A moment that catches the full flavour of As You Like It occurs toward the end of the second scene. A wrestling-match, itself a highly theatrical display, has just ended. If the production is at all exciting, the audience has been caught up in the athletic dazzle of this event, as well as in the success of the hero, Orlando, in foiling the plot against him by beating both the odds and Charles, the Duke’s wrestler. The wrestling-match is one example among many of Shakespeare’s larding of the play with spectacular, witty or musical ‘numbers’. As You Like It has some of the characteristics of a first-rate variety show.1 But, as in the present instance, the different numbers are subtly integrated into the whole texture. For the acrobatic bravado of the wrestling-match leads immediately to a series of sharp intimate exchanges, which together create a complex effect. The shape and feeling of the scene shift rapidly. Upon Orlando’s victory, the usurping Duke Frederick asks the victor his name. The simple reply, ‘Orlando, my liege, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys’, falls coldly on the ears of the Duke and his careful court. For Sir Rowland has been a close friend of the former duke, now banished, who is the brother of the present one and father of Rosalind, Frederick’s distrusted niece. Orlando then is the son of a man who has been Frederick’s mortal enemy. In John Dexter’s 1979 production at the National Theatre in London, at Orlando’s words ‘the puppet court froze into attitudes of obsequious horror’.2
KeywordsBromide Amid Smoke Dine Lost
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