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  • Title: As You Like It: Performance History
  • Author: David Bevington

  • Copyright David Bevington. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: David Bevington
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    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.