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Discursive essay on Shakespearean Comedy: Analysis of As You Like It

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Historical context

During the time of Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I was ruling England. The era lasted between the years 1558 – 1603. Christianity was important in Europe. It was divided into two groups –“Catholics and Protestants – of dramatically opposing beliefs” (“Elizabethan Era”). Queen Elizabeth was a Protestant, but was allowed to also practice Catholicism. There were deep tensions between Protestants and Catholics that “came from England’s recent departure from the Roman Catholic Church, initiated by King Henry VII” (Clunie). In England, there wasn’t a separation between state and church. Usually, the country was politically ruled by a king and spiritually by the Roman Catholic Church. Shakespeare’s generation was the first to have a monarch serve the country’s spiritual head and not a Pope. Shakespeare would reference religion and the effect on politics and culture in his plays. He would also avoid directly “talking about Christianity, but throughout his plays we see references to Heaven and Hell” (“Beliefs”). England’s political system was monarchy based.

Social status was very important in this era and could be put into categories: high, middle and lower class. Shakespeare was part of the middle class. These categories could be spilt into six classes. The “social classes are expressed of status in society, thought to be established by God himself” (McNulty). First was the Monarch. They rule a nation and are the highest rank you could acquire. Monarchs were usually a king or a queen (Queen Elizabeth I was a monarch). Next were the Nobility who were the second highest in the social class. This included the whole family, dukes, barons or earls. It also included lords and ladies. You had to be born into this class or appointed by a monarch. Gentry were next. They were knights, gentlemen, gentle women and squires of the kingdom. Gentry rarely ever worked with their hands and most people achieved this class by gaining wealth. “This class grew greatly in the Elizabethan Era.” (McNulty). Next are the Merchants. Merchants were flourishing in this era. They were successful through their sales of wool, exotic goods and other items of trade. Their good reputation allowed them to drastically increase the prices of products. Yeomen were the class with common citizens. You could fall into poverty if there was a misfortune. Lastly are the laborers. This class contained “carpenters, peasants, those who do not own land […] these citizens usually did not have enough money to support a family” (McNulty). The theatre/playhouse were round or octagonal. They had “three levels of seating (galleries), which were reserved for those who could afford the fee” (302). For those who couldn’t afford to pay, had to stand in the pit which was near the stage. They were called the groundlings. If you were wealthy enough, you could sit on the stage.


Disguise was used as a “comparable kind of dramatic irony” (Mullan). In Shakespeare’s time, women could not act on stage and were played on stage by young men. An example of this is seen in As You Like It, where Rosalind will disguise herself when she goes into the forest. She meets Orlando in the forest (but as Ganymede) and she asks him to woo “him”. The actor who played Rosalind was a female dressed a male. In Shakespeare’s comedies, “it takes mistakes to teach character the truth of their own heart” (Mullan). Disguise was used a lot and it helped develop the plot with bigger freedom. It also helped the character learn something new. The disguise created laughter, adventure, a mood and also create a new identity. This allowed “Shakespeare to complicate and multiplayer his comedies” (‘Impersonation, Substitution’). Also allowing it be deeper and interesting before “delivering the surprising solutions of the endings” (‘Impersonation, Substitution’).

A pun is a play on words “that produces a humorous effect by using a word that suggests two or more meanings” (“Pun Definition”). He used a lot of puns and jokes. Shakespeare’s comedies have “clever wordplay, metaphors and insults” (Jamieson). Most of time men would tell the jokes, but some of these jokes were sad or sophisticated. He also invented knock-knock jokes, “Your mama jokes”, and used dirty and fart jokes. Jokes were not only used in comedy plays, they also could be used in tragedies. Some comedy plays didn’t even use jokes in the play. An example in As You Like It is the Rosalind/Rose pun. Touchstone makes fun of Orlando’s poetry about Rosalind and says “He that sweetest rose will find/ Must find love’s prick and Rosalind” (3.2 111-112), which translates to “Love can be pretty sweet, like a rose, but it can sting too, especially if a girl’s got a ‘thorny’ personality” (Schmoop Editorial Team).

Physical comedy is a form of comedy “focused on manipulation of the body for a humorous effect” (“Physical Comedy”). This includes mime, making funny faces, clowning, slapstick and physical stunts. Slapstick is a type of “physical comedy characterized by broad humor, adsorb situations and violent action” (“Physical Comedy”). Some examples of the slapsticks are slipping, tripping, or colliding and/or falling. They are also exaggerated so it is more entertaining. An example is when Orland and the wrestler fight. It was much exaggerated and it made it enjoyable for the audience.

