"A Pageant truly played" - Scene 3.5 of 'As you like it' put into context

Seminar Paper, 2006

20 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Critical Reception

3. Performance History

4. Close critical Analysis of scene 3.5
4.1. The Pastoral
4.2. Mimetic desire and transformation
4.3. Gendered desire

5. Performance as Interpretation : two contrasting production ideas
5.1. Classroom production: Comparing the concepts of pastoral and talk-show
5.2. The abyss of mimetic desire

6. Conclusion

Bibliographie Fehler! Textmarke nicht definiert

Appendix - Classroom production Idea

1. Introduction

[…] A pageant truly played

between the pale complexion of true love

And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain […] (As you like it: 3.4.47-49)

As such describes Corin the following scene 3.5., in which a madly in love Silvius hopelessly woos his beloved Phoebe, a ”proud disdainful shepherdess,” (3.4.45). The scene is a play within a play and Rosalind herself decides to “prove a busy actor” (3.4.55) in this play. The scene is central to As you like it and seems to incorporate many of the images and ideas generally portrayed throughout the play.

There is much literature about Shakespeare today, exploring many of these ideas and discovering many more all the time. To try and give a full view of all of these different approaches to As you like it would be the work truly worthy of many books. In this paper, I will therefore focus on the main points I think relevant for this particular scene, put in the context of the play.

To start off, I would like to give a broad overview of critical reception and performance history. Both of these points will be illustrated by focusing on a few examples of the main critical voices and performances. Next, I will look specifically at scene 3.5., critically analysing it under the heading of the following ideas.

One of the main themes underlying this sequence is the use and mocking of literary pastoral, along with various representations of love and mimetic desire. Phoebe’s sudden eruption of feeling for Rosalind/ Ganymede also leads to the necessary consideration of the heroine’s disguise and its roots and effects on the different levels of acting.

In a last step I would then like to bring this theoretical analysis to a more practical level and see in what ways the ideas worked out in chapter 4. could be visualised on the stage.

2. Critical Reception

Shakespeare wrote As you like it presumably in the year 1600 (Brissenden 1998: 1). The main story is taken from a pastoral prose romance called Rosalynde by Thomas Lodge, which was published at around 1590. In general, critics today see Shakespeare’s treatment of Lodge’s story as a literary enhancement. While he relied on a lot of Lodge’s action for his own play, Shakespeare also created some new characters and took new approaches to ideas treated by Lodge.

Specifically, his treatment of the pastoral seems to differ. While Lodge stayed in the convention of the pastoral, Shakespeare went a step further. Alan Brissenden, for example, describes Shakespeare’s attitude towards pastoral as “amused […] for he both uses and mocks the artificiality of the pastoral mode” (1998: 49). Scene 3.5. is in this context important in so far as most critics see it as expressing the convention of the pastoral most clearly, compare Harold Jenkins: “The story of Silvius and Phebe is of the pure pastoral world, the familiar literary norm,” (1955: 46). However, the extent to which the critics see Shakespeare’s treatment of the pastoral convention in this scene as mocking varies greatly.

Alan Brissenden figures that Shakespeare counterparts the convention portrayed by Silvius and Phoebe with Rosalind’s sharp wit and humorous behaviour (i.e. scolding Phoebe and having no pity with loving Silvius) to “invite laughter both at the characters and the convention they represent,” (1998: 49). Treating the characters in this way shows the artificiality the pastoral convention relies on, how far it is removed from reality (Brissenden 1998: 11). The status of the scene as a play within a play as well as the way the characters’ speech is constructed add further to this artificiality and, for Brissenden, represent mocking of the pastoralist convention (1998: 17).

However, there are also critics such as David Young, who takes a very different position on this aspect. For him, As you like it and especially scene 3.5. is explicitly not about mocking the pastoral convention, but rather it shows Shakespeare’s “sympathetic interest in pastoral” and represents “a survey of the wonderful diversity and folly of human life,” (Young 1972: 39). It is interesting that Young suggests that the conception of the play as mocking the pastoral “has been largely replaced” (1972: 39) by his own position, publishing his conclusions twenty years earlier than Brissenden.

To complicate the matter further, there are also certain erotic tensions between Rosalind disguised as Ganymede and Phoebe (another boy-actor playing a woman) and Rosalind/ Ganymede/ Rosalind and Orlando. Phyllis Rackin describes what happens as a “complicated layering on of disguise to render Rosalind’s sexual identity thoroughly ambivalent,” (1987: 36). In what relation stood this portrayal of gender on the stage to gender behaviour in real life? Stephen Orgel, for example, describes Rosalind’s male disguise as in some sense being for Orlando’s own good, since it “constitutes a way around the dangers of the female libido,” ( 1996: 63) as seen in the Renaissance. Jean E. Howard explores a similar idea but comes to the conclusion that Rosalind’s disguise is not threatening to the gender system, especially since she “retains a properly feminine subjectivity,” (1988: 434). This is, of course, more visible for the audience than for Orlando, since it is aspects such as her fainting at the sight of blood that reconstitute her womanliness and seemingly let her fail at portraying the man she not is (1988: 434).

