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AS YOU LIKE IT PT2: LIBERTY



The issue of ‘liberty’ is one of the themes explored in Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT. What is ‘liberty’? Yes – it is a type of happiness associated with freedom, but it is relatively specific – each character has their own sense and understanding of ‘liberty’.


For example – when Rosalind is banished, on 'pain of death’ from the Court, her cousin Celia rallies her and introduces the idea of them escaping from the Court and go to ‘the forest of Arden’, which they see as the ideal place. Celia says at the end of scene – ‘Now go we in content / To liberty and not to banishment.’

To a certain extent, Rosalind and Celia, as well as Touchstone, Orlando and Adam, become refugees from the dangerous and fascist-like world of the Court. However, to achieve this freedom and ‘liberty’ from the Court requires subterfuge, disguise, as well as money. Celia steals what 'jewels and our wealth' she has in her own right, Adam gives Orlando his life savings. Furthermore, it is Celia who brings up the idea that they disguise themselves, to which Rosalind heartily agrees – Rosalind as the boy ‘Ganymede’ and Celia as ‘Aliena’.

They all manage to reach the forest of Arden – but it is not necessarily the 'liberty' they expected to find.

Our first introduction to the forest of Arden is via Duke Senior (Duchess Senior in this production). In one of the strangest pieces of verse in this play the Duke/Duchess reveals and revels in his/her perception of Arden. Ever the optimist, the Duke/Duchess, states ‘Sweet are the fruits of adversity’ and that their current life finds ‘tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones and good in every thing.’ Pure hyperbole – ‘tongues in trees’? ‘books in the running brooks’ – what is he/she on?!!! Magic Mushrooms!??

So - this is one form of ‘liberty’. Should add – that Duke/Duchess Senior, Amiens, and Jacques all live in a ‘cave’, and that Duke/Duchess Senior also like hunting deer for ‘venison’ – which the others are not so fond of.

Rosalind, Celia, Touchstone, Orlando and Adam have a very different first impressions of the ‘liberty’ offered by the forest of Arden. It is not a great place. It is a ‘desert’, one in which they are all starving for any form of food. It initially seems they have replaced one form of prison for another.

Happily things get quickly resolved for both parties. Orlando and Adam find comfort and succour with Duke/Duchess Senior and companions in their ‘cave’; Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone find the shepherd Corin and buy a ‘cottage’.

Here too are differences in what constitutes the ‘liberty’ found in Arden – one in a ‘cave’ and one in a ‘cottage’. Which would you prefer?

‘Liberty’ is also achieved through ‘disguise’. To a certain extent everyone in AS YOU LIKE IT has a persona that is restricted in one way or another. All will go through some form of metamorphoses or transformation, one persona replacing another. It is, however, Rosalind’s adoption of a male persona, ‘Ganymede’, that gives her a greater sense of freedom, especially in her wooing of Orlando. This persona of ‘Ganymede’, however, despite all the fun and ‘liberty’ it initially offers also become problematic and must be removed and replaced by something more genuine.

Another character who desires and begs for ‘liberty’ is Jacques – ‘I must have liberty / Withal, as large a charter as the wind,/ To blow on whom I please’.

We first meet ‘the melancholy Jacques’ after he/she has encountered Touchstone – ‘A fool, a fool! I met a fool I’ the forest.’ Jacques is hardly ‘melancholic’ in this moment, but rather excited and thrilled to have found Touchstone – something unexpected. Yet this joy soon turns into something else; the ‘liberty’ and freedom that Jacques perceives in Touchstone is something that Jacques does not have.

Jacques, for whatever reason, does not feel that he/she has the 'liberty' to speak what he/she feels. Why this is so is not entirely clear - but it is there and stated in the text.

Give me leave To speak my mind, and I will through and through Cleanse the foul body of the infected world - Jacques

Duke/Duchess Senior dismisses these desires, accusing Jacques of being a decadent and hypocritical 'libertine'. Why? It can only be assumed that Duck/Duchess Senior has no intention of granting Jacques his/her 'liberty'. Jacques is condemned to stay in the forest of Arden. Is it an issue of 'pride' - the Devil's sin? To Jacques it is:

'Why, who cries out on pride, / That can therein tax any private party?'

This is all rather at odds with the general notion that Arden is a wonderful bucolic pastoral fantasy. Something is rotten in the state of Arden. It is not necessarily - at least for some - the liberated hippie world of Duke/Duchess Senior. To Jacques the forest of Arden is not a place of freedom and ‘liberty’ but something more nightmarish – not just the bloody sport of killing deer, but also a place where freedom of speech is not possible - at least not for him/her.

Mind you - it is just a perception - doesn't necessarily mean it is the truth. It certainly doesn't stop Jacques from speaking his/her mind.

No - Jacques essentially problem with the so-called 'liberty' of bucolic Arden is that it is simply boring! Many town-folk having done a desired 'sea-change' have realised their mistake and found their new location boring. So too with Jacques. Jacques, as Rosalind/Ganymede accurately observes is a 'traveller' - a restless soul.

Jacques may have a ‘melancholy’ of his.her ‘own making’, but it is one that is triggered by sheer boredom. He/she desperately latches onto any newcomer – Touchstone, Rosalind/Ganymede, Orlando – in the hope of any relief from his/her stultifying existence in the forest of Arden. He/she is like a stalker – in a comedic way - following these newcomers around and engaging them in conversation. Anything to relieve the boredom of country existence. Touchstone, it would also seem, is not overfond of the country life of Arden. Unlike the ‘hippie’ liberated existence of Arden perceived by Duke/Duchess Senior, Jacques is a restless soul and sees Arden as another prison.

It is, however, ‘Time’ – Shakespeare’s main theme – evident in all his plays – that is the biggest curtailer of ‘liberty’. Once again, it is Jacques who contemplates and reveals that our sense of ‘liberty’ and freedom is dictated by ‘Time’ – most evident in the famous speech ‘All the world’s a stage / And men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one man in his time plays many parts, / His acts being seven ages.’ Whilst these ‘seven ages’ are full of life, nonetheless, it all ends the same for every man and woman – in death – ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’. So much for 'liberty'; Time is the ultimate master - not matter what 'liberty' one may or may not have.

If Jacques is ‘melancholic’ it is not only because he/she is bored by country life – and living in a ‘cave’ – but because he/she is desperate to live a free life – ‘give me my liberty’ – to seek out life – ‘Carpe Diem’ – Seize the Day! That is what Jacques is doing throughout the play – seizing the day – seizing anyone of anything that offers life – a very active rather than inactive character. ‘Melancholics’ tend to be inactive – Jacques is not. As previously mentioned, all of the characters who have come to the Forest of Arden have done so because they are refugees, escaping a form of life-threatening tyranny. Arden offers ‘liberty’ but it is like a poisonous ‘bower of bliss’ – as in Spencer’s THE FAIRY QUEEN. The ‘bower of bliss’ is great – for a time – but you can’t stay in there else you will die.

Or – as Rosalind/Ganymede asks Orl;ando – ‘Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?’

The answer is ‘Yes’!

It is a delicate balance in AS YOU LIKE IT between the comedy and the underlying seriousness. This production of AS YOU LIKE IT is more a joyous, comedic, and irreverent romp; nonetheless, some of the serious layers are also present – giving this production a sense of depth and unanswered questions.

What is your idea and sense of ‘liberty’. It is a form of desired happiness – but what makes one person happy may make another sad. ‘Do your own thing’ is usually at another’s expense. It’s AS YOU LIKE IT or WHAT YOU WILL – what do you like and what do you will?

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