A young director's examination how gender is performed on stage especially within the works of William Shakespeare

9 July 2012

Rosalind or Ganymede? Both or neither?

As You Like It's Rosalind is perhaps one of Shakespeare's most beguiling characters and a person who I am sure will crop up many times in this blog. For now, it strikes me how very frank Shakespeare is with the way he bends gender in his plays, pointing it out to us and inviting us to laugh at its absurdity, and there is no better vessel for this (in)credulity than Rosalind.

Rosalind dresses as a boy called Ganymede in order to protect her and her cousin when they escape to the forest of Arden. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando and a shepherdess falls in love with Ganymede and chaos ensues. In Shakespeare's comedies twas ever thus. With such confusion, by the time Rosalind delivers the epilogue, the character seems hardly to know who she or he is any more:

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue...
If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not...

Is this Rosalind speaking? Or Ganymede? Or the young boy actor playing the part? When originally performed this character would have been a man pretending to be woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in the hopes of seducing a man in order that he applaud at the end of the play. Confusing and compelling and fully intentional, I think one can almost see the twinkling in Shakespeare's eyes as he wrote this. 'God I've got muddled with all the cross-dressing and gender-switching I've put in. Ah well, in for a penny in for a pound. Might as well go hell for leather til the bitter end!'

No comments:

Post a Comment