As You Like It is obsessed with the nature of love and desire. In the play, Shakespeare demonstrates over and over again how love can make people do some pretty risky and foolish things. In particular, the play spends a lot of time critiquing the artificiality of "courtly" romance and reminds us of the silliness of assuming the clichéd pose of a "Petrarchan lover"—something that involves a lot of dramatic sighing, sadness, and frustration over an unattainable girl (check out for more on that).
William Shakespeare’s comic masterpiece, “As You Like It,” will close Theatre USA’s 2015-2016 season when it begins a one-week run at 7:30 pm. on Friday, April 15.
While what happens to Phebe at the end of the play is less than ideal, I take my cues about Shakespeare’s intentions from the rest of the play. Shakespeare chooses to put a female at the helm of As You Like It. Rosalind takes her future into her own hands and schools her potential life-partner in the ways of a true lover. To take things a step further, Shakespeare marries two men onstage (Ganymede and Orlando) and gives a man (Ganymede) the line “I [love] no woman.” While the audience knows Ganymede is Rosalind in disguise, the characters in the scene do not. All of this points in the direction of Shakespeare challenging the status quo. Can a woman be in charge of a relationship? Can two men fall in love? Shakespeare answers yes.
As You Like It is not a musical—but it’s pretty close. While the musical as we know it would not be invented for a few hundred years, song and dance was an integral part of the Elizabethan theatre-going experience. Shakespeare’s plays, especially the comedies, are full of music. Ariel in The Tempest sings a number of songs as he casts spells over the courtiers (who wash up on the island he shares with Prospero) and in Much Ado About Nothing soldiers are welcomed home from victorious battle with a song. However, the Bard takes things a few steps further by actually writing a musician as a character into As You Like It.
I never questioned the presence of the music—Duke Senior needs entertainment in exile—until I began my research in preparation for this production. Turns out Shakespeare had alternative motives for upping his musical game for As You Like It. Around the time he was working on the play, a competing theatre company, Children of the Chapel, began including more singing in their work. In order to say competitive, Shakespeare needed to adapt. It’s amazing to think of someone like Shakespeare—the most widely translated author in the English language—as a shrewd businessman, but he was. Good thing, too.
In As You Like It, which is admittedly a play about ideas, it is even more critical. What do Touchstone’s jokes even mean? Why is Duke Senior such a nice guy? Why is Corin so bitter? Why is Jaques obsessed with Touchstone? Our actors must know the answers to these questions—amongst a host of others.
While As You Like It doesn’t open until mid-April, actors, dancers, musicians and designers are already hard at work bringing the play to life. It takes time to tackle Shakespeare’s language, build a set that will transport audiences to the forest of Arden, and to learn music and dances that will bring the spirit of the forest to life. (If you are wondering what dancers and musicians are doing in a Shakespeare play, As You Like It may be the closest thing Shakespeare gets to a musical. Luckily our trusty creative team from Urinetown, music director Joshua Harper and choreographer Debra Vega, are on board! More on that in another post.)
It would never occur to me that someone might think I could walk into a rehearsal for As You Like It and know everything there is to know about a scene. But that’s exactly what happened a few weeks back. We were working a joke- one that is particularly complicated. (Without giving too much away it has to do with mustard, pancakes, and the Queen.) We discussed the historical references in the joke, which goes on for about half a page, line by line. At a certain point I asked the group if there were any questions. One student said, with an incredulous look on their face, “Yes…how do you know all that?”
Recently, I was lucky enough to get some photos from Technical Director Charles Raffetto that show the evolution of the set for As You Like It. Students in the afternoon program in technical theatre are working tirelessly to bring the Forest of Arden to life on the Williston stage. I managed to sneak into the costume shop to grab a few pictures of the original creations costume designer Ilene Goldstein has made for the show. Here are a few snapshots of our progress.
Dr. Zucker explained the importance of the pastoral poem to As You Like It, the role of the clown in Shakespeare’s plays, and the subversive politics presented in the play. No presentation on Elizabethan England would be complete without a discussion of patriarchy which, in As You Like It, impacts relationships between brothers as well as between sexes.
While the entire play is full of terrific food for thought, three characters are shining examples of Shakespeare’s subversive ideas. The court fool Touchstone delivers some of the most glaring social commentary in the play. With his name, which references an actual touchstone- an object that tells us whether or not something is real or fake- Shakespeare sends us the not-so-subtle message to heed the truth that Touchstone speaks. Since the days of the court jester, the clown has played the role of truth-teller. Spreading subversive ideas gets a lot easier when you can shrug these ideas off as a silly joke. One of Touchstones most enduring lines, “The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly” harkens to this point exactly.
Rosalind (As You Like It), disguised as a boy with her friend Celia is able to find out Orlando’s true feelings for her without revealing herself.