During the Elizabethan era, women were not allowed to be on the stage. Acting was a crude career choice, and it was unthinkable that a woman could ever pursue such a thing.
All the female roles in Shakespeare’s plays were played by males, either adult men or even young boys whose voices had yet to deepen. While it is unclear whether or not Shakespeare plays made extensive use of props, costumes were made as elaborate as possible. A male playing a woman would be dressed in elaborate dresses and costumes reflecting the clothes of the era. Many boy actors would start as playing female roles while apprenticed in the theater company, and later switch over to male roles. It seems that with the cultural norm and the elaborate costuming, the theater was able to create a thorough illusion of an actual woman on stage.
As You Like It provides some interesting gender bending scenarios. In Rosalind’s final speech to the audience, she addresses the fact that a male actor is playing a female role (Rosalind) who then proceeds to pretend to be a boy (Ganymede) who then later pretends to be a girl for Orlando. The gender switching here does not happen just once, but thrice.
Despite the tradition of only male actors, the title of Shakespeare’s play challenges the viewer to think about what it means to have something “As You Like It.” Some critics found As You Like It to be one of Shakespeare’s less refined plays, more of a crowdpleaser made for entertainment. However, I find that the title of this play speaks volumes to Shakespeare’s mentality in addressing the audience. How scholarly or refined this play is seems to matter less than what the audience is able to glean from it. This play can be interpreted in a very wide variety of ways, or maybe not interpreted at all! Maybe you didn’t like the play at all, or perhaps you liked it a little too much. As a well-established playwright of his time, Shakespeare is able to afford this sassy retort to his critics; a play is not just to please the serious thespians and aristocracy, but to provide basic entertainment even for the lowliest peasants. I feel that in our modern era were individualistic expression is so highly embraced, As You Like It speaks to us as an audience most deeply. It sort of speaks to Shakespeare’s brilliance in creating plays with this universal and everlasting quality to them; hundreds of years later, and he’s still the theater mastermind we all know him for. While the play itself addresses social issues regarding class and primogeniture, the title gives a grander message about “you doing you.” The second sons and females of this play are expected to do their duty, yet they reject it and decide to do what they want. However, it calls into question exactly how free are we to do what we truly want to do? While the play ends happily in the forest with everything working out perfectly (the couples in love get married, the reversals in fortune are returned, transgressions are forgiven), it’s hard to take see how it can translate to reality. After all, you might as well take it as you like it.