By putting on male clothes and adopting a masculine swagger, Rosalind easily passes as a man throughout the better part of the play. What does her behavior suggest about gender? Does the play imply that notions of gender are fixed or fluid? Explain.
Rosalind’s behavior suggests that she knows better than anyone else that her society makes different demands of men and women. For instance, she knows that, when dressed as Ganymede, she is forbidden from crying over a perceived slight from Orlando. Likewise, something as simple as a “doublet and hose”—her male disguise—stops her from celebrating the discovery that Orlando has authored love poems in her honor (3.2.
On the other hand, this fluidity caused a great deal of anxiety among Elizabethans, who, in the end, wanted very much to believe that the categories that organized their world were stable. Thus, they insisted that certain behaviors and customs were established by one’s sex. Women might pretend to be men for a brief and entertaining moment, but they must, in the end, behave like women. Rosalind eases the anxieties surrounding her very deft performance by reverting, time and again, to the behaviors expected of her as a woman: to the Elizabethan mind, she would be a much more troubling character if she did not faint at the sight of Orlando’s blood. Although gender proves to be completely undefined in the Forest of Ardenne, everyone is returned to his or her supposedly proper place by the final act. Indeed, nowhere is the anxiety over gender-swapping quelled more than in the Epilogue, where the actor playing Rosalind, who is herself so talented at role-playing, unveils himself as an actor, thereby promising that with his bow comes an end to subversion and a return to the established social order.
Discuss As You Like It as an example of pastoral literature. What features of the pastoral mode lend themselves to social criticism? What, if anything, does Shakespeare’s play criticize?
Pastoral literature primarily establishes a contrast between life in the city and life in the country, and suggests that the intense concerns of court life can be rectified by a brief foray into nature. The neat and convenient division between town and country allows characters the distance required to contemplate, criticize, and reform city life.
Throughout the play, we find numerous allusions to cuckoldry. In a play that celebrates love and ends with four marriages, what purpose might these allusions serve?
In Act 4, Scene 2, Jaques and Duke Senior’s loyal followers decorate a hunter with his slain deer and sing a song meant to calm any anxieties men might feel regarding unfaithful wives. All men, the song says, have suffered the indignity of wearing the cuckold’s horns—the symbol of having an adulterous wife—and so it is no indignity: “Take thou no scorn to wear the horn” (4.2.