Shakespeare used stock characters in his plays. He used his knowledge on folk traditions to create characters and “situations in his comedies that are funny, individual and well loved by the public” (“The role”). The stock characters don’t feel like stock characters. They are like us. They have emotions, dreams and fears. Instead of laughing at these characters, we laugh with them. Shakespeare’s comedies were about men and a little more about women. Shakespeare would sometimes break the social norms of a character and it would usually be the hero. An example of a stock character is the fool. Touchstone is the fool in As You Like It and he is the “paid entertainer hired by aristocratic households to provide amusement”. (“The role”). Shakespeare often used stock characters to provide comic relief. They are not only there to provide laughter to the audience but to also “show the important truths often ignored by the others” (Ayala Ruíz et al. 11).

In Shakespearean comedy, love was a common theme. There were usually sets of lovers who, “through the course of the play, overcome the obstacles in their relationship and unite” (Jamieson). At the end of a play, the lovers would get married. The marriages represented “the achievement of happiness and the promise of regeneration” (Mullan). In As You Like It, at the end we are introduced to a new character. This character is Hymen, the god of marriage. All the couples have reached happiness through their mistakes and misunderstandings. Some of these couples include, Rosalind and Orlando, Touchstone and Audrey and Celia and Oliver. Shakespeare uses a range of different perceptions and presentation of love. He uses “bawdy love of the lower class characters to the courtly love of the nobles” (Jamieson).

There were more plot twists in comedies than there were in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Even though they followed similar patterns, the plots were still complex. An example, is when in the third act of the play, the climax would occur, then there was always a “celebratory feel” towards the final scene. In this final scene the lovers would finally admit their feelings for each other. An example of this is when Phebe falls in love with Ganymede (Rosalind) and Rosalind did this unintentionally. Rosalind later reveals her true identity towards the ends and Phebe rethinks her decision and marries Silvius. Orlando also learns about her fake identity, but he still marries her.

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The country was presented as the more satisfactory light. In As You Like It, “all the good characters are banished/exiled to the forest at the start of the play” (Jamieson). Once evil characters go into the forest, they end up having a sudden changes. This emphasizes the positive image of the forest opposed to the negative picture of the court. In this play, Shakespeare could be trying to suggest “that there needs to be a balance between forest and court” (Jamieson). There should be a balance between living with nature and using your sense and living in an ordered political world. In As You Like It, the country is seen as sign of freedom and goodness while in the court, it is seen as corrupt place.

[image: ]“The rhythms of the language and the patterns and sounds of the words contain a great deal of valuable information” (Johnson). Shakespeare used different styles of writing. One of them was blank verse. Blank verse and rhythm both have a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Blank verse is unrhymed but it still uses a regular pattern. Blank verse is iambic pentameter, which means “there are five poetic feet” (Johnson). Each iambic needs to be composed of two syllables. The first is unstressed and stressed for the second. (Johnson)

Rhymed verses was also another writing form Shakespeare used. Shakespeare uses blank verse form instead of iambic pentameter. Often a rhymed “couplet – which are pair of lines that end in rhyme – closed scenes and also suggested what would come next” (Johnson). Rhyme was also used for special characters like the witches in Macbeth. He also used it to make comments, songs and epilogues. Next are prose. Prose is used for a variety of different reasons. Comic or lower class characters spoke in prose, but the more social characters spoke in verse. Prose can make a character seem more natural at certain times. “Shakespeare regularly uses a number of rhetorical devices to give his prose form and coherence” (Johnson).

Shakespeare had three children: a girl named Susanna and twins named Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet passed away at the age of eleven. Shakespeare suffered from this loss. Most of his plays contain “repeated instances where a child dies and is deeply mourned” (Ludwig). He was also inspired by stories he had heard. Some plays were based on history of the kings of England. He also used stories for his comedies and tradegies. He borrowed plots/ideas from other authors and adapted their stories. Romeo and Juliet are from an Italian writer. It became a very common for writers to adapt another writer’s work. Shakespeare would often borrow a plot, but combine different plots together to make it more unique. An example is The Comedy of Errors. He created a better plot but he added identical twins which made it more confusing and more entertaining. He learned how to use certain stock characters from the works of Plautus and Terence. Shakespeare was also able to get an education. His father must have been an influence as he provided an education for him. He learnt “Latin grammar and literature, debate and rhetoric, and finally some Greek, from series of teachers who were trained at Oxford universities” (Ludwig).

