Sunday, 3 April 2016

As You Like It - Life in the Forest




I've probably mentioned this before but a friend of mine has suggested that the problem with Australian theatre is that it is basically rubbish. Okay, if that is the case then that is a really big problem, but a part of me feels as if I am becoming somewhat influenced by him. My problem is that Australian theatre tries to be so different that it ends up failing as good theatre. Sure, there are probably some good theatre companies, as there are probably some good playwrights, but the more that I am exposed to international theatre through National Theatre Live, the more that I begin to understand what he means by good theatre. In fact it is probably a good thing that they ended up showing a version of As You Like It because I had recently seen another performance of it (which I have already written a blog post on) and it has given me the opportunity to be able to compare both of them. I have to admit that the version that I saw performed live in Melbourne was actually a little dry, where as this version seemed to be much more dynamic.

Oh, before I continue here is the trailer:


The problem with writing a post on a play that I have already written a post on is that I am inevitably going to go over the same subjects that I did in a previous post. Granted, this is Shakespeare and people have written libraries worth of books (and blog posts) on the subject, and each of his plays could at the minimum take up an entire bookshelf. However we are still talking about a single play and in the end a post on a single play is going to overlap. Mind you, I have already written a post on Hamlet, and there are a multitude of other versions out there, both on stage and screen, that I could watch and write a subsequent post, however we always come back to the fact that this is Hamlet, and no doubt I am always going to come back to the same position that I have on the play, and that is that Hamlet does not have a fatal flaw.

Synopsis 

Okay, I probably should write a synopsis on the play, but as I have indicated I have written a previous post on this play where I already have a synopsis. However, if you don't want to jump over to that post (and I encourage you to do so because there are probably things that I have written there that I haven't mentioned here) I probably should give you a brief rundown. Actually, there is probably a graphic that could do that for me without having to go into details:




If that didn't make sense (which I would be surprised if it doesn't) then I will go a little further. Basically the good duke Roland d'Boyes has died which resulted in a succession crisis. Well, it wasn't so much a crisis because it was pretty obvious as to who was supposed to succeed Roland, however as it turned out Duke Frederick didn't particularly want to be subordinate to Duke Senior, so he staged a coup which resulted in Duke Senior fleeing to the forest of Arden. The play opened with Orlando as a cleaner in a major corporation, and his elder brother appears as one of the senior managers. Orlando complains that his brother has not honoured his father's will and has pretty much dumped him into a position that is nowhere near his status, nor provided him with an education reflective of his position. Surely he should at least be a middle manager, but instead he is a cleaner.

Orlando is a major character in the play, but then we are introduced to Rosalind and Celia, cousins, one whose father has been exiled to the forest, and the other whose father is the current duke. While they should be enemies in reality they are the best of friends. In fact when Duke Frederick exiles Rosalind on pain of death, Celia flees with her, which is something that you would not expect from the daughter of an usurper. However the fact that Celia sticks with Rosalind as opposed to her father is an indication of the tenuuous hold that Frederick has on hold of the dukedom.

The play then jumps to the Forest of Ardennes, which is the scene for the rest of the play, and we are introduced to Duke Senior and his court in exile, as well as the various characters that inhabit the forest. The play then becomes a romantic comedy where Orlando, who has been exiled despite winning the wrestling match (but then again the fact that he is a winner poses a threat to Duke Frederick – it is a case of dammed if you do and dammed if you don't) is trying to win Rosalind's affections. Actually, Shakespeare is very clever in this play as he has four different romantic comedies all woven into one, which also includes a rather convoluted love triangle. As can be expected with most (actually all) romantic comedies, all of the pieces fall together and everybody gets married – at the same time.

