By Charles Matthews

Friday, March 18, 2011

1. As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, pp. ix-xci

Illustration by Rockwell Kent. (Orlando: O Rosalind! these trees shall be my books. As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2)

As You Like It (The Arden Shakespeare)Introduction by Agnes Latham
Like All's Well That Ends Well and Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It is known to us only because it was printed in the First Folio of 1623. It was, however, listed in the Stationers' Register in August 1600 as one of four plays (the others were Henry V, Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, and Much Ado About Nothing) "to be stayed," which means that someone had threatened to publish a pirated edition of the play. The staying entry suggests that the play was popular enough that it was worth trying to prevent someone else from cashing in on it. But aside from an undocumented second-hand reference to a performance of the play before King James I in 1603, there are no recorded performances during Shakespeare's lifetime. The text reproduced in the First Folio seems to have come from a clean manuscript, perhaps a transcript used as a prompt book. It is divided into acts and scenes, and entrances and exits are clearly marked.

The play has more songs than any other by Shakespeare. "The songs evoke a carefree mood and conjure up a woodland on a bare stage. They also dwell very forcefully upon the cares from which the singers have freed themselves, twice repeating the theme of the Duke's introductory speech." Some think that they were written for Robert Armin, who had a good singing voice and had just joined the company, but Armin almost certainly played Touchstone, and most of the songs are given to Amiens. It would have been practical for Armin to have doubled the roles, however, for according to the stage directions Touchstone shares the stage with Amiens only once, and then in a scene in which Amiens has no lines. The music for the songs has not survived.

Because of the entry in the Stationers Registry, it's generally accepted that the play was written and produced before 1600, but not before 1598, because it doesn't appear in the list of Shakespeare's plays made in that year by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia. The popularity of two plays about Robin Hood that appeared in 1598 also suggests that Shakespeare may have been encouraged to write about outlaw life in the greenwood. Other suggestive dates are Armin's joining Shakespeare's company in 1599, and the publication of a new edition of Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, which is the major source for the play's plot, in 1598. "Jaques's 'All the world's a stage' would be particularly timely if it were spoken on the stage of the Globe, newly opened in 1599, with the motto Totus Mundus Agit Histrionem."

There are a few who argue for an earlier date, suggesting that the existing play may have been a reworking of one written much earlier. Lodge's Rosalynde first appeared in 1590, and was reprinted in 1592, 1596, and 1598. There are also some allusions to Robert Greene's Orlando Furioso, which probably was performed in 1591, the same year that John Harington's translation of Ariosto's poem appeared, but Greene's Orlando was also published in a new edition in 1599. Another event that the advocates of an early date for As You Like It refer to is the death of Christopher Marlowe in 1593. Shakespeare directly alludes to Marlowe's Hero and Leander, when Phebe quotes the line "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?" Although Marlowe's poem was not published until 1598, allusions to it in A Midsummer Night's Dream suggest that Shakespeare had seen it in manuscript. Touchstone also seems to be referring to Marlowe's death, supposedly in a quarrel over a tavern "reckoning" (i.e., bill), with the line "it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room." In The Jew of Malta, which is usually dated 1589-90, and was entered in the Stationers Register in 1594, Barabas speaks of "infinite riches in a little room."  But the prevailing opinion is that the 1598-1600 date is most likely to be accurate.

Although the plot and many character names come directly from Lodge's Rosalynde, Shakespeare as usual completely transforms the source material. Chiefly he did away with the artificiality of Lodge's characters and their manner of speaking.
Lodge's range of characters is narrow. Even Le Beau, in Shakespeare, stands out as somebody with an interesting standpoint of his own. Lodge has no Jaques to be a reminder of the corruption of court and city and no Touchstone to vary wit with common sense and nonsense. Touchstone and Jaques, who are extraneous to the plot, are essential to the play. Next to Rosalind, and sometimes before her, they are the characters that an audience values. It is for this reason that critics can disagree about Shakespeare's indebtedness to Lodge, which in respect of plot mechanism is considerable, but in almost everything else non-existent.
Although Jaques is supposed to be in the grip of the "humor" melancholy, he's a far more complex character than that label suggests.
We never see him in a mood approaching depression and he is entirely free of the malcontent's sense of personal injury. He never suggests that the world has treated him more unfairly than anyone else. He proposes to "cleanse" it, but not to pay scores. His banishment seems to have been voluntarily undertaken and he certainly elects to prolong it voluntarily.
Touchstone is a less complex character than Jaques, who "is a type and also a personality." If Jaques seems like someone who could exist in the real world, Touchstone is a creature only of the stage, though "a skilled actor can give [him] an illusion of life." He is also the first of Shakespeare's clowns who makes it his job to be funny: "Dogberry has no idea that he is comical. Touchstone intends to be." Hamlet criticizes clowns for upstaging everyone and interrupting the play, and in Touchstone Shakespeare creates one whose role is so integral to the play that he doesn't need to show off -- the role does it for him. He is the first of a series of court jesters: the Fool in King Lear, Feste in Twelfth Night, Lavache in All's Well and Trinculo in The Tempest. It's possible that Will Kempe played Touchstone, especially if the play was written earlier, but Touchstone is a departure from the kind of characters Shakespeare had written for Kempe: "He never falls back on the clown's trick of 'mistaking his words,' common in Kempe characters and at its best in Dogberry."
Will Kempe (right) dancing a jig, 1600

