising; in a masculinist society, who wouldn’t wish to be male?[53]

Which should put to flight, once and for all, any thought of the player’s part in the dramatic undertaking ever being truly separated from the audience’s part.[54]  Yet again it must be repeated: any degree of sexual-equivocation in this passage is entirely within the viewer’s purview utterly to ignore.   Both then and now.

Both Smith’s and Marshall’s views about the changeling boy/girl may very well cause a deep sense of unease in some readers in the general public of now, but both of these opinions do bravely address aspects of gay, psychoanalytical and feminist-theory which have for several years been an important element in the research surrounding such plays as Twelfth Night and As You Like It, particularly.   Simply though, the degree of displeasure that a modern public-observer might feel, in the above respect, will directly relate to his or her perception of the highly variable term, boy, that Smith and Marshall separately use in the above statement.  Such possible present offence certainly will be lessened by acknowledging that the descriptive term was then, and is, still, used to describe young men as frequently as either prepubescent, or pubescent males.  The research of Dympna Callaghan, Ann Blake and others, should render this troublesome term of classification less risky with respect to the concept of the use of very young people in such blatantly sexual situations as Smith, particularly, describes.  However, Smith’s and Marshall’s comments still stand as honest and scholarly impressions that may very well be gained from the previously-mentioned interchanges between Rosalind in disguise, with, variously, both Orlando and Oliver, in scenes carefully to be studied, below.  Particularly, these very modern views should cement, once and for all, that individual perceptions are almost all that matter in the greater discourse containing these arguments.

Yet also it might here be seen to be emerging as a factor of great importance that the essential ambiguity of Rosalind’s gender resides mainly in textual indicators, while her certainty in presence as a girl or young woman must be based more upon her manner of speech and her acting-style.  Yet this idea will later be seen as one of those dreams of blessed-ease.  Simply, the myriad acting styles of the myriad Rosalinds themselves will blur any possible distinction in this respect most horribly.  Even so, it is useful axiom for the moment.

Also for the moment, consider an opinion that As You Like It has “the lightness of operetta, pantomime, or ballet”.[55]  Lesley Ann Soule remarks that it is a vehicle for the performance of individual skill in acting, yet has the plot of a “Cloudcuckooland of Cockayne”.[56]  This might seem excessive, but Soule then goes on to argue that both the “fictional character and the stage performer are described” in this play.  Further to the discussion as to the age of the female-impersonator: that is to say, if the actor is not, as Soule expresses it, “a male adolescent”, an entire dimension of the play is not seen.  This view is ably supported by other scholars, most notably Phyllis Rackin and Bruce Smith.[57]  Most importantly, though, Soule adds that:

the liminal traits so closely associated with the actor are also to be found in the adolescent.  He too is unfixed, changing, becoming ... characterized by risk-taking and deviance, ambiguity of status, he has a need to take defiant stances towards authority, and take part in both mockery of and playful experimentation with adult sexual role-playing.[58]

Yet whether Soule is justified in her certainty about the Elizabethan youth being the essentially transitory, uncertain creature that we now know so well as the adolescent in our modern culture, this requires that the state of adolescence has not changed in four hundred years.  It has been established in Chapter One that one of the main codes that we of the modern age must decipher is that our modern idea of childhood did not then exist in any realistic comparison.  In general principle, though, Soule’s broad conclusion does cover the ground but the reader will now be forgiven for thinking that the neither-fish-nor-fowl persona, Rosalind, is also an openly boyish stage-presence, therefore not particular androgynous.  Soule, though, also clearly avers that Rosalind creates laughter as “a boy pretending not to be a boy, when he is dressed like one, talks like one, and unmistakably is one”.[59]  He is, after all, supposed to be a girl called Rosalind, who disguises herself as a boy and must pretend to be one, for the greater part of the play.  The Elizabethan sense that artifice is all-ascendant, returns!

In this sphere, Soule cites Catherine Belsey’s opinion that androgyny is made paramount in the passages of bawdry which “ ‘disrupt gender’ ”.[60]  This, in situations where different individuals might produce highly variant representations of, either, the divine-androgyne at the one extreme, or the grubby boy prancing around in girl’s clothes at the other.  A wickedly joking boy, or a delightfully convincing young woman remain as possibilities that depend entirely upon the way Rosalind is brought to life by the actor, and here, the age and the actual sexual-orientation of the actor himself must come strongly into play.  These things, as well as the self-awareness and the maturity of the actor must have had a direct influence upon the nature of the figure who is to be seen and understood by the audience as one person, or another.  It must also be observed that the entire original process was subject to extreme levels of artifice, yet the sound of footfalls, the corporeal reality of the young actor would constantly have brought the audience back to the world of Southwark: to the bear-pits and bawdy-houses that then existed just outside the daub-and-wattle walls of the theatre.  In exemplar of a possible return to earth for a near-divine personage, there is bawdry of the most intense kind in Touchstone’s sharp observation:

                                    He that sweetest rose will find,
                                    Must find love’s prick and Rosalind.

The sexual imagery in this couplet is so obvious as to need no explanation.  For those still unsure, Eric Partridge’s lexicon-of-bawdry provides gives a free-interpretation for “prick” in conjunction with “rose” with the ubiquitous “will” inserted between.[61]   One can imagine the emphasis that was placed upon those words by, say, a picaresque Touchstone to draw laughter from the crowd.  Yet it is also quite obvious that the author here says that you may read what you will into this passage.

In contextual evidence in Shakespeare, the Sonnets have many examples of the same, or only slightly variant usages of “will”.  The best example from his verse is probably Sonnet 135:

                                    Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will,
                                    And ‘Will’ to boot, and ‘Will’ in over-plus,
                                    More than enough am I that vex thee still,
                                    To thy sweet will making addition thus.
                                    Wilt thou whose will is large and spacious,
                                    Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
                                    Shall will in others seem right gracious,
                                    And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
                                    The sea all water, yet receives rain still,
                                    And in abundance addeth to his store,
                                    So thou being rich in will add to thy will
                                    One will of mine to make thy large will more.
                                        Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill,
                                        Think all but one, and me in that one ‘Will’.

The play on “ ‘Will’ ” identifies Will, a person not in any certainty the poet himself, as Dover Wilson claims.  Then there is the much-repeated “will”, as meaning either “wish” or “sexual desire” in Elizabethan usage.  The variance of three meanings forms a complex picture for even the keenest scholar to unravel.  One thing is utterly clear is that if the notionally milder meaning, “wish”, were to be substituted where “will” is written—some ten times—the poem would make no sense at all.  This is not least because the necessary equivocation between the “wish” and “will” in line 1 negates, or at least makes nonsensical, the rest of the sonnet, if the difference in meaning is not maintained.  Even Dover Wilson’s rather restrained translation of “will” as being either “wish” or “sexual appetite” does not really do justice to the sexual imagery of this sonnet, or to its logical successor, Sonnet 136.[62]  In these contexts, Partridge describes a number of meanings for “will” as both male and female desire, as well as male and female anatomy, with “Will Shakespeare” existing as a definite participant as the secondary subject—as Partridge argues—who, as a poet and playwright:

delights in investing a significant word not merely with two meanings but often with three and perhaps even, as in the final Will (in Sonnet 135, in this case), four ... In Shakespeare, the nexus between the sexual act and literary creation is closer, more potent, more subtly psychosomatic than in any other writer, whether of verse, or of prose.[63]

These sonnets are in the group that widely have been accepted as being addressed to the “Poet, Friend and Mistress”.[64]  These are often seen as a group of eight sonnets that in themselves constitute a multitude of variant gender indicators, which is why this study has cited them in relation to Touchstone’s pointed couplet about Rosalind.  The sexual references may either be direct or illusory in the above sonnets, but in Touchstone’s pungent quip the corporeal element is earthed in open laughter, creating safety by grounding the outrageousness of the words in the obvious form of a bawdy joke.  It is almost possible to see it as axiomatic of this kind of bawdry that a great deal more may be uttered in jest than in seriousness.  Except, perhaps, words spoken in the extremes of anger.  As is so often the case in these comedies, Touchstone carries the author’s words: “If the cap fits, wear it!”.  It is not only a convention that the hearer may decide whether to hear the bawdry or not—and in which gender-inference—but there is also the delight of being offered the equivocation itself to delight in.  Strongly present in this is the thought that such a joke would appeal to the entire audience, regardless of the social class or the standard of education that any individual might enjoy.