Forest of Arden

We could probably write an entire post on the nature of the forest, though I believe I have touched upon it in my previous post. What I wish to talk about here is the way that this particular play portrayed the forest. As You Like It begins in the city and then moves to the forest. This production had the city painted as your typical corporate office, however when they moved to the forest all of the desks where suddenly lifted off the ground and the rest of the play had them hanging from the ceiling. The interesting thing about the forest was at the beginning it was dark and spooky, with the howls of wolves in the background. However after the intermission the scene suddenly changes and it went from the spooky forest to the idyllic forest. The dark shadows and the wolf howls suddenly disappeared to be replaced with a subdued light and the sounds of birds and butterflies.


However we need to take note of the fact that the forest is made up of the desks from the office. The office is the ordered and controlled society. However anybody who has worked in a major corporation can also find it incredibly oppressive. Your entire time in the office is strictly controlled by the corporation. We see this in the play with a set time for lunch and once lunch is over we suddenly have to go back to work. However we have the wrestling match thrown in – this is the office party, the time that is set aside to make the employees believe that they are working for a good company. We slave away at our desks, but we are given time off for this period of fun – the wrestling match.



We then move into the forest - we move from order to chaos and this is scary. The first period is a period of darkness, of shadows, of the unknown. We are no longer living in an ordered world where we are slaves, but also protected. While we may be free, this freedom is scary because with the freedom we suddenly find ourselves thrust into a world where there is a lack of security. This is the idea that has been painted by the modern corporate world – if we leave our day jobs to strike out on our own we are unprotected and the world is a dark and vicious place. However the forest suddenly becomes tamed and the dark and vicious aspect of the world suddenly becomes a beautiful place. In fact the forest protects us from the harsh brightness of the sun.

Rosalind and Celia

When Rosalind flees to the forest she disguises herself as a man, namely because two women wandering outside the city are going to be a target for thieves and bandits. However they also take Touchstone the jester with them because even though they may appear to be men, in reality Rosalind is just a woman wearing the mask of a man and while the mask may provide her with some safety, it doesn't provide her with complete safety. Yet Touchstone is a fool, not a warrior, however it adds more authenticity to the mask. Sure, he is a fool, but he is also a man, and with having a male with them adds further protection against the harshness of the world.

Rosalind takes the name Ganymede, which recalls Roman mythology. The thing with Ganymede is that he is androgynous. While a part of Rosalind is taking the role of a male, she is still at heart a female, which is why she takes the name of an androgynous personality. We see this issue come to a head when Phoebe falls in love with her – this creates the limit to her disguise. While she can pretend to be a male, when her masculinity attracts the love of another female she has to draw a line. She is not playing the part of a male because she wants to be a male – she is a woman and she embraces her femininity – she plays the role of a male because she wants to protect herself against the world at large. This no doubt creates a problem when she attracts the love of another female.

One thing that I noticed at the beginning of the play, that is in act 1, is that Celia plays the role of the discerning one, while Rosalind is the romantic one. Rosalind doesn't seem to be all that wise, which is why Celia ends up sticking with her. However this seems to change when we enter the forest because suddenly Celia seems to meld into the background (in fact when we are in the forest many people seem to be in the background) and Rosalind has suddenly become the wise one. This is particularly so when she confronts Orlando. Orlando has always been the romantic, which is probably why he was thrust into the position of a janitor. Unfortunately, the modern world of business has no room for the romantic (unless you are in marketing – there is always room for a romantic in marketing, as long as you aren't a hopeless romantic – which is what Orlando turns out to be). This is clear in that he spends all of his time carving images of his love for Rosalind into the trees.

The Hopeless Romantic

I remember being like that as a teenager, though this seems to be the case with all teenagers. I remember scribbling things like David 4 'Rebecca' 4 Ever where ever I could (though the name would change depending on my crush at the time). Mind you, I now wonder whether the people who would scribble things like that all over the place would be hopeless romantics like me, or whether there was an actual relationship going on. I'm more inclined to lean towards the former because it feels as if the only reason that we would do such as thing is so that we could add some certainty, some reality, to what is in effect unrequited love.

