Reading Shakespeare's As You Like It
Reading Shakespeare's As You Like It

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Reading Shakespeare's As You Like It

1 Opinions about As You Like It

The poet W. H. Auden declared that ‘Of all Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It is the greatest paean to civilization’, singling out Rosalind as ‘a triumph of civilization’ (Auden, 2002, p. 149). One modern editor of the play, Juliet Dusinberre, praises the ‘phenomenal riches’ of its language; another, Michael Hattaway, stresses As You Like It’s complexity, arguing that it is full of ‘paradoxes and contradictions that can be turned into a multitude of coexistent interpretations’ (Shakespeare, 2009, p. 4; Shakespeare, 2006, p. 1). The critic Stephen Greenblatt describes it as one of Shakespeare’s ‘sunniest’ comedies (Greenblatt, 2005, p. 290). More elaborately, C. L. Barber calls it ‘the most perfect expression Shakespeare or anyone else achieved’ of the traditional ‘rhythms of life’ and of the contrast between the holiday and the everyday (Barber, 1972 [1959], p. 238).

Not everyone has been so positive. Frank Kermode thinks that ‘more than most of Shakespeare As You Like It has slipped over our horizon; it has too much to say about what was once intimately interesting and now is not’ (Kermode, 2001, p. 82). James Shapiro notes that none of Shakespeare’s contemporaries is known to have praised the play and speculates that this may have been because ‘it was not only of its time but also ahead of it’ in the unusual demands it made of its audiences: it is dominated by long conversations about the nature of love and pastoral characters; it can be said to lack an overtly exciting plot or even ‘drama’ in the conventional sense of the word (Shapiro, 2005, p. 229).

Following this brief course might not lead you to endorse fully any of these views. It will, however, help you take a well-informed view of them. When you have worked through the material that follows, and analysed a sequence of key moments from the play, you might like to return to this opening section and reconsider the opinions of Auden, Dusinberre and the rest in the light of what you have learned.

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