The point must be made that in the double-reversal of gender roles in As You Like It, homosexual aspects of the imagery simply now beg to be revealed, but it is still within the power of the modern viewer or reader to ignore those possibilities.  Just as the Elizabethan was also given that choice.  After all, other passages of the play provide the sublime element where the viewer might truly see the almost non-corporeal androgyne, and love her/him as part of a dream-world, the golden idyll.  Yet in such parts as Touchstone’s bawdy couplet, the androgyne is most definitely mortal and subject to—as Soule and others insist—appropriation by the viewer.[65] 

Lest it be thought that only men appropriate images of women, create objects of desire to collect and possess, it must here be stated that women do this, too.  Many scholars have claimed that Shakespeare wrote mainly for men, yet we must also see that there were many women in the audiences to see things that would both have amused and excited them, women being heterosexual, homosexual, and human, in the same proportion as men?[66]  Both then, and now?

Certainly, Valerie Traub speaks of “the female (and male) homoeroticism of As You Like It and Twelfth Night” as “a mutual exchange”.  This was so, she says, in the original all-male stagings of those plays, and in the audiences’ likely reactions to the sexual elements of those plays, discussed above as they are performed now.[67]   Yet as a very important view into what she calls the “contemporary practice” of women-in-women’s parts, Traub argues that this mutually interactive exchange-effect is actually heightened.  This, even where androgyny is single-shifted, thus putting flight to the notion that women do not appropriate and are not sexually involved in the imagery, the speech, and the gestures of the drama.  What must strongly be suggested at this point is that the performance of those uncertain states of outward gender would attain a new dimension if the performer’s outward actual sexuality were to be made obvious as well.  If the young male actor playing Rosalind in the original version had been openly ambivalent in manner or speech, gesture or movement, this would clearly have impacted upon the exchanges between Rosalind and Orlando.  It can only be surmised that there would have been an element in the display that went far beyond mere good acting, where that existed.  On the other hand, if the young female actor playing Rosalind in the modern version were also to be sexually ambivalent, then that manner would have had a clear effect on her interchanges with Phebe, and, possibly, Celia in the earlier parts of the play.  Having said that, it must also be stated that this discourse is being pushed into the realms of pure conjecture on this point more than any other.


It is openly evident that from the moment of her banishment from court that Rosalind undergoes a sea-change.  Michael Shapiro notes that:

the mere idea of playing a man releases for Rosalind the same kind of wit and verbal energy that it did for Julia and Portia ... the passage allowing recognition of the fact that a boy actor, taller than most women ... like Portia, imagines herself a burlesquing male, swaggering once she is dressed as a man.[68]

In this, the previously remarked tendency of Shakespeare to give his female characters large personalities endowed with both decisiveness and strength is again evident, but it is, overall, a double-shifted person whom mainly we study in this context, rather than the modern, single-shifted equivalent.  A boy-originally, becomes a girl confined by the cultural-assumption of her secondary place in society; then this person bursts, with gusto, into a boy-persona, before retiring into femininity at the end.  That is to say, until the wondrously ambivalent epilogue of this particular play.  The most important point, though, is that the freedom that the boy actor possesses as his male right is surrendered in the first shift, then is happily regained in the second shift.

Rosalind by Robert Walker Macbeth 1888

On another level of observation, Alexander Leggatt notes that “Celia is the woman with wit and initiative” until “the notion of disguise is introduced”.[69]  At that point, Rosalind takes over as the central female character.  Bruce Smith adds that Shakespeare then allows Rosalind to act not only the part of a happily-released girl who rejoices in the freedom of her boyish clothes, but one who also appears as a convincing persona who assumes the part of a person freed from sexual-restraint as well.  She—now he—may now lead in the pursuit of love and the excitement that this entails for both the players and the crowd.[70]  It might be possible, here, to argue that the need simply to identify the players, in the sense of keeping track of them in their correct roles, is almost as vital an inspiration for the lines referring to taller and shorter players that have been mentioned, above, and their assumption of their various parts, respectively.  It is certain, though, that the creation of the androgyne, her/himself, is the clearer intent, and is inescapable as being by far the most important of the two factors in this context.  This answers, in fine style, what was earlier seen as Harold Oliver’s failure fully to flesh out the idea of the androgynous young male in the part of his “leading woman”.   Latham’s view, however, leads to a much more comprehensive conclusion, in a variety of examples available.[71] Yet Professor Oliver answers these flashes of light with an extremely interesting flare of his own.  In studying the beginning of Act 2, scene 4, where the two young women find themselves exhausted on the way to the forest.  Oliver focuses on Rosalind’s ruefully weary:

I could find in my heart to disgrace my man’s apparel and to cry like a woman.  But I must comfort the weaker vessel, doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat; therefore courage, good Aliena.
                                                                                      (2, 4, 3-7)                         

He offers: “The playfulness presumably presented no problem to the pert Elizabethan boy; it certainly presents none to an actress”.[72]

It must here be pointed out that Harold Oliver’s introduction to As You Like It was written in 1968 and though I can imagine most female actors of that time biting their tongues at the possible sexism of the joke—this depending on the sensitivity of the speaker and the possible hearer—he is right about the Elizabethan boy, in this respect, at least.  This young person would have had no difficulty at all in playing the liminally ambiguous person, who appears also to say: “Do I jest, or not?”.  It is certainly possible to imagine him smiling, and probably even winking at the groundlings at this point.  This fits extremely well with the idea that any play of that period, in the event of its being seen by Queen Elizabeth, might cause, perhaps, fatal offence.  The darker meaning—that of womankind being truly the weaker vessel is continued later in the play when Oliver finds Rosalind and Celia in the forest and tells them of Orlando’s wound.  Specifically, in 4.3.154-155, he shows them “this napkin,/Dy’d in his blood”.  Rosalind, dressed as Ganymede, faints away.  Celia faithfully keeps up the pretence of Rosalind’s identity with “Why how now Ganymede! Sweet Ganymede!”.  This, despite her urgent concern for her cousin’s well-being.  Yet she betrays Rosalind’s real identity almost immediately after this, in the oblique statement: “There is more in it.  Cousin Ganymede!”.  The clear cæsura between the sentences divides the continuation of the hinting about true identity and a moment of desperate concern for a cousin.  Oliver is obtuse in not picking up on Celia’s reference to “Cousin Ganymede” at this point.  He is generous to the swooning youth with: “Many will swoon when they do look on blood” in line 158.  A possibility in the direction is that these words should be uttered as a thoughtful aside.  A moment later, back in the real world of Arden, he could be teasingly avuncular, in lines 164-165, as he chides Ganymede/Rosalind with: “Be of good cheer, youth. You a man! You lack a man’s heart”.  Though this may be seen as a patriarchal man teasing a youngster who has displayed weakness, the speech serves to highlight of Oliver’s natural concern for the person whom he knows as Ganymede, while chiding the youngster for causing his concern in the first place.

Very much to the point at this moment, Oliver is a changed man by this stage of the play.  The interchange that follows, between lines 166 and 182, is full of wry humour in which Rosalind admits her lack of “a man’s heart” and makes references to “a body” that is “well counterfeited”.  Yet Oliver is still obtuse and does not see the veiled admission of her femininity.  This, because he is not meant to, but he does notice the unfeigned pallor of Rosalind’s face.  When she claims that the pallor, too, is counterfeit, he exhorts her to “take good heart, and counterfeit to be a man”.  This is seen as a straight re-use of “counterfeit”; and a deliberate ploy to cause enjoyment for the audience in the extension of the joke that is contained within his incomprehension and in the insistence of the two young women to keep hinting at the truth.  The entire exchange may be seen as a sub-text, a play on the audience’s knowledge of the Rosalind’s real gender and the delight that Aston’s and Savona’s “willing compact of collaboration” eternally reinforces in these dissemblances.  The audience, after all, expects both the enactment itself, and the principle of delayed-exposition in which it exists.  The boy who played the man was not a man in any sense!

