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Discovering Walter Howard Deverell As a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite through His Painting: A Scene from As You Like It

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The year 1848 to 1850 was important regarding the arousal of science upon painting in France as well as with the budding of Pre-Raphaelite romanticism. Until 1848, one could admire art in England, but could not be surprised by it. The basic tradition of the contemporary English painters lied mainly in the models, their ladies and young girls, rather than the brushwork (Sizeranne, 7). It was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that emerged into the domain of art and brought a new tradition. Pre-Raphaelitism, in the widest sense of the term, was the product of forces similar to those which inspired the romantic-realist emancipation from classicism on the Continent (Rothenstein, 114). The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) were a group of artists (and poets, theorists, et al), founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and F. G. Stephens to revitalize the art by rejecting the artificiality of the contemporary art of the Royal Academy and injecting an innovative realistic approach into art. Apart from the twinkling stars of the PRB, there were a bunch of less-focused yet equally efficient artists such as John Brett, Ford Madox Brown, Walter Deverell, Richard Berchett, Edward Burne Jones etc who influenced the traditions of Pre-Raphaelite art significantly. Among them, probably the most significant figure was Walter Howard Deverell. Though personalities like Deverell were not talked of much, their artistic brilliance has captured the viewers’ heart era after era. This paper deals with an extensive study of Deverell’s one of the overall five creations, Rosalind Tutoring Orlando in the Ceremony of Marriage or The Mock Marriage of Orlando and Rosalind from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (Act 4 Scene 1) and tries to establish how Deverell was a different as an artist from the rest of the mass and how he is a true Pre-Raphaelite Victorian.

Walter Howard Deverell (1827-1854) met D. G. Rossetti in 1845 at Sass’s Drawing School. Probably that was the striking point of his career when he finally devoted himself in the process of new creation. From that time they were intimate friends and at one period, from January to May 1851, shared a studio in Red Lion Square which was later occupied by Burne-Jones and Morris. It is curious, in view of this, and of the affectionate relations which Deverell established at once with Millais and Holman Hunt, that he was not one of the original P.R.B’s: possibly he felt that his position as assistant master at the Government School of Design, to which he was appointed in April 1848, might be compromised by membership of a revolutionary body (Ironside, 28). It is sometimes said that after the resignation of Collinson, Rossetti proposed the election of Deverell in place of Collinson, and if not the Brotherhood had not dissolved soon afterward; there is no doubt that Deverell would have been elected.

Deverell’s career did not cover more than five years, and he never enjoyed the reputation he deserved. But in spite of all the obstacles, his creations left a permanent mark in the history of Pre-Raphaelite art. The Pet which fetched only £6 6s. at the LeathartSale in 1896, is his one well-known picture. Beside this, he painted Twelfth Night (1850, Coll.Mr. T. Edmondson); The Banishment of Hamlet (1851, owned by the artist’s family, and destroyed in a fire with other works of his); Scene from As You Like It (1852/3, Birmingham Art Gallary); Portrait of Miss Margaret and Miss Jessie Bird (1852-3, destroyed); and The Gray Parrot (1852-3, Mellbourne Art Gallary) (Ironside, 28).

Fig. 1. Walter Howell Deverell, The Pet (1852-53)

Looking at the brief description of the work-list of Deverell, it is clear that Deverell had a great interest in Shakespeare, whether it is Banishment of Hamlet or Twelfth Night or the centre-topic of this paper, The Mock-Courtship Scene from As You Like It. Now the question is why Deverell was so much interested in portraying Shakespearean works? The PRB painters named their association as Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as their main agenda was to revive the medieval and early Renaissance art that came ‘before Raphael’. Among the various experimentations of Renaissance literature in PRB paintings, Shakespeare was nodoubtly the most celebrated. Rossetti’s Desdemona’s Death Song, Hamlet and Ophelia, Mariana, Claudio and Isabella by Holman Hunt, Mariana by John Everett Millais, Cordelia’s Portion (from King Lear), and Millais’s Ophelia are one of the most magnificent creations of Pre-Raphaelite art.

