As You Like It

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As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 and first published in the First Folio in 1623. The play's first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility.

As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle's court, accompanied by her cousin Celia to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden. In the forest, they encounter a variety of memorable characters, notably the melancholy traveller Jaques who speaks many of Shakespeare's most famous speeches (such as "All the world's a stage", "too much of a good thing" and "A fool! A fool! I met a fool in the forest"). Jaques provides a sharp contrast to the other characters in the play, always observing and disputing the hardships of life in the country.

Historically, critical response has varied, with some critics finding the play a work of great merit and some finding the work of lesser quality than other Shakespearean works. The play remains a favourite among audiences and has been adapted for radio, film, and musical theatre. The piece has been a favorite of famous actors on stage and screen, notably Vanessa Redgrave, Juliet Stevenson, Maggie Smith, Rebecca Hall, Helen Mirren, and Patti LuPone in the role of Rosalind and Alan Rickman, Stephen Spinella, Kevin Kline, Stephen Dillane, and Ellen Burstyn in the role of Jaques.

The first page of As You Like It from the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623

Date and text

As You Like It was first printed in the collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, known as the First Folio, during 1623. No copy of it in Quarto exists, for the play is mentioned by the printers of the First Folio among those which "are not formerly entered to other men." By means of evidences, external and internal, the date of composition of the play has been approximately fixed at a period between the end of 1598 and the middle of 1599.

External evidence

As You Like It was entered into the Register of the Stationers' Company on 4 August 1600 as a work which was "to be stayed," i.e., not published till the Stationers' Company were satisfied that the publisher in whose name the work was entered was the undisputed owner of the copyright. Thomas Morley's First Book of Ayres, published in London in 1600 contains a musical setting for the song "It was a Lover and his Lass" from As You Like It. This evidence implies that the play was in existence in some shape or other before 1600.

It seems likely this play was written after 1598, since Francis Meres did not mention it in his Palladis Tamia. Although twelve plays are listed in Palladis Tamia, it was an incomplete inventory of Shakespeare's plays to that date (1598). The new Globe Theatre opened some time in the summer of 1599, and tradition has it that the new playhouse's motto was Totus mundus agit histrionem—"all the Globe's a stage"—an echo of Jaques' famous line "All the world's a stage" (II.7). This evidence posits September 1598 and September 1599 as the time frame within which the play was likely written.

Internal evidence

In Act III, vi, Phebe refers to the famous line "Whoever loved that loved not at first sight" taken from Marlowe's "Hero and Leander," which was published in 1598. This line, however, dates from 1593 when Marlowe was killed, and the poem was likely circulated in unfinished form before being completed by George Chapman. It is suggested in Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare that the words of Touchstone, "When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room," allude to Marlowe's assassination. According to the inquest into his death, Marlowe had been killed in a brawl following an argument over the "reckoning" of a bill in a room in a house in Deptford, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull in 1593. The 1598 posthumous publication of Hero and Leander would have revived interest in his work and the circumstances of his death. These words in Act IV, i, in Rosalind's speech, "I will weep for nothing, like Diana in the fountain," may refer to an Alabaster image of Diana which was set up in Cheapside in 1598. However, it should be remembered Diana is mentioned by Shakespeare in at least ten other plays, and is often depicted in myth and art as at her bath. Diana was a literary epithet for Queen Elizabeth I during her reign, along with Cynthia, Phoebe, Astraea, and the Virgin Mary. Certain anachronisms exist as well, such as the minor character Sir Oliver Mar-text's possible reference to the Marprelate Controversy which transpired between 1588-1589. On the basis of these references, it seems that As You Like It may have been composed in 1599-1600, but it remains impossible to say with any certainty.

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Published in 14/09/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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