Study Guide

As You Like It Gender

By William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 2

Thus men may grow wiser every day. It is
the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was
sport for ladies.
Or I, I promise thee.
But is there any else longs to see this broken
music in his sides? Is there yet another dotes upon
rib-breaking? Shall we see this wrestling, cousin? (1.2.131-137)

Touchstone doesn't think wrestling is a sport for "ladies" to enjoy. Yet, Rosalind is eager to see the rib-breaking wrestling match. So, even before she pretends to be Ganymede, Rosalind defies traditional gender roles because she refuses to act how one might expect a "lady" to behave.

Act 1, Scene 3
Rosalind (Ganymede)

Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
A gallant curtal-ax upon my thigh,
A boar-spear in my hand, and in my heart
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will, 
We'll have a swashing and a martial outside—
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances. (1.3.121-129)

The fact that Rosalind can pose as a "man" by dressing like one and carrying weapons suggests that masculinity is merely a role to be played, rather than something that's inherent to one sex or the other. Yet, when Rosalind says she'll hide her "woman's fear," she seems like she subscribes to the idea that women are naturally fearful. At the same time, Rosalind also admits that there are many "mannish cowards" who merely pretend to be brave. So, fear is not limited to women alone, and thus bravery might not be limited to men alone.

Celia (Aliena)

What shall I call thee when thou art a man?
I'll have no worse a name than Jove's own page,
And therefore look you call me Ganymede.
But what will you be called? (1.3.130-133)

The name "Ganymede" would have been particularly significant to an Elizabethan audience because, in the 16th century, "Ganymede" was a slang term for a boy in a sexual relationship with another (older) man. This alerts us to the possibility that Orlando may be attracted to "Ganymede" as well as Rosalind.  

Act 2, Scene 4
Rosalind (Ganymede)

I could find in my heart to disgrace my
man's apparel and to cry like a woman, but I must
comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose
ought to show itself courageous to petticoat. Therefore
courage, good Aliena. (2.4.4-8)

On the surface, Rosalind seems to make a lot of ridiculous assumptions about what it means to be the "weaker vessel" (read: a woman). Here, she suggests that women are prone to crying and that it's a man's job to comfort women. Is she serious or is she being ironic?

Act 3, Scene 2
Celia (Aliena)

CELIA [reading Orlando's love poem to Rosalind]
Therefore heaven Nature charged
   That one body should be filled
With all graces wide-enlarged.
   Nature presently distilled
Helen's cheek, but not her heart,
   Cleopatra's majesty,
Atalanta's better part,
   Sad Lucretia's modesty.
Thus Rosalind of many parts
   By heavenly synod was devised,
Of many faces, eyes, and hearts
   To have the touches dearest prized.
Heaven would that she these gifts should have
And I to live and die her slave.

Celia says that lovers tend to make idealized pictures of their mates, and women in particular fall victim to being put on a pedestal.  Orlando is guilty of the same thing; all the women he cites here have had some great tragedy befall them.

Rosalind (Ganymede)

Do you not know I am a woman? When I
think, I must speak. (3.2.253-254)

Ugh. Do things ever change? More fairly, is this statement a reasonable characterization of women?

Good my complexion, dost thou think,
though I am caparisoned like a man, I have a
doublet and hose in my disposition? One inch of
delay more is a South-sea of discovery. I prithee,
tell me who is it quickly, and speak apace. I would
thou couldst stammer, that thou might'st pour this
concealed man out of thy mouth, as wine comes out
of a narrow-mouthed bottle—either too much at
once, or none at all. I prithee, take the cork out of
thy mouth that may drink thy tidings.
So you may put a man in your belly. (3.2.198-208)

In her giddiness over her crush Orlando, Rosalind seems to fit a stereotypical role—a silly girl who gushes over boys.   

Act 4, Scene 1
Celia (Aliena)

You have simply misused our sex in your love-prate.
We must have your doublet and hose plucked
over your head, and show the world what the bird
hath done to her own nest. (4.1.214-217)

Celia calls Rosalind out on how abusive she has been toward her own gender. Rosalind (as Ganymede) seems comfortable making these statements that play up stereotypes of women. Is this because she knows all these stereotypes are untrue, or because she really believes that women are as silly as Ganymede has made them out to be? You decide.

Act 4, Scene 3

Be of good cheer,
youth. You a man? You lack a man's heart.
ROSALIND [as Ganymede]
I do so, I confess it. Ah,
sirrah, a body would think this was well-counterfeited.
I pray you tell your brother how well I
counterfeited. Heigh-ho!
OLIVER [helping Rosalind to rise]
This was not counterfeit; there is too great
testimony in your complexion that it was a passion
of earnest.
ROSALIND [as Ganymede]
Counterfeit, I assure you.
Well then, take a good heart and counterfeit to
be a man.
ROSALIND [as Ganymede]
So I do; but, i' faith, I should
have been a woman by right. (4.3.12)

When Rosalind faints at the sight of Orlando's blood on a handkerchief, she seems to fit the role of the stereotypical woman.  This prompts Oliver to order "Ganymede" to buck up and act like a man. 

Rosalind (Ganymede)

It is not the fashion to see the lady the
epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see
the lord the prologue. (Epilogue 1-3)

When the actor playing Rosalind appears on stage at the play's end, he points out that most epilogues are spoken by male characters in Elizabethan drama. The statement also functions as a reminder of the gender politics of Elizabethan theater. Since women weren't allowed to perform in public plays, the role of Rosalind was definitely not played by a "lady." The part would have been given to a boy actor. Check out "Themes: Art and Culture" for more on this. 

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