In an analysis of her own performance as Rosalind in As You Like It, Juliet Stevenson offers up some insight into the role that gave one particular scene a new meaning to me. The scene in question is act 4 scene 1, wherein Orlando has just returned to Rosalind, whom he still believes to be Ganymede. What I found notable about Stevenson’s take on Ganymede is that he is not simply a pseudonym being used by Rosalind in this scene, but instead a device she uses to protect herself, turning it on and off at will.
In the beginning of this scene, when Rosalind is criticizing Orlando for being late, and she begins to give him wooing advice while “playing” Rosalind, Stevenson claims she is able to drop the Ganymede guise in all but name. She is just playing the character as she would normally play Rosalind, because Rosalind is speaking her own thoughts under the guise of Ganymede. This is especially true of Rosalind’s thoughts regarding romantic love, an area she seems to have strong opinions.
Stevenson notes that there are specific moments when she pulls back to the Ganymede persona. Moments when Rosalind is “in danger of going beyond some boundary” (Rutter 112). Rosalind is using the idea of playing Ganymede to hold back her emotions. She clearly has strong feelings for Orlando, but for now she is testing him and making him wait. She cannot give up her ruse just yet, so when she begins to feel that she is slipping too much back into her own personality, enough to be exposed, she quickly retreats back to being Ganymede.
The fact that she needs a shield to hide her emotions is a testament to the strength of her feelings. It adds another level of depth to this relationship with Orlando. She is nearly unable to keep up her act because her emotions are so powerful. Although the strength of her responses can also be attributed to the fact that she can finally speak her own words, rather than Ganymede’s, after all of this time, I think that her feelings for Orlando are what really push her to express her own thoughts so fervently. This is clear in the last line before Orlando leaves when she says
“Well, Time is the old justice that examines all such
offenders, and let Time try. Adieu”
(4.1.165-166). Here she is especially rife with emotion because Orlando is leaving her yet again, so she lets Rosalind’s thoughts out in full force as one last condemnation of romantic love. Rather than giving her trust to Orlando that he will be back, she leaves him with a simple, “We’ll see.”
Stevenson’s approach to the performance allows us to gain a much deeper understanding of Rosalind. We are able to see how susceptible she is to her feelings for Orlando, and we can also attempt to discern her lines as Ganymede from her lines as Rosalind, giving us important insight into Rosalind’s actual opinions on romantic love.
Rutter, Carol Chillington, and Sinead Cusack. Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare’s Women Today.
New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 1989. Print.
Shakespeare, William. As You like It;. [Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1954. Print.