As You Like It
By David Bruce
William Shakespeare’s happiest play is the comedy As You Like It.
How happy is it? It ends with four marriages, including that between Rosalind, daughter of the exiled duke, and Orlando, the third and youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys.
That Orlando is a younger son is significant because of primogeniture, in which the oldest son inherits the bulk of the family estate. Also important is that his oldest brother, Oliver, hates him and wants him to die — even if he needs some help to die. Because of this, Orlando goes into exile in the Forest of Arden.
That Rosalind is the daughter of an exiled duke is significant because the new duke, younger brother of the old duke, begins to hate her and sends her into exile. Rosalind decides to go to the Forest of Arden, where her father, the exiled old duke, lives.
Before Rosalind and Orlando go into exile, separately, they meet and fall in love. This is a good beginning, but a problem arises. Rosalind is very willing to talk to Orlando and give him a very strong hint that she loves him, but after Orlando falls in love with her, his tongue is tied and he cannot speak to her, even to thank her for a necklace she gives him.
This, of course, has Rosalind worried. How will she ever become the mother of Orlando’s children if he cannot even talk to her?
Orlando progresses enough in the Forest of Arden that he writes bad poetry to Rosalind and ties the bad poems to bushes; he also carves her name in the bark of trees. (Young lovers, don’t do this — it can kill the trees.)
Rosalind, being more intelligent than Orlando (and everyone else in the play) figures out a way to educate Orlando, who is in fact intelligent, to be the kind of boyfriend and husband she wants. When she went into exile, she wore male clothing and pretended to be a young man named Ganymede. (It’s easier and safer for males to travel in strange lands than females.) In the Forest of Arden, she continues to wear male clothing and pretend to be a young man. She also convinces Orlando to pretend that she is Rosalind and to pretend to woo her as training for wooing the real Rosalind.
This allows her to educate Orlando about women in general and Rosalind in particular.
Orlando, a typical guy, shows up an hour late for the first wooing session. This does not bother him; it does bother Rosalind.
When she criticizes him for showing up late, he protests, “My fair Rosalind, I come within an hour of my promise.”
Rosalind responds, “Break an hour’s promise in love! He that will / divide a minute into a thousand parts and break but / a part of the thousandth part of a minute in the / affairs of love, it may be said of him that Cupid / hath clapped him o’ the shoulder, but I’ll warrant him / heart-whole.”
In other words, a boyfriend who shows up an hour (or a fraction of a minute late) is not in love. Cupid might have tapped him on the shoulder, but Cupid did not shoot the arrow of love in his heart.
Orlando begs forgiveness, but Rosalind tells him, “Nay, an [that is, if] you be so tardy, come no more in my sight: I / had as lief be wooed of [that is, by] a snail.”
Why a snail?
Snails carry their houses on their backs, and husbands provide housing for wives, she says. In addition, Rosalind says, snails have what look like horns and so they know what to expect.
Orlando knows that cuckolded husbands (husbands whose wives sleep with other men) are mocked by being told they have horns. Ouch.
Orlando responds, “Virtue is no horn-maker; and my Rosalind is virtuous.”
Rosalind’s best friend, Celia, who is pretending to be Ganymede’s sister, tells Rosalind, “It pleases him to call you so; but he hath a / Rosalind of a better leer than you.”
In other words, Celia says that Orlando has a girlfriend who is prettier — a better leer — than Rosalind.
Orlando’s first few lessons are these: 1) Don’t show up late for a date, 2) If you do show up late for a date, your girlfriend and her friends are likely to think that you have another girlfriend, and 3) an angry female significant other can put horns on your head.
Rosalind knows what real love is and she knows that the ideas of romantic love are often exaggerated. She tells Orlando, “The poor world is / almost six thousand years old, and in all this time / there was not any man died in his own person, / videlicit, in a love-cause.”
A man may say — and think — that he will die if a woman does not return his love, but Rosalind says that in the entire history of the world (in Shakespeare’s time, many educated people thought that the world was 6,000 years old) no man has ever died because his love was not returned.
Rosalind even adds that “men have died from time to / time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”
When Orlando objects that Rosalind’s “frown might kill me,” Rosalind (disguised, of course, as Ganymede) tells him, “Trust me, her frown will not kill a fly.”
Another important lesson that Orlando learns is this: Some of the ideas of romantic love are exaggerated. Still, love really does exist.
Orlando requests that she love him, and she replies that she will — “Fridays and Saturdays and all.” Orlando then asks her, “And wilt thou have me?” She replies, shockingly, “Ay, and twenty such.”
Rosalind tells him that if loving a man such as Orlando is good, then loving twenty more men like Orlando must also be good. She even asks him “can one desire too much of a good thing?”
If Orlando is intelligent, and he is, he has to realize that he had better put a wedding ring on her finger. Why? Rosalind has a healthy interest in having sex, he loves her, and it is a good idea for Orlando to marry her so that each of them is committed to the other.
Just in case Orlando does not get this, Rosalind says to Celia, “Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us.”
Orlando and Rosalind then have a practice wedding with Celia acting as the priest.
Celia asks, “Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?”
Orlando replies, “I will.”
Rosalind immediately asks, “Ay, but when?”
If Orlando is intelligent, and he is, he should realize that Rosalind wants a real commitment, not a promise to be committed.
Orlando says, “I take thee, Rosalind, for [my] wife,” and Rosalind says, “I might ask you for your commission; but I do take / thee, Orlando, for my husband.”
The commission is needed to make a wedding legal, but of course this is merely a practice wedding; nevertheless, Orlando learns something: If I make a commitment to Rosalind, she will make a commitment to me. (He certainly learns this when he finds out that Ganymede is Rosalind.)
Rosalind then talks about life after they are married. She tells Orlando that “men are April when they woo, December when they wed: / maids are May when they are maids, but the sky / changes when they are wives.” For example, she tells him that “I will weep for nothing, like Diana / [a statue] in the fountain, and I will do that when you are / disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyen[a], and / that when thou art inclined to sleep.”
If Orlando is intelligent, and he is, he will realize this: The first flush of romantic love will not last. At times Rosalind will get on my nerves, and no doubt at times I will get on her nerves. But even though the first flush of romantic love will not last, a committed relationship can last.
Rosalind also shockingly talks about how quick witted a woman can be. If a husband ever catches his wife going to his neighbor’s bed, she will have an excuse ready unless she is a very, very stupid woman.
If Orlando is intelligent, and he is, he should realize that agood marriage will consist of years of happiness. A bad marriage will consist of years of unhappiness. An unhappy wife can make her husband’s life a living Hell. A happy wife can make her husband’s life a living Heaven. A wise husband will not ignore his wife. He will pay attention to her, and he will show up when he tells her he will show up — or have a d*mn good reason for not showing up.
In their wooing session, Orlando learns this: Before and after I marry Rosalind, I had better treat her right. And if I treat her right, I am sure that she will treat me right.
Of course, a question that arises is whether Orlando recognizes that Ganymede is really Rosalind. Whether he does or not, the scene — and the play — works.
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