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As You Like It: Rosalind As Ganymede

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All of William Shakespeare's plays include a wide variety of characters, and his comedy, As You Like It, is no exception. There are characters that represent members of the high social class, or royal class, including both of the Dukes, Rosalind, Celia, Orlando, Oliver, and Jaques de Boys. On the opposite end of the social ladder are the servants Adam and Dennis, and in the middle are the members of the working class represented by Touchstone, Sylvius, Phoebe, Audrey, and others. Shakespeare's way of differentiating between these characters is what gives the play its structure. What he does for almost every single person in his play is give them a certain view on a subject, and then has them take it to one extreme or the other. There is one person he leaves out of that type of characterization though, and she is Rosalind. Shakespeare singles her out as the only person in the play that has a level head on her shoulders, and he leaves it up to her to straighten everyone else out. This essay will explore what Shakespeare included in Rosalind's character that makes her the only balanced person in the play, and it will also show how she balances the other characters out.
The first action taken by Rosalind that indicates her balanced state is when Duke Frederick has banished her from his court, and she decides to leave disguised as a man. This action shows that even though she is female, she doesn't feel the need to act feminine all of the time in order to be self-assured as a woman. She doesn't fully throw herself into her new role though, because she knows that she will still think like a woman, and she says so herself in Act 1, Scene 3, when first contemplating the idea:
Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
A gallant curtal ax upon my thigh,
A boar spear in my hand, and - in my heart,
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will-
This speech shows that Rosalind is sensible enough to know that putting on a man's clothes is not going to get rid of the feelings she has as a woman. She may be able to look and act like a man, but she will not be able to think like one.
By having Rosalind switch genders, Shakespeare is setting up the whole system of checks and balances that is apparent throughout the play. Rosalind can now interfere in other characters lives and come to realize more about herself at the same time. She is forced to see things from a man's point of view, and has to act differently than she normally would. A good example of this is in Act 2, Scene 4, when Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone are in the forest of Arden, and Rosalind says, 'I could find in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel and to cry like a woman; but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat. Therefore courage, good Aliena!' (4-7). It's as if she puts on the man's clothes and feels obligated to act as one, instead of giving in to her womanly instincts. This feeling of hers further shows how balanced she is because she admits her womanly feelings, yet puts them aside when she sees her friend in need.
Not only does dressing like a man allow Rosalind to discover more about herself, but it also gives her the chance to interact with other characters and attempt to fix their unbalanced views. In order to do that, she has got to be perceived as a man by almost every person she has contact with. One person she doesn't have to pretend in front of though, is the clown, Touchstone. His characters knows that she is really a woman, yet Rosalind still manages to balance out his views on love. From every speech Touchstone gives, the reader can see that he is a very physical person and thinks more in terms of things he can see and touch instead of in things that are more spiritual in nature. One example of this is when Rosalind tells him that he is wiser about love than he knows, and he replies by saying, 'nay, I shall ne'er be ware of mine own wit till I break my shins against it,' (2.4: 55-56). What he is implying here is that he will never know how wise he is because it is not something tangible that he can see or feel. He suggests this earlier in the act after Rosalind says how weary her spirits are, and he says, 'I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not weary,' (2-3). This physical attitude carries on into his feelings about love, and is shown in Act 3, Scene 3, when Jaques asks him if he is going to be married and he replies, 'as the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling,' (73-75). In other words, he thinks of love in terms of his lust, and if he has to be married to satisfy that lust, then he'll do it.
With Touchstone feeling this physical way about love, it's no surprise that Rosalind's character has to try and straighten him out. She does so subtly in one scene when Touchstone is making fun of a poem that Orlando has written for her. Touchstone asks her why she 'infect[s]' herself with the pretty words and that they are 'bad fruit,' and she tells him that she'll 'graft [the poem]with [him], and then I'll graft it with a medlar. Then it will be the earliest fruit i' the country; for you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virtue of the medlar,' (3.2: 112, 114, 115-118). Here Rosalind is comparing the poem to a medlar, a fruit that is eaten when it starts to decay, and is trying to show Touchstone that even bad rhymes can be considered beautiful. She is also very smart by comparing the poem to a fruit, because a fruit is something tangible and that is how Touchstone understands things. She is balancing out Touchstone's ideas by not only saying that thoughts and feelings can be beautiful, but she is also saying it in terms he can understand.
While Rosalind's disguise was not needed with Touchstone, there are three other major characters that she has an effect on in the play, and one of them is a shepherdess called Phoebe. Phoebe has a man that is head over heels in love with her, yet she gives him hardly any sympathy whatsoever when she rejects him. She constantly insults him, tells him to 'come thou not near me,' and openly talks to him about Rosalind who she has begun to fall in love with (3.5: 32). When Rosalind realizes that Phoebe has taken a liking to her, she balances the tables by immediately rejecting her like she rejected Sylvius. Rosalind tells Phoebe to her face to 'not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine. Besides, I like you not,' (72-74). In another scene Rosalind gives Phoebe an additional ...

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