a) How does As You Like It present love as a folly?
Discuss first the meaning and connotations of the word folly. Does Touchstones pervading presence in the play means that folly is ever-present? Is it possible for him to both present the folly of love both through his commentating role as the fool and also through his involvement in the action as a lover? How does this compare to the views of the other lovers - his own admission of foolish behaviour as a lover, "We that are true lovers run into strange capers" (II.4.49-50) might be seen to echo Silvius desperate earlier words to Corin - "If thou rememberest not the slightest folly/ That ever love did make thee run into,/ Thou hast not loved" (II.4.30-2). How do the themes of nature and natural behaviour relate to our behaviour in love? Does Touchstones sententious remark "but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal [abundant] in folly" (II.4.50-1) state an idea carried through the rest of the play?
Discuss how all the lovers are made to look foolish through the plots machinations - Phebe and Orlando are much (over?) satirised, but how much is Rosalind and Celias behaviour mocked? Is Celia and Olivers engagement absurdly rapid?
You could even investigate how the theme of the lover as a madman links with Shakespeares other romantic comedies - consider Theseus words from A Midsummer Nights Dream:
"Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact." (V.1.4-8)
b) As You Like It professes to be interpreted according to the whim of the reader. But how much does Shakespeare guide our reading through his use of imagery?
Try and find set-piece descriptions within the play - if there arent many, why arent there? How do references to trees, shrubs, water, animals, cultivation and the weather work together to create a place and an atmosphere?
Concentrate on several areas - the ways in which references to weather and the seasons make us reflect upon time. How far does the juxtaposition of marriage and harvest draw our attention to the earthiness of human desire and love?
Try and trace a pattern of imagery that threads through the play. If you were concentrating on time, you might join the dots between the following references -
The Duke and his followers "fleet[ing] the time carelessly as they did in the golden world" (I.1.111); Celias affection for the forest as she can "willingly waste my time in it" (II.4.92); Touchstones disquisition on time as reported by Jacques (II.7.22ff); Orlandos remark to Rosalind that there is no clock in the forest (III.2.292) which prompts her pondering on the aspects of time. She tells Orlando that time will test his words (IV.1.184).
Consider too how the transition from page to stage will alter our views about the play - bring in the possible effects that lighting, set and costume design and an alteration of the historical context of the play could provoke.
How much control can have Shakespeare actually have over our thoughts, and how much power has he given or taken away from us by naming his play As You Like It?
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