I saw As You Like It at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre over the weekend, and it was fine. A nice little show, most everybody did a good job, and what do you expect from As You Like It? Frankly, I’m beginning to suspect that Shakespeare just wasn’t really a top-notch comedian.
But anyway, there’s a huge problem that I have with the play, and while I was watching it I think I stumbled on a way to solve it, and I want some opinions here. The problem that I have is this: Orlando is a complete fucking bonehead.
This is, incidentally, a problem that you see in a lot of romantic comedies – the classic question of, “Yeah, yeah, love at first sight, but what is actually lovable about these people?” In this case, Rosalind is so clever and so well-spoken that there’s just something painful about seeing her end up with Orlando who is a dummy.
Why does she love him? Because she saw him win a wrestling match? Sure, okay, UFC fighters deserve love, too, but seriously. We’re talking about a guy who fell in love with a girl AT FIRST SIGHT, and then doesn’t recognize her again because of how she CHANGED HER CLOTHES.
Fuck this shit, Rosalind. Don’t marry that dude. HE IS A BONEHEAD.
So – and, now, I don’t know how they cut the script this time around, and I don’t have a copy of the script with me, so I can’t be sure that this plan I have will work universally, but whatever.
Here’s the question: what if Orlando wasn’t fooled by the disguise? What if he was just sort of playing along?
This requires the actress playing Rosalind to decide whether or not she knows that he knows, and that’s fine.
And there are a couple dangers with the idea: I think the primary one is that if Rosalind thinks she’s fooling him, but she isn’t, then you run the risk of Orlando being the clever one and Rosalind being the bonehead. I don’t think that’s how it will read, though: Rosalind is still clever and witty in all of her other scenes, and Orlando is still a terrible poet who doesn’t understand the ways of the Forest People. Ironically, the one place where Orlando is clever is the one place were Rosalind gets tripped up: in love.
Depending on how you play this, it gives Rosalind the potential for some interesting character shortcomings. Obviously she’s clever, but if she thinks she’s fooled everyone with her “disguise” and she hasn’t, then she’s not quite as clever as she thinks she is. This is nice, and I think it makes Rosalind a little more personable, but more interesting is the possibility that she kind of knows that she isn’t really fooling Orlando.
This makes the scenes in which she’s pretending to be Ganymede who is pretending to be Rosalind a little more interesting, because it suggests that it’s not Orlando who doesn’t know what being in love is like (as is the pretext of the scene), but it’s actually Rosalind who doesn’t know. Of course, well, she’s very smart, but she’s never been out of the house, never kissed a boy, never had much in the way of dealings with love or anything like that. So she’s concocted this scenario in which Orlando plays along so that she has a safe way of trying out what it means to be in love.
Later, when Orlando is all, “No, but you aren’t REALLY Rosalind,” what’s happening is that he’s recognized that she’s decided that she’s safe in this little roleplay world, and he’s trying to make her actually mean it. He knows that she’s really Rosalind in disguise – the point of his lines is to force her to admit it.
The play then becomes about roleplaying, instead of just using roleplaying as a means to be about “a woman falls in love with a fucking bonehead.” And the theme of exploring a world through PRETEND is now both pronounced and afforded a kind of depth which it didn’t enjoy when everyone just didn’t know what was happening. Because obviously, the thing about pretending is that you never don’t know that you’re pretending: As You Like It becomes a world of imagination and exploration. I think this is more interesting.
Now the other big problem is: Shakespeare didn’t write it that way. And I think no, he probably didn’t. But I also think I don’t really care. So? Shakespeare’s dead, I don’t care about his feelings. And times have changed since he started writing his drag comedies – most notably in the sense that now his drag comedies have already been written. Since we can’t do As You Like It in a world in which As You Like It (or Some Like It Hot or Tootsie) don’t already exist, we have to do it in a world in which the drag comedies DO exist.
It’s actually – this is probably another post, for another time, but anyway – theater is unique (well, unusual) in that it’s an artform that requires reinterpretation against itself. Moby-Dick doesn’t get rewritten to take your first reading into account: it’s still the same book. But your second production of Hamlet is interpreted with an awareness of your first production.
Anyway, anyway, long story short, if Shakespeare was so smart, how come he’s dead?
And what if Orlando wasn’t fooled by Rosalind’s disguise?