David Bruce: “William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’: A Retelling in Prose”

Rosalind said to Orlando, “How are you, Orlando! Where have you been all this while? You think that you are a lover! If you ever play such another trick on me, do not ever come within my sight.”

Orlando objected, “My fair Rosalind, I came within an hour of the time I promised to be here.”

“Came within an hour of the time you — who are supposedly a lover — promised to be here! A man who will divide a minute into a thousand parts and break only one part of the thousandth part of a minute in the affairs of love is a man about whom it may be said that Cupid has patted him on the shoulder, but I swear that that man’s heart has not been wounded by Cupid’s arrow.”

“Pardon me, dear Rosalind.”

“No. If you are ever again so late for a date, come no more within my sight. I would prefer to be wooed by a snail.”

“By a snail?”

“Yes, by a snail,” Rosalind said. “Though the snail comes slowly, he carries his house with him. He has something to offer a woman — more than you can offer, I think. Besides, the snail brings its destiny with him.”

“What destiny is that?”

“Snails have what look like horns,” Rosalind said. “Men who are late for dates must expect to be made cuckolds. The snail comes pre-equipped with horns and therefore knows what to expect.”

I get it, Orlando thought. I had better not be late for dates for Rosalind. If I am late, she will get another boyfriend.

“Virtuous women are not horn-makers, and my Rosalind is virtuous.”

“And I am your Rosalind.”

Celia said to Rosalind, “It pleases him to call you Rosalind, but he has a better-looking Rosalind than you.”

I get it, Orlando thought. If I am late for dates, my loved one and her friends will think that I have another girlfriend.

Rosalind smiled at the expression on Orlando’s face, and then she said to him, “Come, woo me, woo me, for now I am in a good mood and likely enough to consent to love you. What would you say to me now, if I were your precious Rosalind?”

“I would kiss her before I spoke.”

“No, you had better speak first, and when you were stuck for something to say, then you could kiss her. Very good orators, when they are out of words to say, will spit, but lovers who are out of words to say — God help us! — should take the cleaner option and kiss.”

“Suppose Rosalind declines to kiss me?”

“Then you have a new subject to talk about: You can beg her for a kiss.”

“Who could be out of words to say when he is with the woman he loves?”

“You had better be out of me than in me if I were your girl — or I would think that my virtue is less impressive than my wit,” Rosalind joked.

“Let’s talk about a different ‘out.’ Would I be out of suit?”

“A suit can mean a suit of clothing. If you were in me, you would be out of suit. But given that I am virtuous, you would not be out of your apparel, but you would still be out of your suit — that is, request. I would make you give up your attempt to seduce me. Am I not your Rosalind?”

“I am happy to say that you are, because I want to talk about her.”

“Well, let me pretend to be her and say that I will not have you as my boyfriend.”

“Then let me be me and say that I will die.”

“Do not yourself die. Die by proxy — have a lawyer act for you by proxy. But seriously, people have examined the verses of the Bible and concluded that this poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all that time not one man has died in real life because of love. Troilus loved Cressida, but he had his brains dashed out with a Greek club, yet he did what he could to die from love before he died from the club and he is regarded as an exemplary lover. Leander would have lived for many happy years, even if his loved one, Hero, had become a nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer night. Leander, that good youth, went into the Hellespont to wash himself but started cramping and was drowned. The foolish coroners of that age said that the cause of his death was his love for Hero of Sestos. They said that he drowned when a storm arose while he was swimming in the Hellespont to visit his lover. All of these tales of men who have died from love are lies. Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but the men did not die because of love.”

“I do not want the real Rosalind to think like this. I believe that her frown might kill me.”

“Trust me, her frown will not kill a fly.”

I get it, Orlando thought. Some of the ideas of romantic love are exaggerated. Still, love really does exist.

Rosalind said, “But come, now I will be your Rosalind in a more agreeable mood. Ask me for whatever you want. I will grant it.”

“Then love me, Rosalind.”

“Yes, I will — on Fridays and Saturdays and all the other days of the week.”

“And so you will have me?”

“Yes, and twenty more men like you.”

“What are you saying?”

“Are you not good?”

“I hope so.”

“Can one desire too much of a good thing?”

I get it, Orlando thought. Rosalind has a healthy interest in having sex, and it is a good idea for me to marry her so that each of us is committed to the other.

Rosalind said to Celia, who had been listening to and laughing at the conversation between Rosalind and Orlando, “Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us.”

