As You Like It
Celia, Jaques, Celia, Jaques. Which one do I want to look at here? Jaques is definitely tempting. His “All the world’s a stage” monolog is deservedly one of Shakespeare’s most famous and Jaques is so very morose and melancholy. Harold Bloom, of course, thinks he’s a fake and I could therefore protest and show that Jaques’ melancholy is genuine but I don’t have to argue against Bloom every time. Jan Kott rightly analyzes Jaques as the forerunner of a bitter Hamlet and the only character in the play who has no reason to leave the alienation of the forest (Kott, pages 285-286). So that’s why, I find, that I won’t choose Jaques. Kott and others have dealt well with him.
Celia, on the other hand, hasn’t at all been given the attention she should have, as far as I can see. And what has been written tends to emphasize an interpretation of her relationship with Rosalind as homoerotic. Maybe it is. But that’s not what I find interesting. What I like is that Celia takes the initiative in heading out into a new world and changing her life. And she has some great retorts, mainly to Rosalind who, granted, is one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, but where would she be without Celia?
First a brief summary of the story. It’s another one of Shakespeare’s silly romance comedies with women dressing up as men, in this case Rosalind who must flee her evil uncle Duke Frederick - Celia’s father - to join her own exiled father in the forest. Orlando too must flee his nasty brother Oliver and Duke Frederick. Rosalind and Orlando fall for each other – don’t bother asking why they have to go through all the rigmarole of Rosalind pretending to be a man pretending to be Rosalind so Orlando can woo her (I told you it was silly). Four loving couples are in any case wed in the end.
What makes the play more than a silly pastoral romance is, as always, the darkness within which it is framed and the feistiness of the characters. Being banished to a forest was no picnic and Rosalind is rightly grieving at the loss of her father when we meet her in the first act and Celia is trying to give her the strength to go on. Claiming that Rosalind should accept Celia’s father out of cousinly love is a shaky argument, seeing what Uncle Frederick has done, but it works on Rosalind who decides to cheer up. Celia goes on to say that everything she has or will inherit is Rosalind’s.
This first exchange continues and Rosalind suggests they talk about falling in love. Celia, not as romantic as her cousin, would rather talk about more prosaic subjects like looks and morals. She suggests that they “ …mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally” (Act 1.2). Nice line but sadly Celia isn’t expressing socialist leanings here. She means the unequal distribution of beauty and chastity: “for those she makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favouredly” (Act 1.2)
The two young women are trying to lighten up their spirits with this amusing dialog but Celia nicely sums up the rigid dilemma of the roles women in her society have to deal with, which is what the play is mostly about.
In the following banter with Touchstone, Celia again proves to be the more receptive of the two cousins by seeing through the clown’s babble and recognizing that he “sayest true; since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show” (Act 1.2). The Norton edition’s note explains that this is a possible reference to the Bishop of London’s order to burn books in 1599, which would give Celia a political mind that Rosalind doesn’t display.
In the first encounter with Orlando as well Celia is the stronger character. She urges Orlando not to wrestle; Rosalind agrees. While he and the mighty Charles are wrestling Rosalind falls in love: “O excellent young man!” while Celia is ready for concrete assistance: “I would I were invisible, to catch the strong fellow by the leg,” and “If I had a thunderbolt in mine eye, I can tell you who should down.” (Act 1.2) And when, after his victory, Orlando is insulted by Duke Frederick, Celia is the one who takes the initiative in supporting him:
“Let us go thank him, and encourage him.
My father’s rough and envious disposition
Sticks me at heart…” (Act 1.2).
Without Celia, would Rosalind ever have had the chance to fall for Orlando? But fall she does and Celia begins her role of trying to poke holes in Rosalind’s rosy balloons of romance:
Celia: O, a good wish upon you! You will try in time, in despite of a fall. But turning these jests out of service, let us talk in good earnest. Is it possible on such a sudden you should fall into so strong a liking with old Sir Rowland’s youngest son?
Rosalind: The Duke my father loved his father dearly.
Celia: Doth it therefore ensue that you should love his son dearly? By this kind of chase I should hate him, for my father hated his father dearly, yet I hate not Orlando (Act 1.3)
Not only is Celia being sensible but she is already revealing a spirit of independence, even resistance, towards her father that doesn’t fit the stereotype we have of submissive daughters.
She continues this resistance when Duke Frederick then enters the room and banishes Rosalind.
Rosalind protests too, a little. But she has no choice. Banished, she is. Celia, on the other hand, is not. When she tries to convince her father that she and her cousin are inseparable, he replies that she will be better off without Rosalind who outshines her in beauty and popularity. Nice. He of course stands firm in the banishment and Celia tells him, “Pronounce that sentence then on me, my liege. I cannot live out of her company” (Act 1.3).
Duke Frederick simply replies, “You are a fool,” and exits. Celia vows loyalty to Rosalind, who is uncertain what to do – “Why, whither shall we go?” So far Rosalind has shown none of the quick-thinking determination for which she is so famous. Instead, it is again Celia who takes the truly brave and daring first step: “To seek my uncle in the forest of Ardenne.” Rosalind protests:
Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far!
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.
