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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: October ::
AYL: Rosalind and Orlando 4.1
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0535  Wednesday, 28 October 2009

From:       Nicholas Clary <
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Date:       Tuesday, 20 Oct 2009 15:37:40 -0400
Subject:    AYL: Rosalind and Orlando 4.1

I submit the following observation on a scene from As You Like It for 
the a colleague who has come new to the play. Christopher is fascinated 
by the scene between Rosalind and Orlando in 4.1, and offers a brief 
reflection on it. He and I welcome any comments that readers might like 
to offer:

There appears to be some coherent design to Rosalind's lesson in Act IV, 
scene I. We notice a back-and-forth play between the shrewish, 
stand-offish woman and the playfully flirty woman, which may be meant to 
mark the progression of a courtship. It is as if this brief exchange 
between Orlando and Rosalind is supposed to prepare Orlando for what he 
can expect when he finally meets his Rosalind again and begins to court 
her. In fact, one may observe how the course of any courtship seems to 
follow the roles of the women Rosalind plays. The design of her 
characters and the progression of the exchange seem to be carefully 
orchestrated to mimic what the conventional flow of a courtship and 
subsequent relationship might look like. Or, at least what Rosalind 
understands relationships to be. If we are to understand Rosalind's 
efforts as an attempt to cure Orlando of his love sickness, then we 
might interpret this exchange as a carefully orchestrated introduction 
to the experience Orlando can anticipate upon meeting up with Rosalind 
and courting her. It is important, however, not to forget that at the 
same time that this is an introduction, it is also a lesson. Rosalind 
has taught Orlando how a playful courtship might progress into the 
exchanging of vows. How marriage might be more important than sex. How 
true love is much more meaningful than tacky love poems.

To say that Rosalind teaches Orlando in an effort to cure him is not to 
say, however, that she does not learn something herself. Indeed Rosalind 
seems to fall deeper in love with Orlando and becomes frustrated as a 
result of her efforts, all of which can be understood from the fact that 
it becomes indistinguishable at certain points whether Rosalind is 
playing Ganymede or herself. In fact, there seem to be moments in the 
scene when we are inclined to believe that Rosalind is herself, and 
moments when she is playing Ganymede. If Rosalind is the magician who 
orchestrates the vacillation between different types of women in an 
effort to cure Orlando of his love sickness, Shakespeare is the magician 
who orchestrates the vacillation between different interpretations of 
Rosalind's identity to cure our obsession with conformity and sameness. 
In much the same way that Orlando is being cured by Rosalind, so too is 
the audience being cured by the playwright. Both Rosalind and 
Shakespeare are offering to their respective audiences a plurality of 
possibilities (whether it be different types of women or different 
interpretations of characters) which, by the nature of their diversity, 
are meant to lead to understanding and harmony. It is from exposure to a 
plurality of types of women that Orlando may come to better understand 
love and becomes himself a more mature lover. Similarly, it is from the 
audience's exposure to different possibilities of interpretation that 
they are to better understand each other and the world they inhabit. A 
diversity of people and a plurality of perspectives seem to lead to an 
understanding and a harmony which is dependent upon differences. The 
universal truths are universal in so far as they are based on diversity. 
So as for the woman you play, the man you are, or the way you interpret 
the world, the possibilities are many indeed.

Thanks in advance for whatever the SHAKSPER readership may have to say 
about it.

Nick Clary

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