It should be noted at this point that later audiences had scant knowledge of William Prynne’s hatred of the entire process of drama.  Nothing is left to the imagination in such furious statements as:

Now this counterfeiting of persons, affections, manners, vices, sexes, and the like, which is inseparably incident to the acting of Playes; as it transforms the actors into what they are not; so infuseth falsehood into every part of soule and body, as all hypocrisie doth.[73]

Might it be possible to suggest that Prynne took the idea of transsexual counterfeiting from this very passage of Shakespeare?  Certainly, Rosalind’s parting shot contains the request that Oliver relays praise of her counterfeiting to Orlando, though the same counterfeiting of her manhood had failed in womanly weakness, that is to say, fainting at the sight of blood.[74]  The subtlety of the exchange rests on the half-admissions of her true gender by Rosalind’s repeated play on the word counterfeit, and something that lies between the expected, but not realized suspicions of Oliver—if he had not dutifully maintained his obtuseness on hearing Celia call Ganymede “cousin”—rather than the expected “brother”, in line 159.  This, after all, had the double effect of heightening the impression of his extreme concern for the fainting youth, and extending his required incomprehension into the later exchanges.[75]

The knowledge, therefore, of the two young women’s blood-relationship to each other may well have been as important as the assumed and real identities in both Orlando’s and Oliver’s delayed realization of those same things.  After all, in Act 3, scene 2, Touchstone had been told by Rosalind that Celia alias Aliena is related to her by saying: “Here comes my sister”, in line 121.  To Orlando, in line 329 of the same scene, she had stated that Celia was “this shepherdess my sister”.   Further, in lines 422-423, at the end of the same scene, she says, “Come sister, will you go?”, so that the assumed relationship is again broadcast.  In these episodes the author and the players stretch the deception to its elastic limit.  All will be revealed, but much later.  The scene culminates in Oliver’s open statement: “I must bear back how you excuse my brother, Rosalind”, which is followed by Rosalind’s: “I shall devise something. But I pray you commend/ my counterfeiting to him. Will you go?”, in 5.3.179-182.

The time for pretence is nearly over, but the foregoing is revealed as an extended obfuscation of real identities, that allows for, depending entirely upon the viewer, the homosexual undertones in these scenes, and all of the complexities are aimed at extending the limits of female representation in the production of dramatic excitement and the creation of sympathy for a character whom we have grown to love by this time.[76]  Yes, this is a major point; we now love Rosalind as much as Will Shakespeare had intended us to.  He pulls the strings.         

Returning to the comedy: all that precedes Celia’s use of the word “cousin” in line 159 of Act 4, scene 3, is also an elongation of the same joke that involved both deception and representation, earlier.  In this aspect, though, Rosalind is able, lightly and boyishly, to be misogynistic in her references to womanhood, and make covert references to her own pretence, not only in her disguise, but in her manful strivings to be the part that she is playing.  Rosalind’s assumed male voice, a revelation of male culture, takes on a sharp edge in her words in their representation of a youthful lover as being strikingly similar across the gender-boundary, yet both combining and separating women and boys as radical alterities.  This thesis therefore differs, in significant degree, from Robert Kimbrough’s thoughts on the greater freedom that Rosalind enjoys as a youth.  Yet about the playfulness of the scene it does agree, with the proviso that this writer would direct his Rosalind to be careful in highlighting the darker moments of care and stress with clearly differing tones, stances, and facial expressions from those that denote the fun in the greater part of the action.

In passing, Katherine Kelly’s scholarship reveals an example of a related incident that is full of darkness.  In Cymbeline, just before the awful moment in which Posthumus discovers the identity of Imogen/Fidele, he actually strikes her down.  In Kelly’s words, this is “for sounding too much like a boy actor”:

            Imo.                             Peace, my lord, hear, hear—
            Post.    Shall’s have a play of this?  Thou scornful page,
                        There lie thy part.                            Striking her: she falls.

Kelly argues that this shattering episode is neither “comic nor erotic”, and that “Posthumus responds to her outburst as if to the inept squeaking of a boy’s mock protest”.  In fact:

Posthumus’s cruelty both heightens the pathos of Imogen/Fidele’s final performance by mistaking the boy’s “life-like” personation for a mocking jibe and increases the verisimilitude of the boy’s personation of a suffering heroine.  Exposing the limit of Imogen’s artifice helps to create the impression of surpassing that limit.[77] 

Of course, Shakespeare knew that chinks must appear in the curtain of the youth’s identity at times.  If that—in all practicality—is the case, then the tacit compact between the author and his paying public may still be maintained.  Capitalizing on such moments in comedy, Shakespeare knew that the quick-witted would mostly be inspired to laugh at momentary glimpses beneath the veil.  Or the skirt.  In this instance, though, and in most of the tragic episodes, he knew that the mentally-nimble might well moisten an eye at such a moment of pure pathos.[78]

As You Like It, too, is not merely a frothy, romantic comedy.  As in all Shakespeare there is a darker side to many of the moments of the representation—not only of women—but of all the characters in their thoughtful reflections.  It must be repeated that the Renaissance acceptance of the interchangeability of boys-for-women upon the stage was strongly aided by the notion that only men were truly complete as people, and therefore, following Aristotle, only they formed a perfect representation of humankind.[79]    In this same vein, Ann Blake argues, in rebuttal of William Robertson Davies’s idea that:

chivalric notion of women, as innocent, weak and vulnerable, led him to see Shakespeare as conceiving his young female roles as passive women who always followed a male lead, and thereby were always within the acting capacities of boy actors.  These women spoke formal rather than spontaneous verse; they were static figures, who never experienced a “complex state of mind”.[80]

This is arrant nonsense and, as Blake strongly argues: “This comment seems to ignore Desdemona, Lady Macbeth and Ophelia!”.[81]  To which I will add Rosalind—but Blake’s rather bitter joke runs right through the discourse of this play and also gives strength the denigratory elements, high-lighted above; the assumptions that are made about the foolish inconstancy of women.  This, as completely separate from the notional constancy and basic good sense of men; but with the changeability of the male adolescent thrown into the pot as both a radical comparison of difference and a paradoxically-close similarity to the uncertainty and the flightiness of women.  The adolescent, too, is not yet fully formed, not yet perfect, and this is made clear, but mainly in subtle shades and inferences.  However, the principle strikes one in the face when Rosalind declaims:

I, being but a moonish youth ... effeminate, changeable ... proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles, for every passion something and for no passion truly anything, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this colour

Yet despite what might be seen as a scornful condemnation of boys, youths and women, this joke will always raise a laugh in witty hands as the audience looks back with smiling ruefulness upon its own youthful passions and tribulations.  Whatever laughter may wash away, there remains the saying that many a true word is spoken in jest.  The denigratory element that so concerns the feminist scholar and many others in this age is that scorn is poured upon the bodies and the minds of women who were not even permitted to be there, except as paying patrons.  Also remaining is the strong element of the blurring of gender-distinctions and the staging of the ephemeral moods and uncertainties of youth, as Lesley Ann Soule’s sensitive research has also so cogently suggested.[82]

From a different angle, Alexander Leggatt reminds us that the moonish youth is expressing the extravagant language of love in some desperation at this point.[83]  At the end of her tirade she speaks of washing love away in ostensibly comical images, but when Orlando rejoins that he would indeed not be cured, in 3.2.414-415, she replies: “I would cure you, if you would but call me Rosalind, and come every day to my cote, and woo me”.  In this Leggatt sees the underlying love that the marvellously self-mocking “moonish youth” cannot expunge, no matter how hard he seems to be trying.  As Leggatt expresses it “the satiric posturing is extravagant and self-conscious, a game of language with no conviction behind it”.  This harks back—as nothing else will—to Leggatt’s earlier thought that “there is a clear distinction between the role and the character behind the role”.[84]  Within this idea, Rosalind cannot entirely be Ganymede, nor Ganymede Rosalind, and therein lies a deep confusion in representation, but after everything else is cleared away, along with Orlando’s “liver” and the “sound sheep’s heart”; love remains as a strongly unifying element in the play.