However this isn't unrequited love, not in the sense of Troilous and Cresida (though they did start off as lovers, it is just that Cresida got a better offer). Nor is it forbidden love (as in the case of Romeo and Juliet), or impossible love (as in Hero and Leander). Yet when Rosalind confronts Orlando she doesn't immediately reveal herself to him. The thing is that Rosalind had fallen in love with Orlando when she first laid eyes on him, however her exile, and her time in the forest has had an effect upon her – she has become hardened, and while she does love Orlando, she has some serious concerns with the fact that he is a hopeless romantic. If she is going to marry him she is going to have to cure him of this disease.


As Rosalind (pretending to be Ganymede while pretending to be Rosalind) points out, romance is the spring while marriage is the winter. What Orlando experiences during the period of romance is not necessarily what he is going to experience in marriage – things change, and marriage (at least in this time) is permanent. Maybe this is why so many marriages end in divorce these days – people are so caught up in the spring that they are not prepared for the winter, and when the winter hits they are not prepared to work their way through it to the next autumn, and instead break it off believing that there is no spring, or summer, at the other end. It seems as if people have forgotten that the best thing about a fight is making up.

The Pagan Forest

The spiritual beliefs of celebrities are one of the major talking points among Christians. It seems as if Christians really want their heroes to have the same beliefs as them. I remember when I was in high school (attending a Christian School) that some people came into class to show us, from the lyrics of U2, that Bono was a Christian. Mind you, when I attended my only U2 concert (namely because I had the fortune of working with somebody who ended up having a spare ticket that she wanted to sell) they put up a display that suggested that all religions were the same. One of my friends walked out of the concert then and there, while another of my friends simply tried to interpret it in a way that didn't undermine his faith in Bono.

I suspect the same thing occurs in Shakespeare. He is such an influential writer in the English world that there are no doubt Christians who will refuse to believe that he is anything but. However England was undergoing a significant change at the time (though it was behind the eightball in this regard as Italy had already undergone the Renaissance about a century earlier). Shakespeare was writing at a time that I refer to as the English Renaissance. What was happening was that the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans were being studied and becoming part of the culture. This no doubt arose out of the turmoil of the war of the Roses and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. When England broke away from the Catholic Church she was able to begin to chart a course of her own, and this course involved the rediscovery of the classical past.


What we see in As You Like It is a contrast between the city and the country. The city is actually the conservative space, the space where Christianity still rules and controls the lives of the subjects. The country, however, is free of this control. Outside of the city walls the duke, and the church, have little to no power. In fact when the Duke marshals his army and attempts to invade the forest he is confronted by a monk and gives up his violent tendencies. In a way the city has little to no power with what goes on behind its walls.

It is the wedding scene at the end that provides the biggest key to this idea. They do not have a traditional Christian wedding, but a pagan wedding. The wedding is not presided over by a priest, but by a philosopher. It is not a wedding that is conducted under the god of the Bible, but rather conducted under Hyman, the god of marriage – a Roman god. In a way by leaving the city we are returning to a time of the past, a time that people see as being free from the tyrannical reality of the modern world, a world that is controlled by a priesthood representing one god, and a priesthood that stands against art and culture. What we have in As You Like It is a world where we can break away from the dark and dull reality of modern city life and escape into the beauty of the past.


Here is an interesting review of the actual performance.


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As You Like It - Life in the Forest by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen this 3 times by different groups. (Two local, one in Los Angeles.)

    In addition to the many memorable lines, I find the casting and interpretation of Rosilind, Jacques, and Touchstone to be the most interesting part. How does Rosilind balance the male and female? Is Touchstone a mere buffoon, or is he a wise "fool"? Is Jacques more angry or more depressed?

    I've never really liked the ending, though. So the duke just decides to be a monk? It's a bizarre Deux ex Machina (Deux ex Deux?) that seems put there just so the story can end. Not as tightly plotted as some of his best. But the great lines make up for it.

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