19. As You Like It
I had to take a couple of weeks off from my Shakespeare Challenge. Work has really picked up on all fronts so it seemed sensible to take a couple of weeks off and come back to my Shakespeare reading when I could do it properly.
I was surprised by how much I disliked As You Like It, this week! Coming back after a couple of weeks off, I thought As You Like It would be an enjoyable return to my Shakespeare reading. But I have to say, I found the story confused and uninteresting.
I realise this is a slightly bold thing to say. I believe for many, As You Like It is one of their favourite Shakespeare plays. For me, however, aside from the brilliant character of Rosalind, the play has very little going for it.
Mainly because there is a lack of any clear narrative or predicament to pull us in. The play seems to be about two tyrannical brothers – the Duke who has deposed his brother, forcing him into exile in the words, and Oliver who dispossesses Orlando and forces him out into the woods. Yet this storyline fizzles out completely. Oliver turns up in the woods towards the end of the play, having been reconciled with Orlando – seemingly after some bizarre encounter with a lion. Whilst, at the very end of the play, the middle brother of Orlando and Oliver turns up out of nowhere, to announce that the Duke, instead of marching into the woods with an army (as was his intention), has become a devote Christian and retired to a monastery, having met an old holy man on the way to the woods. Both, I think you’ll agree, are very unsatisfactory conclusions to a potentially fruitful source of conflict!
The only real driving force in the story is the relationship between Orlando and Rosalind. There’s some fun to be had in the way Rosalind runs away dressed as a boy and so end up having a slightly odd relationship with Orlando. Rosalind gets Orlando to pretend she is Rosalind – which of course she is, but Orlando thinks she’s a man. What is never quite clear to me, however, is why she doesn’t just reveal her identity to him? They’re both exiles in the woods, so why not just tell him who she really is and join her father’s woodland court? I really can’t see a reason why she wouldn’t do this.
Plus, all of this is confused and jumbled up with various other love affairs that are going on. Lovers keep appearing out of nowhere and it’s frankly quite confusing. More to the point, it’s very difficult to care much about two lovers who we have never met before and have no investment in. As such, I find all the business between Touchstone and Audrey, and Phoebe and Silvius quite tedious and uninteresting.
Then we have the famous ‘melancholic knight’, Jaques. Jaques is known for his speech ‘All the world’s a stage…’ and really that’s about all he should be known for, as pretty much everything else he has to say is some form of nonsense.
The other disappointment I have with this play, is the way the character of Adam completely disappears. Adam is an elderly servant of Orlando and his brother Oliver. He leaves Oliver and runs away with Orlando, despite his old age. He even gives Orlando all of his savings to aid in the escape. He’s a beautiful and lovely character, who just vanishes half-way through the story.
So, surprisingly for one of Shakespeare’s more performed plays, I really disliked As You Like It. I saw very little in it to excite or interest me. As always, I wouldn’t necessarily say no to having a go at directing it, but it certainly wouldn’t be top of my list for ones I would choose to direct.