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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: December ::
Re: *AYL*: What Oliver Knows and When He Knows It
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0979.  Tuesday, 6 December 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Charles Boyle <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Dec 1994 13:47:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: As You Like It
 
(2)     From:   Robert Cohen <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Dec 1994 08:50:58 -0800
        Subj:   AYLI
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Boyle <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Dec 1994 13:47:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: As You Like It
 
Arthur Pearson, I think you are absolutely right about Oliver knowing that
Ganymede is Rosalind in the "bloody napkin" scene in *As You Like It*. He comes
in knowing and with the intention of making her faint. It's the old trickster
tricked gag Shakespeare loves so well. The bloody napkin, of course, is a
menstruation joke. "Excuse me, my boy," Oliver is saying, "Is this yours?" It's
really very funny if the actors play it right. His long tale is another shaggy
dog story. His conversion is true enough - he is a spoiled brat who finally
grows up, rather like Lear that way - but the green snakes and sucked lions are
"dark and scary" night stuff, put in to unnerve Rosalind.  After all, this
material is either high comedy or bad melodrama. This guy doesn't write bad
melodrama. In fact, much of Oliver's speech sounds like a parody of Philip
Sidney at his worst.  The whole play contains numerous echos of Sidney's only
play, a masque called *The Lady of May*, which was also concerned with
shepherds and foresters and a sly contrasting of Court and country life, that
favored the latter. And Phebe's famous quoting of the dead Shepherd, "Who ever
loved that loved not a first sight?" may be Shakespeare taking from Marlowe (it
may be the reverse) but it certainly echoes the opening to Sidney's Sonnet 2,
"Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed shot/Love gave the wound..." Indeed the
whole Silvius\Phebe subplot reads like a satire of Sidney's famous - and some
would say insincere - sonnet sequence written to Penelope Rich, elder sister to
the Earl of Essex. The guise of shepherd and shepherdess was one often assumed
by Sidney, Spenser and their literary friends for their amusement. For the
modern actor this understanding allows for a vastly more sophisticated
interpretation of these characters then is normally seen. By the way, has
anyone out there seen any good writing on *As You Like It* as a comic
meditation on the life of writers in exile?  I've looked but so far I haven't
found a thing.
 
Charles Boyle
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Cohen <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Dec 1994 08:50:58 -0800
Subject:        AYLI
 
Whether Oliver sees through Rosalind/Ganymede's disguise has been worked over
by directors and critics for several generations, largely based on the lines
Arthur Peason quotes, plus Oliver's instruction to R/G to "counterfeit to be a
man;" R/G's response, "So I do;" and Oliver's subsequent calling R/G "Rosalind"
long before the jig is putatively up.  If these lines are not absolutely
clinching for the case that Oliver does catch on (and of course they can be
argued around), such a reading can lead towards some wonderfully theatrical (if
dangerous) moments.  In my just-completed production, when Celia asks Oliver to
help raise the fallen R/G ("I pray you, will you take him by the arm?), Oliver,
pulling a bit too enthusiastically, ends up with R/G arms thrown about his
neck, with the two of them landing in a full-on, breast-to-breast, standing
embrace. It's at this point Oliver cries, "You, a man?" --to audience howls.
 
Of course, this risks killing the play's climax, particularly if it can be
thought that Oliver then tells Orlando of R/G's secret.  I avoided that (I
think) by repunctuating the last line of 4.3, so that instead of R/G's saying
"I pray you commend my counterfeiting to him: will you go?" she/he instead says
"I pray you, commend my counterfeiting to him, will you?" Oliver nods  'yes,'
and then R/G finishes the line with "Go." and they exit. i.e. Oliver will keep
the secret.   And when Oliver greets R/G as "fair sister" (in front of Orlando)
in scene 5.2, he does so covertly and with a wink - which R/G reciprocates by
squeezing his hand hard, and eliciting an "OK - I won't do it again" gesture.
Thus Orlando's "greater wonders" can play, as R/G hopes, as the "pair of stairs
to marriage" between Celia and Oliver.   This reading lets you have your cake
(the "body language" discovery of Rosalind's true gender by Oliver) and still
feast on the surprises of the final scene.
 

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