Belonging in as You Like It

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Belonging can have positive and negative consequences.
To belong is to have a secure relationship with a particular facet of society in which one is accepted by those within. The need to feel such a connection with others can often drive us to extreme situations with a varying array of consequences both positive, such as finding one’s place in society, and negative, such as inhibiting one’s sense of self and limiting individuality. Shakespeare’s play As You Like It explores the concepts of traditional notions of belonging by examining filial, fraternal and romantic bonds, the consequences of belonging geographically, and accepted roles of gender. The title itself gives the play to the audience, before any plot is introduced, with the words “As You Like It” implying the play belongs to those viewing it. In Shakespeare’s context the play was to be seen as meeting his audiences’ expectations and the comedic nature of the plot attempts to ensure this, with a villain the audience collectively hates and a happy ending to ensure comfort and closure. Filial bonds, or family ties, are cemented biologically from birth and form the most primal sense of belonging to human beings. Among all other institutions, that of the family and our relationships within it shape our identities most profoundly and for the longest time. The negative consequences of ostracism from this fundamental unit comprise the core of the plot in As You Like It. Orlando’s pining of his treatment by brother Oliver uses animalistic imagery to illustrate the breakdown of his own family unit. Orlando suggests that Oliver treats his “animals on dung-hills” better than himself, implying Oliver cares more for his animals than his own brother. The lexical chain used by Orlando of emptiness and nothingness conveys his feelings of ostracism from his family and foreshadows the ultimate fracturing of fraternal bonds in Oliver’s attempts to end his life. This same sense of alienation is repeated in the Court of...
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