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Extensive Study of Deverell’s Creations: Rosalind from Shakespeare’s 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 (as well 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 the Pre-Raphaelite art significantly. Among them, probably the most significant figure was Walter Howard Deverell. Though personalities like Deverell were not talked of much, the 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 MockMarriage 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 afterwards; 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).

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 Desdimons’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 any other writers’ works? Shakespeare, as a writer, was much ahead of his time and so he represented his women characters in a totally non-streotypical way. During Rainaissance, 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).

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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. For instance, Portia from Marchant 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).

The play breaks the stereotypical notions of gender roles and relationships in many ways. Like Twelfth Night and The Marchant 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.

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Extensive Study of Deverell’s Creations: Rosalind from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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