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Gabrielle Mc Caffrey Shakespeare I Paper 2 Questioning Gender Roles in Shakespeare’s As You Like It During the Renaissance gender roles were clearly defined and often put males in the dominant position in both social and cultural realms. In As You Like It, Shakespeare outlines these positions by disregarding them when Rosalind crossdresses to teach Orlando how to seduce a woman. Rosalind uses her intelligence to exploit gender roles in order to assist Orlando in upholding them. Even though Rosalind chooses to disregard gender roles, she helps a male uphold them in order for her to get what she wants, Orlando, in the manner that she wants. Because of his brother, Orlando is not intelligent enough to have control over the social constraints and expectations that he is held to and thus, he cannot express himself properly to Rosalind in order to gain her love in a manner that is acceptable by Rosalind. Rosalind functions as a character is who is not only intelligent and witty enough to understand the social constraints she is surrounded by, but smart enough to go around them in order to obtain what she wants—Orlando, regardless of her lack of material possessions to offer as a dowry and her exile from the city. Rosalind clings to the power she has when she assumes the role of a man to get what she wants, as well as what is best for her and Celia, and continues the charade long after her reason for doing so is fulfilled.
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It is easy to see this Elizabethan play become a Hollywood adaptation with an actress such as Meg Ryan playing the part of Rosalind. First, the setting of Arden forest must be portrayed as not only an escape for its inhabitants, but as a complete opposition from the city. The city would be suffering from a lack of color, gray walls would surround the city and the scenes in the kingdom would be dreary and overshadowed by consistent overcast. Music playing in the background of the city would drag on and weigh down each scene, almost forcing the audience to wish it were over as soon as possible. The Forest of Arden, however, would be lush with green scenery and upbeat, encouraging background music to accompany and underscore the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief during the scenes that take place there. The Forest of Arden represents a theater in which characters such as Rosalind can attain their goals by dressing up as men to obtain power otherwise withheld from them, or characters such as Orlando can go to be taught by young boys how to seduce and love. Arden Forest must express the whimsical nature of the actions that take place there. The city would be portrayed as confined, busy, and crowded, leaving little room for its inhabitants to create themselves or subvert the societal and gender assumptions in place. The forest, however, would leave room enough for both imagination and physical freedom, allowing the characters to most easily enter the theater and act freely in order to gain control of themselves. For example, in the forest, all Rosalind must do is expel her gender by crossdressing and acting as a man in order to obtain what she wants—she is easily able to grasp the power that the city caused to evade her. There would be collections of
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trees surrounding the actors to demonstrate how the characters are surrounded by the forest, and would mimic a natural stage. In the city, characters would be confined to small rooms that are cluttered and stuffy, or dark side streets that stifle each character. Celia underscores the feeling of freedom that is gained from leaving the city and entering the forest when she says “Now go we in content/ To liberty and not to banishment” (I.iii.140). Furthermore, in the next scene, the Duke demonstrates the freedom achievable in Arden Forest when he expounds upon his new life in the forest in Act II when he says “Hath not old custom made this life more sweet/Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods/ More free from peril than the envious court?” (II.i.3). However, Arden Forest cannot be portrayed as too perfect, as the audience would question why the characters decide to go back to the city at the end. The forest’s setting must convey a realm of healing, rather than an Eden on Earth. At different times in the play, Rosalind must carry herself in different manners. The director of the play could use the accommodating language and situations Shakespeare has given them by directing Ryan to act differently when using her body language when she is cross dressed and when she is not. Rosalind is a strong character no matter what gender she is masquerading as. However, when Rosalind is herself, her language must be eloquent and powerful but still feminine in foundation. An important facet to consider as a director is the case of Rosalind’s costume and disguise. The disguise must not be noticeable by Orlando, but must be recognizable by the audience to achieve farce. Furthermore, though Rosalind is
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dressed in a man’s garb, the transparency of her character must also be apparent so that the audience may be able to note the flickering shifts from female Rosalind to male Rosalind. Rosalind is a more assertive female than Orlando is an assertive male, which is exaggerated by her cross dressing and would be overstated by the actors playing their respective roles in the way they deliver lines and by their body language. For instance, in the third act during the third scene, Rosalind and Orlando interact as she, dressed as her male counterpart Ganymede, convinces Orlando that she will cure him of his love. Because she is parading as a boy in her late teens, Rosalind must act like one and begin to strut across the stage, portraying boastfulness and arrogance. The director could instruct Ryan to make these attempts at manliness seem awkward and contrived in order to remind the audience that Rosalind is pretending to be a man and that this act is not innate. The comedy resides in the fact that the audience knows that these awkward actions are a result of Rosalind’s farce and attempted imitation. The characters in the play, such as Orlando, who are confused by Rosalind’s mishaps, attribute her awkwardness to the fact that she is portrayed as a young boy attempting a charade as an adult male. As long as the director ensures that Rosalind’s mistakes are accidental and a result of her overzealous performance, the audience will find humor in the way that other characters so easily cast these glaring mistakes off to the side. When the audience first meets Orlando, he is unequipped to handle the immediate attraction he feels towards Rosalind and, much like his predecessor
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Romeo, goes on a wild an adolescent tangent, proclaiming sweeping generalities on the state of love. Those who do not truly understand love do everything in their power to exploit it in hopes of convincing both themselves and anyone who will listen of their genuineness, like Orlando. Rosalind, however, is not as immature and ignorant as Orlando and recognizes both of their hopeless devotion as both a vice and a virtue. Without Rosalind’s astuteness and wit, they both could have very well ended up dead having followed their juvenile intuitions without any consideration for mitigating factors, such as Romeo and Juliet. But, Rosalind is educated enough to take this blind devotion of Orlando and nurture it into an actual relationship that leaves all parties involved—including society—happy. When staging this play, the director can expound upon Shakespeare’s challenge to society’s expectations of gender roles in the Elizabethan era. By staging an overly effeminate Orlando and displaying his evolution into manhood by changing the way the actor carries him across the stage and delivers his lines throughout his lessons with Ganymede, As You Like It can lend itself to demonstrate women’s ability to gain power at the sacrifice of her gender and how gender roles are a mirror of individual expectations which build an entire society on gender expectations.
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