As You Like It By Shakespeare

By: Gabriel Rise

William Shakespeare presents the diversity of male and female characters in his play ‘As You Like It’.

The relationships between two loving persons will definitely depend on these toe persons themselves and they may refer to either standard, regular male--female relationships or some non-standard female--female/ male--male connections, women--lesbians and men--gays. ‘Love is as you like it’, says Shakespeare and proves it by the genus of his play characters.

As You Like It displays a mobility of sexual identity and gender that is prescient of many debates and concepts that relate to what is now recognized as Gay and Lesbian or Queer theory. An important feature of this critical approach is the attention paid to the performance component of both sexuality and gender. Moreover, how the protean nature of these concepts help to illustrate that the performance aspects of identity and gender are far more pertinent than any prescribed societal or anatomical distinctions.

Halberstam’s standpoint supplies an absorbing method of approaching As You Like It, and the means in which the play reworks these binary oppositions and the resulting ambiguity that courses through the play. Such issues allow an insight to why As You Like It still resounds with audiences and readers in the 21st century. After Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind (and subsequently Celia) from court, Celia makes an arresting speech that, it may be inferred, connotes that her idea of their friendship exceeds platonic bounds. The purpose in quoting this speech is not to imply any latent homosexual desire but to draw attention to the interchange ability of gender roles in As You Like It.

If we were to lift this speech from the play, losing the speech prefix, we could be forgiven for interpreting the semantic choices of the speaker as a male addressing a female in a traditional (thus heterosexual) chivalric romance. This is by no means an attempt to misinterpret or re-contextualize Celia’s speech but to point out that the language could easily be transposed to a romantic, courtly, heterosexual dialogue. Celia performs the role of the (idealistic) lover willing to sacrifice patrimonial advantage to elope with her forbidden love.

In the 21st century, we are aware of the inadequacy or redundancy, of any male/female gay/straight dichotomies: the stratification of human experience, especially of sexuality and identity, is far less rigid in pragmatic terms. Language often struggles with otherness in attempting to name and classify individuals or groups that do not comfortably fit the parameters of, race, religion, sexuality and desire. All too often we are confronted by nebulous concepts such as transsexual, bisexual, metrosexual, pre-op, post-op, and a plethora of other terminology that is either vague, insulting, or both.

In response to their situation Rosalind and Celia remodel themselves to adapt to their new environment. It is true that Rosalind and Celia cannot fully escape the over-arching patriarchal structure. In fact they acknowledge their vulnerability in the pastoral setting and choose an expedient disguise, ‘…so shall we pass along/ And never stir assailants’. They succeed in their male performance until they choose to disclose themselves. Rosalind and Celia’s banishment to the forest serves to masculate them when, conversely, Duke Ferdinand’s exile functions to emasculate him and strip his patriarchal advantage and power.

It is worth pointing out that Elizabethan society may not have suffered from the same blurring of boundaries as our own contemporary society but there are some analogous examples to offer. Queen Elizabeth herself is an androgynous Matriarch embedded deep within a Patriarchal framework. Gender and identity, generally considered as fixed grand narratives, are constructed from binary oppositions that when challenged are far more protean than they first appear.

The fluidity of identity, sexuality and desire in As You Like It does indeed challenge and deconstruct any basic hetero/homo, masculine/feminine dichotomy. It offers a libertarian approach to sexuality that encompasses the myriad possibilities of human experience.

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