As You Like It: The Importance of the Secondary Characters
As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, is a radiant blend of fantasy, romance, wit and humor. In this delightful romp, Rosalind stands out as the most robust, multidimensional and lovable character, so much so that she tends to overshadow the other characters in an audience's memory, making them seem, by comparison, just "stock dramatic types". Yet, As You Like It is not a stock romance that just happens to have Shakespeare's greatest female role. The other members of the cast provide a well-balanced supporting role, and are not just stereotypes. Characters whom Shakespeare uses to illustrate his main theme of the variations of love are all more than one-use cardboards, as they must be fully drawn to relate to life. Those characters most easily accused of having a stock one-dimensionality are those inessential to the theme but important to the plot and useful as convenient foils, such as Duke Frederick and Oliver de Boys. The assertion of the question deserves this quote: "You have said; but whether wisely or no, let the forest judge."
There is no doubt, either in the critical or play-going mind, that Rosalind is the "grandest of female roles" (Hazlitt). She encompasses a multitude of character brushstrokes, from the love struck maiden to the witty arch tongue to the steel-backboned princess to the fiery Wise One (Hazlitt). To add to the demands of the character Shakespeare adds in an exterior sex change and further makes Ganymede pretend to be Rosalind to Orlando. Though this kind of "boy acting a girl acting a boy acting a girl" kind of transmogrifications were not uncommon upon the Elizabethan stage, the kind of mind and acting portrayed by Rosalind would dwarf that of the others on stage, and make her show her deviousness and sense of fun.
Though the range of her acting sub-roles alone would make the other characters look pale, the depth of each of her "many parts" outshines many. As a woman in love she demonstrates a range of emotion and action that far exceeds that of Celia, Phoebe or Audrey. It is her romance with Orlando that is the focus of the play, and the one held up as the ideal, and therefore the one that gets most of Shakespeare's attention as a playwright. Rosalind's gushing first meeting with Orlando, a stark contrast to her masterly handling of Le Beau just before, shows a more vulnerable Rosalind. Rosalind's playful fantasizing about Orlando after the wrestling match and after verses start appearing on trees shows a depth of infatuation not explored with the other characters, except Phoebe, though Phoebe is shown up to have a more stock kind of silly infatuation rather than Rosalind's more courtly lovesickness. Rosalind's momentary drops of her guise as Ganymede playing Rosalind, such as when she faints at seeing the bloody handkerchief, show that Rosalind is human, and these involuntary glimpses of the true lover forced...