Representation, therefore, is no relatively simple matter of proposing characters, disguising them in cross-gendered roles, then returning them to their true selves.  Love levels all, causes pain, confusion, self-doubt, joy, and finally, fulfilment.  As Alphonse Karr expresses it: “The more things change, the more they are the same”.[85]  Some things, at least.



After much reflection upon Oliver’s obtuseness, A.P. Riemer’s comment that Orlando, too, is “apparently, too thick-skulled to recognize the innuendoes made by Rosalind in her disguise”; this simply extending the theme of delayed-exposition.[86]  His asperity may be excused by pointing out that Riemer’s overall view was that each of Shakespeare’s comedies was an experiment, sometimes leading to excess.  Any failing in this respect must surely have been masked by the excitement of the moment in which there must surely have been shouted comments from the groundlings and the merciless teasing of Orlando and Oliver for not seeing the perfectly obvious in the original performances.  Certainly, we should have no trouble in imagining the good-humoured raillery in the theatres of four centuries ago.

The second Globe Theatre sketched by Wenceslaus Hollar for his View of London, 1647

In real life, no-one would be deceived by a disguise that involved merely changing clothes and pretending to be someone else, in another gender; but this kind of deliberate evasion of the grand dénouement is a universally-accepted suspension of disbelief that heightens both the irresistible humour and the suspense that creates the excitement, delaying the coming-together of the lovers, and the expected happy-ending.  When Rosalind appears as Ganymede in her father’s woodland-court, even he merely says: “I do remember in this shepherd boy/Some lively touches of my daughter’s favour”, in 5.4.26-27.  Here we may broadly smile, or we may even laugh at the possible hooted pointers from the groundlings.  Then Orlando extends the absurdity of now-permitted half-realization in saying: “My lord, the first time that I ever saw him,/Methought he was a brother to your daughter” in lines 28-29.  The silliness of this is happily permitted as an unbreakable convention within the theatrical space that happily we also inhabit and whole-heartedly accept.

Important in this thesis are the actual terms under which Rosalind hints at her gender.  These exist in the episodes which underline her femininity most obviously.  No-one, surely, is expected to question her words, when, in 1.3.115, Rosalind states her intention of striving to hide her “woman’s fear” as “many other mannish cowards have/ That do outface it with their semblances”.  This hint becomes sequential in ideational cohesion from Act 2, when Rosalind ruefully determines that she must: “comfort the weaker vessel, doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat”.  Her intimation of weakness reveals the hazard that she might dishonour her “man’s apparel and cry”, as we remember, and this thoroughly patriarchal sentiment underlines her predicament.  Shakespeare-the-author may form a happily-rueful boy from a young woman who is actually a boy in the first place, but he cannot change the cultural expectations of the crowd.  He can be gently, or sometimes outrageously funny in Rosalind’s words, but he must obey the rules.  Katherine Kelly proposes that one of those rules that willingly was accepted was the way in which the feminine is implicit in the youth who played Rosalind in an extremely interesting view of the interplay between masculine and feminine in this representation:

Not yet a man, he participates in the diminutive masculinity by which Shakespeare signifies the feminine in the breeches part, and he demonstrates that he is doing so.[87]

Kelly relates this to the open statement of self-knowledge, or self-doubt, in the moonish youth speech that is presented above, but it also proposes that the young actor is very much aware of what he is doing; as aware as the author himself.  And again, the cross-over of shared knowledge and experience between actor and viewer is hammered home.  A boy, not yet of man’s stature, is quite simply seen to be not yet finished or perfected in Elizabethan sensibilities.[88]  It is not hard to imagine that the clever young actor, who was slim and with a truly beardless face, would clearly have represented to the audience an engaging femininity in those scenes where this was essential; but the under-riding sexual-ambiguity was always also there—both textually and in any possible interpretation by the players.  This effect would be produced at any moment like a rabbit out of a hat.

Calling this argument back to the theme of the divine, or the spiritual androgyne in its parallel existence, it should be acknowledged that drama was not the only vehicle in which the sublime, as well as the sexually-delineated androgyne existed.  Gayle Whittier has cogently argued for the recognition of a series of motifs that create the sublime vision of androgyny in Shakespeare.[89]  Whether she intended it, or not, Whittier does not separate the sexual-corporeal from the sublime non-corporeal.  In all of her examples, particularly that from Sonnet 20, the symbols live side-by-side:

                        A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
                        Hast thou the master mistress of my passion,
                        A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted
                        With shifting change as is false women’s fashion,
                        An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:
                        Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth,
                        A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
                        Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
                        And for a woman wert thou first created,
                        Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
                        And by addition me of thee defeated,
                        By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
                            But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
                            Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

A scholar armed with Partridge’s lexical code-book to illuminate the obviously sexual references in this sonnet will find that it goes far beyond either androgyny or a possible misogyny.  The disparaging comments on women’s falseness and flightiness are balanced by remarks on women’s gentleness and sensitivity of perception.  The beautiful boy reflects all that women’s beauty has to offer, yet transcends it as women’s superior in a way that is neither man nor woman.  The dichotomy—or trichotomy, if you will allow the term—is most clearly demonstrated in the line “An eye more bright than theirs...”.  Clearly, the boy is not woman, and the line containing “... to my purpose nothing” is evocative of the womanly anatomy, as it has been argued, rather than “it” being of no use to another man because the “one thing” earlier in the line is also male.  Like-to-like will not mesh, but the key and the lock will fit together.  Yes, this may be in the one person; the absolute androgyne.  This leaves the poet—the real creator—stranded?  As always, there are several different ways in which the reader may infer meaning in these lines.  Whittier concludes that Sonnet 20 actually avoids defining the “master mistress” as an androgyne in the final analysis.  This thesis disagrees, as stated above, preferring to read that Shakespeare does not avoid to, at least attempt to create, as Whittier expresses it, the “staging of androgyny itself”.[90]

In passing, the reference to the poet’s “one thing to my purpose nothing” in line 12 of Sonnet 20, creates eerie resonances with: “for every passion something and for no passion truly anything” in Rosalind’s moonish youth speech in As You Like It, 3.2.397-403.  In both of these instances, the poet-playwright tries to define and quantify some property that varies between this “something” and “nothing”.  Represented is both youth as a state; a boy as a person; a still unsettled sexuality—or gender—or both, depending on one’s point-of-view.

Returning to the drama, the nature of the indeterminate representation of gender and sexuality in As You Like It is perhaps best expressed in the last few lines of the play.  Rosalind begins the final speech in Act 5: “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue”.[91]  The lexical cohesions and binarisms in this being perfectly obvious, now read:

If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not.  And I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.

Bruce Smith laughingly asserts: “One can see Stubbes start to squirm”.  He theorizes that the boy actor, as he speaks these lines, sheds first his Ganymede disguise, then his Rosalind outfit, and then speaks as himself, the boy actor:

but his pose as the androgynous flirt invites us to take with us as we leave the theater some of the liminal freedom we allowed ourselves during the play.  That, after all, is what the characters in the play itself have done; they have been changed by their experiences ... have become better lovers, brothers, and rulers as a result.  And so, Shakespeare implies, can we.[92]

In the above, I suggest that it is essential to focus the discourse on the idea of seeing the living, breathing actors upon the stage as real people in the end.  David Mann offers that these amalgams may, overall, exist in the “observation, practice, and technique” of the actors, and on “a largely automatic level” of perception within the audience.  Mann’s tentative view that the “ ‘pretending’ and ‘becoming’ ” in characterizations and representations can never really be separated in the mysterious space of the theatre, may be seen as worth considering.  Bringing the focus finely back to female representation in As You Like It, Mann reminds us that Granville-Barker had insisted that “the boys” merely “simpered modestly on-stage”; that the “sexual attractiveness of the characters was not discussed until they had left”.  In view of this epilogue and my years of research, I find Granville-Barker’s statement to be manifestly absurd.[93]

What remains as truth is that these amalgams of liminal creations and the humanity that they sometimes confusingly represented are paradigms of sentiment and action in the telling of a story that might shock some but will make most laugh with unaffected glee.  Yet this tale teaches the audience a good, or a merciful way of behaving in the life that they, too, may live away from the stage.  The epilogue, with many others of the genre, obeys the sweet convention of “genteel begging”, as David Bevington expresses it.[94]  Sweetly and impishly the smiling boy sends the audience away home through the dirty, dangerous streets, warmed by a vision of humanity that will urge them to return.  Yes, though such plays as this were thought dreadfully immoral by the reactionaries of Shakespeare’s time, they always told a highly moral tale in which the guilty were punished and the virtuous were rewarded.  For all that, it is possible to guess that Rosalind’s epilogue might have been enacted with a variety of roguish winks and gestures to produce an earthily comical ending.  Or, that it could have been enacted as a charming scene without salacious adjuncts.  The latter would thus have produced a more ethereal androgyne for the audience to take home.

