|As You Like It|
Director: Gavin Cameron-Webb
Dramaturg: Lisa Hall
Shakespeare constructs this dynamic play around many layers of opposites. He juxtaposes the complicated luxury of the palace with the modest simplicity of the Forest of Arden, and explores the effect of these two very different environments on his characters. He places characters of different economic classes in opposition, so that we may see the benefits and follies of each. Each pair that is set up helps us, as an audience, understand more about each part, but also sets up clear comic situations. The human relationships also fit the mold, as Shakespeare begins by setting up the good and bad Dukes, Orlando and Oliver, as polar opposite brothers, as well as Touchstone and Jaques, and Audrey and Phebe. This structure can be illuminated further by viewing it through the lens of the madcap genre of 1930's screwball comedy films.
Made almost strictly between 1934 and 1942, screwball comedies responded to the destitution of the Depression with a world of romance, slapstick, luxury and fantasy; They were described as having "censor-confounding, Depression-denying sensibility"[with] subversive charm and absurdist authority." In general terms, when the term 'screwball' is applied to a film it is because there is a juxtaposition between ""educated and uneducated, rich and poor, intelligent and stupid, honest and dishonest, and most of all male and female." It was characterized by a combination of slapstick physical humor and witty, intellectual writing. Most of the films presented some or all of these traits, ones which can be used to view As You Like It in a new way.
The screwball films often played with the idea of class, pitting the working class against men and women of leisure. In Shakespeare's play, this theme is played out explicitly as he pits the savvy (and often mouthy) members of the court against the nobles. The genre also framed its leading men and women with a cast of zany characters, much in the way that Shakespeare highlights the troubles of Rosalind and Orlando with a population of rustics and clowns. In the genre, there tends to be a focus on the urban setting, with it's connotations of high life, leisure, elegance and fantasy. In some of the genre's films romantic relationships are only set right when the characters retire to the country. This brings up some interesting thoughts: although in the play the palace is set up against the forest of Arden as establishment vs. rural life, Arden more clearly exemplifies the "screwball" idea of leisure, sexual frustration, and fantasy that is ordinarily the 'city' in the screwball genre. If this reversal uniformly applies, then the idea that the couples must retire to the country to ultimately come together still works quite well, if we substitute in the idea of the palace. The 'city' is where the 'zaniness' takes place: it has the comic, zany types, the country is a respite.
The primary push behind both screwball comedy and Shakespeare's play is the juxtaposition of the lead male and female, who struggle through comic capers and misunderstandings in an attempt to come together. The female is dominating, eccentric, often exemplifying socially 'male' traits, and the men are somewhat childlike, traditional, spontaneous and honest. The nature of women in these comedies provides an interesting comment on the action of As You Like It. They are truly assertive women and are the opposite of 'timid, virginal' males. In screwball comedy, female domination is sometimes exemplified by the "reversal of sex roles." This wasn't always necessarily cross-dressing so much as the switch between socio-cultural positions. While this is a recurring theme in Shakespeare, it becomes particularly prevalent as Rosalind takes hold of her future, steering Orlando towards loving "Rosalind", managing the floundering romance between Phebe and Silvius, and facilitating the multiple marriage at the close of the play, all the while in breeches. Screwball films were the first time that women played a large role in American comedy, which seems appropriate for a play containing Shakespeare's largest female role, Rosalind.
Ultimately, the play focuses on a happy ending, as did the screwball comedies of the 1930's. The films of the genre, and Shakespeare's play, are riddled with comic misunderstandings, madcap capers, and foiled romance only to conclude with all the wrongs righted, and couples joined in love and happiness.
At the outset of Shakespeare's dynamic comedy As You Like It, Duke Frederick has banished his brother, Duke Senior, and taken over the kingdom. Duke Senior is now living a merry, humble life in the Forest of Arden with his court. Brothers Orlando and Oliver - sons of Sir Roland de Boys, are also introduced. Although Oliver has been charged with caring for Orlando, he has kept him at home without an education. Orlando challenges Oliver's treatment, saying he will reject his peasant upbringing to seek a gentlemen's life.