As You Like It

One of the conventions/elements used is disguise. Rosalind is a female character who dresses up as a boy and goes into the Forest of Arden with Celia. They have both changed their names. Rosalind is now Ganymede and Celia is Aliena. They have also taken Touchstone with them. While she is in the forest she meets Orlando, but he doesn’t know the truth about Rosalind being Ganymede. Rosalind convinces Orlando to woo her, because he is in love. This is her attempt to get closer to him. Rosalind also meets a lady named Phebe who ends up falling in love with “him”. Towards the end Rosalind reveals her true self and Phebe loses her feelings and agrees to not marry her and Orlando marries Rosalind. There was also a stock character. Touchstone was the fool. In the court he had the stereotypical costume and also had the little toy that looked like him. He would make interactions with the audience and with that toy. There was also physical comedy used. At the beginning of the play Orlando fights with his brother. Another convention/element was that the stage was very simple. The court didn’t have any props. When they were at the court, everyone was dressed nicely. Before the wrestling match they drew a circle on stage to show the ring. When they were in the forest, they made bird sounds and took off the black cloths that were on the pillars and at the back.

The performance was good. I like how they used minimal props and they were still able to show the difference between the forest and the court. You could tell from the way the characters dressed and when they removed the cloths from the pillars to show a new setting. Rosalind’s disguise wasn’t good, her voice needed to differentiate more, because her female and male voice sounded the same, but her costume and the way her hair was styled was good. That was more effective than the voice. The fight between Orlando and his brother Oliver was entertaining. They were continuously pushing each other back and forth and eventually Orlando pushes Oliver to the ground. Oliver “flies” forward and rolls on the ground. Orlando gets on top of him to hold him down and Oliver was flinging his arms and legs showing his struggle.

I also really liked the misconception, where Phebe feel in love with Ganymede (Rosalind), but she didn’t know that Ganymede was actually a female dressed as a man. Rosalind was actually insulting Phebe when she realized that Phebe had fallen for her. The plot twist was also good. Even though we knew that Ganymede was Rosalind, the characters except for Celia and Touchstone never knew that Ganymede was Rosalind. The Marriage at the end was very sweet. All the sets of lovers got married together. The theme was seen throughout the play. When Rosalind first met Orlando she fell in love and Orlando went into the forest looking for her when she left. He stuck poems on trees and married her in the end.

Works Cited:

  1. ‘5 Characteristics of Shakespearean Comedy.’ English Summary, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  2. ‘Audience and Social Attitudes.’ BBC Bitesize, Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.
  3. ‘Comedies, Romances, and Shakespeare’s Heroines: Crash Course Theater #16.’ YouTube, uploaded by Crash Course, 1 June 2018, Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.
  4. ‘Discuss the Theme of the Court versus Country Life in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It.” eNotes, 26 May 2012, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  5. ‘Elizabethan Era Politics and Government.’ Elizabethan Era, Accessed 23 Feb. 2019.
  6. ‘Elizabethan Era Religion and Religious Beliefs.’ Elizabethan Era, Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.
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  8. ‘Impersonation, Substitution and Disguise.’ Birmingham, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
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  10. ‘Pun Definition.’ Literary Devices, Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.
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  12. ‘Shakespeare’s Life and Inspirations.’ BBC Bitesize, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  13. ‘Some Conventions of Elizabethan Drama.’, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  14. ‘The Role of the Comedies.’ Birmingham, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  15. . ”As You Like It’ Themes: Love.’ ThoughtCo, 25 Mar. 2018, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  16. . ‘How to Identify a Shakespeare Comedy.’ ThoughtCo, 5 Jan. 2019, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  17. Ayala Ruíz, Alberto, et al. Characterization in Shakespearean Comedies. PDF ed., 2007.
  18. Clunie, Education Associate for Student Audiences, Aurelia. ‘Religion in Elizabethan England.’ Hartford Stage, Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.
  19. Dickson, Andrew. ‘Shakespeare’s Life.’ British Library, 15 Mar. 2016, Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.
  20. Jamieson, Lee. ”As You Like It’ Setting: Forest vs. Court.’ ThoughtCo, 9 June 2017, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  21. Johnson, Mary. Shakespeare’s Language. Edited by Suzanne Worthington.
  22. Lotha, Gloria, et al. ‘Slapstick.’ Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 July 2018, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  23. Ludwig, Ken. How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare. Crown, 2013.
  24. Macaraeg, Laurence. ‘Politics During The Time of Shakespeare.’ Prezi, 26 Feb. 2015, Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
  25. McNulty, Ethan. ‘Social Classes of the Elizabethan Era.’ Prezi, 7 Dec. 2013, Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.
  26. Mullan, John. ‘An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedy.’ British Library, 15 Mar. 2016, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  27. Schwartz, Debora B. ‘Shakespeare’s Plays: Comedy.’ California Polytechnic State University, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  28. Shmoop Editorial Team. ‘Roses in as You like It.’ Shmoop, 11 Nov. 2008, Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.
  29. Sommerfeld, Seth. ”The Comedy of Errors’ and the Art of Physical Humor.’ Seattle Met, 22 Sept. 2015, Accessed 25 Feb. 2019.

Zimmerman, Suzi. “Elizabethan Theatre”. Introduction to Theatre ANS: Teachers.

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