Questions on Shakespeare’s Comedies
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. (Norton Comedies, 3rd edition, pp. 661-731).
1. In Act 1, Scene 1, how might we take Oliver’s disposition and his treatment of his younger brother Orlando as a paradigm for the way this play represents “the bad guys,” or, if you prefer the metaphysical term, evil? How much power does Oliver have? Why does he dislike his brother so much? How does he respond when Orlando challenges his authority?
2. In Act 1, Scene 2, what contrast does the relationship between Rosalind and Celia present to that between Oliver and Orlando in the first scene? What is the basis of the two women’s friendship? What does Touchstone’s presence add to our introduction to Rosalind and Celia?
3. In Act 1, Scene 2, how does the text describe the beginning of Rosalind’s and Orlando’s love for each other? How does the wrestling match between Orlando and the Duke’s man Charles figure in this process, and to what extent should we analogize this contest with love as a kind of struggle or contest?
4. In Act 1, Scene 3, Duke Frederick imperiously banishes Rosalind from his court. What is his reason for doing this — what logic does he urge upon Celia to justify his decision? How credible a villain does the Duke seem at this point?
5. In Act 1, Scene 3, what plan do Rosalind and Celia devise to escape the wrath of Duke Frederick? Why does Rosalind decide that disguising herself as a young man would be best — what does this decision suggest about the play’s attitude towards traditional gender assumptions?
6. In Act 2, Scenes 1 and 4, we are introduced to the banished Duke Senior and to the shepherds Corin and Silvius. What impression do these scenes give us of the Forest of Arden? How close does the Forest come to being an idyllic pastoral space? What concerns beset Duke Senior and the shepherds, respectively?
7. In Act 2, Scenes 3, 6, and 7, how does Adam both assist and burden Orlando? What is the significance of Adam’s biblical name in the context of the old servant’s relationship to Orlando?
8. In Act 2, Scenes 5 and 7, Jacques is at his finest. In Scene 7, why is he so impressed with the conversation he and Touchstone have just had? As for Jacques’ description of the Seven Ages of Man from lines 139-66 of Scene 7, how much faith should we put in his characterizations — is Jacques’ perspective trustworthy? What is the value of his melancholy observations in such an otherwise sunny play?
9. In Act 3, Scene 2, Touchstone engages Corin the shepherd in a debate over the relative merits of court and country life. How does Touchstone assess the life shepherds lead and the “manners” they exhibit? How does Corin respond to Touchstone’s arguments against his way of life and his outlook? Does Shakespeare seem to be taking sides, or is the debate presented neutrally? Discuss.
10. Act 3, Scene 2 is structured around a series of pairings between key characters: Touchstone and Corin, Touchstone and Rosalind, Celia and Rosalind, Orlando and Jacques, and — most significantly — Orlando and Rosalind. Examine this last pairing: what kind of dialog does Rosalind (as Ganymede) engage in with the “love-shaked” (336) Orlando? What does Rosalind as Ganymede offer to do in order to cure Orlando of his passion? Why doesn’t she just reveal who she is at once — what is the value of this sort of play-acting and dialog on the subject of courtship?
11. Act 3, Scene 2 is structured around a series of pairings as mentioned in the preceding question. Choose any pair of dialog partners except Orlando and Rosalind, and discuss the significance of their conversation in light of the play’s main themes (country versus court; love versus melancholia and cynicism; etc.).
12. In Act 3, Scene 3, Touchstone determines to marry the shepherdess Audrey, and his conversation with her makes yet another pairing of diverse characters. What is the basis of Touchstone’s match with Audrey? In what ways are they similar, and what are their differences? How might they be a good match, in spite of the gap in understanding that divides them?
13. In Act 3, Scenes 4-5, Rosalind and Celia hide, and overhear poor Silvius courting the shepherdess Phoebe. What does Rosalind expect to be her reward for eavesdropping? What role does she play when she intervenes in the scene that Corin had called “a pageant truly played / Between the pale complexion of true love / And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain” (3.4.46-48)?
14. In Act 4, Scene 1, Rosalind meets and spars with Jacques while she is waiting for Orlando to show up for his “lesson.” How does Jacques describe the benefits of his outlook on life to Rosalind? How much value does she see in what he tells her? Do you take her words as definitive regarding Jacques’ presence in the play? Why or why not?
15. In Act 4, Scene 1, Rosalind (as Ganymede playing Rosalind, that is) schools Orlando in female ways and wiles, and then, when he’s gone, she confesses to Celia how deeply she is in love with him. Why is she keeping up this disguise — what is to be gained from such make-believe sessions about courtship? How well is Orlando doing as a student in such matters so far?
16. In Act 4, Scene 3, Phoebe’s chiding letter arrives in the hand of Silvius, and Oliver makes his entrance. How does Oliver explain his sudden conversion from one of the play’s two villains into Orlando’s benign messenger? How does he describe Orlando’s rescue of him in the forest? How does he know “Ganymede” is not male, and what seems to be his attitude towards Rosalind’s acting the part of a young man?
17. In Act 5, Scene 2, Ganymede/Rosalind promises to sort out the play’s love matches by a kind of “magic.” But while Silvius and Phoebe, and Rosalind and Orlando, are still bound up by resistance and disguise, respectively, what ideal of love does Silvius set forth? To what extent is this view privileged in As You Like It? What does Rosalind’s refrain “And (so am) I for no woman” (79ff) connote in this light — how does he/she relate to the ideal Silvius has proclaimed?
18. In Act 5, Scene 3, two young boys (“Pages”) sing a song that begins “It was a lover and his lass” (14-31). To what extent does this song relate to the coming resolution of the play or comment on what has gone before? Time permitting, to what degree do other songs in this play (Amiens’ “Under the Greenwood Tree” and “Who doth ambition shun” along with Jacques comic overturning of it at 2.5; Amiens’ “Blow, blow, thou winter wind” at 2.7; the 2nd Lord’s “What shall he have?” at 4.2; or Hymen’s “Wedding is great Juno’s crown” at 5.4) relate to the main action?
19. In Act 5, Scene 4, Touchstone explains how a courtly quarrel should proceed, basing his account on his own experience. How does this famous account (usually referred to as “Touchstone’s quarrel”) function structurally and thematically at this point, as we await the resolution Rosalind has promised?
20. In Act 5, Scene 4, Hymen (the God of marriage) intervenes. What does Hymen decree for the four couples gathered? Why is it appropriate that he (and not Rosalind) should “bar confusion” and “make conclusion” (116-17) of the play’s events?
21. In Act 5, Scene 4, after Hymen has pronounced his lines, Jacques de Boyes (brother of Orlando and Oliver) enters and informs everyone that Duke Frederick has (like Oliver earlier) been transformed from a villain into good man and has decided to hand over his usurped powers to the rightful ruler, Duke Senior. How did this change take place? Why does it make sense that villainy should be so easily dispensed with in this comic play — what is the usual function of villains in a Shakespearean comedy?
22. In the Epilogue, Rosalind has a special request to make of the audience. What is her request — how is she drawing them into the action?
23. General question: how would you compare this play’s comic resolution (the nature of it and the means by which it is effected) to that of any one of Shakespeare’s other comedies that you have studied?
Edition. Greenblatt, Stephen, Walter Cohen, Suzanne Gossett, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Gordon McMullan, eds. The Norton Shakespeare: Comedies + Digital Edition. Third edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93861-6.
Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake