As (I) Like It: A Review

Over the weekend I saw one of Shakespeare’s most dynamic plays, As You Like It, performed at Queens University. As with any Elizabethan play, it takes pure talent to memorize 15th century soliloquies. I commend the troupe for the time and effort they spent on this play – I am no actress and am currently cringing over the thought of getting on a stage in front of an audience. However, thanks to my current semester in Shakespeare’s Early Plays, I was sent on a mission to observe this performance – and of course I returned with my own reviews.

Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most profound female leads and a difficult role to undertake. In the play, Rosalind disguises herself as a man and embraces multiple personas. Any actress bold enough to portray Rosalind must have the ability to act out more than one identity. Besides the bland acting, it was obvious that the passion between Rosalind and Orlando was lacking; whether or not this was a director’s choice was unclear. I am aware that there is not a large casting pool to choose from at a small university, but I personally felt as though the actress playing Touchstone should have assumed the lead role (for those of you who were not in attendance, this woman held the entire show on her shoulders with her performance – YGG).

Shakespeare was not afraid to defy gender roles and identities; he loved to toy with the ideas of role-playing. Of course, women were forbidden from the stage in 15th century England (insert eye-roll), so men would play the roles of women. In Rosalind’s case, her character was essentially a man acting as a woman who was acting as a man who acted as a woman to win the love of a man. This dizzying role-play is what drives Shakespearean plays. Despite the poor acting, the epilogue is something that cannot be removed from this play as Rosalind says, “if I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me” (Epilogue, 19). Rosalind was one of the first women (actually a man dressed as a woman) to perform the epilogue of a play in Elizabethan England and this speech was, by far, one of my favorite moments throughout Queens’ performance.

In the 21st century we welcome women onto the stage; yet there is power in a woman unearthing an unfamiliar, unconventional selfhood. Humans are malleable, they can be changed and molded and Shakespeare was definitely interested in these themes. The forest of Ardenne opened up these possibilities for women (and men) as we saw through the disguise of Rosalind. Although the university’s Rosalind had difficulty displaying these aspects on stage, I appreciated the aforementioned female actress portraying Touchstone. Not only was she authentic, as a female actress playing a male character she embraced the avant-guarde role-play that Shakespeare questions.

To summarize: As You Like It was an adventurous performance choice for the limited theatre cast of Queens University, but I am SO here for the director’s decision to explore atypical gender roles amongst the cast. Thank you to Queens University for opening your doors to my critical Shakespearean classmates and I!

as-you-like-it

About the Author

Nancy Carroll is a senior at UNCC double majoring in English and Political Science. When she is off campus you can find her speculating Star Wars fan theories or hanging out with her cats. If she ever graduates, Nancy would like to join a publishing house and see the world.

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