Many study guides to the plays of William Shakespeare are available both in print and on the net. This study guide is unique because it contains an interview with William Shakespeare himself, courtesy of our very own theatre critic, Clive Haverdock. Follow the links below to find all the information you need for your theatrical viewing pleasure.
About snails, deer, and other horned creatures
Interview with William Shakespeare
Background to As You Like It
As You Like It, first staged in 1599, was one of the first plays to be performed in the newly built Globe Theatre, and there are many references to the world of the theatre in the play. Like most of Shakespeare's plays, neither the story nor the genre are original. The characters allude to Robin Hood and his merry men, a well-known legend in Shakespeare's time. Pastoral literature was very popular in the two decades before Shakespeare wrote the play, and the play is loosely based on a prose tale by Thomas Lodge. Lodge invited gentlemen to read his story and told them, "if you like it, so." The phrase may have given Shakespeare the idea for the play's title. But Shakespeare infused the play with many original characters. He set it in the Forest of Arden, which may have been named after the forest he was familiar with and which belonged to the Ardens, his mother's family. The forest may also refer to the forest of Ardennes in France, for Shakespeare does poke fun at the French in this play. It should be noted that the forest is not like one of our Canadian preserves, but rather a wooded rural area that is a mixture of woodland, tiny hamlets, and small farms.
The hero, Orlando, has an evil older brother, Oliver, who is part of the court world. Out of jealousy, Oliver has tried to keep Orlando uneducated at home. He is also plotting to kill Orlando. Orlando flees to the forest for his life, accompanied by the faithful servant Adam.
Meanwhile, things at court are not as they should be. The rightful Duke has been overthrown by his younger brother Frederick. Frederick has banished the Duke Senior and all his court, and they are now living in the forest like outlaws.
Duke Frederick has a daughter, Celia. Celia's close friend is her cousin, Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke. When Frederick banishes Rosalind in a fit of anger, Celia decides to leave with her. For their safety, they disguise themselves, Rosalind as a youth named Ganymede and Celia as Ganymede's "sister" Aliena. The court clown, Touchstone, goes with them, and they head into the forest.
In the forest, Orlando encounters the Duke's banished court and is welcomed by them. Rosalind and Celia purchase a small sheep farm and settle in comfortably.
Before fleeing into the forest, Orlando and Rosalind met briefly and fell instantly in love. They meet in the forest, but Orlando does not know the disguised Rosalind, and Rosalind does not reveal herself. Instead, she offers to "cure" Orlando of his love if only he will pretend to woo "her" as he would woo Rosalind. "Ganymede" becomes the love interest of the shepherdess Phoebe, who is loved by the shepherd Silvius. Touchstone, meanwhile, finds his own love interest, Audrey, who is the object of the attentions of William.
Eventually it is Rosalind who untangles all the romantic strings. With the aid of a couple of sudden "conversions", the world returns to its rightful state, and a quadruple wedding takes place.
Orlando and Rosalind - They meet briefly at a wrestling match at court, but they have no time to declare their love. It turns out that Orlando's father was dearly loved by the Duke Senior. Later in the forest, Rosalind is disguised as Ganymede and Orlando does not recognize her. She must hide her identity, but she devises a plan to meet Orlando; she will cure him of his love by pretending to be Rosalind while he woos her. The game becomes a test of Orlando's love and faithfulness.
Oliver and Celia - After Oliver's "conversion", he and Celia fall madly in love. His falling for Celia disguised as a humble country gentlewoman is proof of the sincerity of his conversion.
Silvius and Phoebe - The romantic shepherd Silvius is the archetypal lover. He is deeply smitten, almost out of his mind with love, and nothing his sweetheart does will change his feelings for her. Although Phoebe does not return his love, he follows her and meekly does her bidding. In the end he is rewarded for his faithfulness.
Touchstone and Audrey - This couple is truly mismatched and their courtship is absurd. Touchstone is a court-bred jester, and Audrey is a simple country wench. Yet through his courtship of Audrey, Touchstone reveals the anti-romantic side of love.
Clowns of various types were common in Shakespeare's plays. They provide both comic relief and words of wisdom. Touchstone is the usual court jester, witty and wise. He is somewhat displaced when he finds himself living in the forest but adjusts cleverly. In addition to Touchstone there are country folk who contribute varying degreed of wit to the play. At one point Touchstones repeats that adage that "The fool doth think that he is wise, but the wise man knoweth himself to be a fool." The motif of wisdom versus folly appears throughout the play. In addition to conventional clowns, Shakespeare invented a new sort of "clown" for the play. The melancholy and satiric Jaques is a new kind of "clown" whose creation is unique to Shakespeare.
About snails, deer, and other horned creatures
Jokes about "horns" and about creatures who have them run through the play. They are roughly equivalent to the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" sort of humour in Monty Python sketches. It seems the British have always enjoyed sexual innuendo. The horns are a reference to the horns of the cuckhold. The cuckhold was a creature with horns growing out of its forehead. A man whose wife had been unfaithful to him was called a cuckhold, which was a great humiliation.
An interview with William Shakespeare
Theatre critic Clive Haverdock recently communicated with the late William Shakespeare and asked him about his comedy As You Like It. What follows is a transcript of that interview.
Haverdock: Mr. Shakespeare, can you tell me how you came to write this play?
Shakespeare: Marry, Mr. Haverdock, it was on this wise. I was sitting in my office at the Globe one day when Mr. Richard Burbage approached me.
Haverdock: Richard Burbarge, the great actor?
Shakespeare: Yes. But these days he is more of an entrepreneur, like myself.
Shakespeare: Were you not acquainted with the fact that I own a ten percent share of the Globe?
Haverdock: I believe I heard that. And Mr. Burbage owns a much larger share?
Shakespeare: Marry, he does.
Haverdock: But I had no idea you had an office in the theatre.
Shakespeare: Oh, knowledge ill inhabited! 'Tis but a seat in the first balcony, but no matter. Mr. Burbage was greatly agitated.
Shakespeare: It seems that revenues had been waning. Richard complained that my plays were becoming too serious. Too many dreadfully dreary histories, he said. Time for something light - romance, a few laughs, and a bit with a dog.
Haverdock; What did you say?
Shakespeare: Zounds! What could I say? He owns a greater share of the Globe than I. I told him I would write a comedy as he desired. "As you like it, Mr. Burbage," I said. But I put my foot down about the dog.
Haverdock: So that's how you came to write As You Like It?
Shakespeare: O, worthy critic! A miserable world. Give me leave to speak my mind and I will tell you more.
Haverdock: Go ahead.
Shakespeare: I have placed myself and all my misery into this play in the character of Jaques. I intend to play that role myself and at least keep a little sense in the play.
Haverdock: And there is music and dancing in the play, too, I believe?
Shakespeare: Indeed, there is nothing like a good country song and dance to keep the groundlings content.
Haverdock: I am sure Mr. Burbage will be pleased.
Shakespeare: Marry, he will that.
Haverdock: And then will you have another such play?
Shakespeare: At present I am working on another script - Hamlet.
Haverdock: That should have them rolling in the aisles.
Shakespeare: Those onion-eyed, putrid fishmongers! Well, God b'wi'you, Mr. Haverdock. Let's meet as little as we can.
Haverdock: Indeed, I thank you for your time.
Thus ended the interview. We hope that this play will please not only Mr. Burbage, but audiences here in Brandon as well. See you at the theatre - the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium, that is, not the Globe.
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