“Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.” — Rosalind, As You Like ItAs You LIke It @ Seton Hill UniversityJerz’s Literacy Weblog)
I asked students in three of my classes to attend Seton Hill University’s production of As You Like It. I thought the casting was very well done. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail, the actress playing Rosalind looked very much like the rustic youth she was pretending to be. In Shakespeare’s day, of course, the female parts would all have been performed by boys. In a sense, our SHU production featured a woman pretending to be a boy pretending to be a woman pretending to be a boy.
I do think our Rosalind muffed the line I quoted above — she emphasized “thieves,” giving the line the sense, “Beauty provokes thieves before beauty provokes gold.” I would have told her to emphasize “Beauty,” giving the line the sense “Thieves are provoked by beauty sooner than gold.” The line was a bit of light-hearted banter that leads to the plan to disguise Rosalind as a boy. Another exchange with Celia and later some extended comedy with Audrey and Touchstone riffs on the idea that a woman cannot be both beautiful and honest (and Phebe is further evidence to argue in favor of that idea).
I was reminded of a class discussion on The Canterbury Tales, in which the students couldn’t determine whether The Wife of Bath’s Tale is feminist or misogynist. In order to prod the discussion along at one point, I noted that the Wife twice mentions that her latest husband beat her, but only the second time does she mention that she started the fight by hitting her husband first. I mentioned that I once heard a statistic that indicated that women are more likely to strike men than men are likely to strike women — but that when men do strike women, they are far more likely to cause an injury. Julie Young put some effort into investigating the validity of that little factoid, and concludes that, like nearly any fact, it can be used out of context to give the wrong message.
Several SHU bloggers have already written about the play, including some in my “Media Aesthetics” course.
Brendan notes that “Watching Is more Fun Then Reading,” a sentiment I’ve heard before from SHU bloggers. Even so, Allison finds that the middle school children in the audience for a field trip were more attentive than some of her classmates, and writes, “I have no clue how anyone can sleep through shakespeare.” Julie observed that “Some things are still funny 400 years in the future. Other things aren’t.”
Other students who mentioned the production include Amanda, who says she picked out my chuckles over the heads of the crowd of middle-school students who were visiting on a field trip. Sherry (who preferred the play to the book) observes that in the middle of the play “it’s like the characters just stumble around the forest rambling,” and wonders if all Shakespeare is like that.
I remember my college professor comparing the Forest of Arden scenes to a cocktail party. I prefer to think of the ballroom dance skits in the old Muppet Show — they would have a quick shot of muppets dancing to a sweeping waltz, and then a two-shot where there would be a quick setup and punchline, followed by a quick cut to more dancing.
The comic presentation of Duke Senior and the flashiness of the contrived happy ending served to underscore the forest scenes as attempting to accomplish just a little bit more than presenting an idealized view of a human society ruled by love — there were some elements of satire, but not many. Which is fine — it’s a comedy, after all. Humans tormented by love and folly are worth examining too, though humans wracked by guilt and lusting after power usually make better drama.
While blogging this, I was browsing through EbscoHOST in another window, and came across a 1991 article, “Kairos and the Ripeness of Time in ‘As You Like It.'” It’s by Maurice Hunt, whose article on plagiarism I recently blogged.
Whoops, before I could read much of Maurice’s article, a student came by to warn me that the teacher’s podium is acting up in the classroom where my next class is about to meet… so I’d better sign off.