Hello friends! I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it’s September. I understand the natural progression of time, but how did this happen?
As a side note, today needs a little happy. Perhaps this blog post will give you some happy (it is a delightful play), or perhaps you can do something else for some happy. Personally, I got together with an old friend and saw Labyrinth in the theater to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie. (30 years!?!?!) We also brought a little vinyl figure of the Goblin King to enjoy the movie with us; I swear we’re in our 30s.
Back to the play. I really enjoyed this play. It’s the first comedy that didn’t offend my modern sensibilities. Rosalind is amazingly self-reliant and at no point needs a man to save her. I’m really glad I finally got to read/listen to this play (I read the play as I simultaneously listen to an audio version, in case you’re wondering).
So, on to the summary!
Here we find ourselves in France near the Forest of Arden. The Duke has been ousted from his seat by his younger brother Frederick and has fled to the forest. The Duke’s daughter Rosalind remains with Frederick and his daughter Celia (also Frederick’s only child). The two young ladies are thick as thieves and neither is happy with Frederick’s actions.
Orlando lives in the dukedom. He’s the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys. His eldest brother, Oliver, hates him for some reason and refuses to give Orlando the education their late father set forth in his will. Orlando finally confronts his brother about it and Oliver basically banishes Orlando. Oliver also speaks to Charles, a wrestler, and asks him to hurt Orlando in the wrestling match he’s taking part in the next day.
The following day everyone is worried for Orlando; Charles has all but killed every opponent who’s met him and no one thinks Orlando will fare any better. Rosalind and Celia speak with Orlando to try to dissuade him from entering the competition but he insists on it. While doing so, however, both Rosalind and Orlando fall in like at first sight (not quite love, at least not on Rosalind’s part; it’s more infatuation). Orlando and Charles wrestle and, to everyone’s surprise, Orlando wins. Frederick asks his name and Orlando states that he’s Sir Rowland de Boys’ son. This was the wrong thing to say; Orlando’s father was an ally of the exiled Duke and Frederick considered him an enemy. After Frederick, Rosalind, and Celia leave Le Beau (a courtier) suggests that Orlando leave the area for his own safety. Orlando agrees and leaves.
Meanwhile, Frederick has apparently had enough with Rosalind being all kind-hearted and well-thought-upon. He decides to banish her, leaving her with nowhere to go. Celia decides she’ll flee with Rosalind in disguise because she loves her cousin more than she loves her father. They decide to dress as a young man (Rosalind) and a poor lady (Celia) and also decide to take the court jester, Touchstone, with them. Frederick is furious when he finds out they’ve fled. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone make their way to the forest. There they meet Corin, a poor serf. Although he has little he welcomes them back to his modest home and the group offers to buy it from him.
Meanwhile, Orlando’s family’s old servant Adam warns him that his brother intends to kill him and burn the cottage Orlando lives in with him inside. Adam offers Orlando all the money he has (500 crowns) and offers to serve Orlando if he’ll flee right away. The two make their way (of course) to the forest. By the time they get there Adam is about to drop from hunger. Orlando goes out in search of food and happens upon the exiled Duke and his band of men. Orlando first threatens them with his sword but apologizes when the Duke reacts with kindness and generosity. The Duke realizes who Orlando is, introduces himself, and invites Orlando and Adam to join them for dinner.
Orlando begins hanging love poems to Rosalind in the trees of the forest and both Rosalind and Celia find some. Rosalind has no clue who the author is but Celia finds Orlando and tells Rosalind who her secret admirer is. Rosalind is beside herself and decides to play a game with Orlando. When the two meet Rosalind is still disguised as a young man. She offers to cure Orlando of his love by pretending to be Rosalind. Orlando doesn’t want to be rid of his love but agrees anyway.
When Orlando doesn’t show up to woo “Rosalind” the next day Rosalind and Celia go with Corin to spy on Silvius and Phebe, two lovers. Phebe rebukes Silvius rudely and Rosalind chimes in to chastise her. Phebe then proceeds to fall in love with Rosalind (believing she’s a young man). Orlando later shows up and “woos” Rosalind, then heads off and promises to be back by 2pm. When Orlando is late once more Rosalind becomes upset but is approached by Silvius bearing a love letter from Phebe, though he doesn’t realize that. Rosalind reads the letter aloud, upsetting Silvius, and she vows to him that she’ll never take Phebe from him.
After Silvius leaves Celia and Rosalind are approached by a man who asks for directions to their cottage. He and Celia meet each other’s gazes and begin to fall in love. When the man realizes he’s speaking to the owners he says he has a message from Orlando for Ganymede (Rosalind’s fake name).
