Gender in "As You Like It"
Many characters undergo a change in William Shakespeare's
play, As You Like It. Duke Senior goes from being a member of a court
to being a member of a forest. Orlando changes from a bitter younger
brother to a love-sick young man. But the most obvious transformation
undergone, is done by Rosalind. Her change from woman to man, not
only alters her mood, candor, and gender, but allows her to be the
master of ceremonies.
Celia and Rosalind are fairly happy in the court of Celia's
father, Duke Frederick. However, much to her surprise, the Duke
banishes Rosalind from his court. Celia, not allowing her beloved
cousin to "go it alone", decides to accompany her to where ever she
may roam. They decide to search out Rosalind's father, Duke Senior,
in the forest of Arden. Before they depart, Rosalind decides that for
both her and Celia's safety, she will dress herself as a man, saying,
"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 hear
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will-
We'll have a swashing and a martial outside,
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances.
(1:3 ll. 112-120)
At first glance, this transformation is a mere change of clothes and
the addition of weapons, but it goes much deeper.
To Rosalind, the taking on of a man's appearance requires
certain things. She believes that while dressed as a man, she cannot
bring shame to the image of a man. A good example of this is in Act
2, Scene 4, where she 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. (ll. 4-7). This is not the only time she mentions a
doublet and hose. It seems almost that the doublet and hose are the
actual source of strength for a man, as in the next example when
Rosalind is begging Celia for an answer, saying, "Good my complexion!
Dost thou think,/ though I am caparisoned like a man, I have a
doublet/ and hose in my disposition?" (3:2, ll.191-193).
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