Celia’s quick solution: “I’ll put myself in poor and wear attire.” Finally Rosalind gets into the spirit of things and comes up with her gender-crossing idea. And Celia with her own alias, “Aliena”. The estranged one. How much this young woman is estranged in her society could – and should – fill a book especially in view of her lines that close Scene 3 and Act One:
And get our jewels and our wealth together,
Devise the fittest time and safest way
To hide us from the pursuit that will be made
After my flight. Now go we in content,
To liberty, and not to banishment. (Act 1.3)
Estranged. Hide. Pursuit. Flight. Content. Liberty. Has anyone, even Shakespeare, ever strung together in a just a few lines a list of more significant words to describe women’s lives throughout history?
Thus in the first act Celia is established as one of Shakespeare’s most significant characters and although Rosalind takes the center stage more or less completely through much of the remaining play, Celia is still there and in Act Two confirms her liberty and independence from her father and his court. Rosalind offers to buy the cottage, pasture and sheep from which Corin ekes out his living and Celia declares that if he will continue to work there she wants to live there:
And we will mend thy wages. I like this place,
And willingly would waste my time in it (Act 2.4)
The Norton edition explains that “waste” does not have the negative tone we would give it but means simply “spend”. And she does. No mention is made at the end of the play of Celia returning to court; it is reasonable to assume she stays in the cottage.
But back to the big romance which starts sizzling and sparkling between Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando. Here we have an interesting circle. What Rosalind does to Orlando’s wild declarations of love with sarcasm and laconic put downs – for example, the brief but succinct, “Love is merely a madness” (Act 3.3) and surely the most famous and funniest, “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (Act 4.1) – Celia does to Rosalind’s wild declarations of love.
When Rosalind is frantically trying to get Celia to reveal who has written the ridiculous love poems all over the forest and obtusely refuses to get it (it’s impossible to believe she really doesn’t know) Celia bursts out impatiently with a couple of the best lines in Shakespeare: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful-wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping (Act 3.2 – oh how could Branagh have cut that line out of his film?!).
Her impatience continues when silly lovesick Rosalind won’t let her get on with her story but repeatedly interrupts her: “Give me audience, good madam…Cry ‘holla’ to thy tongue…I would sing my song without a burden; thou brings me out of tune…” (Act 3.2). Who can blame her for being impatient?
Later when Rosalind is pining for Orlando and wishes to talk about him Celia counters with more irony: “O, that’s a brave man. He writes brave verses, speaks brave words, swears brave oaths, and breaks them bravely, quite traverse, athwart the heart of his lover, as a puny tilter that spurs his horse but on one side breaks his staff, like a noble goose. But all’s brave that youth mounts, and folly guides” (Act 3.4).
After the odd scene in which Rosalind urges Celia to perform the mock marriage to Orlando, which she does reluctantly and curtly, she is irritated with Rosalind: “You have misused our sex in your love prate,” and when Rosalind continues to moan and sigh, “Aliena, I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando. I’ll go find a shadow and sigh till he come,” Celia retorts in exasperation, “And I’ll sleep” (Act 4.1).
After this snippet of impertinence Celia doesn’t exactly fade away and she plays her characteristically active role in her unexpected love affair with nasty-turned-nice Oliver, older brother to Orlando. But she recedes into the background, her last line being addressed to him: “Good sir, go with us” (Act 4.3).
Act Five amiably pulls all of the heartstrings together. Celia and Oliver are one of the four couples to be brought together in wedded bliss and Rosalind winds things up with her saucy epilog.
So yes, Rosalind deserves the praise that raises her to the position of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters. Her brilliance is undisputed (even if her silliness is often ignored). But in my eyes Celia is no less brilliant, no less witty, and far feistier.
Shakespeare wouldn’t have created her like that if he hadn’t thought so too, would he? So when will she get the attention she deserves?
· The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford Edition. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen et al. Second edition. 2008.
· Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human. 1998.
· Crawford, Julie. ”The Homoerotics of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Comedies” in A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works – The Comedies. Dutton, Richard and Jean E. Howard, editors. 2003.
· Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary.1964.
· BBC, 1978. Director: Basil Coleman. Cast: Helen Mirren – Rosalind; Brian Stirner – Orlando; Angharad Rees – Celia; Richard Pasco – Jaques; Clive Francis – Oliver; Richard Easton – Duke Frederick. After seeing this the first time a couple of years ago I noted that I liked it very much. This time I didn’t. Somehow it struck me as tepid. Ask me again next time.
· 1936. Director: Paul Czinner. Cast: Elisabeth Bergner – Rosalind; Lawrence Olivier – Orlando; Sophie Stewart – Celia; Leon Quartermaine – Jaques; John Laurie – Oliver; Felix Aymler – Duke Frederick. Better than expected. Beautiful black and white photography. Bergner much better as Rosalind than the film critics had led me to believe and Olivier was not only gorgeous but not yet aware (it was his first Shakespeare role on film) that he was Lawrence-Olivier-the-Big-Shakespeare-Star. Sadly, Stewart ruined Celia by being giggly, toothy-smiley and altogether juvenile.
· 2006. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard – Rosalind; David Oyelowo– Orlando; Romola Garai – Celia; Kevin Kline – Jaques; Adrian Lester – Oliver; Brian Blessed – Duke Frederick. By far the best, no surprise there. Very strong cast who all bring depth to their roles. I still wish Celia had been allowed all of her lines but Romola Garai is very good. The filming was lavish, as usual with Brangh, but the forest was surprisingly and effectively quite barren at times.
SSeen on stage: No.