"As You Like It" : Use of Disguise Characters by Shakespeare.

  Shakespeare was a master craftsman. He has displayed his great skill in the technique of the use of disguise. In the Elizabethan age, women were not allowed to act on the public stage. The parts of women were played by boys or young men. This absence of actresses had a restricting influence on Shakespeare’s art. Shakespeare tried to overcome that obstacle by disguising many of the heroines of his comedies as boys.Shakespeare uses the technique of disguise to reinforce the irony, develop theme, enhance subtle comic innuendo or make the plot advance.

After Duke Frederick banishes his niece, Rosalind, for the crime of being her father’s daughter, Rosalind and Celia decide to exile themselves to the Forest of Arden. However, the question remains as to how they will travel to the forest, considering that, “beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.” In order to conceal herself from the savagery of thieves and robbers, Rosalind disguises as a man named Ganymede and Celia as a girl named Aliena. Rosalind takes the name of Ganymede who was the cup-bearer of the godd, a young boy whom Jove fell in love with. Jove changed himself into an eagle and took Ganymede back to heaven with him. The name Ganymede is thus most often invoked to fescribe a form of homosexual love between an old man and a young boy. Rosalind’s choice of this name becomes important later when Orlando woos her (in the form of Ganymede) as if she were his Rosalind. Celia’s choice of name, Aliena, means “the lost one”. This name is highly appropriate for her because at the beginning of the play she is indeed the lost one. She is unable to survive without Rosalind. She must therefore lose herself to find herself.

Rosalind’s disguising herself as Ganymede allows her a special kind of freedom. When Rosalind meets Orlando in the Forest of Arden, she talks to him disguised as a rude shepherd boy. She tells him that a man has been going around the forest ruining the trees by carving the name ‘Rosalind’ on them. He admits to being that man and asks if she knows a remedy. The remedy she proposed was that Orlando should come everyday to the cottage where Rosalind and Celia lived. “And then,” she said, “I will feign myself to be Rosalind, and you shall feign to court me in the same manner as you would do if I was Rosalind. Their mock-wooing scene reinforces the dramatic irony and develops the theme of the play.

Rosalind’s disguise also creates love tangle in As You Like It. Silvius, young shepherd, has madly fallen in love with a shepherdess, Phebe. But Phebe instead of responding to his love falls in love with Ganymede who is actually Rosalind. But at the end, Phebe agrees to marry Silvius, when Rosalind sheds her disguise and Phebe discovers that Ganymede is actually a woman.

Rosalind stays in her male disguise because it offers a special kind of freedom. In Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love, Alexander Leggatt notes that Rosalind’s disguise as Ganymede is “truly liberating.” Leggatt goes on to argue that “the role is a device allowing Rosalind a freedom of comment impossible in a conventional love affair.” Rosalind’s disguise also gives her a chance to tutor Orlando about love, turning him into an ideal romantic partner and to be united with him.

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