Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Incomplete thoughts on "As You Like It"

As You Like It by James Watts (1736-1819)

I have a few questions I'd really like to ask someone about Shakespeare's As You Like It.

I love the play and I've read it countless times. (Partially because we own a small, cute, blue, Yale hardback edition and it's fun to hold and sniff.)
It has been a source of sorrow in my life that I cannot find anything by Peter Leithart on this play.

Some of the themes are obvious. Brothers and family (Oliver and Orlando and the two dukes). Totally confused romantic relationships. Loyalty. And the most striking and obvious-- the contrasts between all the couples at the end. Act V, Scene IV is quite the diverse line up. There are a strange variety of view points and reverence for love and marriage throughout the play.

But what exactly is Shakespeare saying with all this?

And what is with Jaques? I could literally be him. (Except for his famous "All the World's a Stage" speech in Act II, Scene VII which I would not have the genius to say.)
All the same...I kind of have this feeling that his conclusion is not what it should be. To leave at the marriage dance and feast hardly seems like a generally-condoned activity in Shakespeare... However appealing finding some abandoned cave and reading and thinking might sound. ;-)

Touchstone and Jaques seem to be contrasted often and both seem to be a bit unbalanced. I'd like someone really Shakespeare-smart to tell me what's going on here.

The dialogue is very clever and snappy which makes the play move quickly with plenty of laughs. Although there are more characters than some of the other comedies which make it a bit more confusing, I think As You Like It is good introduction to Shakespeare because it is just so funny.

I have only watched Kenneth Branagh's 2006 adaption. My sister and I watched it alone a couple years ago and loved it. We then told the rest of our family they had to see it. One night we all sat down with another family and watched it. Susannah and I laughed merrily through the entire movie while pretty much everyone else sat dead-pan. Apparently it wasn't a hit. Maybe they were disappointed if they were expecting another Much Ado.

I do realize that the movie is a little more random then Branagh's other adaptations-- partly because of the whole Japanese setting, partly because that's the way the play is written, and partly because Branagh gives it a funny, wacky flavor.

Random is my humor. I loved it. A random Buddha sitting in the middle of the forest? Who doesn't love that? ;-)

I also realize that the whole girl dressing up as a boy and then pretending to be a girl is weird and kind of awkward...especially due to our unfortunate exposure to homosexuality and America's current stand in this issue. We're pretty touchy. But since this is so obviously not what is going on, I don't think this should be a problem.

Audrey, and especially Audrey and Touchstone together, do add some unnecessary material. The only other iffy content I can remember is the wrestling scene which could be rated R for disturbing images. (Charles happens to be a sumo wrestler. Nasty. But if you have a sick sense of humor, like me, you will laugh.)

The cast is good and familiar. Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent and Romola Garai works better in Shakespeare for me than her other movies. I could listen to Brian Blessed all day because he plays Jean Valjean in Focus on the Family's Les Miz. Keven Kline, Alfred Molina, and Richard Briers play their roles wonderfully.
Patrick Doyle produced another amazing soundtrack as well as acting the part of the singer in the play.

Overall the movie has a 100% Kenneth Branagh feel (casting, music, takes, everything). Like Much Ado the movie is beautiful and mostly filmed outdoors. Branagh never appears but you do hear him say "and...cut!" at the very end after Rosalind's clever epilogue.

There is one thing I'd like to ask Branagh. Why did he make the shepherd, Corin, play the priest as well? I have enough faith in the way he uses imagery and details to portray his spin on Shakespeare (or Mary Shelley for that matter) that I don't believe he was just short on actors.

Hmm... I guess I mostly just have questions about this play and movie and not much intelligent things to say. ;-)

Overall, the movie totally resonated with me. Perhaps partly why I loved it was it's randomness, but I really think it's a well-done movie. Some of running-around-in-the-woods scenes I can totally can see my sister and I playing when were younger...of course with out all the clever themes and poetry. ;-) Maybe that's why it seemed normal.

