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

3 Language and role-play

Though Rosalind, the main character in As You Like It, has no soliloquies (speeches to the audience when she is alone on stage) until the epilogue of the play, it is her voice, like Hamlet’s in Hamlet, that dominates in the performance. According to the Open Source Shakespeare website, she has 201 speeches; the closest to this is Orlando, with 120, while Jaques has only 57 (Open Source Shakespeare (n.d.) As You Like It [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ). That Rosalind does not soliloquise tells us important things about her role and the temperature of the play as a whole. Rosalind’s role is dialogic and educational: she is typically talking to someone about something (or someone), and often with an agenda. Consider the following exchange with Jaques in Act 4, Scene 1, where Rosalind, in her persona as ‘Ganymede’, quizzes him about his melancholy:

JAQUES

Why, ‘tis good to be sad and say nothing.

ROSALIND

Why then, ‘tis good to be a post.

JAQUES

I have […] a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

ROSALIND

A traveller! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s. Then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

 

This exchange stresses Jaques’s comic self-importance as an outsider. Rosalind punctures his conceit first by the ironic, proverbial one-liner, ‘’tis good to be a post’. Where Jaques pretentiously presents his sadness as a product of his unique specialness, Rosalind offers the commonsensical thought that he is miserable because he has sold his land to see other men’s. She suggests that he has traded ‘rich eyes’ for ‘poor hands’: travel only empties the pocket. In the workaday perspective that is never far from the surface of the play, Rosalind insists on the material value of land over the less obvious benefits Jaques attributes to his roving temperament. And she does this in a distinctive, bantering prose style, which is one of the most enjoyable features of As You Like It.

Rosalind’s role is partly a product of this manner of speaking, this prose idiom that has the virtue of cutting through pretension while also suggesting that all characters, and the audience, still have much to learn.

Activity 4

To develop this sense of role and language play, let’s now take a closer look at the scene, Act 4, Scene 1, from which this exchange comes. As we’ve mentioned, AsYou Like It is notorious for its long conversations with little plot development. Most of this scene is a conversation of this type between Orlando and Rosalind. Orlando fell in love with Rosalind before leaving Duke Frederick’s court. He has no idea that ‘Ganymede’, a young man he has come to know in the Forest of Arden, is in fact Rosalind in disguise. Rosalind and Celia, on the other hand, both know exactly who Orlando is, and Rosalind takes some delight in manipulating this one-sided situation to her advantage. In a previous scene, Act 3, Scene 2, she (or, rather, ‘Ganymede’) has suggested that it might be a good idea for Orlando to practise his chat-up lines on ‘Ganymede’ pretending that ‘he’ is Rosalind. In this scene, at a prearranged meeting for which Orlando is late, this plan is put into operation.

The scene as a whole consists of three overlapping exchanges:

  • A rather competitive little dialogue between Jaques and Rosalind
  • A long flirtation between Orlando and Rosalind
  • A concluding section in which Celia teases Rosalind

Celia is on stage with Rosalind throughout, but Rosalind is the dominant speaker. No single position remains unchallenged. Rosalind mocks Jaques and Orlando in turn, but is then mocked for her hypocrisy, while her realism about love is undone by her own admission ‘how many fathom deep I am in love!’. The framing of the conversation between Rosalind and Orlando by the exchanges with Jaques and Celia helps to complicate the sense we make of the characters within the scene.

You should now read the scene in full. As you read the text below, note down examples of the following different uses of language:

  • comical comparison
  • exaggeration
  • lists
  • poetry
  • promises
  • references to classical mythology
  • threats
  • wise sayings or proverbs
  • wooing

What are the effects of these different uses of language on the way we think about the characters in the scene?

Don’t forget that, throughout her conversation with Orlando, Rosalind is posing as a male character, ‘Ganymede’, and that ‘Ganymede’ is acting the part of ‘Rosalind’ to help Orlando with his wooing!

The numbered footnotes in the extract below can be accessed by clicking here: passage footnotes. If you would like to view text and footnotes together, you can do so on the Internet Shakespeare Editions website (with notes indicated by the green underlining).

Here is the scene in full:

Enter Rosalind, Celia, and Jaques.

JAQUES

I prithee, pretty youth, let me be better acquainted with thee.

ROSALIND

They say you are a melancholy fellow.

JAQUES

I am so. I do love it better than laughing.

ROSALIND

Those that are in extremity85 of either are abominable fellows and betray themselves to every modern censure86 worse than drunkards.

JAQUES

Why, ‘tis good to be sad87 and say nothing.                 

ROSALIND

Why then, ‘tis good to be a post.

JAQUES

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy88, which is emulation89; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical90; nor the courtier’s, which is proud91; nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious92; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic93; nor the lady’s, which is nice94; nor the lover’s, which is all these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects95, and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels96, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness97.