She added, “Give me your hand, Orlando. What do you say, sister?”

Orlando said, “Please, marry us.”

Celia was laughing hard. She said, “I cannot say the words.”

Rosalind pretended that Celia had forgotten words that no woman who was either married or wanted to be married would forget: “You must begin, ‘Will you, Orlando — ’”

“OK,” Celia said, “Will you, Orlando, take Rosalind to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“I will.”

Rosalind knew that “will” is not the same as “do.” She wanted a real commitment, and so she asked, “Yes, but when?”

“Right now, as fast as Aliena can marry us.”

“Then you must say, ‘I take you, Rosalind, as my lawfully wedded wife.’”

“I take you, Rosalind, as my lawfully wedded wife.”

I get it, Orlando thought. Rosalind wants a real commitment, not a promise to be committed.

Rosalind said to Celia, “I should ask you for the wedding license. But I do take you, Orlando, as my lawfully wedded husband.”

I get it, Orlando thought. If I make a commitment to Rosalind, she will make a commitment to me.

Rosalind added, “I am a girl who has raced ahead of the priest and answered the priest’s question before he even asked it — a woman’s thought always runs ahead of her actions.”

“All thoughts are like that — they are winged.”

“Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her — that is, married her and slept with her.”

“Forever and a day.”

“Say ‘for a day.’ Leave out the ‘forever.’ No, no, Orlando. Men are April when they woo, and December when they wed. Virgins are May when they are virgins, but the sky changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous of you than a Barbary cock-pigeon is of his hen, more clamorous than a parrot protesting against rain, more fond of novelty than an ape, more changeable in my desires than a monkey. I will weep for nothing, like a statue of Diana gushing water in a fountain — I will do that when you are disposed to be merry. I will laugh like a hyena when you want to go to sleep.”

“Will my Rosalind act like that?”

“I swear by my life that she will act the way that I act.”

I get it, Orlando thought. 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.

“But Rosalind is wise.”

“Or else she would not have the wit to act like this. The wiser she is, the more wayward she will be. Close the doors upon a woman’s wit, and it will fly out of the window. Shut the window, and it will fly out of the keyhole. Stop up the keyhole, and it will fly out the chimney with the smoke.”

“A man who had a wife with such a wit, he might say to her, ‘Wit, where do you wander? What are you thinking! Where are your senses!’”

“You may want to wait to say that when you see your wife’s wit going to your neighbor’s bed.”

“And what wit could have wit enough to make an excuse for that?”

“She would say that she went to seek you there. You shall never find her without her excuse, unless you find her without a tongue. Any woman who cannot make her sin the fault of her husband should never breastfeed her child — because her child will turn out to be a fool. Breast-fed children get either wisdom or foolishness from the milk of the mother.”

I get it, Orlando thought. A good 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 damn good reason for not showing up. 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.

He said, “For the next two hours, Rosalind, I will have to leave you.”

Rosalind assumed an overly dramatic, joking tone: “No, dear love! I cannot be away from you for two whole hours!”

“I must have dinner with Duke Senior. By two o’clock I will be with you again.”

Rosalind continued with an overly dramatic, joking tone: “Yes, go on your way. Go on your way. I knew the kind of man whom you would turn out to be: a faithless lover. My friends told me as much, and I thought no less. Your flattering tongue won me over. But don’t worry about it. I am just one more woman who has been cast away and so I will die!”

Both Rosalind and Orlando smiled. No man had ever died of love — and neither had any woman.

Rosalind asked, seriously, “So you will return at two o’clock?”

“Yes, sweet Rosalind.”

I mean it, Orlando thought, I have learned my lesson. If I don’t come on time, I will have a damn good reason.

Rosalind said, “I swear, and I mean it — so help me, God — and I also swear the pretty little oaths that lovers swear that if you break even the tiniest part of your promise or come even one minute late, I will think you the most pathetic breakers of promises and the most hollow lover and the most unworthy of her whom you call Rosalind who may be chosen out of the gross band of the unfaithful lovers. Therefore, beware my anger and keep your promise.”

“I will keep my promise as religiously as I would if you were really Rosalind. Goodbye.”

“Well, Time is the old judge who examines all such offenders, and so Time will determine the truth of your promise. When the time comes for you to return here, we will see if you are actually here. Goodbye.”

Note: Copyrighted by Bruce D. Bruce

The above is an excerpt from my book William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’: A Retelling in Prose, which is available here:







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