Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: David Bevington
Peer Reviewed

As You Like It: Performance History


As You Like It in Performance

Early performances

1As You Like It probably was first performed in 1599, not long before the play was entered in the Stationers' Register on August 4, 1600. It must have been one of the first plays to be performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men in their new Globe Theatre, erected in 1599 from the timbers of the Shoreditch building called The Theatre which the company had been obliged to move across the Thames when they ran into difficulties with the owner of the Shoreditch property. Henry V and Julius Caesar were also performed in 1599, seemingly at the Globe; As You Like It may have been the first among these. (Juliet Dusinberre, in her Arden 3 edition of the play, argues that it may have been first performed before Queen Elizabeth's court at Richmond Palace; her evidence is circumstantial, but then no documentary evidence links the play directly with the Globe, either. There is also an unsubstantiated stage tradition of a court performance in 1603.) The company included about ten adult males, most of whom, like Shakespeare, were sharers in the company's financial fortunes. According to a stage tradition from the mid eighteenth century (recorded by William Oldys), one of Shakespeare's younger brothers reported having seen Will Shakespeare "in one of his own comedies, wherein being to impersonate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so weak and drooping and unable to walk that he was forced to be supported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated among some company, who were eating, and one of them sung a song."

2This detailed description suggests that Shakespeare took the role of Old Adam in AYL. The part of Touchstone may have been played by Robert Armin, a recent arrival in the company as a replacement for Will Kemp, who had left early in 1599; although this hypothesis has recently been challenged (by Juliet Dusinberre in her Arden 3 AYL), the shift in comic roles in Shakespeare's plays from Bottom the Weaver and Dogberry (presumably well suited to Kemp's comic style) to the more philosophical Touchstone and then Lavatch in All's Well That Ends Well and the Fool in King Lear does plausibly suggest that Shakespeare wrote his clown parts with two distinctive clowning traditions in mind. The other adult actors in the original AYL would presumably have included Richard Burbage, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, Henry Condell, Will Sly, and Richard Cowley, all of whom, with Shakespeare, were listed as sharers in a patent of 1603. We cannot tell how the roles were distributed, but we can note that the play is well designed to provide suitably important parts for a company of this size.

3The company seems to have included four boys to play the roles of Rosalind, Celia, Phoebe, and Audrey, with perhaps two extras to sing the song in 5.3. Of these, the boys playing Rosalind and Celia must have been the pick of the lot in experience and acting skill. Apparently they were of noticeably different heights. Rosalind remarks to Celia at TLN 580 that "I am more than common tall," whereas Celia at TLN 2237-38 is described as "low / And browner than her brother." (Le Beau's observation at TLN 440 that "the taller is his daughter," referring to Celia as daughter of Duke Frederick, offers contrary evidence, but is usually regarded as a misprint; in any event, this line presupposes that the two boy actors are of different heights.) Rosalind's height is noted in Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, Shakespeare's chief source for AYL. Paired boy actors of unequal height are similarly called for in A Midsummer Night's Dream (c. 1595) in the parts of Hermia and Helena.

4AYL was not published until the folio collected edition of 1623. The play is so delightful that it must have pleased its original audience in 1599, and is included in a list of plays from the King's Men's repertory now "allowed of" in 1669 to Thomas Killigrew at the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, and yet it disappears from records of public performances until well into the eighteenth century. Allusions to it in the seventeenth century are uncertain and few in number compared with, say, Twelfth Night or Romeo and Juliet, or Falstaff in 1 Henry IV.

5A revival of sorts took place at Drury Lane in 1723, but in the kind of altered form that was the fate of many a Shakespearean play in the Restoration and eighteenth century. Charles Johnson's adaptation, called Love in a Forest, borrowed the play-within-the-play of "Pyramus and Thisbe" from Midsummer in order to provide entertainment for Duke Senior and his forest mates. Some lines imported from the first act of Richard II added intensity to the confrontation of Orlando and the wrestler Charles, who was now transformed into "the fencer Charles" so that refined eighteenth-century audiences could enjoy a rapier duel in place of the inelegant and lower-class wrestling match. Colley Cibber, the lead actor, made sure that his role of Jaques was sufficiently central by arrogating the passage about the sobbing deer to himself rather than to the First Lord in 2.1. This Jaques proceeded to fall in love with Celia, wooing her with some witty remarks taken from Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. The love tribulations of Silvius and Phoebe and of William and Audrey, along with the antics of Sir Oliver Martext and Corin, disappeared to make room for the added material. Virtue triumphed: Charles confessed that he had been suborned by Orlando's brother Oliver to accuse Orlando of treason, whereupon Oliver died the instructive death of a stage villain.

