Who’s who in the greenwood
Pretty pastoral or exploration of the dark recesses of the psyche? Or damning indictment of a power-hungry urban society? The conventions of pastoral, which Shakespeare drew on so extensively in As You Like It, allow for all these interpretive emphases, and more. The play’s social framework is clear, but in commentaries it tends to take second place to the fantasy of transformation in the greenwood —self-sufficiency, sudden conversions, and above all, a marvellously fluid sexuality, independent of conventional gender signs and embodied in the image of the free woman in love, Rosalind. Recent critics have stressed the way the powerful fantasy of liberation, particularly sexual liberation, is contained by a reassertion of the patriarchal system, which is always there in the greenwood anyway (in a fantastically benign version) in the exiled Duke’s ‘court’. Rosalind’s last two speeches in the play’s narrative are a ritual of voluntary re-entry into the patriarchy:
(To the Duke) To you I give myself, for I am yours.
(To Orlando) To you I give myself, for I am yours.
…I’ll have no father, if you be not he.
I’ll have no husband, if you be not he.
(V.4, 114-15, 120-1)
But as Valerie Traub argues, this submission does not take place until after Rosalind has led the play ‘into a mode of desire neither heterosexual nor homoerotic, but both heterosexual and homoerotic’. 1 Her last line before the teasing epilogue is the provocative reminder to Phoebe: ‘Nor e’er wed woman, if you be not she.’
Rosalind’s elaborate courtship game with Orlando throws into question not only the regulation and organisation of desire, but also the construction of gender. 2 What is the proper behaviour for a