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As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the First Folio, 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility. As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle's court, accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone the court jester, to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden. Historically, critical response has varied, with some critics finding the work of lesser quality than other Shakespearean works and some finding the play a work of great merit.
The play features one of Shakespeare's most famous and oft-quoted speeches, "All the world's a stage", and is the origin of the phrase "too much of a good thing". The play remains a favourite among audiences and has been adapted for radio, film, and musical theatre.
The Court of Duke Frederick:
The Household of the deceased Sir Rowland de Boys:
The Exiled Court of Duke Senior in the Forest of Arden:
Country folk in the Forest of Arden:
The play is set in a duchy in France, but most of the action takes place in a location called the Forest of Arden, which may be intended for the Ardennes in Belgium, but sometimes is identified with Arden, Warwickshire, near Shakespeare's home town.
Frederick has usurped the Duchy and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior. The Duke's daughter, Rosalind, has been permitted to remain at court because she is the closest friend and cousin of Frederick's only child, Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman of the kingdom who at first sight has fallen in love with Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Frederick becomes angry and banishes Rosalind from court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee together accompanied by the jester, Touchstone, with Rosalind disguised as a young man and Celia disguised as a poor lady.
Rosalind, now disguised as Ganymede ("Jove's own page"), and Celia, now disguised as Aliena (Latin for "stranger"), arrive in the Arcadian Forest of Arden, where the exiled Duke now lives with some supporters, including "the melancholy Jaques," a malcontent figure, who is introduced to us weeping over the slaughter of a deer. "Ganymede" and "Aliena" do not immediately encounter the Duke and his companions, as they meet up with Corin, an impoverished tenant, and offer to buy his master's rude cottage.
Orlando and his servant Adam (a role possibly played by Shakespeare, though this story is said to be apocryphal), meanwhile, find the Duke and his men and are soon living with them and posting simplistic love poems for Rosalind on the trees. Rosalind, also in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Ganymede says "he" will take Rosalind's place and "he" and Orlando can act out their relationship.
The shepherdess, Phebe, with whom Silvius is in love, has fallen in love with Ganymede (Rosalind in disguise), though "Ganymede" continually shows that "he" is not interested in Phebe. Touchstone, meanwhile, has fallen in love with the dull-witted shepherdess, Audrey, and tries to woo her, but eventually is forced to be married first. William, another shepherd, attempts to marry Audrey as well, but is stopped by Touchstone, who threatens to kill him "a hundred and fifty ways".
Finally, Silvius, Phebe, Ganymede, and Orlando are brought together in an argument with each other over who will get whom. Ganymede says he will solve the problem, having Orlando promise to marry Rosalind, and Phebe promise to marry Silvius if she cannot marry Ganymede.
Orlando sees Oliver in the forest and rescues him from a lioness, causing Oliver to repent for mistreating Orlando. Oliver meets Aliena (Celia's false identity) and falls in love with her, and they agree to marry. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey all are married in the final scene, after which they discover that Frederick also has repented his faults, deciding to restore his legitimate brother to the dukedom and adopt a religious life. Jaques, ever melancholic, declines their invitation to return to the court preferring to stay in the forest and to adopt a religious life as well. Rosalind speaks an epilogue to the audience, commending the play to both men and women in the audience.
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The direct and immediate source of As You Like It is Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie, first published in 1590. Lodge's story is based upon "The Tale of Gamelyn", wrongly attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer and sometimes printed among his Canterbury Tales. Although it was first printed in 1721,"Gamelyin" must have existed in manuscript form in Shakespeare's time. It is doubtful that Shakespeare had read it, but Lodge must have built his pastoral romance on the foundation of "Gamelyin", giving it a pastoral setting and the artificial sentimental vein, much in fashion at the time. The tale provided the intertwined plots, and suggested all the characters except Touchstone and Jaques.
Two other minor debts have been suggested by some. The first is Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion, a poetic description of England, but there is no evidence that the poem was written before As You Like It. The second suggested source is The Historie of Orlando Furioso by Robert Greene, acted about 1592. It is suggested that Shakespeare derived the idea of Orlando's carving his lady's name on barks of trees from this play, but a lover carving love-poems on barks of trees was already in Lodge's tale.
As You Like It was first printed in the collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, known as the First Folio, during 1623. No copy of it in Quarto exists, for the play is mentioned by the printers of the first Folio among those which 'are not formerly entered to other men'. By means of evidences, external and internal, the date of composition of the play has been approximately fixed at a period between the end of 1598 and the middle of 1600.
As You Like It was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 4 August 1600 as a work which was "to be stayed". i.e., not published till the Stationers' Company were satisfied that the publisher in whose name the work was entered was the undisputed owner of the copyright. All this evidence implies that the play was in existence in some shape or other before 1600.
One thing seems certain that this play must have been written after 1598. Otherwise Francis Meres should have mentioned it in his Palladis Tamia, which was published in 1598, but it is not noted.
Thomas Morley's First Book of Ayres, published in London in 1600 contains a musical setting for the song "It was a Lover and his Lass" from As You Like It.
