Gender in as You Like It

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Gender in As You Like It
One of the most intriguing aspects of the treatment of love in As You Like It concerns the issue of gender. And this issue, for obvious reasons, has generated a special interest in recent times. The principal reason for such a thematic concern in the play is the cross dressing and role playing. The central love interest between Rosalind and Orlando calls into question the conventional wisdom about men's and women's gender roles and challenges our preconceptions about these roles in courtship, erotic love, and beyond.

At the heart of this courtship is a very complex ambiguity which it is difficult fully to appreciate without a production to refer to. But here we have a man (the actor) playing a woman (Rosalind), who has dressed herself up as a man (Ganymede), and who is pretending to be a woman (Rosalind) in the courtship game with Orlando. Even if, in modern times, Rosalind is not played by a young male actor, the theatrical irony is complex enough.

The most obvious issue raised by the cross dressing is the relationship between gender roles and clothes (or outer appearance). For Rosalind passes herself off easily enough as a man and, in the process, acquires a certain freedom to move around, give advice, and associate as an equal among other men (this freedom gives her the power to initiate the courtship). Her disguise is, in that sense, much more significant than Celia's, for Celia remains female in her role as Aliena and is thus largely passive (her pseudonym meaning "Stranger" or "outsider" is an interesting one). The fact that Celia is largely passive in the Forest of Ardenne (especially in contrast to Rosalind) and has to wait for life to deliver a man to her rather than seeking one out, as Rosalind does, is an interesting and important difference between the two friends.

These points raise some interesting issues. If becoming accepted as a man and getting the freedom to act that comes with that acceptance is simply a...
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