As You Like It: A Feminist Play
Feminism in Shakespeare’s era was an entirely different subculture than the third-wave movement that we experience in modern times. In the seventeenth century, women were extensively challenged with expressing themselves in a strictly patriarchal system that generally refused to acknowledge or grant merit to women’s views and declarations of individuality. Though modern day feminism was nonexistent, many women and supporters expressed themselves and the conditions they faced, often indirectly, using a variety of creative and subversive methods. This paper takes a closer look at the literary icon, William Shakespeare, who demonstrates himself as a feminist through one of his most famous and beloved plays; As You Like It. Upon a close reading of this play, I argue that through the use of comedy and satire does Shakespeare demonstrate his feelings towards women and society. Thus, I assert that Shakespeare should be considered a feminist of his time. First, I present the play with a brief synopsis in order to present the story at face value. I then give relevant background information on the time the play was written, published and performed to provide context of society’s then - standards and expectations. I explain the methodology I used to go about this analysis and argue my findings through the play. Finally, I summarize my findings and show ways in which my research could be furthered in the future.
As You Like it takes place in a territory in France, ruled by Duke Frederick who has usurped the land from his eldest brother, Duke Senior, and has exiled him prior to the start of the play. Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, has been permitted to stay at court, as she is the closest friend and confidant of Frederick’s child, Celia. The play also centers on the character of Orlando, who at first sight has fallen in love with Rosalind when they meet before his big wrestling match, in which she gives him her necklace as a token of luck and love. Unfortunately, Oliver is forced to flee his home with his family’s loyal servant, Adam, after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Similarly, Rosalind is banished as well after Frederick decides that she is not a good influence on Celia or the court itself. In turn, Rosalind and Celia decide to flee together accompanied by the court jester, Touchstone, and disguise themselves as a young man named Ganymede and a young woman named Aliena. Both parties happen to escape to the Forest of Arden where love, chaos, and hilarity ensue.
This play was written in 1623, the Elizabethan age; an era of full-blown patriarchy that hadn’t seen many glimpses of a fight for equality out in the open. The cultural mindset that men were superior to women had been established centuries ago and was still in full effect, however, many feminist agents did attempt to rise up and been seen as equal in the eyes of society. In fact, women had been making steady progress since Queen Elizabeth...