Now the question arises, among the multiple writers of the Elizabethan era, why did the PRBs chose only Shakespeare’s works as the main context of their art, but not the works of other writers? Shakespeare, as a writer, was much ahead of his time and so he represented his women characters in a totally non-stereotypical way. During Renaissance, women were considered to be inferior to men and used to be treated as their properties. But Shakespearean women were represented not as mere empty-headed dolls, but as real persons who are capable of voicing out their own choices and desires. Whether it is Adriana from Comedy of Errors, or Kate from the Taming of the Shrew, or Cordelia from King Lear or Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, all the women portrayals of Shakespeare stand as unique individuals in literature and thus rebel against the Elizabethan stigma of women. Besides, it is also to be noticed that in spite of having a queen (i.e. Queen Elizabeth) at the centre of the rule, women were suppressed in the society and were deprived in every sphere, whether it be education, marriage or anything else. John Wagner on the other `hand said in his book

Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World: Britain, Ireland, Europe and America that, “The patriarchal nuclear family was the core social and economic unit of Elizabethan England” (106).So it is much clear that Shakespeare was very conscious in his portrayal of his women characters and thus he gave his audiences and readers an insight of his forward thinking. Charles Goddard, Shakespearean scholar, supports this view by stating that male superiority is a “[. . .] wholly unShakespearean doctrine [. . .] a view which there is not the slightest evidence Shakespeare ever held” (1: 68). This point is very crucial regarding the argument of this paper that to what extent Deverell can be considered of a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite. Victorian age was also an age when a woman (i.e. Queen Victoria) was in power. But that did not change the general suppressed condition of women in society. Though women got their first right to vote in 1918, they had to overcome numerous obstacles. So it also reflects the fact how Deverell just did not go with the flow with other PRB artists in adapting Shakespearean creations in their art, rather he consciously took Shakespeare’s writings in his paintings to critique the suppression that Victorian Socity conducted against women.

Though like the other Pre-Raphaelite painters, Deverell also tended to walk in the same path of adopting Shakespearean creations in his paintings, he differentiated himself from them in many ways. Although he has been considered to be a less-focused figure among the PRB circles and has never given the limelight that the major PRB artists like Rossetti or Hunt used to get, he created his own place. The very adaptation of the Mock-courtship scene from the Act 4 Scene 1 of As You like It clearly reflects his artistic brilliance. Painted in oil medium, the painting depicts the very scene of Shakespeare’s hugely celebrated pastoral comedy As You Like It where one of the main protagonists of the play, Rosalind, being banished to the Forest of Arden, cross-dresses and disguises herself as a shepherd named Ganymede. On the other hand, Orlando, Rosalind’s forbidden lover, is also in the Forest of Arden. But as he fails to recognize disguised Rosalind, he confesses all his love for Rosalind to the ‘shepherd’ and ‘Ganymede ’offers to rescue him from the distress situation by pretending to be Rosalind so that he can confess his love to her.

Cross-dressing was one of the major techniques of Shakespearean plays. But cross-dressing was not only a mere tool used to progress the plot, but also a breaking through the stereotypical construction of women in Elizabethan society. Jennifer Drouin said in her essay that, “The goal of theatrical cross-dressing is usually the goal of Realist Theater itself – to present the audience with a situation that mirrors real life” (25). Such cross-dressing done by women was a stark commentary on the patriarchal structure of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era “for the theatre provided an arena where changing gender definitions could be displayed, deplored, or enforced” (Rackin 29). Shakespearean women are represented far more bold and brave and out-spoken as they are represented in male attires and that also shows that they are capable of entering into the male domain and voicing out their own choices. Richard Gill further said that, “This ‘cross-dressing (literally, a transvestite is one who cross-dresses) has a central place in The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Twelfth Night” (98). As we study these plays we find that cross-dressing is not only the central to conflict but it also brings the resolution of the play. For instance, Portia from Merchant of Venice is one of the most impressive Shakespearean women dressed as a man. Dressed up as a Young Clark of the law, when all the characters fails to save Antonio, Portia cleverly uses the law by saying that Shylock can have his pound of flesh but he (Shylock) must not spill a drop of Antonio’s blood according to the law. Thus very wittily, Portia manages to save her future husband’s best friend.

“Tarry a little. There is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood. The words expressly are a ‘pound of flesh’. Take then thy bond. Take thy pound of flesh. But in the cutting it, if thou doth shed one drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods are by the laws of Venice confiscate unto the state of Venice”(The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1).

