I have to admit it took me a long, long time to warm up to this play, although part of the problem was that until last summer at the Globe, I’d never seen a really good performance of it. I’m still not as much in love with Rosalind as the rest of the world seems to be. (On the other hand, I think that Celia, who sacrifices her position and inheritance to follow Rosalind into the forest, and who has some nicely sardonic things to say about her cousin’s game-playing, is a highly underrated character.)
What I love about this play: I really like a couple of the bit parts: Corin, who is a real shepherd dropped into this fantasy-pastoral world, and I think it’s hilarious how he can’t make head or tail of the stereotypically lovelorn Silvius. He also holds his own in his defense of country life, even though Touchstone can run verbal rings around him: “Sir, I am a true labourer: I eat that I earn, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness, glad of other men’s good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.” On a similar note, I also love Adam. His entry right after the “seven ages of man” speech provides a nice counterpoint to Jaques’ satirical summary of human life, which is as arid as it is clever; it’s a nice reminder that old age can be filled with loyalty, affection, and value. (Oh, all right, I really like it when the Simple Folk show the Clever Folk up. I think one of my problems with this play is that it’s too darn full of Clever Folk, and most of the plot consists of them wandering around the forest and occasionally bumping into each other and saying witty things.)
That said, I rather like the old Duke even though he’s one of the Clever Folk, and even though his love for the simple country life is just a touch insincere. (Like most of the exiled lords and ladies, he has no intention of staying in the forest at the end of the play – notwithstanding his insistence that “this our life exempt from public haunt / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in every thing. I would not change it.”) But still, he’s very, very nice, even when Orlando basically mugs him at swordpoint. (This is a great moment, the one real bit of slapstick mayhem in this play, and then it turns into a wholly unexpected celebration of community.)
Favorite moment: Orlando and Jaques trading insults: “I do desire we may be better strangers.” “I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love-songs in their barks.” “I pray you, mar no moe of my verses with reading them ill-favouredly.” “Rosalind is your love’s name? ... I do not like her name.” “There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened.” Ooh, snap.