Title page of The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke, written by Robert Armin, who is depicted on the page in the fool's costume.
 Touchstone wears the common garment of the fool which, whether he was a court jester or just the weak intellect in the family was a child's long coat. His immaturity kept him in it for life. It was gathered at the waist and fell in voluminous folds below the knee.... An indulgent affection added such things as would please a child, a bauble, bells on the sleeves, a cap with a cockscomb or feather.... Favourite colours for a fool were green and yellow, emblematic of his unripe intellect, and doubtless cheap, fast dyes.... They were arranged in stripes or checks or any other simple pattern that can be produced with yarns of two colours on a hand-loom. Thus a fool's costume, often described as pied, patched, or particoloured, could be very fantastic.
Touchstone's name seems to have been suggested by the character Armin created for his own play, Two Maids of More-clacke, Tutch. Some commentators suggest that the name also refers to the touchstone used by jewelers to test the quality of metals, and Armin had been a goldsmith. 

The name Rosalind comes from Lodge, but it seems to have been a favorite of Shakespeare's. He used it in Love's Labour's Lost and again in Romeo and Juliet. Both Orlando's verses and Touchstone's parody suggest that it was pronounced with a long [ai], and Lodge also rhymes it with "mind" and "unkind." Some contemporary stagings "treat Orlando's rhymes as a joke, an ungifted amateur's distortion of normal pronunciation. It is unlikely that it sounded so to an Elizabethan."

That Shakespeare intended the name Jaques to be pronounced as two syllables, is apparent from its appearance in verse lines such as "The melancholy Jaques grieves at that" or "Stay, Jaques, stay." The Elizabeth pronunciation of the name would normally have been "Jakes" which is also the slang for an outhouse, but despite Shakespeare's fondness for such puns, he avoids it except when Touchstone says, "Good master What-ye-call't." "Nineteenth-century players seem to have popularized the pronunciation Jakewiss or Jakeweez, because they and their audiences were all too conscious of the meaning of jakes," but Helge Kökeritz, the authority on Elizabethan pronunciation, preferred Jake-is or Jack-is.

As for the play's title, George Bernard Shaw "fancies Shakespeare flinging it contemptuously in the face of his audience, indicating that the play is a specimen of the kind of 'pleasant and cheap falsehood' they enjoyed, 'one of the most effective samples of romantic nonsense in existence,'" but it is generally thought that Shakespeare adapted it from a phrase Lodge addressed to his readers: "If you like it, so."

Some critics think the play is a satire on romantic escapism, on city folk play-acting at being rustics. But in fact, "Arden makes demands on both physical and moral courage. Its virtue is that it is free from human malice; the worst it can show is winter and rough weather." The eagerness of its characters to return to court life at the end of the play doesn't stem from their disillusionment with the pastoral existence but from the fact that their stay in Arden has refreshed them, that it has been "a life-enhancing and not a self-deluding interlude. The fact that they return so promptly and so cheerfully is what validates their experience." Rosalind has benefited from being "no longer confined in a woman's limited role."

Orlando "is not one of Shakespeare's usual comedy heroes, those well-found and rather exquisite young men, Bassanio, Orsino, Claudio and Bertram. He has none of the sharp wit Benedick shares with Berowne, nor their irrepressible itch to be talking. He is a very English young man, who prefers wrestling to rapier, who is down on his luck, and who is tender to subordinates. He falls in love at first sight, writes indifferent verses, and is led by the nose by a clever girl, who will see to it that nobody ever gets the better of him."

Jaques "is the very essence of sophistication.... But his shafts fall harmlessly off a company who are armoured in complete happiness. Nobody troubles to contradict his cynical Seven Ages of Man. The whole atmosphere of the place contradicts it.... At the same time, his railing against the wicked ways of the world keeps before us the truth that, outside the charmed circle, the ways of the world are wicked. It is only in Arden that his cynicism looks ridiculous. At Elsinore it would be a different matter." But Jaques is not "the cheap and selfish cynic he is sometimes said to be." He flourishes in Arden, where "he is allowed his idiosyncrasies. After all they do nobody any harm." George Sand was so taken with Jaques that she rewrote the play to marry him off to Celia, who is a thoroughly charming character in her own right.
He has dignity and a sardonic charm, is wholly contemptuous of Orlando's drawn sword, genuinely anxious that Touchstone should get a good priest who can tell him what marriage is, and unlike the true exiles and fugitives he has no reason, beyond his loyalty to the Duke, to sleep out of his bed.
"The play's abiding attraction lies in the marriage it effects between sense and sensibility, criticism and celebration." If in the end we are uncertain about the moral of the play, about what lessons it is trying to teach us, that's what makes it so Shakespearean: "Its flexibility comes of its allowing contradictions and we live by being adaptable. This is what makes Shakespeare's version of pastoral acceptable where other writers' more selective varieties proclaim a manifest falseness and can only feed our fantasy life. This is not in itself an improper thing for literature to do, but it is not what Shakespeare is doing."

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