The Passionate Pilgrim 1.6: Rosalind

Among the great theatrical innovations, Rosalind in As You Like It has to be considered one of the most significant.

She is very simply the greatest female role written by the greatest poet of the Elizabethan age. There is very little in all of Western literature that precedes her significance. The Wife of Bath comes to mind. Other than that, it is difficult to compare her to any other character of her sex who has so much independence, so much intelligence and so much strength.

Rosalind. From As you Like It. Booklovers Edition. (1901)
Rosalind. From As you Like It. Booklovers Edition. (1901)

Dante’s Beatrice is more an ideal than a reality. Euripdes’ Medea is more a vengeful avatar than an actual individual. It would not be until the nineteenth century that women took center stage in Western drama again.

One of the most interesting things about Rosalind is that, despite having been unfairly disgraced and being forced to flee in disguise to protect herself, she appears to be somehow released. In fact, regardless of her difficulties, she actually seems to be enjoying her status as an exile.

Rosalind is obviously more intelligent than every other person she encounters onstage. This includes the people who have exiled her. But, she never acts against any of them directly. Instead, she respects them and displays compassion, especially in the face of their flaws.

Rosalind is easily the most independent actor in As You Like It. She moves at will. No one can prevent her. The action of the play is only delayed by her own inhibition. Once she decides to focus her energy on Orlando there is no stopping her.

Fundamentally, Rosalind is a realist. For all the romanticism of her interest in Orlando, she is not so foolish as to see in him more than a boy wonder. Orlando, like most of his kin, will never rise to Rosalind’s intellectual heights and she does not love him the less for that. For Rosalind, Orlando is a substantially good match, the best of his breed, and no one is more delighted with the opportunity to put aside pretence than she is. For Rosalind, love play is both a serious business and a pleasure. She delights in teasing, but not unfairly.

Of course, she has the advantage; she has already decided on her match. Orlando, on the other hand, has the very awkward problem of divining not only her intentions but his own previously uncomprehended desires as well. The fact that this makes him that much more charming to Rosalind does not help him in the least.

Given time and careful cultivation Orlando is very likely to discover that Rosalind is his superior in every way. For her part, Rosalind is so wise that she can patiently wait for him to decide that he has understood this all on his own.

Rosalind’s intelligence, her confidence, appears to derive from an innate ability to see the future. True, her banishment is initially frightening, but no sooner has she adopted her new circumstances than she sets about resolving them. In her mind, life in Arden would be just as satisfactory as life at Court, so long as Orlando and her father were there with her. The only question is how best to put the pieces together, not whether or not she can manage them.

The neat trick in watching Rosalind surmount her difficulties is not that we doubt she will do it, but that she always surprises us in the way she does it. She never moves directly. Instead, she entices her adversaries into self-revelation and understanding. This tactic explains the apparent suddenness of Orlando’s brother Oliver’s reversal from enemy to ally, not to mention Duke Frederick’s recognition of the wrong he has done to his brother, Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior.

Harold Bloom has compared Rosalind to both Falstaff and Hamlet and with them considers her one of the three most complete and original creations in English literature.

“Rosalind is unique in Shakespeare, perhaps indeed in western drama, because it is so difficult to achieve a perspective upon her that she herself does not anticipate and share.”

Bloom, Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human, p. 204.

Of all the ways that a character, not to mention a person, can be considered special, the quality of self-knowledge is among the most precious. It is a quality that Rosalind has in abundance.

Next: Disguises

PeteHeadshotDr. Peter Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A. in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

The Passionate Pilgrim 1.5: Touchstone and “Le Recknynge”

There is one other very curious correspondence between As You Like It and Every Man Out of His Humor. In As You Like It, Touchstone remarks to Audrey: “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.” III. 3. 10-13.

Under the best of circumstances, this would have to be considered an odd line. Academics generally try to relate it to Christopher Marlowe’s Barabas in The Jew of Malta who desires “Infinite riches in a little room.” I. 1. 37.

Christopher Marlowe Portrait
Putative portrait of Christopher Marlowe (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)

What is not often reported is that the “reckoning” mentioned in As You Like It appears to be responding to Jonson’s character Macilente’s prior reference in Every Man Out of His Humor to “signior Fungoso, being at supper tonight at a tavern, there happened some division amongst them, and he is left in pawn for the reckoning.” V. 3. 53-6.

Most scholars have turned away from this odd puzzle and have considered it insignificant. In doing so, however, they have ignored what was reported just prior to these passages.