Another important example of the usage of Shakespearean cross-dressing is the comedy Twelfth Night. Placing female cross-dressing within larger gender struggles, “Undoubtedly, the cross-dressed Viola, the woman who can sing both high and low and who is loved by a woman and by a man, is a figure that can be read as putting in question the notion of fixed sexual difference (Howard, 190). On the other hand, “Discussion of androgyny, or of the erasure of sexual determinacy, always centres with regard to this play on the figure of Viola. Yet the first thing to say about her cross dressing is that it is in no way adopted to protest gender inequities or to prove that “Custome is an idiot.”(Howard 192). So it can be said that “Viola’s portrayal, along with that of certain other Shakespeare’s cross-dressed heroines, marks one of the points of emergence of the feminine subject of the bourgeois era: a woman whose limited freedom is promised on the interiorization of gender difference and the “willing” acceptance of differential access to power and to cultural and economic assets. (Howard, 193).

Like Twelfth Night and Marchent of Venice, As You Like It, a pastoral comedy written by Shakespeare between 1598 to 1600, also deals with the prospect of cress-dressing largely. Banished by Duke Frederick, Rosalind escapes to the Forest of Arden and takes shelter in a cottage on the edge of the Forest of Arden. Both Rosalind and Celia are obliged to take cross-dressing to survive. Rosalind flees from the court as is threatened by her uncle, Duke Frederick who also banished Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior to the Forest of Arden. So having no father figure to protect her, Rosalind follows her father in the forest taking a disguise of a boy. Rosalind must therefore disguise as a man to keep her out of danger. When Celia informs Rosalind that they must escape from the court, then Rosalind

Says, “Alas, what danger will it be to us/ Maids as we are, to travel forth so far/ Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold” (I.iii.104-6). Since escaping was the only option for them to avoid the brutal and dominating court, they also acknowledge the fact that it would not be safe for young maidens to wander around alone. So Celia and Rosalind plans to escape in a disguise. Celia suggests taking the disguise of a poor would be appropriate but Rosalind comes with a better option and that is cross-dressing. Rosalind suggests, “Because that I am more than common tall/ That I did suit me all points like a man” (I.iii.111-12). She says that according to her physical feature she must takes the outfit of a man rather taking disguise of poor. Here, cross-dressing comes as a better option for these two ladies. They can use cross-dressing as a vehicle, and start their journey in the forest. As a result, they get liberty to flee away from the male dominating court. In addition, they get chance to travel alone in a male dominated society. It is said by Stephen J Lynch in the book As You Like it: A Guide to the Play that,

In the boyish attire of Ganymede, Rosalind will control and direct much of the subsequent action in the play. Fleeing the corrupted artificial world of the court, Rosalind and Celia seek ‘Liberty’ (1.3.136) in the more natural world of the forest liberty in the broadest sense, including political, social, and gender liberty. (49) So Rosalind takes the disguise of a shepherd named Ganymede and Celia disguises herself as a countrygirl named Celia. Her forbidden lover, Orlando, is also in the forest, and since he doesn’t recognise Rosalind, he tells the ‘shepherd’ that he is in love, and ‘Ganymede’ offers to cure him of his love by pretending to be Rosalind so that he can confess his love to her.

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  • Rosalind
    • Then you must say ‘I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.’
  • Orlando
    • I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.
  • Rosalind
    • I might ask you for your commission; but I do take thee, Orlando, for my husband: there’s a girl goes before the priest; and certainly a woman’s thought runs before her actions.
  • Orlando
    • So do all thoughts; they are winged.
  • Rosalind
    • Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her.
  • Orlando
    • Forever and a day.
  • Rosalind
    • Say ‘a day,’ without the ‘ever.’ No, no, Orlando; men are April when they woo, December when they wed: maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives. I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen, more clamorous than a parrot against rain, more new-fangled than an ape, more giddy in my desires than a monkey: I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyen, and that when thou art inclined to sleep.
  • Orlando
    • But will my Rosalind do so?
  • Rosalind
    • By my life, she will do as I do. (Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act IV Scene1).

In this mock-courtship scene, one thing is to be noted that how boldly Rosalind behaves now. Her timid self is gone and she confidently interects with Orlando in disguise of Ganymede. So this cross- dressing does not only give her safety to wander in the forest (as a male), but she enjoys her liberty to voice out her own opinions. Marilyn L Williamson in the book The Patriarchy of Shakespeare’s Comedies said that,

“When banished from the court, she is fearful and depends on Celia to suggest a refuge in Arden; only then she decides to disguise herself as a man and the disguise helps her control her fears”(30). Rosalind was fearful before her cross-dressing. After Celia’s suggestion of cross-dressing, Rosalind to some extend manages her fear. Thus the decision of cross-dressing becomes a blessing to her as she manages to control her fear and the cross-dressing gives her much self-confidence to deal with her inner fears. Thus though cross-dressing Shakespeare liberates her women characters from a confined patriarchal paradigm and helps them to establish their own identities in a male-dominated society.