ROSALIND

A traveller! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s. Then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.

JAQUES

Yes, I have gained my experience.

Enter Orlando

ROSALIND

And your experience makes you sad. I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad – and to travel for it too!

ORLANDO

Good day and happiness, dear Rosalind!

JAQUES

Nay then, God b’wi’ you, an98 you talk in blank verse. 

ROSALIND

Farewell, Monsieur Traveller. Look you lisp99 and wear strange suits, disable100 all the benefits of your own country, be out of love with your nativity101,     and almost chide God for making you that countenance you are102, or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola103.

Jaques exits.

Why, how now, Orlando, where have you been all this while? You a lover? An104 you serve me such another trick, never come in my sight more.

ORLANDO

My fair Rosalind, I come within an hour of my promise.

ROSALIND

Break an hour’s promise in love? He that will divide a minute into a thousand parts and break but a part of the thousand105 part of a minute in the affairs of love, it may be said of him that Cupid106 hath clapped him o’ th’ shoulder, but I’ll warrant him heart-whole107.                                      

ORLANDO

Pardon me, dear Rosalind.

ROSALIND

Nay, an108 you be so tardy, come no more in my sight. I had as lief be wooed109 of a snail.

ORLANDO

Of a snail?

ROSALIND

Ay, of a snail, for though he comes slowly, he carries his house on his head – a better jointure110, I think, than you make a woman.  Besides, he brings his destiny with him.

ORLANDO

What’s that?

ROSALIND

Why, horns111, which such as you are fain112 to be beholding to your wives for. But he comes armed in his fortune113 and prevents114 the slander of his wife.

ORLANDO

Virtue is no hornmaker, and my Rosalind is virtuous.

ROSALIND

And I am your Rosalind.

CELIA

It pleases him to call you so, but he hath a Rosalind of a better leer115 than you.

ROSALIND

Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a holiday humour116, and like enough to consent. What would you say to me now an117 I were your very, very118 Rosalind?

ORLANDO

I would kiss before I spoke.

ROSALIND

Nay, you were better119 speak first, and when you were gravelled120 for lack of matter121, you might take occasion122 to kiss. Very good orators, when they are out123, they will spit; and for lovers lacking – God warn us! – matter, the cleanliest shift124 is to kiss.                                                        

ORLANDO

How if the kiss be denied?

ROSALIND

Then she puts you to entreaty125, and there begins new matter.

ORLANDO

Who could be out126, being before his beloved mistress?

ROSALIND

Marry127, that should you if I were your mistress128, or I should think my honesty ranker129 than my wit.                                                          

ORLANDO What, of my suit130?                                            

ROSALIND Not out of your apparel131, and yet out of your suit. Am not I your Rosalind?

ORLANDO

I take some joy132 to say you are because I would be talking133 of her.             

ROSALIND

Well, in her person, I say I will not have you.

ORLANDO

Then, in mine own person, I die.

ROSALIND

No, faith, die by attorney134. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died135 in his own person, videlicet136, in a love cause. Troilus137 had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander138, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned; and the foolish chroniclers of that age found it139 was Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies. Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

ORLANDO

I would not have my right140 Rosalind of this mind, for I protest141 her frown might kill me.

ROSALIND

By this hand, it will not kill a fly. But come, now I will be your Rosalind in a more coming-on disposition; and ask me what you will, I will grant it.

ORLANDO

Then love me, Rosalind.

ROSALIND

Yes, faith, will I, Fridays and Saturdays and all.

ORLANDO

And wilt thou have me?

ROSALIND

Ay, and twenty such.

ORLANDO

What sayest thou?

ROSALIND

Are you not good?

ORLANDO

I hope so.

ROSALIND

Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? – Come, sister, you shall be the priest, and marry us. – Give me your hand,Orlando. – What do you say, sister?

ORLANDO

Pray thee, marry us.

CELIA

I cannot say the words.

ROSALIND

You must begin ‘Will you, Orlando – ’

CELIA

Go to142. – Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?

ORLANDO

I will.

ROSALIND

Ay, but when?

ORLANDO

Why now, as fast as she can marry us.

ROSALIND

Then you must say, ‘I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.’

ORLANDO

I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.

ROSALIND

I might ask you for your commission143, but I do take thee,      

Orlando, for my husband. There’s a girl144 goes before the priest, and certainly a woman’s thought runs before her actions.

ORLANDO

So do all thoughts. They are winged.

ROSALIND

Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her.

ORLANDO

Forever and a day.

ROSALIND

Say ‘a day’ without the ‘ever.’ No, no, Orlando, men are April145 when they woo, December146 when they wed. Maids are May147 when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon148 over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain149, more newfangled150 than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing151, like Diana in the fountain152, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyena, and that when thou art inclined to sleep.

