As You Like It
The action begins with a heated argument over the legally entangled inheritances of the three sons of the deceased Sir Rowland de Boys, just as in the case of the three sons of Edward de Vere's cousin, the executed Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, in 1572.
|As You Like It ensemble|
Photo: Gabe Koskinen
Nearly three decades after Howard's beheading, during the holiday season of 1599-1600, Robert Armin, one of England's greatest comedians, clowns, and quipsters, spent some time at King's Place, de Vere's lodgings, helping the playwright put the finishing touches on this old play.1 At the time of Armin's visit, an agreement to restore the fortune of Howard's youngest son was nearing the end of negotiations, and thus, finally, in real life a small victory was achieved, as we see in the final scene of the play, which culminates with four marriages, "as we like it."
In de Vere's comedic version of events, Duke Senior (John Hutton) has been overthrown by his brother, Frederick (Hutton), who permits the daughter of his exiled sibling, Rosalind (Emily Van Fleet), to remain with his own daughter, Celia (Shunté Lofton), as they are best friends. Orlando (Seth Dhonau), the youngest son of the deceased Sir Roland de Boys, falls in love with Rosalind, but must flee the duchy—with his servant Adam (Josh Innerst)—under threat from his older brother, Oliver (Jihad Milhem), who aims to control their father's estate and disinherit Orlando. Soon, Rosalind is banished by Duke Frederick, and Celia, as well as the court clown, Touchstone (Innerst), decide to go with her, against her father's wishes. Both groups separately head in the vicinity of the usurped Duke Senior's camp in Arden Forest, an actual place near de Vere's former property of Bilton, near his extended family's property of Billesley, and—most important—near Stratford-on-Avon."2
|(L to R) Shunté Lofton as Celia|
and Emily Van Fleet as Rosalind
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
In director Carolyn Howarth's version, now running in repertory with Twelfth Night, Van Fleet is a marvel in one of the most demanding roles in the canon—Rosalind having been played by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, and Patti LuPone—as both a woman in love and a fair youth who befriends Orlando, while hiding her true feelings. Much good humor is mined as Rosalind (disguised as the boyish Ganymede) is barely able to contain herself when she and Orlando are in close proximity. Van Fleet pushes the comedic tension to the brink, looking as if she were about to burst, taking the audience along with her.
|(L to R) Seth Dhonau as Orlando,|
Shunté Lofton as Celia (background),
and Emily Van Fleet as Rosalind
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
|Seth Dhonau as Orlando|
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Dhonau brings heartwarming earnestness and a deep sense of self-reliance to Orlando, who, despite attacks from his brother and Duke Frederick, remains trusting and forgiving, enabling the resolution of the comedy. Innerst is charming, as the chief comedic element, Touchstone, who holds the unique position of both the wise fool and the male half of the lowest caste romantic plot line that—following the playwright's modus operandi—runs in parallel with the dramatic arcs of the nobility and gentry. Innerst moves deftly between rueful understatement and tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, as clowns and playwrights are wont to do.
The refinements made by de Vere in collaboration with Armin also engendered one of the most underappreciated scenes in the entire canon—one which re-creates the Costard-Don Armado-Jaquenetta go-around from Love's Labor's Lost—that burlesques de Vere's (Touchstone's) relationship with his muse, Audrey, and with Will Shakspere of Stratford, the country bumpkin William, whom Ben Jonson dubbed "Poet Ape".
|Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford|
(with performer's painted face),
1581 (private collection)
Unlike the Costard encounter, which remained comedic, within this scene de Vere shifts to a serious tone, making a strong statement regarding Will Shakspere's pose as the playwright and the loss of de Vere's patience for the ruse:
Touchstone: ... Do you love this maid?
William: I do, sir.
Touchstone: Give me your hand. Art thou learned?
William: No, sir.
Touchstone: Then learn this of me: to have is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being pour'd out of cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ipse is he; now, you are not ipse, for I am he.
William: Which he, sir?
Touchstone: He, sir, that must marry this woman. Therefore, you clown, abandon—which is in the vulgar "leave"—the society—which in the boorish is "company"—of this female—which in the common is "woman"—which together is: "Abandon the society of this female"; or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or, to wit, I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage. I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction; will o'er-run thee with policy; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways; therefore tremble and depart.
Audrey: Do, good William.
