In ‘As You Like It’, the dramatic device of disguise is very important, because of the dramatic opportunities it presents. Shakespeare opens two opportunities: the characters can say what they would otherwise be unable to say, and hear what they would otherwise be unable to hear. The main character who uses disguise is Rosalind, although Celia does too, to a lesser extent. We first see these two characters in Act I Scene 2. In this scene, we find out background information of the characters, for example that Rosalind’s father, the Duke, was banished. We also see Orlando and Rosalind fall in love, after they meet for the first time at the wrestling match in the gardens of the palace. Rosalind gives Orlando her necklace, giving him a sign that she has fallen in love with him.
Rosalind: Wear this for me, Rosalind: Sir, you have wrestled well, and overthrown More than your enemies. Orlando also admits to himself that he has fallen in love with her, but gives no indication of such to Rosalind, as he remained silent. Orlando: What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue? I cannot speak to her, yet she urg’d conference. O poor Orlando, thou art overthrown!
In Act I Scene 3, Rosalind admits to Celia how much she loves Orlando, and that she is not merely ‘playing’ at falling in love, as they had discussed in the precious scene. Celia’s father, the Duke, then interrupts them, to banish Rosalind. The reasons for his actions are that the people pity Rosalind, because she has lost her father. Also, they admire her “silence and patience.” So, under the pretence that Rosalind is a traitor, he banishes her, to make Celia “show more bright and seem more virtuous when she is gone.” However, Celia objects to this, as she loves Rosalind dearly. So, she decides to join Rosalind in her banishment, and that they will go to the forest of Arden, to search for her uncle, Rosalind’s father. They decide to take Touchstone with them, for safety and company.
In those times, it was dangerous to travel, especially for rich women. The women realise this, and like Rosalind says “beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold”. So, Rosalind decides to disguise herself as a male because she is “more than common tall”. She decides to call herself Ganymede. Ganymede was a Trojan boy, with whom Jove fell in love with, appointed him cupbearer of the Gods, and became immortal. This name is very appropriate since Ganymede was an effeminate boy, while Rosalind would be a woman dressed as a male. Celia decides to disguise herself as a shepherdess, called Aliena, meaning ‘the stranger.’ This name is also appropriate, as it is representative of the way she will act in the country compared to at court; she will not be used to it. The two names are taken from the book “Rosalynde”, written in 1590 by Thomas Lodge. This could be intentional, or coincidental.
We first see Rosalind in disguise in Act II Scene 4, when she realises that now she is disguised as a man, she has to inherit male qualities and act “courageous to petticoat”. In this scene, Shakespeare explores the male and female side of Rosalind for the first time. In appearance, she is masculine, able to take responsibility for “the weaker vessel”. However, inside she is feminine, and needy of the support she gives to Celia. Touchstone also mentions that “when I was at home, I was in a better place” stimulating thoughts about the divide between the rich and the poor of Shakespeare’s time.
In ‘As You Like It’, Shakespeare compares the two societies of that time- the rich and the poor. There wasn’t usually a middleclass. In the life at court, ladies did not work for their living. They usually grew up, and were married at a fairly young age, until they died. However, poor women usually had to help at the house, by cooking, cleaning, etc. and were also usually married off as soon as possible.
Further on in the play, in Act III Scene 2 Touchstone also debates the merits of the two different lives with Corin, a shepherd. As we know, Celia and Rosalind come from an upper class, rich, royal families, but have to pretend to be poor, working class people when they go to the forest of Arden.
Undoubtedly, they would have made mistakes occasionally, showing their true heritage. This would probably seem comical to the audience, because they found it unusual for the two backgrounds to mix. For example, in Act III Scene 2, when Orlando is speaking with Rosalind, he mentions that ‘her accent is something finer than you could purchase in so removed a dwelling.” Fortunately for her, Rosalind quickly thinks of an excuse, “an old religious uncle of mine taught me to speak”, which Orlando believes.