P.H. Parry points to this final fling of Rosalind’s as a direct equivalent of the example in the Induction of John Marston’s play, Antonio and Mellida, given above, where the young players actually come out onto the stage with their scripts in their hands and laughingly, ruefully, discuss the difficulties that their performances will entail.[95]  Here, it is possible to claim that Marston speaks unmediated to the audience, and in Rosalind’s final speech Shakespeare does the same.  When we then pay credence to Thomas Heywood’s highly convincing claim that the audience often knew the young actors by name, the entire structure of the drama is strengthened as being both make-believe and an earthly-reality in a mysterious and complex combination.  It may be highly moral in its boldest aspect, yet there is always bawdy laughter around the edges. 

Finally, class-consciousness is inherent in Shakespeare’s creation of several levels of love among the several social levels in his characters.  Very much to the point; it has already been observed that Rosalind had stepped out of her social class in becoming a youth with “gallant curtle-axe ... and boar-spear”, in 1.3.11-114.  In this act she creates for herself the brave but lowly youth who escorts Celia to the Forest of Arden.  The change, though, is far more important in the principle of swapping gender, than in swapping social class, therefore her prominence as a fit subject for a notional “courtly love” in Orlando’s eyes.  In demonstration of this relative importance, it is at the point when Rosalind in the guise of Ganymede faints at the sight of the blood-stained cloth that the smoke and mirrors of the evasions surrounding her identity truly begin.  Simply, this requires that a more every-day idea of love will emerge at this point.  The moment in which Oliver chides the girl-disguised for lacking a man’s heart, and when Rosalind hints at the truth of both her identity and her gender in the word-play on counterfeiting her manly status as Ganymede, the cross-dressed role is clearly ascendant over the more formal subject of a possibly high-flown kind of love that owes its existence to ancient, chivalric tradition.  Having said that, a scene that Alexander Leggatt also describes as marking the end of the satirical games enacted in As You Like It, and revealing the point in which the “ceremonies of love” begin, there are fragments of speech by Silvius which Leggatt sees as the statement of a standard for all of the characters in their various pursuits of love, regardless of past birth and present status.[96]  In the end, the audience sees a scene which borders upon a golden world of myth, yet it is removed from life only by a flight of wooden steps.

Though the modern version’s young female actor may also produce a delightful effect in the final scene, it must be seen as being without the visual subtleties of the double-shifted character-morph that have been described.  Lest the truly obvious escapes our proper attention because of its simplicity, the modern audience knows that Rosalind most certainly is a girl.  Now, therefore, her appearance would be that of a girl, and at other times that of a girl-disguised.   At no point would there be any uncertainty about the gender of the actor in the modern production.  Suspension of disbelief; theatrical artifice at their best—excellent costumes and the highest art of the make-up specialist—together with the slimmest young woman in existence will not produce the effect that was seen in the original productions of this play.

All manner of other effects come into the play and the juxtaposition of extremes of darkness and light exist in such instances as the wrestler, Charles, who is actually a professional killer, yet knows about Sidney’s “golden world”.  Like the Devil in Paradise Lost, he is the one who describes the very thing that he will never himself enjoy.  A member of the “envious court” he thus refers to the thing furthest from his own realistic aspirations; yet his part may be seen as a relatively simple means to effect the essential exposition of the early, very dark elements in the drama, before the sun comes out and the woodland pastoral begins.  Even then the idyll is tempered with contrasts; the Apollonian light of Orlando’s hopefulness, generosity and courage lies in:

                        If ever you have look’d on better days;
                        If ever been where bells have knoll’d to church;
                        If ever sat at any good man’s feast;
                        If ever from your eyelids wip’d a tear,
                        And know what ‘tis to pity and be pitied,
                        Let gentleness my strong enforcement be;
                        In the which hope, I blush, and hide my sword.

Which stands in stark contrast to Jaques’s fatalistic, Dionysian dark:

                                                            All the world’s a stage,
                        And all the men and women merely players.
                        They have their exits and their entrances,
                        And one man in his time plays many parts ...

Which drifts inexorably down through the “acts” in “seven ages” to the:

                                                            Last scene of all,
                        That ends this strange eventful history,
                        Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
                        Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

There are other contrasts and contradictions within the play that are presented by contrary voices and experiences.  It is largely about love, yet the reckless Orlando risks his life in fighting Charles, and later, the hungry lioness.  Though this latter contest may also be explained as the hero’s performance of the expected function of making himself worthy of Rosalind; it has the double function of transforming Oliver into a subject for redemption, too, and raising both of them to the status of subjects fit for the honourable love of the women, whom inevitably they will love forever.

The most important element of this is the consequent placing of Rosalind in the drama as a young woman who will see her loved-one as not only handsome and lovable but also brave and chivalrous.  He must be utterly worthy of her love.  It could therefore be claimed that everything in the play that has to do with Orlando as a worthy man is subservient to the central aim of defining Rosalind as a worthy woman, also.  Following this logic, the play may be seen as a crucible for the creation of the expected wants, needs, hopes and fears of women generally, and Rosalind in particular.  The vehicle may be romantic comedy, but the engine that drives the drama is the representation of women.  This is so whether the women are single or double-shifted in gender-identity.  Yet the play’s sometimes contradictory elements exist in a particular style that is funny—or at other times full of love—at yet other times downright frightening.

The fact that Rosalind was originally played by a boy changes nothing in our overall view of the love-element in the play.  The earthiness of the double-meanings and much of the humour in the original style seems to strengthen the idea that the level of love here-proposed is that which all of us may feel.  As You Like It does not hinge upon courtly love; it is too earthy, too funny, too satirical.  Rather, it is an example of what Alexander Leggatt calls the fusing of “conventionalized action and familiar human behaviour”.[98]  In some essential aspects, therefore, it refuses easily to be pigeon-holed.  Though in a highly stylized form, As You Like It reflects a life that one might imagine in those absent moments in a working day when all of us may crave to play a part; be Rosalind, or Ganymede; to be Orlando, or even the newly-redeemed Oliver?  Just for a while?

Continue to Chapter 4


[1]The line-references in this chapter are from The Arden Shakespeare Series except where otherwise clearly indicated.

[2]H.J. Oliver, ed., ^^As You Like It&& in William Shakespeare> Four Comedies (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1994 [New Penguin Shakespeare, 1986]), p. 363.  The other three, according to Oliver, are Cymbeline, The Merchant of Venice, and All’s Well That Ends Well.

[3]Katherine Kelly, “The Queen’s Two Bodies: Shakespeare’s Boy Actresses in Breeches” in Theatre Journal 42, 1990, p. 88.

[4]Callaghan, 1996, pp. 133-134 and 152, n. 21, distils the views of Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1983), pp. 29, 31; and Stephen Orgel, “Nobody’s Perfect: Or why did the English stage take boys for women?” in South Atlantic Quarterly 88, 1989, pp. 7-29. Included in this overall view is Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1984), pp. 154, 327.  See also Valerie Wayne, ed., The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), p. 19.  Wayne provides a thoughtful survey of Stephen Gosson’s dictum in The Schoole of Abuse that merely attending the public theatre as a spectator was likely to impinge upon a woman’s good reputation.  The fact that she was gazed upon: “ ‘symbolically whored by the gaze of many men’ ” was exacerbated by the fact that she was also able to  “ ‘exercise autonomy’ ” and was “ ‘licensed to look — in ways that problematized women’s status as object within patriarchy’ ”.  Wayne directly quotes Jean Howard’s “Scripts and/versus Playhouses: Ideological Production and the Renaissance Public Stage” in Valerie Wayne, ed., as above.