Oliver speaks with a wrestler for the Duke, Charles, and convinces him that his upcoming wrestling match with Orlando is a chance to eliminate Oliver's "evil" brother. News of the impending wrestling match reaches Celia, Duke Frederick's daughter, as well as her best friend and cousin, Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke. While they fear Orlando's fate in the wrestling match, he upturns all expectations and wins the match. In the midst of this, Orlando and Rosalind begin to fall in love.
After the match, instead of congratulating Orlando, the reigning Duke realizes Orlando's father was sympathetic to Duke Senior's court and Orlando is forced to flee. The Duke then banishes Rosalind. Celia insists on leaving with her cousin, and they dress up as a boy and his sister, with the jester Touchstone accompanying them into the Forest of Arden.
After they've fled, Duke Frederick is convinced that Orlando is with Rosalind and Celia, and sends for his brother Oliver to find the three. In the forest Orlando has been welcomed into the banished Duke's court, and Rosalind and Celia (still dressed as the boy Ganymede and his sister Aliena) see Silvius, a shepherd, professing his unrequited love of Phebe. As Ganymede and Aliena, they join him and buy a flock of sheep to tend.
Wandering the forest, the love-sick Orlando posts love poems to Rosalind on the bark of trees. When she finds them, Rosalind ignores Touchstone's jests and grills Celia for information on their author. When the two meet, Rosalind/Ganymede tells Orlando to woo Ganymede as if "he" was Rosalind, and Orlando's lovesickness will be cured. Love is in the air as Touchstone begins to fall in love with Audrey, one of the rustics. Complications arise when Phebe, Silvius' beloved, finds herself in love with none other than "Ganymede".
Orlando continues to woo "Ganymede",the disguised Rosalind, and she falls even more deeply in love with him. Oliver, who has entered the forest in search of Orlando, is saved from death by his brother, and when he brings a bloody handkerchief to Rosalind/Ganymede to recount the tale, she swoons and faints, revealing her affection for Orlando.
When Celia and Oliver meet in the forest, they fall immediately in love and agree to marry the next day. While happy for his brother, Orlando bemoans his own state. "Ganymede" promises that on the wedding day he will produce Rosalind, and that all of the romantic entanglements will be solved. The day of the wedding Rosalind appears as herself, and a wedding ceremony takes place that binds Oliver to Celia, Rosalind to Orlando, Touchstone to Audrey, and Silvius finally to his dear Phebe. The happiness of the occasion is compounded when it is revealed that Duke Frederick has gone into the Forest of Arden, where he is converted by a religious man and renounces his throne and court, returning all the land to his banished brother.
World of the Play
This production will be set in Depression era America - specifically, 1934-38. In this scenario, the "court society" of Duke Frederick, Celia, Le Beau, along with professional entertainers such as Touchstone, will represent the plutocracy: those who managed to keep their wealth and even enhance it after the crash of 1929. The banished Duke and his followers are those who lost pretty much everything during the economic catastrophe, and they have become hobos who are riding trains and camping out. The inhabitants of the Forest of Arden (perhaps more a dust bowl than a forest) like Corin, Silvius, Phebe, and Audrey are farmers or shepherds who are attempting to eke out an existence on the land.
Of course, a realistic rendition the depression era living would turn this sunny romantic comedy on its head and render it extremely dark indeed. So we are looking at the text through the lens of Hollywood's Screwball comedy genre. These types of films focused on the humor found in opposites: rich and poor, urban and rural, and especially men and women. In addition, a familiar if not ubiquitous characteristic of this genre is that of the dominating, eccentric female pushing her naive almost child like love interest towards marriage in a journey that is riddled with improbable events and mistaken identities. These descriptions make it seem as though Shakespeare anticipated the genre by some three hundred years.