Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Anti-Conquest and as You like It

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

Anti-Conquest and as You like It

Article excerpt

[As You Like It] is through and through an English comedy, on English soil, in English air, beneath English oaks; and it will be loved and admired, cherished and appreciated, by English men as long as an English word is uttered by an English tongue. Nowhere else on the habitable globe could its scene have been laid but in England.

--Horace Howard Furness, preface to New Variorum As You Like It (1890) (1)

As you like it may have been the first play staged at the Globe Theater when it opened in 1599, and Jaques's set speech demonstrating that "All the world's a stage" would be particularly appropriate for such an occasion. (2) Nevertheless, within the play, despite its many scattered references to travel and exploration, (3) that which is global is disparaged, and it is a virtue to be "inland bred." Rosalind attributes the fineness of her accent to the fact that she was taught by her uncle, an "inland man," and Orlando apologizes for his roughness in his initial encounter with the duke, protesting that he is nevertheless "inland bred / And know[s] some nurture" (2.7.96-97; 3.2.345). (4) To be "inland" is to be distant from port cities and the diversity of accent and nationality that accompanies international commerce. The sole representative of that cosmopolitan world in the play is Jaques, who has traveled widely on the world's stage and has the moral cynicism and disease to match. Rosalind mocks him, "I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad--and to travel for it too!"(4.1.27-29), and the exiled Duke attributes Jaques's moodiness to "all th' embossed sores, and headed evils, / That thou with license of free foot hast caught" and that Jaques now wants to use to infect others: to "disgorge into the general world" (2.7.67-69). "License of free foot" suggests freedom to travel but also that such freedom is inherently licentious, subject to contagion, especially to the "sores" of venereal disease. Jaques embodies the association of early modern travel and colonization with the spread of new diseases, especially syphilis, in England called the "French disease," which every European nation attributed to contamination from a source outside itself.

I will focus here on the paratextual means by which editors have intensified a fascinating process of provincialization in editing the play--a process that was arguably begun by Shakespeare himself as he rewrote his main source text, Thomas Lodge's prose romance Rosalynde (1590). According to Lodge's dedicatory epistle, he wrote his romance while sailing to foreign lands--"voyaging to the Islands of Terceras & the Canaries" and the title page describes the book as "Fetcht from the Canaries by T. L. Gent." (5) as though to suggest that his romance was acquired in an exotic locale.

Appropriately for a text that claims an Iberian colony as its origin, the story of Rosalynde is woven through with memories of the Crusades and Muslim encounters. Sir John of Bordeaux, a Knight of Malta and survivor of many military frays against the Turks, is on his deathbed and his sons are Saladyne (whose name recalls Saladin, the heroic Muslim reconqueror of Jerusalem), Fernardyne, and Rosader. The story of the three brothers is similar in its general outlines to Shakespeare's version, but much more punctuated by violence: Rosader has to slay Saladyne's dinner guests and endure a military siege brought by Saladyne in order to escape his elder brother's house; Saladyne and Rosader are later reconciled and slay forest ruffians who have kidnapped Aliena; and the reunited brothers must fall to arms again at the end of the tale to regain the rights of the exiled Gerismonde to the throne of France.

In As You Like It Shakespeare eliminates the Crusader references by changing the name of Saladyne to Oliver and excises the military violence linked via John of Bordeaux to the war against the Turks. His emptying out of Lodge's Islamic motifs extends even to minute details: Lodge's Rosalynde admonishes Phoebe's lover, "in courting Phoebe thou barkest with the Wolves of Syria against the moon" (sig. …

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