ORLANDO

But will my Rosalind do so?

ROSALIND

By my life, she will do as I do.

ORLANDO

Oh, but she is wise.

ROSALIND

Or else she could not have the wit to do this. The wiser, the waywarder. Make the doors153 upon a woman’s wit, and it will out154 at the casement155; shut that, and ‘twill out at the keyhole; stop that, ‘twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.

ORLANDO

A man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say ‘Wit, whither wilt?156‘      

ROSALIND

Nay, you might keep that check157 for it till you met your wife’s wit going to your neighbour’s bed.

ORLANDO

And what wit158 could wit have to excuse that?

ROSALIND

Marry159, to say she came to seek you there. You shall never take her160 without her answer unless you take her without her tongue. Oh, that woman that cannot make her fault her husband’s occasion161, let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it162 like a fool.

ORLANDO

For these two hours, Rosalind, I will leave thee.

ROSALIND

Alas, dear love, I cannot lack163 thee two hours.          

ORLANDO

I must attend the Duke at dinner164. By two o’clock I will be with thee again.

ROSALIND

Ay, go your ways165, go your ways. I knew what you would prove166. My friends told me as much, and I thought no less. That flattering tongue of yours won me. ‘Tis but one cast away167, and so, come, death! Two o’clock is your hour?

ORLANDO

Ay, sweet Rosalind.

ROSALIND

By my troth168, and in good earnest, and so God mend169 me, and by all pretty oaths that are not dangerous170, if you break one jot of your promise, or come one minute behind your hour, I will think you the most pathetical171 break-promise, and the most hollow lover, and the most unworthy of her you call Rosalind, that may be chosen out of the gross band172 of the unfaithful. Therefore beware my censure, and keep your promise.

ORLANDO

With no less religion173 than if thou wert indeed my Rosalind. So, adieu.

ROSALIND

Well, time is the old justice174 that examines all such offenders, and let time try. Adieu.

CELIA

You have simply misused175 our sex in your love-prate176. We must have your doublet and hose177 plucked over your head and show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest.

ROSALIND

O coz178, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love. But it cannot be sounded179; my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal.

CELIA

Or rather bottomless, that180 as fast as you pour affection in, it runs out.

ROSALIND

No, that same wicked bastard181 of Venus182, that was begot of thought183, conceived of spleen184, and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses185 everyone’s eyes because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I am in love. I’ll tell thee, Aliena, I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando. I’ll go find a shadow186 and sigh till he come.

CELIA

And I’ll sleep.

 

You should now have a list of examples of uses of language in the scene grouped under the following headings, along with any thoughts you have about their effect in the scene. Click ‘Reveal Discussion’.

  • Comical comparisons
  • Exaggeration
  • Lists
  • Poetry
  • Promises
  • References to classical mythology
  • Threats
  • Wise sayings or proverbs
  • Wooing

Discussion

Comical comparisons

My favourite comparison in this scene comes near the end when, after Orlando has left, Rosalind confesses to her sister that her affection ‘hath an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal.’ She could, of course, have expressed the depth of her love by comparing it to something in a more conventionally poetic way. The note of comedy, however, makes the moment seem more vivid and ‘realistic’, and is fully in tune with a scene in which Rosalind has, in attempting to bring Orlando’s romanticism down to earth, compared herself to a jealous ‘Barbary cock-pigeon’, a parrot, an ape, a hyena, and implicitly compared Orlando to a snail and the ‘sad’ and silent Jaques to a post.

Exaggeration

An alternative, somewhat technical term for exaggeration that Shakespeare himself would have recognised is ‘hyperbole’. There is a good example of this when Rosalind tells off Orlando for his lateness: she claims that somebody who ‘will divide a minute into a thousand parts and break but a part of the thousand part of a minute in the affairs of love’ is not a proper lover. When she says this, of course, she is posing as an imaginary version of herself: as far as Orlando is concerned, she is not Rosalind but ‘Ganymede’, a young man pretending to be Rosalind. This gives her the licence to act an exaggerated version of her own feelings – or, perhaps we should say, to indulge the excess of her own feelings. ‘Hyperbole’ of another, less knowing, kind is indulged in by the pompous Jaques and the naïvely romantic Orlando.

Lists

The first long list is Jaques’s rather arrogant list of different types of melancholy, the point of which is that none of them are relevant to him: he has a special kind of melancholy of his own. Rosalind’s debunking of Jaques’s pomposity involves a list of irritating melancholy things she ironically tells him to do: ‘wear strange suits’, ‘be out of love with your nativity’ and so on. Later on, she uses an even more extravagant and light-hearted list to debunk herself, to bring herself down from the pedestal on which Orlando has placed her, claiming that after their marriage, she will be ‘more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more newfangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyena, and that when thou art inclined to sleep.’