The play breaks the stereotypical notions of gender roles and relationships in many ways. Like Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It also represents a cross-dressed heroine and this very portrayal allows Shakespeare to explore the fluidity of gender. When Rosalind is banished in the Forest of Arden, she disguises herself as an attractive young boy ‘Ganymede’, challenging the general idea of what it means to be a man or a woman.

“I propose to examine Rosalind’s characterization terms-as a female character who exploits patriarchal and expectations to her own benefit, although often to her appeal. She does so not only through her which has been much discussed and whose impermanence always noted, but also through manipulating and inciting male fear of cuckoldry in question. The effects of this manipulation are more enduring than those of her male the possibility that, by the play’s end, she is not merely into the patriarchal fabric as it is presented in act achieves a balance of power with her new husband and, by extension, with male society at large. In this light, As You Like It is less a comedy of subordination than of inclusion.” In the context of gender issue, apart from the cross-dressing, Shakespeare has also thrown a new ample light upon the gay issue. Representing Rosalind in disguise of Ganymede was not only a gesture of striking at the root of stereotypical patriarchal constraints of femininity, but it was also an indication towards the desires and rights of the transgender community. The very name Ganymede is significant in the context of the play. In Greek mythology, Ganymede or Ganymedes is the name of a divine hero whose homeland was Troy. Ganymede is described by Homer as the most besutiful among mortals.

[Ganymedes] was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer, for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals (Homer, Illiad, Book XX, Lines 233-235).

In another version of the myth is said that Zeus fell in love with his beauty and abducted him in form of an eagle to serve as a cup-bearer in Olympics. Maurich A Hunt stated in the book Shakespeare’s As You Like It: Late Elizabethan Culture and Literary Representation that, “The transvestite role of Rosalind as Ganymede and the ways in which it has made possible the exploration of male and female sexuality as well as androgyny in As You Like It” (133). Transvestism has played an important role in this play via Rosalind and Celia. The theme of androgyny is explored by Rosalind’s transvestite role. Before choosing Rosalind holds up all the feminine features and after taking the cross-dressing she efficiently portrays all the initial masculine characteristics. She is so charismatic in her male attire that even Phoebe, the country maiden, falls in love with her ‘Ganymede’ self. Even after being proposed by the shepherd Silvius, she refuses him and tries to have Rosalind’s love. Phoebe says,

“I had rather hear you chide than this man woo” (III.V.65). It shows how Rosalind could attain masculinity in herself and thus Phoebe falls in love with her.

Deverell was a conscious painter. He used to possess a liberal thinking regarding society. From the brief discussion of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, it is clear to us why Deverell chose to adapt Shakespeare as the context of his painting or more precisely among all the other much celebrated creations of Shakespeare, why Deverell chose a slightly less popular text like As You Like It.

As the prolific chronicler of the P.R.B. his Dante Gabriel Rossetti, His Family Letters was the obvious person to help, but no doubt that it was William Michael who from 1850 the periodical press, 7 and published in the claimed him ‘An artist from whose independent beauty we had felt warranted in anticipating This obituary in a leading weekly was the closest Deverell ever came to public prominence.

From the very excerpt of Roger W. Peattie’s article The Huntington Library Manuscript of ‘The P.R.B. & Walter Howell Deverell’ it is very clear that in spite of being a talented artist, Deverell never got the equal importance as the other PRB members. But it did not hinder the flow of his liberal thinking. Standing at the edge of the Victorian era, Deverell did not ever mingle up with the flow rather he followed his own uniqueness. The very agenda behind adapting Shakespeare’s As You Like it was that he did not wanted to portray the idealized portrayal of women that was very wanted in the contemporary society. Rather he wanted to portray through his art the unique and independent attributes of women.