The man produces a blood-stained napkin and tells his tale: after lunch Orlando found a bedraggled man sleeping beneath a tree with a snake wrapped around his neck. Orlando scared the snake off just as it was about to strike but, as the snake fled, Orlando noticed a lioness crouched and waiting to pounce upon the sleeping man. (Apparently lionesses won’t attack anything that appears dead; just don’t question why a lioness is roaming free in the forests of France.) Orlando then realized that the sleeping man was his eldest brother Oliver (the one who tried to kill him). Orlando turned to leave twice but in the end saved his brother by fighting off the lioness. The stranger then reveals himself to be Oliver. Orlando brought Oliver to the exiled Duke and gave his brother fresh clothes. That’s when Oliver discovered that Orlando had been wounded by the lioness. Upon hearing this and seeing the blood on the napkin Rosalind swoons and Celia and Oliver help her back to the cottage.
Meanwhile, Touchstone decides he wants to be married to a shepherdess named Audrey, but not so well married that he can’t leave her. A man named William is in love with Audrey as well and Touchstone threatens to kill him many times over if he tries to lay claim to her.
Oliver and Celia decide to marry and Oliver informs Orlando, who’s thrilled for his brother. (The two have reconciled after the whole “saved from a lioness” thing.) But while happy for his brother, Orlando is upset and frustrated that he’s separated from his Rosalind (not realizing that he’s very much in her presence). Rosalind makes a vow: the following day, when Oliver and Celia wed, she will conjure up Rosalind and Orlando will be able to marry her. Orlando is, understandably, baffled that this could happen.
Just then Phebe and Silvius approach. Silvius is upset that Phebe doesn’t love him, Phebe is upset that Rosalind doesn’t love her, Orlando is upset that his Rosalind isn’t with him, and Rosalind is near to tearing out her hair. She makes a promise to everyone. She shall produce Rosalind for the exiled Duke to give away in marriage to Orlando. In addition, she states that she’ll marry Phebe unless Phebe finds some reason why they can’t be married (like Rosalind actually being female), in which case Phebe will marry Silvius. Off Rosalind goes only to return dressed as a woman. And so Rosalind marries Orlando, Celia marries Oliver, Phebe marries Silvius, and Audrey marries Touchstone.
After the marriage we get a bit of a deus ex machina (perhaps not the best term, but I did say “a bit”): Orlando and Oliver’s brother, Jaques, appears suddenly and states that Frederick, Celia’s father and the usurping brother of the Duke, ventured into the forest to find everyone and happened upon an old religious man. Frederick then became so repentant of his actions that he decided to live a religious life; the exiled Duke is exiled no more. The other Jaques, the melancholy one, decides that it suits his temperament better to remain in the forest as well and live a religious life rather than go back to court. Rosalind then gives an epilogue inviting everyone to like the play.
Love is central to this story. We have romantic love (Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia), love at first sight (O & R, O & C, Phebe and Ganymede [Rosalind in disguise]), love between friends/family (Rosalind and Celia), and a parody of romantic love (Touchstone and Audrey). I’m also going to lump forgiveness and repentance into the “love” category, because I think they’re rather entwined. Oliver repents his treatment of Orlando and Orlando forgives him, which leads to love between the brothers. This is mirrored by Frederick becoming repentant for his usurpation of his brother’s title; I’m not certain there’s any love lost there, but you have to love someone in some way to feel bad for your treatment of them.
There were lots horns mentioned throughout the play, which is a reference to cuckoldry (when a man’s wife cheats on him). The story goes that a man would grow horns if his wife was unfaithful. Most of the talk was for comedy but you can’t have a story that revolves around love without at some point mentioning cuckoldry.
The setting is very pastoral, which brings to mind stories and songs of pastoral romances. (Not what comes to your mind when you think of the country? Once more, I’m a medievalist; trust me when I tell you that love is abound in the country, especially with milkmaids.) The forest serves as a space where nature is righted and natural order restored; brother is no longer turned against brother, titles are restored to their rightful owners. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and Macbeth when we read it) the forest is a wild place where truths are revealed; here the forest takes on a healing role and nature balms people’s souls. Perhaps it’s still a space for truths but here another aspect of the space is emphasized.
There’s also a great deal of prose in the play, which adds to the prosaic quality of the overall feeling.
Names are very important in this play. Celia’s assumed identity is Aliena, and in Latin “aliena” means “stranger”. Additionally, “Jacques” means depression, hence the reason the melancholy character of the play bears this name. Most interestingly is Rosalind’s assumed identity, Ganymede. Apparently Ganymede is Jove’s cupbearer and is a symbol for homosexual love. Now Phebe falling for “Ganymede” has a bit more meaning. It also adds another layer to how much many of the male characters (including Orlando) seem to like Ganymede.