Poetry

This passage is, of course, essentially in prose rather than verse. It does include, however, a perfect piece of verse in Orlando’s initial greeting: ‘Good day, and happiness, dear Rosalind’. This is a line of a ten-syllable iambic pentameter (a line with five unstressed syllables alternating with five stressed syllables: diDUM diDUM diDUM diDUM diDUM: Good DAY and HAPPiNESS dear ROSaLIND), the standard ‘blank verse’ (i.e. unrhymed verse) unit Shakespeare uses in much of the rest of the play. (The ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech uses blank verse, though not in a particularly regular form). Jaques immediately recognises this as ‘blank verse’ and takes it as his occasion to leave, presumably because of the allergic reaction to Orlando’s poetry he has expressed earlier in the play, in Act 3, Scene 2. People often claim that Shakespeare reserves verse for courtly characters and prose for servants and other characters outside the social elite. In As You Like It, however, the courtiers prefer an elaborate prose, whereas shepherds tend to speak in verse. We must be careful not to confuse verse with sophistication and prose with naturalness.

Promises

At the beginning and the end of the scene, Rosalind makes much of Orlando’s ‘promise’ to come and see her at a particular time. Another ‘promise’ of Orlando’s comes at what might be considered the emotional heart of the passage, in the mock marriage ceremony: ‘Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?’ ‘I will’. It is only Orlando who has to be asked to make this promise. (Rosalind jumps in to say she will take Orlando, without having to wait to be asked whether she will or not. She therefore does not actually say the two words ‘I will’.) Immediately after the ‘ceremony’, Rosalind jokingly claims that Orlando will renege on his promise, ‘having’ her for ‘“a day” without the “ever”’.

References to classical mythology

Rosalind mentions the Roman god of love, Cupid, both at the beginning and the end of the scene; she also compares herself to a statue of Diana, goddess of chastity. Most telling, however, are the classical references she makes when claiming to Orlando that nobody ever died for love. Orlando, like many a lover before and since, has responded to a loved one’s apparent rejection (‘Well, in her person, I say I will not have you’) by claiming that he will die as a result. Mocking this self-dramatisation, Rosalind names two classical figures who were bywords for (or ‘patterns of’) love in Shakespeare’s day, and to whom Orlando might well have compared himself, and proceeds to ruthlessly demystify their deaths: Troilus (a character made famous by the medieval writer Chaucer, later to appear in one of Shakespeare’s most cynical plays, Troilus and Cressida), and Leander (the subject of a sumptuous erotic poem, Hero and Leander, by Shakespeare’s great contemporary, Christopher Marlowe). Rosalind is deliberately injecting a note of realism into Orlando’s high-flown, idealistic approach to love. She does this using strikingly unromantic legal terms (‘videlicet’, ‘attorney’, ‘cause’ [a word for a legal case]), as if she is an apprentice lawyer (‘Full of wise saws and modern instances’ to quote the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech), rather than a girl in love.

Threats

Rosalind (as ‘Ganymede’ pretending to be Rosalind) greets Orlando with a threat: if you’re ever as late again, ‘never come in my sight more’. This bossy, high and mighty tone is an important characteristic of Ganymede’s version of Rosalind: throughout this scene she/he guides the conversation, even though it is supposedly Orlando who is wooing ‘Rosalind’. At the end, she dismisses him with a second threat about lateness: ‘if you . . . break one jot of your promise, or come one minute behind your hour, I will think you the most pathetical break-promise, and the most hollow lover, and the most unworthy of her you call Rosalind, that may be chosen out of the gross band of the unfaithful’. It seems to be an act, a massive exaggeration – and yet, surely, Rosalind means every word: she is desperate to see as much of Orlando as possible.

Wise sayings or proverbs

Shakespeare’s contemporaries loved making generalisations about experience as a sort of guide to life. They were, in fact, trained at school to look for such moments in the books they read and copy them into notebooks. Shakespeare provides them with a few in this passage. Early on, Rosalind uses one such proverbial-seeming generalisation to undermine everything that Jaques has said: ‘I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad’. Later on, having ‘married’ Orlando, she warns that things might come unstuck after the wedding: ‘men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives’.

Wooing

The scene has been planned in advance by Orlando and Rosalind to allow Orlando to practise his wooing on a version of Rosalind acted by ‘Ganymede’. Yet when the scene takes place, Orlando actually does very little wooing. Elsewhere in the play – and out of sight of Rosalind – he has written and spoken extravagant love poems, and these have been roundly mocked in Act 3, Scene 2 of the play. In this scene, however, the extent of Orlando’s ‘wooing’ as such is minimal. All it really amounts to is two lines, ‘Then, in mine own person, I die’ and ‘Then love me, Rosalind’.

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