Thus the evidence establishes the two limits September 1598 and August 1600, within which the play must have been written.
In Act III Sc V Phebe refers to the famous line 'Whoever loved that loved not at first sight' taken from Marlowe's "Hero and Leander" which was published in 1598. Morever, these words in Act IV Sc I, in Rosalind's speech 'I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain' may refer to an Alabaster image of Diana which was set up in Cheapside in 1598. Therefore, on the basis of these references, it seems certain that As You Like It must have been composed in 1599 or 1600 at the least.
Arden is most likely a toponym for a forest close to Shakespeare's home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The Oxford Shakespeare edition rationalises this geographical discrepancy by assuming that 'Arden' is an anglicisation of the forested Ardennes region of France (where Lodge set his tale) and alters the spelling to reflect this. Other editions keep Shakespeare's 'Arden' spelling, since it can be argued that the pastoral mode depicts a fantastical world in which geographical details are irrelevant. The Arden edition of Shakespeare makes the suggestion that the name 'Arden' comes from a combination of the classical region of Arcadia and the biblical garden of Eden, as there is a strong interplay of classical and Christian belief systems and philosophies within the play. Arden was also the maiden name of Shakespeare's Mother and her family home is located within the Forest of Arden.
There is no certain record of any performance before the Restoration. There is one possible performance, however, at Wilton House in Wiltshire, the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke. William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke hosted James I and his Court at Wilton House from October to December 1603, while Jacobean London was suffering an epidemic of bubonic plague. The King's Men were paid £30 to come to Wilton House and perform for the King and Court on 2 December 1603. A Herbert family tradition holds that the play acted that night was As You Like It.
During the English Restoration, the King's Company was assigned the play by royal warrant in 1669. It is known to have been acted at Drury Lane in 1723, in an adapted form called Love in a Forest; Colley Cibber played Jaques. Another Drury Lane production seventeen years later returned to the Shakespearean text (1740).
Notable recent productions of As You Like It include the 1936 Old Vic Theatre production starring Edith Evans and the 1961 Shakespeare Memorial Theatre production starring Vanessa Redgrave. The longest running Broadway production starred Katharine Hepburn as Rosalind, Cloris Leachman as Celia, William Prince as Orlando, and Ernest Thesiger as Jacques, and was directed by Michael Benthall. It ran for 145 performances in 1950. Another notable production was at the 2005 Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, which was set in the 1960s and featured Shakespeare's lyrics set to music written by Barenaked Ladies.
Scholars have long disagreed about the merits of the play. Critics from Samuel Johnson to George Bernard Shaw have complained that As You Like It is lacking in the high artistry of which Shakespeare was capable. Shaw liked to think that Shakespeare wrote the play as a mere crowdpleaser, and signalled his own middling opinion of the work by calling it As You Like It – as if the playwright did not agree. Tolstoy objected to the immorality of the characters and Touchstone's constant clowning. Other critics have found great literary value in the work. Harold Bloom has written that Rosalind is among Shakespeare's greatest and most fully realised female characters. Despite critical disputes, the play remains one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies.
The elaborate gender reversals in the story are of particular interest to modern critics interested in gender studies. Through four acts of the play, Rosalind – who in Shakespeare's day would have been played by a boy – finds it necessary to disguise herself as a boy, whereupon the rustic Phebe (also played by a boy), becomes infatuated with this "Ganymede", a name with homoerotic overtones. In fact, the epilogue, spoken by Rosalind to the audience, states rather explicitly that she (or at least the actor playing her) is not a woman.
Love is the central theme of As You Like It, like other romantic comedies of Shakespeare. Following the tradition of a romantic comedy, As You Like It is a tale of love manifested in its varied forms. In many of the love-stories, it is love at first sight. This principle of 'love at first sight' is seen in the love-stories of Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver, as well as Phebe and Ganymede. The love-story of Audrey and Touchstone is a parody of romantic love. Another form of love is between women, as in Rosalind and Celia's deep bond.
This is a significant theme of this play. Frederick usurps the legitimate place of his elder brother Duke Senior and forces him to flee for his life. Oliver de Boys usurps the rights of his younger brother Orlando and treats him so ungenerously as to compel him to seek his fortune elsewhere. Both outcasts take refuge in the forest, where justice is restored "through nature".
The play highlights the theme of usurpation and injustice on the property of others. However, it ends happily with reconciliation and forgiveness. Duke Frederick is converted by a hermit and he restores the dukedom to Duke Senior who, in his turn, restores the forest to the deer. Oliver also undergoes a change of heart and learns to love Orlando. Thus, the play ends on a note of rejoicing and merry-making.
Most of the play is a celebration of life in the country. The inhabitants of Duke Frederick's court suffer the perils of arbitrary injustice and even threats of death; the courtiers who followed the old duke into forced exile in the "desert city" of the forest are, by contrast, experiencing liberty but at the expense of some easily borne discomfort. (Act II, scene 1). A passage between Touchstone, the court jester, and shepherd Corin establishes the contentment to be found in country life, compared with the perfumed, mannered life at court. (Act III, scene 2). At the end of the play the usurping duke and the exiled courtier Jacques both elect to remain within the forest.
