As You Like It Theme of Gender
Like Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's As You Like It features a cross-dressing heroine whose disguise allows Shakespeare to explore the fluidity of gender. When Rosalind flees into the woods for safety, she disguises herself as an attractive young boy, "Ganymede," challenging traditional ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman. Rosalind's gender-bending game of make-believe is complicated even further by the fact that the actor playing the role of "Rosalind" would have been a boy, since women weren't allowed to perform on Shakespeare's public stage. In As You Like It, Shakespeare makes it clear that gender roles can be imitated and performed—in theater and in real life.
Questions About Gender
- Why does Rosalind decide to dress as "Ganymede"?
- Since women weren't allowed to perform on the Elizabethan stage, the role of Rosalind would have been played by a boy actor pretending to be a woman, who then pretends to be a boy ("Ganymede") pretending to be a girl. What does all of this role-playing suggest about the nature of gender roles?
- Does Rosalind's behavior ever defy traditional gender categories? Does her behavior ever confirm the status quo?
- Why does Rosalind keep up the disguise long after it is necessary?
- How is it that Orlando does not notice that "Ganymede" is really a woman? Does he ignore this on purpose?
Chew on This
Because Rosalind is bossy, opinionated, and willing to set out on her own, she defies the traditional 16th-century assumption that women are passive, silent, and helpless.
Rosalind's "Ganymede" disguise gives her the freedom to explore her identity because it allows her to behave in ways that were considered socially unacceptable for women.