6With Hannah Pritchard as Rosalind at Drury Lane in 1740, AYL recovered some of its accustomed shape. Even so, Celia, played by Kitty Clive, sang the "cuckoo" song (that had previously been imported from the end of Love's Labor's Lost into Love in a Forest) to accompany Thomas Arne's delightful settings of "Under the greenwood tree" and "Blow, blow, thou winter wind" in 2.5 and 2.7. Dances and a pantomime entitled Robin Goodfellow enlivened the festivities. Charles Macklin played Touchstone in 1740 and in many a revival thereafter. Ann Dancer (soon Mrs Spranger Barry and then Mrs Crawford), Peg Woffington, Sarah Siddons, and Mrs. Abington were among the famous actresses of the eighteenth who appeared in the newly rediscovered AYL. The play became a special favorite at Drury Lane, appearing more often there from 1776 to 1817 than any other Shakespeare play; indeed, it was absent only thrice in forty-one seasons. The tradition of importing songs continued on into the early nineteenth century, so much so that AYL became virtually operatic: included were "Full many a glorious morning" (Sonnet 33), "Tell me where is fancy bred?" (The Merchant of Venice, 32.63), and "Where the bee sucks" (The Tempest, 5.1.88), along with those that had been added earlier. Covent Garden did well in this operatic vein; Frederic Reynolds's production there in 1824 featured the music of Henry Bishop and Thomas Arne. Jaques clung to the "sobbing deer" speech until William Charles Macready's production at Drury Lane in 1842, when it was finally restored to the First Lord. Sir Oliver Martext and Hymen generally retired to the sidelines, and Phoebe's part was cut back. Much of this was codified in John Philip Kemble's acting edition of 1820.

7When Macready produced the play at Covent Garden in 1837-9 and then at Drury Lane in 1842, he took the part of Jaques, with Louisa Nisbett and later Helen Faucit as Rosalind. Macready's forte was elaborate staging. The romantic sets painted by Charles Marshall were so elegantly detailed that, in the words of a contemporary reviewer, "he has not realized, he has done more -- he has verified the dramatist." For the wrestling match in 1.2 Macready provided ropes, staves, and an appreciative on-stage audience that applauded each moment of triumphant action. Audiences were encouraged to join in the excited response. Distant sheep bells announced the pastoral setting. Queen Victoria commanded a performance of the play at Drury Lane on 12 June 1843. Charlotte Cushman was Rosalind at the Princess's Theatre in 1845; like Helen Faucit, she was the embodiment of Victorian ideals of womanhood. Louisa Nisbett was still in the role of Rosalind in 1879 at Chapel Lane, London; see commentary note at TLN 2127.

8As the century progressed, the text of AYL increasingly gave way to the demands of costly and hard-to-move scenery. A production at London's St. James's Theatre in 1885 by John Hare and W. H. and Madge Kendal included in its stage picture a brook "rippling among the sedges" with such verisimilar effect that the stream seemed to lose itself among the marshy plants at the water's edge. The decor, as designed by Lewis Wingfield, was inspired by the fifteenth-century court of the French King Charles VII, with elaborate hairdos and a lifelike replica of the Château d'Amboise. For a production in the following year, also at the St James, George Alexander included music by Beethoven, Thomas Arne, and Arthur Sullivan, among others. At the Lyceum Theatre in 1890, as produced by Augustin Daly, Act 2 began with the scene (2.3) in which Adam and Orlando depart for the forest, so that the action could remain uninterruptedly in Arden from that point on (rather than, as in Shakespeare's text, shifting back in 2.2 to the court of Duke Frederick). In his American production of 1897, with Ada Rehan as a resolutely feminine Rosalind, Daly featured a "terrace and courtyard before the Duke's palace" with an arched gateway to the left. Ada Rehan also played Rosalind in New York and London in 1889-90. At His Majesty's Theatre in 1907, under the direction of Oscar Asche, two thousand pots of ferns and cartloads of leaves were imported weekly to create the aura of a real forest. Sir Frank Benson continued this verisimilar tradition at Stratford-upon-Avon with productions nearly every year from 1910 to 1919, featuring elaborately painted canvas flats, a carpet of leaves on the stage, and costumes in autumnal colors.