University of Wisconsin professor Richard Knowles, the editor of the 1977 New Variorum edition of this play, described in his article "Myth and Type in As You Like It" how the play contains mythological references in particular to Eden and to Hercules.
As You Like It is known as a musical comedy because of the number of songs in the play. There are more songs in it than in any other play of Shakespeare. These songs and music are incorporated in the course of action that takes place in the forest of Arden, as shown below:
Shakespeare uses prose for about 55% of the text, with the remainder in verse. Shaw explains that as used here the prose, "brief [and] sure", drives the meaning and is part of the play's appeal, whereas some of its verse he regards only as ornament. The dramatic convention of the time required the courtly characters to use verse, and the country characters prose, but in As You Like It this convention is deliberately overturned. For example Rosalind, although the daughter of a Duke and thinking and behaving in high poetic style, actually speaks in prose as this is the "natural and suitable" way of expressing the directness of her character; the love scenes between Rosalind and Orlando are in prose (3.2.277). In a deliberate contrast, Silvius describes his love for Phebe in verse (2.4.20). As a mood of a character changes, they may change from one medium to the other in mid-scene. Indeed, in a metafictional touch, Jaques cuts off a prose dialogue with Rosalind because Orlando enters, using verse: "Nay then, God be with you, an you talk in blank verse" (4.1.29). The defiance of convention is continued when the epilogue is given in prose.
Act II, Scene 7, features one of Shakespeare's most famous monologues, spoken by Jaques, which begins:
"All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;And one man in his time plays many parts ..."
They have their exits and their entrances,
The arresting imagery and figures of speech in the monologue develop the central metaphor: a person's lifespan is a play in seven acts. These acts, or "seven ages", begin with "the infant/Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" and work through six further vivid verbal sketches, culminating in "second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything".
The main theme of pastoral comedy is love in all its guises in a rustic setting, the genuine love embodied by Rosalind contrasted with the sentimentalised affectations of Orlando, and the improbable happenings that set the urban courtiers wandering to find exile, solace or freedom in a woodland setting are no more unrealistic than the string of chance encounters in the forest, provoking witty banter, which require no subtleties of plotting and character development. The main action of the first act is no more than a wrestling match, and the action throughout is often interrupted by a song. At the end, Hymen himself arrives to bless the wedding festivities.
William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It clearly falls into the Pastoral Romance genre; but Shakespeare does not merely use the genre, he develops it. Shakespeare also used the Pastoral genre in As You Like It to ‘cast a critical eye on social practices that produce injustice and unhappiness, and to make fun of anti-social, foolish and self-destructive behaviour’, most obviously through the theme of love, culminating in a rejection of the notion of the traditional Petrarchan lovers.
The stock characters in conventional situations were familiar material for Shakespeare and his audience; it is the light repartee and the breadth of the subjects that provide texts for wit that put a fresh stamp on the proceedings. At the centre the optimism of Rosalind is contrasted with the misogynistic melancholy of Jaques. Shakespeare would take up some of the themes more seriously later: the usurper Duke and the Duke in exile provide themes for Measure for Measure and The Tempest.
The play, turning upon chance encounters in the forest and several entangled love affairs in a serene pastoral setting, has been found, by many directors, to be especially effective staged outdoors in a park or similar site.
Thomas Morley (c. 1557–1602) composed music for "It was a Lover and His Lass"; he lived in the same parish as Shakespeare, and at times composed music for Shakespeare's plays.
Mark Nichols wrote a musical version of the play in 2007.
Michael John Trotta composed a setting of "Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind" for choir in 2013.
As You Like It was Laurence Olivier's first Shakespeare film. Olivier, however, served only in an acting capacity (performing the role of Orlando), rather than producing or directing the film. Made in England and released in 1936, As You Like It also starred director Paul Czinner's wife Elizabeth Bergner, who played Rosalind with a thick German accent. Although it is much less "Hollywoody" than the versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet made at about the same time, and although its cast was made up entirely of Shakespearean actors, it was not considered a success by either Olivier or the critics.
In 1992, Christine Edzard made another film adaptation of the play. It features James Fox, Cyril Cusack, Andrew Tiernan, Griff Rhys Jones, and Ewen Bremner. The action is transposed to a modern and bleak urban world.
A film version of As You Like It, set in 19th-century Japan, was released in 2006, directed by Kenneth Branagh. It stars Bryce Dallas Howard, David Oyelowo, Romola Garai, Alfred Molina, Kevin Kline, and Brian Blessed. Although it was actually made for cinemas, it was released to theatres only in Europe, and had its U.S. premiere on HBO in 2007. And although it was not a made-for-television film, Kevin Kline won a Screen Actors Guild award for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries, for his performance as Jaques.
Daniel Aquisito and Sammy Buck adapted this play into an 1980s themed musical entitled Like You Like It.
A manga-style graphic novel was released in January 2009 by Self-Made Hero publishers, where the setting of the Forest of Arden has been transposed to modern-day China. The story has been adapted by Richard Appignanesi and features the illustrations of Chie Kutsuwada.
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