[5]See Valerie Traub, “Desire and the Difference it Makes” in Valerie Wayne, ed., 1991, p. 82.  Traub cites Jean Howard’s focus on Queen Titania’s humiliation in being coupled with an ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This, from Howard’s “Crossdressing, the theatre,, and gender struggle in early modern England” in Shakespeare Quarterly 39, 1988, p. 432. 

[6]Please see R.S. White’s, “Jephtha’s Daughter: Men’s Construction of Women in Hamlet” in Hilary Fraser and R.S. White, eds, Constructing Gender: Feminism and Literary Studies (Nedlands, Western Australia: The University of Western Australia, 1994), pp. 73-74.  Among many other examples observed in the mainstream of recent scholarship, R.S. White points to Claudius’s description of his new marriage: that he has “taken to wife (1.2.14) Gertrude, as if she were a chattel in the hands of her husband”.  There are many other examples of this kind of denigration in Hamlet alone, and in the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays women are seen by men as a convenient hook upon which to hang even their own frailties with a faint shudder.

[7]Ann Blake, “Boy Actors in Women’s Roles” in R.S. White, Charles Edelman and Christopher Wortham, eds., Shakespeare: Readers, Audiences, Players (Nedlands, Western Australia: The University of Western Australia Press, 1998 [from a paper presented at the ANZSA conference, February, 1994]), p. 121.

[8]An aspect of the Elizabethan tendency to use the Aristotelian world-view on man’s relative perfection in self, and in representation.  See Chapter One.

[9]Blake, p. 5, refers partly to William Robertson Davies, Shakespeare’s Boy Actors (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1939).

[10]Though this was not always so.  The continental Catholic church was at this same time allowing boys—future patriarchs themselves—to be castrated in their efforts to exclude women’s voices from the increasing richness and diversity of the sacred-music, which now required four distinct parts.  Previously, adult falsetti had attempted to take the soprano and alto parts.  In the 1590s, castrati began to perform these same parts because their voices were so utterly natural to their emasculated state.  This to a degree and a quality of voice that the falsetti could never have achieved.  Though this cruel practice was forbidden by a papal law, the radical custom continued until the late 19th century.

[11]Robert Kimbrough, Shakespeare and the Art of Humankindness: The Essay Toward Androgyny (New Jersey and London: Humanities Press International, 1990), p. 226, nn. 8-14.

[12]Kimbrough, p. 105.

[13]Phyllis Rackin, “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage.” PMLA 102, 1987, pp. 29-41.  Kimbrough also specifies this view as seminal in this discussion.  See also Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975) and Valerie Traub, “Desire and the Differences it Makes” in Valerie Wayne, ed., The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), p. 101.  Traub provides a strong argument for a notionally darker side to Shakespeare’s choice of Ganymede as the name for Rosalind’s disguised-self.  In the cultural understanding of men in the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, Traub argues: “educated Britons through Greek and Latin literature and European painting” would clearly have seen “the young lover of Zeus” in conjunction with the name.  In strengthening her claim, Traub reports that “James Saslow and Stephen Orgel agree: ‘the name Ganymede [could not] be used in the Renaissance without this connotation’ ”.  See, particularly, Stephen Orgel “Nobody’s perfect: or why did the English stage take boys for women?” in South Atlantic Quarterly 88, 1989, pp. 7-27.  Also, James Saslow’s copiously illustrated and carefully researched, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986); Penny Gay, As She Likes It: Shakespeare’s Unruly Women (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 48-51, 188-189, nn. 1-3.

[14]Kimbrough, pp. 17-18.

[15]See Jonathan Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 107, 269, n. 10.  Goldberg quotes Phyllis Rackin, 1987, pp. 31, 35.

[16]Kimbrough, p. 108.

[17]Elaine Aston and George Savona, Theatre as Sign-System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 160.

[18]Lesley Anne Soule, “Subverting Rosalind: Cocky Ros in the Forest of Arden” in New Theatre Quarterly 7, 1991, p. 126.  Soule refers to Ellen Terry’s notion of As You Like It as a “beautiful idyll”: the most frequently performed of Shakespeare’s plays at Stratford-upon-Avon.

[19]An illustration of this lies in Henry Fuseli’s painting, Titania’s Awakening of 1785-1790.  In the style of the times, Titania is portrayed as a very large, junoesque figure in whom no trace of sexual ambiguity may be discerned.  It is definitely possible to surmise that she is Fuseli’s vision of an ideal woman.  That is to say, in terms of her appearance, at least.  The surrounding figures of the fairies are utterly disparate in size to any Shakespearian practicality of stage display or enactment, adding the furthest degree of alterity in perception from the original that one possibly can imagine.

[20]Soule, p. 126, after John Dover Wilson, Shakespeare’s Happy Comedies (London, 1962), p. 162.  A pair of illustrations on p. 129 of her paper, above, illustrates this where words might be seen to fail.

[21]Soule, p. 126, after Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, Vol. I (London, 1951), p. 282.

[22]Soule, p. 126.

[23]Soule, p. 127.

[24]Soule, p. 127.

[25]Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 191.  Agnes Latham, ed., n. 81, p. 90, adds that Shakespeare knew this “saw of might” from Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, 1, 176, before it was even printed, in 1598.  See also John Edwin Bakeless, The Tragical History of Christopher Marlowe (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1964 [1942]), Vol. II, Chap. 16.  Leggatt, particularly, carefully studies the amazing array of character-types among the folk in Arden Forest.

[26]The perceptions of the Elizabethans in this respect would be a fit subject for a very careful study in the future.

[27]Leggatt, pp. 191-192.

[28]Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (1612).  See E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1923), IV, p. 252. 

[29]Here, I use the OED’s word that denotes “a thing having a particular form or character”.

[30]This error was quite simply ‘corrected’ in BBC Television’s 1978 production of the play by requiring le Beau to specify the reverse.  In this performance, Helen Mirren, Richard Pasco, Brian Stirner, Angharad Rees and James Bolam made a fair fist of the major parts of the play that so concerns me.  In the long exchanges between the disguised Rosalind and Orlando, and, separately, Oliver, the teasing, and the half-revelations of Ganymede’s real identity were delicately handled. 

[31]Please see Agnes Latham, ed. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: As You Like It (London and New York: Routledge, 1991 [London: Methuen, 1975]), pp. xxix-xxx, 22, 28, 107-108.  It might be said that a purely ludic element in the play would have been created by making the shorter girl the pageboy, copiously armed with “curtle-axe” and “boar-spear” as the traditional protector, but this, Latham’s considerable research throws into doubt.  She takes into account the strong possibility of editors& and compositors& errors in the play-texts of the period—a very common phenomenon—that might have confused the picture as to the words used in the stage-directions: that is to say, either “taller”, or its antonym, “shorter” being correct, but finally rejects the latter.  Latham’s study also uncovers “Leonato’s short daughter” in Much Ado About Nothing, 1. 1. 116, as a similar dramatic situation that was imposed on the author by the actual boys that he had available simply to stage the play at that particular time.  This returns the discourse to the practical adaptations that any author might well have made when suddenly an apprentice actor outgrew the kirtle.  Please also see my footnote to G.E. Bentley, 1984, p. 113, n. 1, and T.W. Baldwin, 1927, p. 227 et seq, above, for some very careful observations on the identities of the young players that are largely based upon authentic records from the time in question.  

