Wednesday, September 16, 2009

As You Like It

"I can live no longer by thinking." -- As You Like It (Act V, Scene 2, Line 53)

So named by Shakespeare who knew it contained the perfect combination of comedy and drama to wholly entertain. And it did; and it does still.

The played production of As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre undoubtedly changed my mind about a lot of things concerning the play as I’d read it, and reminded me that as beautiful as Shakespeare’s words are on the page, they are far more moving as interpreted on the stage. I imagine that the 7:30pm, 14 September 2009 showing of As You Like It at the Globe Theatre was a normal showing for the season, but the company of actors in no way seem to have lost their spunk and dedication to the act.

Scene 1 of Act III is a scene I gave As You Like It little attention. In the copy of As You Like It I own, it takes up exactly one side of a page, and merely consists of Duke Frederick reprimanding Oliver for letting Orlando get away. After reading this short scene, the stage possibilities seemed to dead end. I imagined Oliver and the Duke standing at opposite ends of the stage, the Duke perhaps frustrated and yelling at Oliver, but Oliver retaining his composure as he tries to convince the Duke that finding Orlando is unnecessary, and that his connection to him is in no way strong enough to merit being banished on his account. The Duke seizes Oliver’s land, but more as a warning and a motivation to find Orlando, than a serious attempt to put Oliver out. If it wasn’t a dramatic scene, it didn’t really matter, because after all, it was only half a page.

In Thea Sharrock’s production of As You Like It, Oliver is thrown onto the stage, bloody, his clothes torn, and crying in pain as the Duke lashes at him angrily for being the cause of Orlando’s disappearance. The scene evokes pity for Oliver, despite his cruelty toward his brother Orlando in previous scenes. It is apparent in Sharrock’s interpretation of the scene that the Duke is not only threatening Oliver’s standing in the community by revoking his land and possessions, but is also threatening Oliver’s life, that if Oliver should return without Orlando, the Duke will not hesitate to see him killed. As a member of the audience, it’s impossible to know who made the call to interpret the scene between Oliver and the Duke the way it was presented.

Merely seeing Oliver on stage made him a more important character than he appeared to be on the page, but in my mind, the angry and cruel Oliver on stage was still simply a character who lacked development and intrigue—he merely seemed mean and contentious and stood as a driving force to get Orlando out into the forest so the plot between Rosalind and Orlando could ensue. But the moment Oliver is thrown out onto the stage—bleeding and crying—that perception of him reworks itself and Oliver suddenly becomes a character whose place in As You Like It matters. Judging from Jamie Parker’s repentant depiction of Oliver when Oliver comes to Ganymede to tell ‘him’ of Orlando’s delay, it occurred to me that Oliver’s real change of heart did not occur when Orlando saved him from the lion and the serpent, but instead when his pride was shattered by the Duke Frederick and he escaped into the forest of Arden. The reason we don’t witness Orlando’s saving of Oliver is because it isn’t important—the only purpose of relating it is to give Orlando a chance to witness Oliver’s change of heart; Shakespeare does however show us the point in time where Oliver is being shoved into a state of mind where repentance is possible—that pivotal half-page scene.

In relating Scene 1 of Act III this way, it makes the rest of the play as it relates to Oliver far more believable: that Oliver would even be softened enough to notice Celia with Ganymede, that he would really make amends with his brother, and that he would have a full enough heart to truly love Celia. Perhaps Sharrock had always imagined Oliver beat and bleeding on the stage every time she flipped through the pages of As You Like It. Maybe actor Jamie Parker was searching for some way to expound his character and give Oliver a little more depth. Either way, the alternate viewing of the scene deepened my belief in the story and Oliver’s place in it.

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