Yet what about the epilogue where exactly this female capacity is countered by the unveiled true sexual identity of the boy actor? For Howard it poses a playful question about how easily gender boundaries can be crossed and how stable therefore the common hierarchic gender system was (1988: 435). Theatre itself can thus be seen in the following way:

A site of ideological production, an institution that can circulate recuperative fables of crossdressing, reinscribing sexual difference and gender hierarchy, and at the same time can make visible on the level of theatrical practice the contamination of sexual kinds. (1988: 435)

There are, of course, many more critical approaches to As you like It, some of which will be further explored in section 4.

3. Performance History

Although written in 1600, the first recorded staging of As you like it took place at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 20 December 1740. Ever since then the performances of the play have been largely dominated by its heroine (Brissenden 1998: 52). Or rather the actresses interpreting her part, as it was now custom to have women play women’s roles on stage, rather than boy actors. During the 18th century it was a quality of “archness” (Brissenden 1998: 55) that generally characterised the way in which Rosalind’s part was interpreted. In the 19th century this changed to a more romantic, sentimental approach with a very feminine Rosalind and a realistic stage. This was challenged at the beginning of the 20th century with a “strikingly simple and bold” play conception which focused on the “gaiety, good humour, and tenderness” of Rosalind’s part (Brissenden 1998: 63).

In 1991 Cheek by Jowl’s featured a production of As you like it that “was very authentic in one respect but very contemporary in another” (Jonathan Bate 1996: 6), namely it returned to the Elizabethan tradition of having an all-male cast, yet it Rosalind herself was played by a black actor, Adrian Lester. The production had great success. Next to the all-male cast it also had an open, empty stage and role-doubling which furthered its authenticity to the Elizabethan stage.

John Dover Wilson characterises As you like it as a play which “does not act itself […] and demands brains in the true performing of it,” (1962: 159). I will now take a closer look at two productions of the play, and specifically scene 3.5., to show exemplary how differently this problem can be approached in modern performances.

Pit Holzwarth and the Radio Bremen produced a video of the play on stage in German in 1994. Whilst most of the dress was realistic (big pomp dresses in red and blue at the beginning), the stage setting was quite simple and modern. The court-scenes main characteristic was a huge ‘wall-curtain’ of golden plastic foil that portrayed the glitz and glimmer of the high life. Most of the characters at court were wearing skin coloured masks that covered forehead and nose and let its bearers resemble birds with beaks. These masks were taken off upon arrival in the forest of Arden, portraying the inner transformation that takes place in these carefree surroundings where the court and its troubles are left behind and men returned to mother nature. The stage setting of the forest was very simple, having as the only real prop a big board laid over the ‘abyss’ from stage to audience level, where part of the action took place. This board represented the way on which people could reach Arden but was also used as a bridge or a boat. Silvius is introduced to us as a shepherd dressed in sheep-fleece and there is no question about the intensity of his feelings for Phoebe. Shortly after passionately grinding himself into the ground, calling her name, his face is shown in a close-up rendering the camera very subjectively, so that the viewer, for a moment, can feel himself addressed as Phoebe. The next moment Silvius is up and running again, calling her name.

At the beginning of scene 3.5., Silvius re-enters, pursuing his beloved (who is played by a rather bony actor) and being watched by Celia, Corin and Rosalind. Phoebe is wearing a dirndl and to show her fast advancing transformation in the love-matters, she is wearing a wig split into two parts, right black, left blonde. Full of Passion, Silvius loses half his clothes at the beginning of the scene and then throws himself at Phoebe’s feet. She mocks the lover and dares him to show the wounds her eyes have made. When he cannot do so, she grabs his nose and pulls him along with him, crying out “for shame, for shame.” Then the rather womanly Rosalind appears and Phoebe is full of adoration. Rosalind acts indeed quite flirtatiously towards her and with very clear enjoyment tells Phoebe later on were she can find her cottage. Phoebe then weighs up Rosalind/ Ganymede’s qualities and Silvius seems not to understand at all what she is talking about. Instead, his face is lit up by a smile and his head, eyes closed, lifted like a dog’s, ready to receive a petting, when Phoebe says “yet words do well when he that speaks them pleases those that hear.” When Phoebe then invites him to go with her, he cannot believe his luck. The scene shows Silvius and Phoebe in the typical pastoral convention, yet exaggerates the sentimentalism so much that it becomes highly comical. Another aspect of the play that is mentionable is the inclusion of the sound-creator in the camera picture, which a few times shows him producing sounds to the action in front of a microphone, thus destroying the theatrical illusion.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


"A Pageant truly played" - Scene 3.5 of 'As you like it' put into context
University of Cologne  (English Seminar)
Einführungsseminar Literaturwissenschaft Teil B
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Pageant, Scene, Einführungsseminar, Literaturwissenschaft, Teil
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Jule Schaffer (Author), 2006, "A Pageant truly played" - Scene 3.5 of 'As you like it' put into context, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/73784


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