Comparison of Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Viola in 'As You Like It'

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Rosalind and Viola are seen as a dominant and independent figure in Shakespeare’s plays. Because, each exemplifies the power and intelligence to confront other characters with their gender-based disguises. They use their disguises as a way to take control of the romantic aspects in their lives, and they engage into different roles with the ability to defy the constraints that the society imposes on women during the Elizabethan period.

In Shakespeare’s play, female characters obtain more power and freedom within the disguise of a man than a typical woman during that time. In ‘As You Like it’, Rosalind uses her power of her disguise to chide the unjustifiable love of Silvius towards Phoebe: “Tis not her glass but you that flatters her, and out of you she sees herself more proper Than any of her lineaments can show her” (3.5.54-56). The way in which Rosalind tries to elucidate to Silvius on how he is complicating his life toward someone who pretends to love him, shows how Rosalind uses her power from her disguise to be critical towards Silvius. In addition, Rosalind goes into an argument with Phoebe by berating her for the personality and beauty: “I see no more in you than in the ordinary of nature’s sale-work.” (3.5.40-43). Rosalind’s attitude towards Phoebe shows how she does not take into consideration her gender as woman but instead scold her for being mean and argues on how Phoebe’s beauty and personality as woman. Viola, on the other hand, overcame with grief for her brother, who she believed to be dead, and the uncertainty of being left alone on an unfamiliar island, she takes control of her situation and act strongly in order to fulfil her mission: “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid. For such disguise as haply shall become. The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke” (1.2.50-52). Viola uses her charming personality to gain the captain’s loyalty and a path to dress as the male Cesario and gain access into Orsino’s court. Viola expresses intelligence and quickness in taking the right decision of finding employment at Duke Orsino’s court. Intelligently, Viola uses her disguise to experience a great degree of intimacy with Duke Orsino: “I have unclasped, to thee the book even of my secret soul” (1.4.11-13). Viola proves her intelligence as she is able to gain the trust of Orsino in her disguise and devise a plan to gain place in Orsino’s love. Here we see how the female character that Shakespeare has created, complies with the powerful qualities needed to lead the play.

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The symbolization of the female characters in the plays demonstrates its capacity to assume responsibility for the romantic aspects of their lives and show men how to woo them as they might want to be wooed. In ‘As You Like It’, Rosalind challenges the love that Orlando have for her and trains Orlando to be a superior lover while she is veiled as a man in the woods: “I would cure you if you would but call me Rosalind and come every day to my cote and woo me” (3.2.377-378). In this unique circumstance, Rosalind's plan will clearly enable her to be near Orlando and to pretend that they are a couple and will have the option to test his affection, persistence and endurance. As Ganymede she even manages on how to make Orlando state that he loves her. In her disguise, Rosalind has lot of control over Orlando as he will do whatever she instructs him to do. Undoubtedly, she would be unable to accomplish this role as a typical woman. The way that they were in the forest and that she was veiled as a man enables her to claim the ability to convey the feelings of love that were tormenting him and adequately train him. In addition, Orlando has admitted to Ganymede that he loves Rosalind, and Rosalind reacts by scorning him for being in love: 'Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do, and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love, too” (3.2.355–358). The behavior of Rosalind gives her power of testing her Orlando by getting into claims that individuals falling into practices of courtly love will in general be amateurish.

On the other hand, Viola hints to Orsino about her real feelings of love for him and Orsino doesn't get into intimations since he believes Viola is a man. Orsino presumes that Viola is discussing about a sister, but we find that Viola is really discussing about herself: “My father had a daughter loved a man, as it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship” (2.4.108-110). In this circumstance, Viola uses her intelligence to trap Orsino in her love and comes close to expressing her love for Orsino. The cunning character of Viola convinces Orsino to marry her regardless of Orsino understanding that he was betrayed by her. Orsino gives off an impression of being enchanted, saying: “I shall have share in this most happy wreck” (5.1.255-256). The way by which the main character, Viola, is perceived and treated by the Orsino shows that Viola leaves no choices for him to pick, yet rather makes him marry her. Viola is allowed to express her ideas of love to Orsino considering the way that she is a man and all through the play, we see that the intelligence of Viola obtains success as Orsino falls in love with her pure and unselfish perspective of love. Even after the exposure of her real character, she can control her condition to put it into the track she wants. Viola parallels Rosalind in this aspect since she furthermore explains her idea of a perfect love to Orsino while she is dressed as a man.

Throughout the play of ‘As You Like It’, we see that Rosalind’s character turned out to be a shocking point for the audience with her epilogue at the end: “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue, but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue” (Epilogue 1-2). Shakespeare included the epilogue in which Rosalind reminds everyone that she is not a woman, but rather a male actor. However, Shakespeare decided to let Rosalind speak the epilogue, which is exceptionally uncommon for plays during the Elizabethan period as the epilogue was typically spoken by a male character. In Twelfth Night, after the revelation of Viola’s true identity, she is silenced and Orsino takes control of the scene: “Your master quits you, and for your service done him, so much against the mettle of your sex, so far beneath your soft and tender breeding, and since you called me “master” for so long, Here is my hand. You shall from this time be, Your master’s mistress” (5.1.307-311). This signifies that after the revelation of her true identity , we see that the way in which the main character, Viola, is treated and perceived by the other characters and how she acts while assuming the male character exhibits how differently men and women relate to one another based on the perceived differences between the genders. Even though, Viola is able to circumvent these limitations placed upon her by society by dressing in male attire and taking on the role of a male in order to obtain a job.

Female agency is shown in Shakespeare’s play with the emergence of powerful qualities of female characters to deal with other characters. The ability to maintain the romantic aspect in their lives and the opportunities given to defy the prejudices of the society. Overall, we come into a conclusion that Rosalind finds herself into a more powerful and intelligent character compared to Viola based on her epilogue given at the end of ‘As You Like It’.

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Comparison of Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Viola in ‘As You Like It’. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
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