Celia exposes the performative aspect of romantic love, in which the practice, language and theatrics are not a natural response to falling in love; instead, the feeling of love is preceded by, created by, this performance. The performance is put together using a repertoire of learned conventions, myths, cultural aphorisms, and meaningless clichés, each one selected and appropriated when needed to perpetuate the love narrative. As Dostoevsky explains love in Notes from Underground:
Those emotional outbursts [were] all a lie, a horrible lie…because I was awfully bored sitting about and doing nothing, and that is why I started on that sort of song and dance…the whole thing was just a piece of play-acting, but in the end I would work myself up into such a state.. [of] suffering in the most genuine manner imaginable.” (Dostoevsky, 108)
Like the Underground Man, Celia is a woman of “acute consciousness” (Dostoevsky, 99). She realizes that romantic love follows a script, and is perceptive enough to identify when people around her are getting lost in the “song and dance.” This aptitude for discerning others’ self-deception becomes more of a curse than a blessing, because it renders her an outsider. Her authenticity precludes her from the fantasy world in which everyone else lives. It is as if she is the only audience member in a theater, and everyone else is a method-actor on stage. I believe this is the “current state” she refers to when renaming herself “Aliena,” (I.3.134-135), a derivative of the Latin term alienus, meaning ‘belonging to another; i.e., alien, outsider.’ To solve her lonely predicament, she tries to convince people to see the world and human interactions as she does, with a discerning eye. To accomplish this, Celia calls attention to the hollowness and arbitrariness of these cliché love scripts whenever possible.
One mythos that lovers incorporate into their narratives is glorifying patriarchal control over daughter’s choices and love lives. When Rosalind cites this as one legitimate reason for her love-at-first-sight for Orlando, saying, “my father loved his father dearly” (I.3.29), Celia tries to undermine this larger trend: “Doth it therefore ensue that you should love his/ son dearly?” (I.3.30-31). Rosalind cannot defend this challenge to her understanding of love and a worthy man. So, Rosalind quickly changes the subject as to keep her familiar narrative from fracturing any further.
Celia not only deconstructs larger trends, but also zooms in on labyrinthine phrasing in the language of love to find evidence of the falsity of romance. Celia does not get fooled or distracted by periphrasis. For example, in Act Three, she picks apart Rosalind’s long-winded metaphor that leaps from “doublet and hose” to the “South sea of discovery,” to a “narrow-mouthed [wine] bottle” (III.2.190-206). To all this, Celia retorts with the sexual innuendo: “So you may put a man in your belly” (III.2.208). Celia’s quick response reveals Rosalind’s true meaning, now suddenly not so romantic in its stark nakedness. Humans are no better than Touchstone’s cat in heat (III.2.103). Only, being more sentimental and self-important than animals, people decorate their base desire to mate with circumlocutory poetics to feel more civilized. Celia recognizes this, and shines a light on the pretentiousness of human relationships and love-language’s dependence on figurative speech.
Finally, Celia focuses in on specific jargon in love-language, terms so hackneyed and connotatively stretched that the sign no longer signifies any substantial meaning. For example, she sarcastically responds to Rosalind’s excitement over Orlando: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping!” (III.2.195-197). Through repetition, “’wonderful’ has turned almost onomatopoeic, the pure sound of joy busting beyond semantic limits” (Palfrey, 112). Celia employs a similar tactic to show how the term “brave” has also been semantically dulled through over-use. When Rosalind is gushing about how worthy Orlando is, Celia satirizes, “Oh, that’s a brave man. He writes brave verses, speaks brave words, swears brave oaths, and breaks them bravely” (III.4.38-40). Celia again uses repetition in sarcasm to parallel how romantic speech erodes the word “brave” until it is meaningless.
So if all this is true, why does Celia settle down with Oliver at the end of the play? I believe once Celia realized she could never teach Rosalind to become an “Aliena” with her, she surrendered to the “song and dance.” She silences her acute consciousness, as evinced by her lack of lines towards the end of the play. Celia’s marriage to Oliver is not a victory over cynicism, but a tragic relinquishment of her authenticity.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Print.
Palfrey, Simon. Doing Shakespeare. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2005. Print. 112.
Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. As You like It. Folger Shakespeare Library. New York: Washington Square, 2004. Print.