Friday, October 19, 2007


We had a wonderful time at the Folger Library production of Shakespeare's As You Like It. It is from this play that we get the famous line, "All the world's a stage."

As is so common in Shakespeare plays (and perhaps especially in his comedies), there is a lot of gender-bending going on. Many modern productions of this play add extra emphasis to this aspect.

Rosalind, after being banished from the court, pretends to be a man (Ganymede) and flees to the forest of Arden in the company of her female cousin. They see the young man, Orlando, with whom Rosalind is in love, and he too is mooning all over the woods, head over heels for the woman he doesn't have. He does not recognize Rosalind in her disguise. She offers to cure him of his love if he will pretend that s/he is Rosalind. He takes her/him up on the offer and they act out love scenes as two men. In the end, Rosalind appears before Orlando as a female and they are married. But before they are, a young woman of the forest (Phoebe) has fallen in love with Rosalind/Ganymede...until she realizes that R/G is a woman.

In Greek myth and poetry, Ganymede is often a symbol of same-sex love.

In Shakespeare's day, female parts were generally played by male actors. So in As You Like It, you have a male playing a female (Rosalind), playing a male (Ganymede), playing a female(mock-Rosalind). (Whew!) And when Phoebe falls in love with Ganymede, it was actually a male actor showing love to a male actor, even though on stage it was a female character showing love to a female character.

We think of our own century as so much more aware of the fluidity of gender roles than any other--but while we may have different underlying ideas, we certainly aren't the first to imagine a world (for Shakespeare, the forest of Arden) that allowed increased freedom and openness, where you can have it "as you like it."


Specs said...

This is what I love about renaissance drama: all those damn layers. It's nearly impossible to get a grasp on the gendered relationships or power structures in these plays because everything is so slippery.

Which is great, really.

Dave said...

There is NO need to "grasp" the relationship, just accept that those two are in love and wish them well, as we all need to feel loved, and give love without conventional restraints imposed on us by those who know not the power or feeling of love....

Sheepish Annie said...

I have loved that play ever since I traveled down to the big city (Boston) in high school to see it with my Honors English class. It is just to much fun!

But, for pure angst, I'm all about Othello. Love that one...hence my naming the cat Desdemona. She knows how to put out some angst!

galetea said...

The Globe here in London tries to do one "authentic" production per season with an all male cast. I was lucky enough to see their resident company play "Anthony and Cleopatra" a few years back and I can honestly say that I completely forgot that I was watching a man playing the lead female roll. It was astounding.


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