A Scene From As You Like It by Walter Howell Deverell, Oil paint,1853

The play You Like It is one which undermines traditional gender roles and relationships in many ways; many conventions are disrupted, but order is restored at the close of the play when each character marries one of the opposite sexes. Deverell’s depiction is conventional, in many ways, but there is no doubt that not only is Rosalind’s clothes distinctly masculine in this image, but her face is also ambiguously androgynous. Her pose, leaning on a staff and looking directly at Orlando, emphasises her masculine appearance, though her figure is barely disguised by the close-fitting tunic she wears underneath her cloak. However, Celia beside her provides a feminine contrast: smiling, aware of the deception being played upon Orlando as she joins their hands, her face and figure are softer and gentler, indicating not only a feminine physique but also emotions. Orlando’s expression is haughty but uncertain: his eyes seem closed and he leans back slightly, as though distancing himself from the mock-marriage. The dark clothes, his high boots and phallic weapon indicate a conventional masculinity which is clearly reluctantly attracted to ‘Ganymede’.(website citation)

Now the question arises, from the whole play why Deverell only focused on the mock-courtship scene from Act 1 Scene 4 of As You Like It. Mock courtsip was one of the most important traditions in the Elizabethan era as well as in the Victorian period. Ilona Bell in her essay “Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship” says, “ During Elizabeth I’S reign from 1558 to 1603 love poetry acquires a remarkable popularity and brilliance, unparalleled in English literary history. It is also during this period that the word courtship enters the English language, acquiring a telling concatenation of meanings: (I)behaviour, action, or state befitting a court or courtier (2) the practice of the arts of a courtier; diplomacy, flattery (3) the paying of courteous and ceremonial attentions, especially to a dignitary (4) the process of courting or wooing a woman with a view to sex or marriage.(5)[…] it also uses to signify wooing a woman with a view to marriage […]. But the very act of ‘wooing’ women is faulty itself. Women did not have the right to marry in their own will as they were obliged to marry on their parents ‘will. On the other hand, women were treated as ‘second class citizen’ as they did not have the right of education. So the custom of courtship in Elizabeth England was a mere fashion of pre-marital ritual. Courtship custom in Victorian Era was more restrictive. Queen Victoria herself set a standard of femininity for British women. Although a woman was in crown, Victorian society epitomized domesticity, focusing the position of women to be at home, surrounded by their husbands and children. Women were seen to be as delicate flowers, need to be taken care of by men. The courtship period used to occur before marriage and it was dictated by a number of stringent rules and regulations. For instance, a man and woman could not be alone with eachother, a chaperon had to be present with them all the time, no physical contact between the man and the woman could happen etc. It was the man who had to take all the first initiatives, from talking to every other thing.

Here in the painting, through the mock-courtship scene, Deverell has conversed the very nature of courtship both of Elizabethan and Victorian era. Here Rosalind takes the first move in acting the courtship scene with Orlando. So therefore she breaks through the general notion of over-polished lady-like etiquettes that were present in the Victorian era.

Thus the purpose behind Deverell’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It’s mock-courtship scene from Act 4 Scene 1 was to critic the very rigid notion of gender discrimination in the Victorian society in parallel with the Elizabethan society. Deverell, being a sagacious artist, wanted to portray something more than visual pleasant features in his paintings. While Rossetti, Hunt, Millais and others were busy in celebrating popular Shakespearean females like Ophelia, Desdemona and many more, Deverell wanted to find other less focused yet versatile women figures of Shakespeare. Through the portrayal of Rosalind in disguise of male named Ganymede, Deverell magnificently breaks the gender binary between men and women as well as throws and ample light on the ‘homosexual’ issue which was a banned discussion in the Victorian era. Thus this paper tries to pay tribute to Deverell as one of the Pre-Raphaelite painters who chose to paint strong women, rather than idealized women and thus he successfully can be called a Pre-Raphaelite Victorian.

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Discovering Walter Howard Deverell As a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite through His Painting: A Scene from As You Like It. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/discovering-walter-howard-deverell-as-a-victorian-pre-raphaelite-through-his-painting-a-scene-from-as-you-like-it/
“Discovering Walter Howard Deverell As a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite through His Painting: A Scene from As You Like It.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/discovering-walter-howard-deverell-as-a-victorian-pre-raphaelite-through-his-painting-a-scene-from-as-you-like-it/
Discovering Walter Howard Deverell As a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite through His Painting: A Scene from As You Like It. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/discovering-walter-howard-deverell-as-a-victorian-pre-raphaelite-through-his-painting-a-scene-from-as-you-like-it/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
Discovering Walter Howard Deverell As a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite through His Painting: A Scene from As You Like It [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/discovering-walter-howard-deverell-as-a-victorian-pre-raphaelite-through-his-painting-a-scene-from-as-you-like-it/
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