15 Jul




Rosalind and the Counterfeit of Intelligence.

             One must bear in mind that Rosalind although a female character, has been created by a man and therefore her sensibilities are not always those of her own sex. In many instances we discover that the emotions and stereotypical characteristics represented by her persona have been imposed upon her. Although embodying the image of woman, we often see her, as it were, in the third person with apportioned wisdom and worldly familiarity. This is both amusing and humorous, but tends to muddle our reaction to her, as although she’s a woman dressed as a man, she’s very often a woman with a sixteenth century male attitude. As to her propensity to intelligence in the nature of love, this is confused and interchangeable as we are offered a Rosalind who is filled with wise aphorisms but who is complicated by her own feminine wiles. Rosalind is the victim of her own game and therefore a willing participant who gives herself over to her own urges despite understanding the perils of romantic love. Given the acumen of her opponent Orlando, it’s easy to judge her intelligent, but then in the land of the blind, a man with one eye is king. Hence her character juxtaposes both the joys and the pitfalls of romance. Rosalind embodies intelligence, vivacity, and energetic youth but in the matter of her own infatuation is as giddy as the next lover.

               Love is a game to be pursued when there is nothing else of great import. In our very first interaction with Rosalind she suggests to her cousin, “What think you of falling in love?”(1.2.165) Although agreeable, her cousin reminds her to be mindful of her “honesty” which suggests that Rosalind is incautious in her romantic decisions. This is repeated throughout the play when Celia continually cautions her to the precarious nature of her actions, promoting herself, rather than her cousin, to the position of sage. It’s Rosalind’s reaction to Orlando at the wrestling match, whom she finds to be worthy of her instantaneous love simply because her own father loved his, that is disturbing, although later in the play we’re witness to her disdain for the shepherdess Phoebe who muses on the joys of love at first site. Rosalind is confused and rather than using rational thought, exhibits poor judgment and possesses a self-destructive bent. After being chased from the court she’s soon distracted by the love-notes Orlando has posted throughout the forest and perhaps in a moment of desperation and weakness, as a drowning man seizes a piece of flotsam, pins her hopes on a youth she doesn’t know. On first hearing of the young man in the forest she lists a blazon of attributes that would suit her fancy, “What manner of man? Is his head worth a hat or his chin worth a beard?”(3.2.1309) Thankful that her suitor is Orlando she begins her diatribe with “Good my complexion! dost thou think, though I am caparison’d like a man,”(3.2.1300) suggesting that she recognizes she has neither the acumen or wit to resolve her predicament herself and therefore is grateful for the sudden appearance of a male figure. Any male figure! Here Rosalind represents stereotypical woman and therefore it’s hard to judge her intelligent. The idea of the game is continued when she meets Orlando and suggests to him that instead of pining for his sweetheart, he should woo her in her place. This is manipulation on her part, in order to test the love he professes. Rather than intelligent, this is a selfish move and in preference to tending to her flocks, avoiding the dangers of the forest or hiding from the wrath of the Duke desperate to recover his kin, decides to fall deeper in love, even to the extent of feigned marriage.

               Her actions are those of a giddy girl in love and yet we are continually offered bright spots of deep thought which seem pertinent to her own desires. She knows that men woo in April but wed in December and understands that to marry in haste, “timetrots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemniz’d,” is foolish. This is the third person aspect where Rosalind although speaking as a woman develops the sensibilities of a man. She is aware of the devious nature of woman when describing the horns of the snail and the lack of wit in men who will soon see their wives in the beds of their neighbors and even expresses the irrationality of love which is merely “a madness [that] deserves [a] dark house and a whip as madmen do.”(3.2.1476) This is the problematic of the play, where suddenly Rosalind becomes somebody else. It’s as though by donning male apparel she has assumed the mind of a man and therefore the supposed intellect that follows. Rosalind isn’t just cross dressing but is cross gendering, assuming not only their doublet and hose but also their sensibilities. She’s able to recognize the faults of both love and marriage, is able to test and prove her lover, offer great advice to those who would fall in love and yet is victim to her own desires.

               It is the effect of men’s clothing that seems to induce intelligence in Rosalind rather than an innate sense of propriety and wisdom. Despite her outward looks and her witticisms she is unable to hide her woman’s heart, that which she accuses the shepherd of, “Warr’st thou with a woman’s heart?” (4.3.2046) when she supposedly counterfeits fainting at the news of Orlando’s injury. She recognizes herself in the shepherdess that falls in love with her whilst she is dressed as a man and yet, although seeing herself reflected in Phoebe’s womanish nature, does nothing to amend her own actions. Just as Rosalind is Ganymede she’s also the simple country woman who refuses the love of a true man. Shakespeare, as he so often does, confronts his characters with their mirror image. If Rosalind can’t see past the infatuation of the lesser woman then clearly she doesn’t have the wit to save herself from what she’s already described as a difficult path. The stairway to marriage, even if self-constructed, may not be the wisest decision.

               Polonius in “Hamlet” advises Laertes that “the apparel oft proclaims the man,” (1.3.76) and in “As you Like it” that would seem to hold true. Therefore the intelligence that Rosalind embodies is a counterfeit of that which she pretends. As she herself intones, she is but a woman hiding in men’s clothes and does not possess that which divides the sexes. Rosalind therefore is not an intelligent woman, even though she is granted with the gift of wit by her author, and must retain her place in the great chain of being for fear of upsetting the spheres. Rosalind is a fraud who is exposed by her own desires and womanly ways. This alludes to the young men on the Shakespearian stage that acted the parts of woman and compounds the moral of the play and the adage from the “Merchant of Venice” that, “All that glisters is not gold.”(2.7.69) Rosalind, in the sixteenth century experience, is a woman – nothing more and nothing less.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s