As You Like It as a Romantic Comedy

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AS YOU LIKE IT
by William Shakespeare

THE AUTHOR William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born into the family of a prosperous tradesman in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. While in his mid-teens, he was forced to leave school because his family fell into a period of poverty, so that he had only a rudimentary education. In 1582, he married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior and already three months pregnant. The marriage produced three children in three years, but in 1585, Shakespeare left Stratford to go to London to seek his fortune in the big city. In London, he embarked upon a career on the stage, becoming a popular actor by the early fifteen nineties. In 1591, he penned his first play, Love’s Labour’s Lost. His early plays were comedies, and show nothing of the depth that characterized his later works. His plots were borrowed from a variety of sources, both ancient and contemporary. During his career, he wrote 37 plays, three narrative poems, and 154 sonnets. His writing brought him fame and popularity, but he continued to act as well as write (critics love to speculate about which of the characters in his plays would have been played by the author). He eventually became a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men when James I ascended the throne). Most of his plays were performed at local theaters like the Rose, the Globe, and the indoor Blackfriars. When the Globe burned to the ground in 1613 (a cannon misfired during a performance of Henry VIII), Shakespeare retired, and died in Stratford three years later on his fifty-second birthday. As You Like It (1600) has for the last two centuries been one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. It is a pastoral romance – a genre originating in ancient Greece and still popular in Elizabethan England. As he did in so many of his plays, Shakespeare borrowed the basic story from an earlier work – in this case, Thomas Lodge’s prose romance Rosalynde, or Euphues’ Golden Legacy. Into Lodge’s basic framework Shakespeare introduces rollicking comedy absent from the original, along with new characters like Touchstone, Audrey, and Jaques. No one, either in Shakespeare’s day or ours, expected realism in such a story. Instead, characters and audience alike find joy in the freedom of the forest and countryside, where stock characters do improbable

things and meet with unlikely coincidences. And where, of course, (almost) everyone gets married in the end and lives happily ever after. MAJOR CHARACTERS • Duke Senior – The rightful duke, he is forced into exile in the Forest of Arden by his jealous brother. Duke Frederick – He forces his brother into exile and usurps his throne, but eventually is converted and returns the dukedom to its rightful ruler. Jaques – A lord under Duke Senior, he is incurably melancholy, even when all around him are rejoicing. Charles – Duke Frederick’s prize wrestler, he is defeated by Orlando. Oliver – Eldest son and heir of Sir Rowland de Boys, he has deprived his brothers of their rightful inheritance and is terribly jealous of his noble youngest brother. When seeking Orlando in the Forest of Arden, he meets, falls in love with, and marries Celia, yields his inheritance to his youngest brother, and decides to live the life of a shepherd. Orlando – Youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, he is forced into exile in the Forest of Arden by his brother, where he is reunited with his love Rosalind. He eventually regains his inheritance from his father. Touchstone – The fool in Duke Frederick’s court, he too departs for the Forest of Arden, where he meets and marries Audrey. Adam – Orlando’s eighty-year-old servant who finances his flight with his life savings and accompanies Orlando into exile in the Forest of Arden. Corin – An elderly shepherd in the Forest of Arden. Silvius – A young shepherd madly in love with Phebe, a shepherdess who constantly scorns his affection. Eventually they marry with the help of Rosalind. Rosalind – Daughter of Duke...
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