William: God rest you merry, sir. Exits
The underlying message of this passage, hidden beneath de Vere's linguistic and philosophic derring-do, is decoded as follows: "... to have is to have" translates to Italian as Avere è avere: A Vere is a Vere; "a figure of rhetoric" refers to a passage in Plato's Symposium, wherein Socrates says that the transfer of wisdom is not like pouring one vessel to another; and finally, in using the emphatic Latin pronoun, ipse, he himself, de Vere is saying there has been a confusion of identities: "Your are not ipse—for I am he." In other words, associating with me does not transfer my talent and knowledge to you—you are only pretending to be me—the muse (Audrey) is mine.
|(L to R) John Hutton as Audrey, Josh Innerst as Touchstone, and Seth Dhonau as William|
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
This scene—which chronologically followed Costard in Love's Labor's Lost, Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew, and Bottom in A Midsummer-Night's Dream—would be the last in which de Vere deals with Will. Ironically, through these glimpses at "the upstart crow" (who wears the feathers of other birds), it is de Vere that gives us deeper insight into the character of the unscrupulous grain dealer cum actor from Stratford than all of the orthodox scholars combined.
In addition to Innerst's send up of Touchstone as an Elizabethan knight errant, Hutton's homely, passive-aggressive farmer's daughter and Dhonau's folksy country bumpkin make this scene the highlight of the peasant-caste storyline.
Earlier in this scene, de Vere lambastes the pamphleteer "Martin Mar-prelate"—the pen name of a Puritan zealot, with whom de Vere had a contentious flurry under another of his pen names, "Pasquill Caviliero"—in the character of Sir Oliver Martext (Lofton), a humorless priest. Lofton has a fun time with a character whom the playwright considered a pompous ass.
The main message, though, belongs to the master of melancholy, Jacques (Leslie O'Carroll), who shares more of the playwright's point-of-view than any of the other characters. Like de Vere, who wrote his father-in-law, William Cecil (Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's chief of state for nearly her whole reign) from Genoa in September 1575, regarding the sale of lands to finance his trip (In the 14 months of travel on the continent, de Vere spent £4,561, over $1.2 million today.3), Jacques "sold [his] own lands to see other men's." Jacques, a melancholy observer, delivers one of the most famous monologues in the canon, the content of which is based on the circular mosaic representing the proverbial Seven Ages of Man, from the cathedral (Duomo) in Siena, which de Vere visited in 15764:
|Leslie O'Carroll as Phebe|
and Jihad Milhem as Corin
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Jacques: All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
O'Carroll's droll, enigmatic Jacques conjures the required gravity for and focused attention to the playwright's observations and pronouncements:
Jacques: Invest me in my motley; give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.
There are two catharses central to the resolution of the plot, one of which occurs on stage, with Orlando saving Oliver's (Jihad Milhem) life:
Oliver: Orlando doth commend him to you both,
And to that youth he calls his Rosalind
He sends this bloody napkin. Are you he?
Rosalind: I am: what must we understand by this?
Oliver: Some of my shame; if you will know of me
What man I am, and how, and why, and where
This handkercher was stain'd.
Celia: I pray you, tell it.
Oliver: When last the young Orlando parted from you
He left a promise to return again
Within an hour, and pacing through the forest,
Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy,
Lo, what befell! he threw his eye aside,
And mark what object did present itself:
Under an oak, whose boughs were moss'd with age
And high top bald with dry antiquity,
A wretched ragged man, o'ergrown with hair,
Lay sleeping on his back: about his neck
A green and gilded snake had wreathed itself,
Who with her head nimble in threats approach'd
The opening of his mouth; but suddenly,
Seeing Orlando, it unlink'd itself,
And with indented glides did slip away
Into a bush: under which bush's shade
A lioness, with udders all drawn dry,
Lay couching, head on ground, with catlike watch,
When that the sleeping man should stir; for 'tis
The royal disposition of that beast
To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead:
This seen, Orlando did approach the man
And found it was his brother, his elder brother.
Celia: O, I have heard him speak of that same brother;
And he did render him the most unnatural
That lived amongst men.
Oliver: And well he might so do,
For well I know he was unnatural.
Rosalind: But, to Orlando: did he leave him there,
Food to the suck'd and hungry lioness?
Oliver: Twice did he turn his back and purposed so;
But kindness, nobler ever than revenge,
And nature, stronger than his just occasion,
Made him give battle to the lioness,
Who quickly fell before him: in which hurtling
From miserable slumber I awaked.
