Friday, July 8, 2016
Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: As You Like It
My third ever draw in The Game of Reading was Card #438, “Shakespeare.” This is how I played it.
The Play: As You Like It
Edition: The Arden Shakespeare, Edited by Agnes Latham, 1975.
Genre & Setting: Light comedy in the bucolic woodlands and pastures of the Arden Forest.
The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: Orlando and Rosalind have crushes on each other. Meanwhile, Orlando’s older brother wants to kill him, and Rosalind’s uncle is kicking her out of the castle because she reminds people of how he usurped his own brother’s Duchy. Both of them end up in the Arden Forest, but since Rosalind has dressed up as a man as a safety precaution, Orlando doesn’t recognize her. Hijinx ensue. Will they get together at the end? Of course they will.
There are of course other characters and complications, but perhaps not as many as you might expect. As You Like It is a simple play, and it is a quick read. It has several songs, and although it’s tricky to imagine how songs were supposed to “work” in context, these have the feeling of good-natured, light-hearted, faux-rustic tunes designed to please the crowd. Further, it has a couple of witty monologues that are essentially stand-alone performance pieces; they don’t advance the action except by marking the passing of time (during the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech, for instance, the play is just treading water between Orlando leaving to find his buddy and the two of them returning. But that’s OK, because in the right hands that speech should be a pretty good stand-up routine.)
Put all this together, and I think what we have here is some good old-fashioned musical comedy. There’s enough plot to keep us engaged, and a few twists to keep us on our toes, but the story is also the scaffolding for a modest variety show, singing, dancing, comedy, and a talking dog! Except, there’s not really a talking dog.
The Edition: The Arden Editions are, as I understand it, top drawer. I didn’t read all of the critical material, but what I did read was clear, lucid, and I assume well-informed. It’s also 41 years old, and is missing some of the critical approaches that a more recent edition would cover; this is perhaps both a blessing and a curse.
Adaptation: I have for all intents and purposes never seen a production of As You Like It. Mrs.5000 thinks we saw it together at one point, but if we did it went right through my brain without leaving any impression of itself. Well, if it happened with a year of college Calculus, I suppose it could happen with a staging of As You Like It.
I’d think that the most interesting decision you’d make in putting on this play would be just how comic you want it to be. Is it a fairly serious story about young lovers overcoming the dark machinations of their elders, or is it just going to be a zany farce from curtain to curtain? I suspect you could start it pretty seriously and have it get lighter and more fun as it went; I think that given the text you could also have it start as farce and then end more seriously, except that the audience would not thank you for your pains.
Prognosis: As one of the Shakespeare plays that is pretty easy to read and understand, As You Like It has the virtue of making you feel pretty smart. It has entertaining comic passages, and it’s a fun play to cast, design, and direct in your head while you’re watching it. The only real downside is that it isn’t going to offer the veteran reader many surprises, but then this is light comedy. It doesn’t need surprises.