Specifically, in 1597, Thomas Beard in Theater of God’s Judgement claimed that “in the London streets [Marlowe] purposed to stab one whom he ought a grudge . . . , the other party perceiving so . . . stabbed his own dagger into [Marlowe’s] head. . . .” Then, in 1598, Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia asserted that “Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death by a bawdy serving man.”

Neither of these accounts make any mention of a “reckoning” being the predicate of the action that resulted in Marlowe’s death (in fact Beard’s account bears more resemblance to Marlowe’s altercation with William Bradley almost eight years before, which was settled by his friend Thomas Watson who killed Bradley in the exchange).

The odd thing about this is that the Queen’s Cororner, William Danby, who personally conducted the inquest into Marlowe’s death, concluded that it resulted from a dispute over “le recknynge” of the account due for the afternoon and evening’s entertainment that Marlowe and three other men spent at Mistress Bull’s establishment in Deptford. What is even more odd about this is that Danby’s report was immediately sealed and was not open to the public until it was discovered by Leslie Hotson in 1926, three hundred thirty-three years after the fact.

Tavern Scene by Flemish artist David Teniers c. 1658
Tavern Scene by Flemish artist David Teniers c. 1658 via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, the actual witnesses at the inquest could not have known the conclusions drawn by the Queen’s Coroner, so they would not have been able, by themselves, to advertize them. As a result, the reports that circulated were largely rumors that all lacked this crucial detail. Except for those provided by As You Like It and Jonson.

For some reason, both As You Like It and Jonson appear to have Marlowe on the brain. Their twin references to the “Reckoning” suggest nothing so much as inside knowledge of a police report that had not been released to the public. The implications of these references, on their own, are difficult to assess as both writers immediately moved on.

In the midst of all of this, it is important to note that all of the most significant Shakespearean scholars freely declare that Marlowe and his plays and poetry are the absolute foundation upon which all of the English theatre is based. That includes all of the most significant Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights and poets, not the least of which is Shakespeare. There is really no discussion on that point. Without Marlowe, there is no modern English theatre.

In my mind, this makes the curious correspondence between As You Like It and Ben Jonson’s Humors that much more remarkable.

Next: Rosalind.

PeteHeadshotDr. Peter Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A. in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

The Passionate Pilgrim 1.4: Will, Audrey and Touchstone

It is difficult to say whether or not Shakespeare actually intended to respond to Ben Jonson’s ridicule of him via the role of Sogliardo. In fact, he appears not to have acknowledged it at all. What happened instead is that As You Like It took Jonson’s mockery to a new level.

Shakespeare's_Heroines_-_Rosalind
Rosalind as Ganymede in The Forest of Arden. By Robert Walker Macbeth (artist), Sampson Low, Marston & Co. (publisher), via Wikimedia Commons

The main plot of As You Like It concerns Rosalind, daughter of the falsely accused and unfairly exiled Duke Senior, and her adventures in the forest of Arden where she takes the disguise of a young man, attempts to rescue and exonerate her father and falls in love with Orlando who has also earned the Duke’s displeasure and has traveled to Arden.

There is also a secondary plot, which has very little, if anything, to do with Rosalind’s quest. This plot involves Touchstone, a clown, Audrey, a country wench, and William, a country youth, in love with Audrey.

These two plots travel upon somewhat parallel tracks, with Rosalind accomplishing all of her goals, including restoration of her father to his rightful position and marriage to the once but no longer disfavored Orlando, while Touchstone deposes William in Audrey’s favor and subsequently marries her.

I intend to examine the role of Rosalind and the difficulties facing her, why she chooses to travel in disguise and how she manages to turn the tables on her opponents, in later installments. What I want to focus on now is Touchstone.

Touchstone, whose name is derived from an alchemical term meaning:

  1. a type of black stone formerly used to test the purity of gold or silver by the streak left on it when it was rubbed with the metal 2. any test or criterion for determining genuineness or value.

Webster’s Second College Edition.

spots William approaching Audrey and himself and immediately calls him a “clown”. Subsequently, he calls him a “clown” to his face and chases him offstage, threatening to kill him one  hundred fifty ways. In between, Touchstone tells William:

“Then, learn this of me. To have is to have. For it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ‘ipse’ is he. Now, you are not ‘ipse’, for I am he.”