[32]Latham, pp. xi and 37.  This, though she uses “Enter Rosalind for Ganymede” in her introduction while speculating on the origins of the various texts and the quality thereof; but in the opening of Act 2, Scene 4, the stage-direction appears as “Enter Rosalind as Ganymede”.  Of great interest, Oliver, pp. 357 and 432 in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of the same play, quotes:  “Enter Rosalind for Ganymed”.  Like Latham, he does not actually specify the source of the text-version for this stage-direction, or, conversely, the origin of the direction where it appears in his play-text, which reveals: “Enter Rosalind as Ganymede”.

[33]Latham, p. xi.

[34]Latham, p. x.

[35]Peter Alexander, ed., Complete Works of William Shakespeare: As You Like It (Glasgow: Harper Collins, 1994 [1951]), p. 285.

[36]Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, eds., William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 635.

[37]We have not only compositor’s errors to deal with in this.  It is widely known that the texts of Shakespeare’s plays were highly variable and even unstable in the author’s own time.  One of the major factors that Shakespeare would have faced would have been the previously-mentioned problem of the actors available at any one time.  There is solid evidence that this sometimes required actual textual changes to accommodate the appearance or the skill of the player for any one part.  Again, see T.W. Baldwin, p. 227 et seq.

[38]Latham, p. lxxiii.  According to P.H. Parry, quoting John Marston, the appearance of Marston’s Antonio and Mellida in roughly the same period as As You Like It saw the birth of the accepted idea of the word, personation, being a noun and the phrase, to personate, being a dramatic act.  A point strongly made in Chapter One—after Andrew Gurr and Katherine Kelly—is that the developing complexity of the plays of that period simply required, as John Marston stated the case>

a double awareness, of actor and of what is represented, upon us, so as to make it impossible for us in any naïve fashion to think truly done before us what we see the actors personate.

Parry, p. 104, studies John Marston, Antonio and Mellida, G.K. Hunter, ed., (London: Regents Renaissance Drama Series, 1965).  Please also see my reference to Katherine Kelly, “The Queen’s Two Bodies: Shakespeare’s Boy Actress in Breeches” in Theatre Journal 42, 1990, p. 82.  Kelly, following Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearian Stage, 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 98, provides a clear distillation of this a developing process and as a historical bench-mark.

[39]Kelly, p. 85.

[40]A stage direction in John Marston’s  Antonio and Mellida, 1599, encompasses lines 21-80.  Dympna Callaghan uses this as one of the major factors in her study of the tacit awareness of the players and audiences of those times of the principle of male castration: a reality in mainland Europe; an unspoken threat in England.  P.H. Parry also describes the youthful players coming out onto the stage as having their “parts in their hands”.  Openly, they discuss the play and its difficulties.  Blatant in its reference to the mechanism of drama in the audience’s clear view of what is happening at the moment, their “schemata of extrinsic and intrinsic norms”—that which has been extracted from film-theory’s parallel-world in the scholarship of David Bordwell—is utterly clear in this.  As an example of contemporary metatheatrical comment, this can have few equals.  I will hazard that the long-standing tradition for the inclusion of a play-within-the-play would approach this representation in terms of the sense of sheer audience-awareness, but in this example it is possible to guess that some of the sharper wits in the audience would irresistibly have been inspired to laugh by the idea of the young actors “holding their parts in their hands”: a picture clearly available to those wishing to see it, and one not missed by Dympna Callaghan in her paper, “The Castrators Song”.  Underlying this is the shivery-joke that Antonio’s dilemma might well have been solved with a swift knife-stroke! 

[41]Parry, p. 105, n. 23, influenced by Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

[42]Michael Shapiro, “Lady Mary Wroth Describes a ‘Boy Actress’ ” in Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England 4, 1989, p. 192.

[43]J.L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. 23.

[44]Roger Fowler, Linguistic Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 [1986]), pp. 104-106.  Fowler summarizes the intention of speech acts as “not just saying something but doing something through speaking”.

[45]OED.  On the other hand, the preposition and conjunction, “for”, which, in its most ancient Germanic origin meant “before”: creates a clear inference that it may also mean “in front of, in or into the presence of” or, more likely, “representing, as representative of”, in this case.  Thus, “in the place of”, which is what “as” may be seen commonly to mean: “for” was used as a representational, declarative statement by the author.  It is a locutionary speech-act for the benefit of the players in his company, and for all of those players who were to follow them.

[46]See J.L. Austin and the research of J.R. Searle, Speech Acts (London: Cambridge University Press, 1969), and Searle’s “A classification of illocutionary acts” in Language in Society 5, 1976. David Crystal’s The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994 [1987]), p. 121 is particularly useful in this linguistic area; and Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990 [1983]) may usefully be added to this list because of its deconstructional bent.

[47]Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism (London: Routledge, 1989 [1983]), p. 111.

[48]Though it is definitely possible to surmise that a company without a taller, fair boy, and a shorter, dark boy to take these respective parts, might very well have re-written those lines to their own convenience.  Or, if the company’s most capable boy-actor was the shorter, or darker, then this would have supplied a strongly ludic element in his role as protector?  See Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 104.  Shapiro studies the “dual consciousness” that was necessary convincingly to convey both serious and comedic action using actors who were all of one sex, yet must have varied radically in size.  He cites historical records of boys who gained considerable fame between the ages of ten and fifteen years, some acting in the childrens’ companies, others who were apprentices in the adult companies.

[49]Studied elsewhere, this appears as almost as vital an inspiration for the lines as any other, but the creation of the androgyne element is clear and inescapable and by far the most important in this context. Similarly, significant statements in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream refer to the relative heights and colourations of two of Shakespeare’s apprentice-actors and these are still remnant in the actual words that each speaks with the other.  In both of these cases, other characters in the plays confirm the smallness and youthfulness of such participants as Rosalind and Celia, Hermia, Helena and Maria.  Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays with both the acting skill and the physical characteristics of the players that he had to hand at any particular time.

[50]Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare&s England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 145.

[51]Smith, p. 146-147.

[52]Cynthia Marshall, “The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As You Like It” in Shakespeare Quarterly 49, 1998, p. 378.

[53]Marshall, p. 380.  This, partly after Susanne Wofford&s paper, “ ‘To You I Give Myself, For I Am Yours’: Erotic Performance and Theatrical Performatives in As You Like It” in Russ McDonald, ed., Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994, pp. 147-169.

[54]Again, please see Aston and Savona, p. 160.

[55]Soule, p. 128.

[56]Soule, p. 129.

[57]In Chapter One, and in Phyllis Rackin, “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage” in PMLA 102, 1987, pp. 29-41, and Bruce Smith, p. 35.

[58]Soule, p. 131.

[59]Soule, p. 131.

[60]Soule, p. 134, after Catherine Belsey, “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies” in J. Drakakis, ed., Alternative Shakespeares (London, 1985), pp. 166-190.

[61]Eric Partridge, Shakespeare’s Bawdy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968 [1947]).

[62]Dover Wilson, p. 251.

[63]Partridge, pp. 218-219.

[64]See Dover Wilson’s classification system, pp. 70, 252-255, 273.

[65]Soule, p. 127.

[66]Smith, p. 148, writes: “Several feminist critics have taken the same line and suggested that homosexual titillation was always a factor in a society where men were writing and acting plays primarily for other men.  Young male actors dressed as women become, in this view, a licensed way of arousing and satisfying homosexual desire.  Smith also directs his reader to Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters, pp. 9-36; Laura Levine, “Men in Women’s Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization from 1579 to 1642” in Criticism 28, 1986, pp. 121-143; Jean Howard, “Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England” in Shakespeare Quarterly 39, 1988, pp. 418-442; Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety [forthcoming in 2000].

[67]Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespeare’s Drama (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 107-108.

[68]Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearian Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), p. 123.  See also Robert Kimbrough, p. 107, in his focus on The Merchant of Venice, 3.4.60-71: this, in the reference to “mincing steps” and the “prettier fellow”.  This also forms a link with Chapter Two.  Particularly, “burlesque” is not specifically an American term, except where it is used in connection with the stage-use of low-comedy in song and dance routines, with partial nudity, once popular in the United States.  M.H. Abrams defines the primary meaning of this — in this case — as “an incongruous imitation”, then also as “parody” and “travesty”.  However, Shapiro appears to be using the word, “burlesque” to describe the particularly American, comedic, theatrical genre: a manifestation of that style, at least, in these instances.  See M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th edn. (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1993 [1941]), pp. 17-19.