I do love the story though. Many of our most well-known Shakespeare quotes come from As You Like It.

Thanks for reading. I love discussion, so comment and let me know what you think of it. I'd also love to hear about other film versions.

I charge you to like as much of this review as pleases you. :-)
Miss Pickwickian


Grace said...

HOORAY! This is my favorite of favorites when it comes to Shakespeare, and Rosalind has been my favorite heroine for oh, I don't know how long.

As to Touchstone vs. Jacques, I believe Shakespeare was showing the contrast between the popular "Melancholy Muse" of the day, and the dancing fool. They both have a good deal to say philosophically, only they deliver them from different points of view. Although more people are willing to listen and believe the musings of Jacques, they are not so much great than those thoughts and viewpoints of Touchstone, although he has more wit and delivers them in greater humor. Still; they both think on the "greater things." Almost, in a way, Shakespeare was poking fun at melancholy as a muse, and showing appreciation to the more foolish, light-hearted turn of mind.

I do love the movie too- I roll on the floor in laughter every time I watch it. :)

KatySue Pillsbury said...

I did like this one, but had to watch it again by myself, the first time I had to answer a question every couple minutes. I kept telling my Mom and sisters that this was my first time seeing it too and no, I don't know why they are in Japan and speaking English.....*sigh*! It was much better the second time around!
I need to try reading the plays again; I hated it in school, reading the plays I mean. I did discover that reading them aloud helped quite a bit, but in a house full of people, that can get a little embarrassing! =)
I love Branagh’s randomness! Have you seen Love's Labour's Lost? It's a musical version of the play, I didn't know it was a musical and when we sat down to watch it, my family groaned as the dialog started and it was still in the original from and I was the only one who was thrilled when the musical number started! A Shakespeare musical? How could you not watch it? ;-)

Miss Pickwickian said...


Good point. I do think this is a big part of Shakespeare's contrasts between the two "fools". However...It's strange that Jaques almost has the last words of the play and that he ends up going off. I would like to know more about that.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Yeah....that's a little how it was when we watched it. Susannah and I were much more familiar with the play and since the other members watching weren't we had to do some explaining.

I'll have to check out that "Love's Labor's Lost". I am not a musical fan (except Les Miz), but I can handle them once in awhile and I think a Shakespeare one would be quite the experience.


Laura said...

As to other versions of As You Like It.

There is the 1936 black and white with Laurence Olivier and Elisabeth Bergner. This is the very first version of As You Like It that I saw. It is a typical Laurence Olivier adaption of Shakespeare. I did have a hard time accepting Elisabeth Bergner's Rosilind as the German accent took a bit to get for me to get past. Over all it is definetly not my favorite adaption.

There is also the 1978 BBC version with Helen Mirren. I can't remember much about this adaption, other that it was performed with the usual BBC flair. In other words it is presented almost like a glorified stage play in my opinion. The set in very simple. Like most BBC SHakespeares it sticks to the script and doesn't drop anything as I can remember.

Over all both of these were enjoyale to watch just becasue they are adaptions of Shakespeare.

There is also a 1992 version that I have not seen and haven't even heard about.

Molly @ A Bit O' Shine said...

Oh sad - the one you have questions on is one I hardly remember! I don't even remember reading it for my Shakespeare class. However! I will go to the books on this one and see if I can learn a few things to share. I have some excellent resources.

I kinda did an amused little smile at the shepherd/priest being played by the same actor. Maybe he was trying to portray that they have a very similar job of "tending the flock." How many times are Christians referred to as sheep in the Bible? And that is not something familiar to people who don't read the Bible so maybe he was making it obvious to *everyone*
Not having seen the movie I can't say that with certainty.
Off to consult my books.

Molly @ A Bit O' Shine said...

