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Language Of Love In Shakespeare's As You Like It

1816 words - 7 pages

As You Like It is love:  The Language of Love     

 
       The most obvious concern of As You Like It is love, and particularly the attitudes and the language appropriate to young romantic love. This is obvious from the relationships between Orlando and Rosalind, Silvius and Phoebe, Touchstone and Audrey, and Celia and Oliver. The action of the play moves back and forth among these couples, inviting us to compare the different styles and to recognize from those comparisons some important facts about young love. Here the role of Rosalind is decisive. Rosalind is Shakespeare's greatest and most vibrant comic female role. She is clearly the only character in the play who has throughout an intelligent, erotic, and fully anchored sense of love, and it becomes her task in the play to try to educate others out of their false notions of love, especially those notions which suggest that the real business of love is adopting an inflated Petrarchan language and the appropriate attitude that goes with it.

            Rosalind falls in love with Orlando at first sight (as is standard in Shakespeare), becomes erotically energized, and remains so throughout the play. She's delighted and excited by the experience and is determined to live it to the full moment by moment. One of the great pleasures of watching Rosalind is that she is always celebrating her passionate feelings for Orlando. She does not deny them or try to play games with her emotions. She's aware that falling in love has made her subject to Celia's gentle mockery, but she's not going to pretend that she isn't totally thrilled by the experience just to spare herself being laughed at (she even laughs at herself, while taking enormous delight in the behaviour which prompts the mockery).

            At the same time, Rosalind has not an ounce of sentimentality. Her passionate love for Orlando does not turn her into a mooning, swooning recluse. It activates her. She takes charge of her life. She knows what she wants, and she organizes herself to seek it out. If she has to wait to pursue her marriage, then she is going actively to enjoy the interim in an improvised courtship and not wrap herself in a mantle of romantic attitudinizing. She initiates the game of courtship with Orlando and keeps it going. She has two purposes here. This gives her a chance to see and court Orlando (in her own name) and thus to celebrate her feelings of love, but it also enables her to educate Orlando out of the sentimental pose he has adopted.

            Orlando, too, is in love with Rosalind. But his view of love requires him to write drippy poems and walk through the forest hanging them on trees. He sentimentalizes the experience (that is, falsifies it), so that he can luxuriate in his feelings of love rather than focusing sharply on the reality of the experience. In their conversations, Rosalind/Ganymede pointedly and repeatedly deflates his conventional rhetoric. This comes out most clearly in her...

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