The Twentieth Century

9This "realistic" vein of production continues on into the present day, especially in open-air performances in New York's Central Park, London's Regents Park, Haddington Hill Park in Oxford, the grounds of Coombe House, Kingston-upon-Thames (22 July 1884), the Boboli Gardens in Florence (as directed in Italian, Come Vi Piace, by Jacques Copeau in May, 1938, with Jean-Louis Barrault as a circus-clown Touchstone, previously in 1934 at Paris's Théâtre de l'Atalier), and still others, where lighting effects among real trees and greenswards can produce magical impressions as the light of day yields to evening. At the same time, a modern revolt against verisimilar staging was sure to take place, in the interests of interrogating a theatrical orthodoxy that placed a large premium on bucolic bliss and saccharine sentimentality. Nigel Playfair's production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1919 was so intentionally devoid of the usual scenery and costumes that many spectators were unhappy. Nugent Monck, at Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre in 1921, attempted a practical model of the unadorned Elizabethan stage, in the spirit of William Poel and the Elizabethan Stage Society. Harcourt Williams employed a wintry set in his 1932-3 production at the Old Vic with Peggy Ashcroft as Rosalind and Alastair Sim as Duke Senior; so did Glen Byam Shaw at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1952, with Margaret Leighton as Rosalind and Michael Hordern as Jaques. Esmé Church's 1936 production at the Old Vic was enlivened by an off-stage love affair between Michael Redgrave (Orlando) and Edith Evans (Rosalind). Katharine Hepburn played Rosalind in New York for 145 nights in 1950 as something of a 'new' woman. The set for Michael Elliott's 1961-2 production at Stratford-upon-Avon and then at the Aldwych in London, with Colin Blakely as Touchstone, Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind, and Rosalind Knight as Celia was dominated by the massive trunk of an oak tree, leafless as the play began. At Stratford, Connecticut, 1961, in a modern-dress production, Sir Oliver Martext entered in 3.3 on a bicycle.

10More arrestingly, an all-male production for the National Theatre in 1967, directed by Clifford Williams with Ronald Pickup as Rosalind and Jeremy Brett as Orlando, featured a forest of Plexiglass tubes and sheets of metal screen. In this modern-art setting, designed by Ralph Koltai, Williams exploited the sexual ambiguities of cross-gendered costuming to investigate themes of identity, romantic infatuation, and power. (For other all-male productions, see Knowles, ed. AYL, 641.)

11David Jones's Royal Shakespeare Company production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1967-8, with Dorothy Tutin and Janet Suzman as Celia (and later as Rosalind), was similarly attuned to a modern view of women's relationship to one another and to men. Edward Payson Call chose the aftermath of the American Civil War as the mise-en-scène for his production at Minneapolis's Tyrone Guthrie Theater in 1966. Plexiglas tubing appeared once more in Buzz Goodbody's 1973 RSC modern-dress production, starring Eileen Atkins as Rosalind, Bernard Lloyd and then David Suchet as Orlando, Maureen Lipman as Celia, Richard Pasco as Jaques, and Derek Smith as a music-hall and television-comedy Touchstone. At the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, in 1976, the banishment of Duke Senior and his followers to the Forest of Arden was equated with the plight of North American Indians uprooted from their native lands and exiled to colonial French Canada. Trevor Nunn produced an operatic AYL in 1977 for the RSC in Stratford set in the early seventeenth century. A 1985-6 production for the RSC by Adrian Noble employed a surreal set, devoid of trees, thus eliding the distinctions between court and country. Juliet Stevenson as Rosalind and Fiona Shaw as Celia explored a loving friendship between women in a way that was deepened by modern perceptions of gender differences.

12More was to come. Geraldine McEwan directed AYL in 1988 for Kenneth Branagh's new Renaissance Theatre Company, with Branagh as a sleazy cockney Touchstone. Samantha Bond was a notably androgynous Rosalind in David Thacker's production for the RSC in 1992. Touchstone, in John Caird's 1990 production for the RSC, placed clown noses on most of the other characters, thereby interrogating traditional distinctions between folly and wisdom. Stephen Pimlott, in his 1996 production for the RSC with Niamh Cusack as Rosalind, made use of sheet metal boxes and pillars in aluminum and steel to suggest a thoroughly man-made forest. At the new London Globe in 1998-9, as directed by Lucy Bailey, with Anastasia Hille as Rosalind, Paul Hilton as Orlando, and David Rintoul as both dukes, a solitary tree, bare except for a few apples, was the only concession to realism on an otherwise uncluttered Elizabethan stage. Barry Edelstein's production for the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1999, jazzy and improvisational in style, was notable mainly for the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind. David Bell's rollicking production for Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in 2001 paid special attention to the mutually supportive friendship of Rosalind (Elizabeth Laidlaw) and Celia (Kate Fry).