[69]Leggatt, p. 194.

[70]Smith, p. 146.  Smith uses the words “sexual aggressor” in this context, but this expression is perhaps too strong in the comedic sphere of As You Like It.

[71]Latham, p. xxx.

[72]Oliver, p. 366.

[73]William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix, 1632.

[74]The representation of Rosalind fainting at the sight of blood  might variously be seen as a natural weakness unquestioned by women themselves in Medieval and Renaissance times; or, as a quality of feminine fragility to be preferred by women in the Victorian age; or as a man-created slur—a damned, denigratory lie—as seen by women in the modern era.  Those who have seen female doctors and nurses in an emergency operating-theatre, up to their elbows in blood, yet utterly focused on saving a life, yes, and utterly detached from any feminine pity that might distract them from their purpose, will agree that women may do anything that they want to do.  Ultimately, we of the modern age know that, where the sheer strength of a man’s body is not required, and where the particular reproductive functions of men and women are not in consideration, women really can do anything that they want to do.

[75]Agnes Latham, ed., The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: As You Like It (London and New York: Routledge, 1991 [London: Methuen, 1975]), p. 110.  Latham, in a foot-note to line 159, points out that Samuel Johnson remarked upon this “slip” but did not decide what it meant!

[76]Oliver’s redemption causes the theme of love to turn the tale full-circle to the theme of love-rightfully-earned, and the process of female representation as a longed-for goal of the virtuous male made utterly clear in this.  This, in a traditional form that is actually far older than the medieval.  Very carefully, this discussion will side-step the thorny ground of a notional “courtly love” existing between Rosalind and Orlando.  The stylized and codified principles of such a formal idea have appeared as a largely nineteenth century invention.  See Mary Dove, “ ‘Swiche old lewd wordes’: Books about medieval love, medieval books about love and the medieval Book of Love” in Andrew Lynch and Philippa Maddern, eds., Venus and Mars: Engendering Love and War in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Perth: The University of Western Australia Press, 1995), pp. 12-13.  Dove throws considerable doubt on C.S Lewis’s scholarship on “courtly love”: that which culminated in his The Allegory of Love (1936).  See also, Roger Boase, The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love: A critical study of European scholarship (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977).

[77]Kelly, p. 92.

[78]Cymbeline is variously classed by scholars as a tragicomedy or a romance, the latter for its avoidance of realism.  What is important, here, is that there are grim moments exist in the lightest of comedies: as in As You Like It.  The point is well-made by Kelly that this is the single grim moment in all of Shakespeare where the half-revelation of a girl/boy’s identity is made in such a very dark and frightening manner and circumstance.

[79]An opinion in Jonathan Goldberg, 1992, pp. 107, 269, n. 8, largely following Katherine Kelly, p. 89.  Kelly, in particular, argues that “the revelation of the boy beneath the woman’s part is something that the play works to undo, charting a path from male immaturity to female maturity” in the same figure. This resonates with Robert Kimbrough’s 1990, p. 226, nn. 8-14, view, above, that Rosalind in disguise grows into a more mature and complete person. This, especially in the presence of Phebe.

[80]Blake, p. 5, commenting on William Robertson Davies, Shakespeare’s Boy Actors (1939, New York: Russell and Russell, 1964), p. 138.

[81]Blake, p. 5.

[82]Soule, p. 131.

[83]Leggatt, p. 204-205.

[84]Leggatt, p. 202.

[85]Alphonse Karr, Les Guépes (1849), p. vi. Plus ça change, plus cést la même chose.

[86]A.P. Riemer, Antic Fables> Patterns of Evasion in Shakespeare’s Comedies (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1980), p. 58.

[87]Kelly, p. 88.

[88]Aristotle, again.

[89]Gayle Whittier, “The Sublime Androgyne Motif in Three Shakespearian Works” in The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 19, 1989, pp. 185-210.

[90]Whittier, p. 209.

[91]The double-negative in “no more unhandsome” is extremely interesting.  The prologue-epilogue binary and the cohesions, beard, face (complexion), breath, are irresistible in increasing the sheer force of this sweetly playful farewell.  See David Mann, The Elizabethan Player: Contemporary stage representations (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 201.  Mann provides a pointed link between the fulminations of Stubbes and others of his ilk and the actual ease with which the viewing public viewed the young male actors who exploited his “ambiguity to upset and challenge” yet “charm the expectations of their beholders”.  Particularly, Mann defers to an unpublished PhD thesis by J.E. Teargarden (The University of Florida, 1957); Lisa Jardine, p. 29; and Sarah Maitland’s Vesta Tilley (London: Virago Press, 1986), p. 200.  Maitland, particularly, relates the transsexual display to the modern practice of single-shifted androgyny.

[92]Smith, p. 155.

[93]Mann, pp. 200-201, after H. Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare, 2nd Series, 1930.

[94]See David Bevington, “The Tempest and the Jacobean Court Masque” in David Bevington and Peter Holbrook, eds., The Politics of the Stuart Court Masque (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 238.  There is an excellent piece on the “genteel begging” that was constituted by the epilogue form of farewell: the example in As You Like It being a prime example.

[95]Parry, pp. 104-105.  Among the things of great interest that Antonio is required to say is: “I a voice to play a lady! I shall ne’er do it”.  See also, Callaghan, 1996, pp. 321-322 for a view that involves the implied fear of castration as a central meaning in the same scene.  Focusing on Antonio’s nervous laughter reveals the shared knowledge of the author, the players and the audience: that of the Continental custom for castrati in their operatic and dramatic traditions, as well as in the Roman Catholic church liturgy after, roughly, Palestrina.  Here, it is possible to deduce that a “boy” who played Antonio may well have passed puberty, and would therefore have great difficulty imitating the “lady”, in her vocal register at least.  The obvious implication that the knife could solve this problem is not merely a sub-text.  The corollary of this exists in the idea that the boy really was a boy with a piping treble voice.  This would double the fun in its evasion of the visible character-morph that the audience clearly could see.  See Peter Thomson, Shakespeare’s Theatre, 2nd edn. (London and New York: Routledge, 1992 [Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983]), p. 102. This, for a cogent view of how this latter “treble manikin” could very well have played this part to gales of laughter.

Mann, pp. 200-201.  In Mann’s words, Granville-Barker has insisted that “the boys simpered modestly on-stage”.  He also claimed that the “sexual attractiveness of the characters was not discussed until they had left”.  In view of this epilogue, Granville-Barker’s nineteenth-century attitudes seems completely ludicrous.

[96]Leggatt, p. 212.  In their sheer power, these words act like markers in the “lists of love”, if it is a medieval heritage that we wish to recall>

                              It is to be all made of sighs and tears ...
                              It is to be all made of faith and service ...
                              It is to be all made of fantasy,
                              All made of passion and all made of wishes,
                              All adoration, duty and observance,
                              All humbleness, all patience and impatience,
                              All purity, all trial, all observance;

It is here offered that a complete analysis of these fragments, if approached in a historical way, would fill a chapter by themselves.  Therefore, suffice it to say that they act as a set of rules that institutionalize love itself.  Love’s spontaneity takes second place to its standards.  Only in the words: “fantasy” and “impatience” does the truly human element emerge.  These are seen as “slips” which are themselves a strong link with the flesh-and-blood girl whose body gives way to a momentary “weakness” and faints in fear of her loved-one’s life as the blood-stained cloth is shown to her.  Silvius’s formal rules of love are, after all, still accepted in our own world, now.  In his speech, though, all of the play’s lines-of-progress begin to come together and the final resolution is not far away: this being, inevitably, the kind of resolution that everyone will not only understand, but applaud.  Thus not only the easily-recognizable content of the story, but the conventionalized manner of its exposition, is of vital interest.

[97]This, in a striking parallel to Macbeth’s:

                              Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
                              That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
                              And then is heard no more: it is a tale
                              Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
                              Signifying nothing.
                                                                           (Macbeth, 5.5.24-28)

[98]Leggatt, p. 213.

Continue to Chapter 4




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