As You Like It | 2008, 2004
About the Play by John Dunlap
“As always, we are enjoying this SOOO much. Thanks to all who made these performances possible.”
“Each and every production just “wows” us. Thank you for allowing Nathan to be a part of such a wonderful troupe.”
“Dynamic performance—yet again. Keep the Bard’s work alive among the next generation.”
“A brave marvelous creation! What wondrous creatures were here! Bravo and Brava!”
“Brave New Performance of the Brave New World. Bravo!!”
– Notes from our As You Like It Guestbook
First produced about 1600, As You Like It marks the approximate midpoint of Shakespeare’s career, when the Bard’s talent was well into its prime. The comic play, based on Thomas Lodge’s popular romanceRosalynde (1590), opens with a late medieval setting in a duchy of northern France. Duke Frederick has usurped the dominion lawfully belonging to his older brother, Duke Senior, and has exiled his brother to the Forest of Arden on the outskirts of the duchy. But Frederick has allowed Rosalind, Duke Senior’s daughter, to remain in court because of Rosalind’s friendship with Frederick’s daughter, Celia.
In the opening scene, we meet Orlando, a young nobleman of the duchy who has been mistreated by his envious older brother, Oliver. As Act I proceeds, Orlando falls in love with Rosalind in Frederick’s court, but is forced by Oliver’s murderous scheming to flee with his servant Adam to the Forest of Arden. Meanwhile, Duke Frederick, taken with a fit of displeasure, banishes his niece Rosalind. Rosalind and Celia, in disguise as brother and sister (“Ganymede” and “Aliena”) make their way to Arden, where Rosalind purchases lodging.
In Arden (the principal setting for the rest of the play), the exiled Duke Senior and his retinue of loyal nobles have taken up a pastoral life which they find rather agreeable. Orlando and Adam are welcomed into this Robin Hood-like world, and Orlando, still in love with Rosalind, starts posting dreamy love poems on the trees, an occasion for Rosalind to meet Orlando (in her guise as the young man “Ganymede”) and to pretend to cure him of his infatuation.
Intricate complications follow as the play serves up a deft balance of encounters and happenstances in dazzling language. For instance, the celebrated monologue “All the world’s a stage”—among the most famous in all of Shakespeare—is delivered by the unrepentant cynic Jaques in verses that express a joyless gloom counterpointed by a light-hearted wit. Throughout the play, wit keeps sweet romance from cloying while the romance in turn checks the wit. The dialogue pokes fun at romantic notions of love and pastoral simplicity, but also at wit’s cold-hearted presumption of superiority over such notions. An apparent moral relativism from which the play gets its title is tied to a deeper set of moral absolutes which will not be taken “as you like it.”
In his essay “On the Wit of Whistler,” Chesterton remarks that great artistic talent is untroubled by the artistic temperament, a disease that afflicts lesser artists. The true genius can utter and thus rid himself of his art with ease, so that the element of art has no chance to fester within and distort the soul. That is why artists of less vitality (Whistler, Joyce, Byron) often exhibit disordered personalities, while truly great artists (Chesterton’s examples include Shakespeare and Browning) tend to be ordinary people who can live ordinary lives. In As You Like It, Shakespeare’s comic genius is on charming display not least because the play exhibits the equilibrium of a supremely healthy consciousness.