Recent productions

13In Greg Doran's RSC production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2000, with Alexandra Gilbreath as Rosalind, the lavish set was a dreamland of white tapestry for the court, with brightly colored cushions and art deco cutout trees representing the forest. The show generally disappointed critics, but did better at London's Pit Theater. It had the bad luck to be staged shortly after a superb production by Michael Grandage at the Crucible, Sheffield, and Lyric, Hammersmith Theatres, for which Grandage was named Best Director in the London Critics Circle Theatre Award for 2000. Grandage has also been honored for other productions at the Donmar Warehouse. Marianne Elliott's 2000 AYL at the Royal Exchange, also in the wake of Grandage's success, was rated as 'vivid, clear, and occasionally inspired, but marred by deliberateness of intent'. Claire Price was an engaging Rosalind opposite Tristan Sturrock's delightfully-unsure-of-himself Orlando, 'often to be caught surreptitiously trying out manly or poetic poses' (The Independent, July 22, 2000).

14One particularly striking production in a modernist vein was that directed by Declan Donnellan for Cheek by Jowl, touring in Britain in 1991 and thereafter on tour worldwide. In a canvas box set mounted on a plain wooden floor, the forest was invoked by green banners cascading downward from the flies. The all-male cast, clothed at first in black trousers and white shirts, then in working clothes for the Duke's followers and unpadded long dresses for the female roles, were on stage from start to finish, coming forward from an outer circle when involved in stage action. Some actors played bits of jazz, especially in the carnivalesque finale. Adrian Lester as Rosalind was tall, dark-complected, visibly masculine and at the same time energized by the homoerotic resonances of his role as a supposed woman disguised as a young man and very much in love both with Orlando (Patrick Toomey) and with Celia (Tom Hollander). This Rosalind was the brilliant embodiment of theatrical ambiguity. The production made a theatrical virtue of calling attention to its own artifice.

15Gregory Thompson, in his dark and melancholic 2003 production at Stratford-upon-Avon's Swan Theatre in 2003, was the first director to cast a black actress as Rosalind. Nina Sosanya was a tomboy, savvy, nobody's fool, harboring no romantic illusions about men. What she gained in physical quickness and a thoroughly modern sensibility was somewhat at the expense of Rosalind's potentially softer nature, especially in her dealings with her gentle and accommodating Orlando (Martin Hutson).

Film and television

16Productions of AYL in film and television have sometimes been carried away by film's ability to portray "realistic" settings. A case in point is Paul Czinner's 1936 black-and-white version. Despite a generous million-dollar budget and the presence of Laurence Olivier (aged 29) in his film debut as a diffident and almost femininely beautiful Orlando, this movie loses its way in saccharine levity. Rosalind, played by Elisabeth Bergner (the wife of the Hungarian-born director and herself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany), is irrepressibly frenetic in her giggles and somersaults. She and Celia (Sophie Stewart) simper together like the inmates of a young ladies' seminary. Their sororal jollity lends a tone of forced hilarity to the pastoral world of flute-playing shepherds and country lasses. A generous supply of trees, a thatched cottage, a duck pond, and suitable livestock fill out the mise-en-scène, leaving little to the imagination. The parts of Jaques (Leon Quartermaine) and Touchstone (Mackenzie Ward) are severely trimmed, lest deep thought trouble the gossamer fantasy of this never-never land. Touchstone courts Audrey (Dorice Fordred) decked out as a bunny rabbit. He is given no opportunity to expound on the Seven Degrees of Lying (5.4). All this is perhaps what one might expect from J. M. Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, as one of the adaptors of the script.

17The BBC version produced in 1978 for The Shakespeare Plays by Cedric Messina, with Basil Coleman as director, chooses a predictably "realistic" Masterpiece Theatre style for its settings. Glamis Castle in Scotland serves as the location for the opening sequences at court. The Forest of Arden is a place of very ordinary trees. Here the banished Duke and his companions seem out of place, longing plaintively for the comforts of home. Romance and literary satire alike are overwhelmed by the film's unpersuasive and constricting literalism, despite some adroit acting especially by Helen Mirren as Rosalind, Richard Pasco as Jaques, and Tony Church as Duke Senior. Hymen (John Moulder-Brown) is a strangely dressed young man rather than the god of marriage. This disappointing production manages to prove, by what it fails to accomplish, how paradoxical theatrical illusion can be: an overdone scenic realism can have the effect of making the experience seem less intense and involving for the audience than lively action on a bare stage or an experimental set.