As You Like It, V. 1. 39-43

There are a lot of ways to interpret this passage, none of which I can imagine fall to the advantage of William. One interpretation that I can imagine is that if Touchstone is Ben Jonson, then he is once again accusing William Shakespeare of being a fraud. Except that, in this instance, it is the author of As You Like It who is repeating this accusation using Touchstone as a stand in for Jonson.

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Touchstone,_The_Jester
Touchstone, the Jester, John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, Touchstone may not be representative of Jonson at all. Keep in mind that Jonson never accused Shakespeare of plagiarizing his poetry, so the glass to glass metaphor does not quite fit between these two. Which is to say that, whatever glass is filling William’s, it probably isn’t Jonson’s.

William never gets another chance to stand up for himself. In fact, Touchstone has the pleasure of describing this encounter at some length, all to his own credit, at the end of Act V.

So, did Shakespeare decide to take the high road and lampoon himself by taking Jonson’s accusations to the next level, transforming a minor dispute over his dearly purchased heraldic emblem into a more personal attack on his legitimacy as an author (ie: drink poured from one full vessel, the original, into another, the empty recipient)? Was he perhaps disputing Jonson’s claims by showing them to be overheated, an invented heraldic emblem being much less significant than claims of authorship? If so, why? Why go to such an extreme?

Perhaps it had to do with yet another remarkable correspondence between As You Like It and Every Man Out of His Humor.

Next: Touchstone and “A Great Recknynge”

PeteHeadshot Dr. Peter Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A. in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

The Passionate Pilgrim 1.3: Sogliardo Revisted

Ben Jonson, if he was anything like a normal person, would clearly have understood that the opportunity to re-establish himself as a playwright with the leading company in London, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was not to be squandered. Regardless, as soon as he had made a hit with Every Man In His Humor, he immediately attacked Shakespeare, the company’s leading playwright, in Every Man Out of his Humor, satirizing him with the major character Sogliardo.

“Sogliardo is a variant of the Latin soliardo, literally parched soil.”

Daryl Pinksen, Marlowe’s Ghost, iUniverse, Inc., 2008, p. 198.

Title page of 1600 printing of "Every Man out of His Humour."
Title page of 1600 printing of “Every Man out of His Humour.” By Ben Jonson, via Wikimedia Commons

Subsequent to his presentation of his not to be forgotten herald and it’s spicy motto, Sogliardo is introduced by a disgraced poet named Macilente (ie: emaciated) to a young woman named Saviolina. Macilente tells her that although Sogliardo appears to be nothing more than a clown, he is actually a very sophisticated person who enjoys presenting himself as a clown. Therefore, his apparent foolishness is really a disguise for his great refinement. Naturally, Sogliardo, who knows nothing of this and is in fact a clown, proceeds to give a ridiculous performance that nevertheless charms Saviolina:

Sogliardo: How does my sweet lady? hot and moist? beautiful and lusty? ha!

Saviolina: Beautiful, an it please you, sir, but not lusty.

Eventually, Maciliente grows impatient with the success of his ruse and tries to explain to Saviolina that Sogliardo really is nothing more than a clown. She, however, does not believe him. It is not until he tricks Sogliardo into showing her his hands that she realizes he is not man of the world but rather a country bumpkin. At that point Saviolina is furious and exits.

Defenders of Shakespeare’s reputation generally refuse to accept the libel that Sogliardo is in any way a mockery of the Bard:

“Sogliardo, a country bumpkin of manifest stupidity, could not possibly be construed as a portrait of Shakespeare.”

Duncan-Jones, Katherine, Ungentle Shakespeare, 2001.

To this I can only reply that Duncan-Jones and Greenblatt (and others) fail to take into account Jonson’s own perception of events. He was certainly closer to the scene and there is no question that Shakespeare purchased a herald at that time, a practice which was to become more and more criticized during the subsequent reign of King James.

Is it possible that Jonson was looking over his shoulder at the success of Henry V and therefore taking a shot at Shakespeare from two directions, first at the bombastic theatrical style and second at the playwright’s pretensions? That is all interpretation after the fact.

On the other hand, if Jonson intended to criticize Marston and if Marston and Dekker chose to respond, such that their interaction became the subject of stacks of Ph. D. dissertations, then why not credit Jonson’s mockery of Shakespeare as at least his own report of his time and place?

What does all this have to do with As You Like It? Quite a bit, actually.

Next: Shakespeare Responds, or Does He? Will, Audrey and Touchstone.

 PeteHeadshotDr. Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.