“As You Like It” Essay, Research Paper
Attitudes toward Love and Marriage in As You Like It
Nearly every character in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” has a marked opinion on love and marriage which ranges from the romantic Orlando to Ganymede who is quite skeptical of love and endeavors to “rid” Orlando of his petty infatuation for Rosalind.
Touchstone, who has what I consider the most unique view on love and marriage put forth in the play, makes his views known in a speech concerning faith and his indifference thereof. He believes that marriage serves as a sign of honor and respectability rather than love – he gives the explanation “as a walled town is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a married man more honorable than the bare brow of a bachelor.” He is also of the opinion that unfaithfulness is inevitable as evidenced by the section of his speech in which he proposes that:
“A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; for here we have no temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts. But what though? Courage! As horns are odious, they are necessary. It is said, many a man knows no end of his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and knows no end of them. Well, that is the dowry of his wife; ’tis none of his own getting. Horns? Even so. Poor men alone? No, no; the noblest dear hath them as huge as the rascal.”
Marriage in his eyes is merely a physical convenience as he hints in the line “Well,
praised be the gods for thy foulness! sluttishness may come hereafter.” This cynicism might be a symptom of the life of an observer of the court while never truly belonging there. One gets the impression through his speech, occupation, and mannerisms that Touchstone may not have been born of noble blood, but rather adopted into the court as a fool. Such a life would have given him ample justification for distrust, disdain, and, most importantly, as a result of his lack of a sense of belonging, bitterness.
Rosalind, or Ganymede, displays a duality vital to her disguise and the plot line. Ganymede has a scorn for love as she expresses to Orlando by declaring, “Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do”. This she says but minutes after proclaiming her adamant love for Orlando. The fa?ade she dons in relation to her feelings on love conversely reinforces the image of her as an earnest romantic. It attests to the lengths she will go to for the requital of her love for Orlando.
Likewise, Shakespeare also depicts Orlando as a hopeless romantic. However, he seems to be more easily swayed by peoples’ opinions than Ganymede, and thus allows “him” to act as Rosalind would as a test of his love. It seems at though Rosalind, as Ganymede would not need that type of affirmation; she probably would have denied the offer proclaiming her love true and needing no test to prove itself. Orlando on the other hand, seems to either need this test to prove to himself that his love for Rosalind is enduring or he truly wishes to rid himself of his ardor, the former being the more likely of the two in my opinion. Though outwardly he professes his love with gusto as he does in his response to Ganymede’s inquisition as to who had been carving love poems on the forest trees, through some of his actions (i.e. allowing Ganymede to attempt to cure him of his “sickness”) and some of his lines, he exudes a certain innocent insecurity when speaking of his love. Rosalind is constantly correcting the ways in which he allows his love for Rosalind to manifest itself, showing that he was never shown proper courting ritual while living with Oliver.
In the last few scenes several of the characters’ feelings on marriage either change dramatically, or are made known, or both as was probably the case with Oliver the reformed villain. With Oliver’s reform, that included more compassion and less hatred and maltreatment toward people, came a new outlook on love. In previous scenes, he had only been portrayed as a spiteful cruel authoritarian with an incapacity to love, but his love for Aliena comes quick and passionate after his drastic change in personality. The subject of his love, Celia, never showed an interest in love for herself and only marginal interest in Rosalind’s when it was not contempt, quite obviously, as testified by her love for Oliver, she joins the crowd in love-sickness. Touchstone also seems to have cultivated a degree of true love for Audrey by this point, as evidenced by his willingness to kill poor William for her. Silvius is ecstatic because he is to marry the woman he loves, however, one could guess that in discovering that the object of her affection is a woman, Phoebe may not have shared Silvius’ joy.
Shakespeare seemed to have an idealistic view of love, which may have been tainted with bitterness by his failed marriage. Both aspects seem to pervade the personalities of Shakespeare’s characters in “As You Like It” as shown by the stark comparison that can be made between Orlando and Touchstone. Another very important aspect that influenced the characters in “As You Like It” was the concrete social distinctions that were made in 17th century Italy. This affected attitudes by way of making non-illicit true love very improbable assuming one spent a considerable amount of time in the presence of classes other than that to which they belonged. Moreover, the times in which Shakespeare lived differed a great deal from life as we live it now, and the people’s notions of love followed accordingly.