Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As You Like It - Seamless Comedy

Derek writes:

Alrighty, I'm going first, it looks like. I'll keep this brief, as I'm in Iowa City at the moment, looking for a place to live when I (re)restart grad school in August.

As You Like It is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. Other great ones have their points ― Midsummer Night's Dream with its fairyland traipsing, Twelfth Night simply for Feste, Much Ado for the exchanges of wit ― but only As You Like It seems to combine so many elements of wonderful comedy so seamlessly. When I read Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, Bloom's claim that As You Like It suffers, or Rosalind suffers, because there's no real EVIL in the play, it made me somewhat angry. One of As You Like It's great points, I think, is that, for once, there really IS evil ― not Malvolio threatening to ruin people's fun and make them go to bed on time; not Don John seeking simply to spoil everyone's joy (though he's closer to evil); not even Egeus threatening to kill his own daughter if she won't marry Demetrius (that's probably closest). In As You Like It, the world really is upside-down from the beginning, and not in any benign way. A wrongful, usurping ruler has taken the throne and banished the Duke Senior and Co to Arden. This is the stuff, potentially, of tragedy ― Macbeth, Hamlet, and so on. Or at least of problematic histories, like the War of the Roses octet. In As You Like It, the power of virtue and goodness and beneficence is immediately threatened on several levels by the cynical power-grabs of both Oliver and Frederick.

Okay, instead of going on and on about the wonder of the very explicit court v. country philosophizing, the romantically overmatched Orlando, Jacques as counterpoint to Touchstone, etc, etc, all of which I kind of want to write, I'll just stick to my point and close succinctly. Why I love As You Like It ― in most comedies, it seems to me (sorry, Mr. Bloom), as in most tragedies, actually, the end result requires a great deal of help from some external force like fate or happenstance; in As You Like It, though, that good wins out in the end is much more a result of the combined wills of Rosalind and Celia, I think. Not that they plan it that way ― but they are simply unflaggingly playful in the face of danger, and for that reason, I think, it feels to the audience that the happy ending is a foregone conclusion.


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