18Kenneth Branagh's film AYL of 2006 tends to confirm the paradoxes of illusion that haunt the BBC version. Branagh's film too is set in a real forested environment -- one located in the vicinity of Gatwick, England, better known for its airport. The forest is colorfully handsome and visually rewarding, but by the same token it seems a bizarre place in which to encounter Sylvius (Alex Wyndham) and Phoebe (Jade Jefferies). Instead of coming before us as the amusing stereotypes of pastoral poetry as presented in Shakespeare's text, they are two young people who for some reason live in this neighborhood and go through Petrarchan paroxysms of unhappiness in love that have no discernible relationship to the genial literary satire of the play. Perhaps for a similar reason, Touchstone's wonderful disquisition on the seven "degrees of the lie" is cut; it wouldn't belong in the milieu of the film's rather ordinary though pretty forest. Other cuts deprive us of Rosalind's teaching Orlando that he must learn to love a real woman capable of jealousies and silliness rather than a disembodied goddess on a pedestal. The realistic premise of the forest seemingly demands that Orlando grapple with a real lion in saving the life of his brother -- a scene that Shakespeare more wisely reports through narration.

19To be sure, the film has its fine moments. Corin is as well played (by Jimmy Yuill) as one could hope; his conversation with Touchstone (Alfred Molina) on the relative merits of the country vs. the court works well. Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard) is engaging and resourceful, and the part of Orlando is sensitively understood by David Oyelowo. The presumably color-blind casting might appear to backfire, however, when we perceive that all three sons of Rowland de Boys (Orlando, Oliver, played by Adrian Lester, and Jaques de Boys) are assigned to African American actors, as though to mark their separateness and kinship in this way. Celia (Romola Garai) makes an attractive companion for Rosalind. Kevin Kline raises his eyebrows with deliciously understated irony in the part of Jaques, but otherwise appears to be loafing through his assignment. His debate with Duke Senior (Brian Blessed) over the merits and defects of satire is severely truncated. Janet McTeer plays the part of Audrey with sluttish abandon when she is given a chance. Richard Briers, one of Branagh's most loyal actors, puts genuine feeling into the part of old Adam, but the business is lost in the film's welter of confusing idioms. Most bizarre, perhaps, is the decision to depict the court of Duke Frederick in a Japanese style, with rice-paper walls through which the invading Duke (Brian Blessing), made out as a kind of Darth Veder, can come crashing through the scenery in his brutish military takeover of his brother's dukedom. The Japanese motif has no discernible rationale other than, perhaps, to permit the part of Charles the Wrestler to be assigned to a Sumo wrestler (Nobuyuki Takano) of fleshly proportions. This particular Charles speaks no English and thus requires a translator. All this makes for an unusually incoherent film with some endearing moments.

20The modernized set employed by Christine Edzard in her 1992 filming of AYL confronts the paradoxes of theatrical illusion from an opposite point of view. Edzard translates the Forest of Arden into an urban jungle of graffiti-festooned warehouses. The play's exiles become the homeless of our modern world, sheltering themselves in polyurethane-covered cardboard boxes. Doubling of parts repeatedly juxtaposes the cynicism of court life with the restorative magic of communal bonding among the disadvantaged. Don Henderson plays Duke Frederick as the ruthless boss of a commercial firm, while also doubling as Frederick's victimized brother, Duke Senior; Andrew Tiernan is both Oliver, a success-driven yuppie, and Oliver's dropout brother Orlando. Roger Hammond doubles the parts of Le Beau and Corin, thereby contrasting courtly sycophancy with rugged rural honesty. Cross-gendered changes of identity are similarly updated: Emma Croft as Rosalind transforms herself into a scruffy youth in a hooded sweatjacket and wool navy watchcap. These doubling and mirroring effects are vibrant theatrical metaphors for sibling rivalry and unisex role-playing. The drab dockyard setting is, to be sure, continually at odds with the play's evocative poetry. Many episodes -- the wrestling match, the quipping of Touchstone (Griff Rhys Jones), the cynic philosophy of Jaques (James Fox), the innocent bawdry of country wench Audrey (Miriam Margolyes) -- seem inexplicably out of place. Some transformations are more successful, as when the sleeping Oliver (4.3) is threatened not by a lioness and a snake but by ghetto-dwelling muggers. The overall result is uneven and at times baffling, but in its best moments the film is daringly experimental.

21On the whole, AYL has met with greater success in the theatre than in film or television. Perhaps that is not necessarily the case, but the screen has yet to discover (other than in Edzard's very interesting attempt) how to create a world of imagination in which Shakespeare's visionary art is not reduced to the ordinary and the banal.