Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Classics Club: As you like it, by W. Shakespeare

For this month's Let's read Plays, I read As You Like it by Shakespeare. 

A play that was intended as a comedy and which I, of course, did not get -at all.  I think I'll stick to Shakespeare's tragedies from now on...

A complex set of characters parade in this play, all with the same background story:

- siblings ostracising each other for the throne:  Oliver and Orlando, Duke Senior and Duke Frederik

- people assuming different identities: Rosalind a.k.a. Ganymede, Celia a.k.a. Aliena

- people desperate in unfulfilled love 

We find ourselves in France.  The beginning is rather sad, as two brothers, Oliver and Orlando, cannot stand each other, with Oliver, the first son and heir to everything, ostracising Orlando from all aspects of life.  Yet, Oliver cannot succeed:

I know not why, (my soul) hates nothing more than he.  Yet he's gentle; never schooled and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved/ and indeed, so much in the heart of the world, and espacially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised

The dynamics between the two brothers come in stark contrast with two cousins, Rosalind and Celia, who are really like sisters.  A small point here that I didn't feel like they were lovers, something I read in several posts - but maybe that's me... Their fathers, the two brothers. are however exactly like Oliver and Orlando and even worse:  in this case, Duke Frederik has actualy driven Duke Senior away.

There are a lot of pastoral elements in this play that appeal to audiences in the past as well as today.  Unfortunately, not to me.  I would describe the play as a light romantic one, certainly not a comedy and a little bit on the boring side...

There is no elaboration of any of the characters and the Deus ex maquina seems to be the only way out of a difficult situation.  In a sudden whirlwind of events we will find ouselves with two girls who pretend to be boys, and one of these boys will pretend to be a girl... Too much confusion, with plenty of allegories for a good life in the woods, for true love, for superficiality

'Tis true, for those that (Nature) makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favouredly
The end is predictable, but even so:  the solution found is beyond plausibility - Frederik repends his sins and reconciles with his brother, all couples are straightened out and an epilogue applies the play to both men and women in the audience.

I just couldn't see Shakespeare's maestry in this play.  There was no wit that could showcase his genious.  It was an average work, a tried-and-tested little play, sure to please the audience.

Not bad, but then again not good.

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