As You Like It” ,

Wed, Apr 17th @ 7pm.

        “As You Like It” is one of Shakespeare’s happiest comedies. It’s among the most popular and most often staged of all his plays, along with “Hamlet”, “Twelfth Night” and “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”. It’s a very appealing play with some great characters, mistaken identities (girls dressed as boys), four marriages and all-round good fun. It’s a romantic comedy with a pastoral or country setting. The legendary theatre Director, Peter Brook, maintains that it carries no profound philosophical message or moral; just Shakespeare wanting us to have a bit of fun and entertainment as we behold the passing scene: “”As You Like It” is written purely to please. It is an entertainment, a play full of physical things that give joy in the theatre – fights, songs, dances, movement, adventure, disguises and high spirits” – so there we have it; “no moral where none intended!.

We are very much in the open air where there’s a carefree existence out in the woods and fields. It’s a life, generally, of make-believe rustic innocence – and this mode of living is contrasted with life at court which is full of double-dealing and intrigue. The play is set in France but its Lords and Ladies seem akin to those Shakespeare would have been familiar with around his home town and his peasants would have walked the lanes and roads of his native Warwickshire. Indeed, tradition has it that as a young man he had to ‘do a runner’ after being caught poaching on Sir Thomas Lucy’s estate.

The play is not an original by Shakespeare (only “Love’s Labour’s Lost” of his plays is considered to have an original plot) but is based on a pastoral novel published in 1590. But it’s all elevated by the marvellous dialogue, the wit, the superbly-drawn characters and, by the matchless poetry. In tragedy, love can be destructive but in comedy, affairs of the heart can be part of a game, light-hearted and merry – “all tragedies end in death: all comedies end in marriage”. (Oscar Wilde) I wonder how many people today believe in ‘love at first sight’. Well there are three such cases in this play!

Rosalind is the largest part (in terms of lines) in all Shakespeare, so it wasn’t an easy task to find a boy with an unbroken voice to play the part – it wasn’t till the 1660s, nearly fifty years after Shakespeare’s death, that women were allowed on the stage. There are playgoers alive who saw some of our greatest ever actresses play Rosalind, including Edith Evans (of ‘handbag’ fame), Margaret Leighton, Peggy Ashcroft, Maggie Smith, Fiona Shaw, Katherine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave – what a galaxy of talent! Of course those of us who taught the play to Intermediate Cert students in past decades were delighted when the ‘BBC Shakespeare’ recording of it featured the magnificent Helen Mirren (Dan Shanahan’s favourite actress).

There is a tradition that “As You Like It” was the play which opened the Globe theatre in 1599.

“As You Like It” is a feelgood play. If you want a ‘get away from it all’ evening good fun and would like to savour the English language at its most poetic and expressive, then it’s on our doorsteps at the SGC. And there can be few not familiar with Jacques’ speech: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely parts.

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many players”. etc, etc.

The “seven ages of man” as only the great Bard could characterise them.


Jim Ryan