Okay apparently I got rid of my Brit Lit Norton Anthology (which I'm kicking myself for!) and if you've never discovered the joy that is the NA I suggest you hunt one down. I have seen them kicking around Goodwill before, so try there? Anyway they have tons of super informative goodies in the margin at the bottom of the page. Anyway, instead I consulted my copy of Simply Shakespeare and learned a few things but if I put them all here it will make this comment even longer than it already is. Ack. I will take a little time to try to condense things and see if I can't share some of it.

Molly @ A Bit O' Shine said...

Oh! I almost forgot. I asked my friend Katie because she is a drama buff (and directing the upcoming spring play at Corban University) what she thought about it and this is what she said,

"Ya know, this is not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. Both and Rosalind and Orland are pretty immature and annoying, and she's right - the whole gender bending makes modern audiences uncomfortable. (Although the shepherds are a hoot.) But I think you have to take it in the light it may have been written - just crazy fun.

My personal interpretation is that the play is really completely about Jaques. Everyone in the play exists to make Jaques look wise. I really wish she could have seen the As You Like It that was done in Ashaland a couple years ago. The Jaques was INCREDIBLE in his interpretation of the lines. He was very deep, but funny, but bitter, but real. See if you can think of someone he reminds you of. Make him real. (I will say the Branagh version is also not my favorite, although i give him props for a fun setting.) So maybe that is my next challenge to Miss Pickwickian - try reading this play as if Jaques wrote it, and then inserted himself "as the voice of reason" when things started to get a little out of hand. I'm not saying this is a correct interpretation - but try saying Jaques lines out loud. See how many ways he can say certain lines to get different meanings. It's just one way to try and make a Shakespeare play have a little more chemistry."

Coffee and Black Ink said...

If there was a like button on Blogspot like there is on Facebook I'd be liking this post most plenteously. Favourite part of this ENTIRE post, though, is the quote at the end!! EPIC!!
hem hem. anyways.
I like the whole review. I think I shall give Dr. Leithart a call and charge HIM to write a review on this play, eh? Sound like a good idea?
I am eager to open the lovely red volume of comedies thou didst purchase me at POWELL'S. Tomorrow it shall be. :)

Love youuu!

Bridget said...

I read As You Like It for the first time last summer and LOVED it! It's definitely my favorite Shakespeare play. =] Mr. Branaugh's version is lovely. He is just an amazing person...have you seen his Love's Labours Lost movie? Aaah, I love it so much.

Happy Homemaker said...

Congrats! You inspired me to go find my copy of As You Like It and a spot of tea. I'll be back later.

Miss Pickwickian said...


Thanks for the info on other film versions. I'm very interested in checking one out that has the full script.


Thanks so much for your comments.

Yes, my immediate reaction was the same with the shepherd/priest thing...However, I can't really get it too fit right.

Thanks for the book recommendation. Any helpful books on Shakespeare are always welcome.

I also appreciate your friend Kate's comments. Rosalind and Orlando do seem a little immature in some ways, but they also seem like they have a more fleshed out romance than most Shakespeare couples. They actually sort of end up knowing each other before they get married. I like this, and actually on the whole...I sympathize with them more than Romeo and Juliet.

It took me awhile to reply to your wonderful comments because I wanted to read back through "As You Like It" thinking about Jaques as you suggested.
Unfortunately I've been obsessed with "Henry V" all week and haven't had time yet. (I know. I haven't even mentioned "Henry V" in any of my posts...)

I think this could be an interesting angle, however, I do not think it works with Shakespeare's worldview to have the "hero" of the play run away from a happy ending. I certainly want to give this some more thought.

I am extremely jealous you got to see this in Ashland. ;-)

Thank you so much for your thought provoking comments.


Thanks for commenting. Next time I see Dr. Leithart I'll have to find some shred of bravery somewhere in my soul and ask him what he thinks about this pay... I'd much prefer you call him, however. ;-)

Love you too!

Thank you for your comments Bridget and Happy Homemaker. :-)
I'd be interested in hearing what you thought, Happy Homemaker.

Wow...long comment.

Thanks all,
Miss Pickwickian