While this may seem like a clever contrivance to reconcile the two brothers, below the surface—in Oliver's recounting of this forest encounter—de Vere is reminding the court of actual events. During the trial of Philip Howard, the eldest son of Thomas Howard (referenced in the play as Sir Roland de Boys), for treason (practicing Catholicism and attempting to flee England without the Queen's permission), Attorney General Sir John Popham entered a pictorial emblem into evidence, as proof of Howard's crime: on one side, a hand shaking a serpent into a fire; and, on the other, a lion with his claws cut off.5 As with his father and Mary, Queen of Scots, the verdict on Philip was preordained, and while Elizabeth never ordered his execution, she also never granted his clemency. He died in the Tower in 1595. In de Vere's upbeat version, the older son is spared by the spiritual generosity of the younger son, with Oliver's catharsis fully realized in Milhem's delivery of the oldest son's heartfelt message.
|The Marcus Gheeraedts portrait|
of an elderly Edward de Vere,
the 17th Earl of Oxford
The other conversion is recounted via Roland de Boys middle son:
Jaques de Boys: Let me have audience for a word or two:
I am the second son of old Sir Rowland,
That bring these tidings to this fair assembly.
Duke Frederick, hearing how that every day
Men of great worth resorted to this forest,
Address'd a mighty power; which were on foot,
In his own conduct, purposely to take
His brother here and put him to the sword:
And to the skirts of this wild wood he came;
Where meeting with an old religious man,
After some question with him, was converted
Both from his enterprise and from the world,
His crown bequeathing to his banish'd brother,
And all their lands restored to them again
That were with him exiled. This to be true,
I do engage my life.
Duke Senior: Welcome, young man;
Thou offer'st fairly to thy brothers' wedding:
To one his lands withheld, and to the other
A land itself at large, a potent dukedom.
First, in this forest, let us do those ends
That here were well begun and well begot:
And after, every of this happy number
That have endured shrewd days and nights with us
Shall share the good of our returned fortune,
According to the measure of their states.
Meantime, forget this new-fall'n dignity
And fall into our rustic revelry.
Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,
With measure heap'd in joy, to the measures fall.
Duke Frederick's religious conversion not only brings a resolution to the familial discord, but (along with the serpent-lion encounter) also provides Celia a romantic partner in Oliver. Lofton uncorks Celia's patience, which effervesces into a joy and infatuation to match her cousin Rosalind's state. Hutton's deft embodiment of saturnine versus jovial6 dispositions in the two opposing dukes, Frederick and Senior, heightens the early contrast between a corrupt court and bucolic genuineness, the latter outlook carrying the day in this and the following final scene.
|John Hutton as Duke Frederick|
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Director Howarth's collaboration with Sam Misner, of the American folk duo Misner & Smith, is the crowning jewel of this production, essentially giving cause to the fun western costuming (Clare Henkel). Innerst's guitar work and voice are a wonder throughout, and when the ensemble joins in with a bass, rhythm guitar, and harmonica, we believe that de Vere, a musician and lyricist, would be stomping his cowboy boots. Howarth's clever use of stand-up bass as a stand-in for Audrey/Duke Senior (Hutton) is hilarious!
Granted the exigencies of performing in repertory, sharing a stage with another production, and sticking to a budget, the set is none-the-less an enigma. Long before Chekhov's Astrov in Uncle Vanya expressed his concerns over the Russian forest, de Vere extolled the virtues of the woods (via Duke Senior), though there is no sense of that amongst the brick pillars and eclectic lanterns, not to mention the costume boxes which, granted, are necessitated by the small cast.
The choreography (Christopher DuVal) of the early fight scene—between Orlando (Dhonau) and Charles, Duke Frederick's wrestler (Sean Michael Cummings), with the combatants performing their moves in parallel—is better than any dual camera split-screen video we've ever seen.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's presentation of As You Like It, runs through August 10th, in repertory with Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and King Charles III. For tickets: cupresents.org/events/.
1 Mark Anderson, "Shakespeare" by Another Name, foreword by Sir Derek Jacobi, Gotham Books, New York, 2005, pp. 324-5.
It's worth noting that de Vere edited and rewrote portions of many of the plays up until his death in 1604. Thus, when his youngest (third) daughter, Susan, who had married into the most famous literary clan in England, provided the manuscripts to her husband (the Earl of Pembroke) and his brother (the Earl of Montgomery), under whose imprimatur the First Folio was published, it was billed as "According to the true and original copies."
2 Ibid, p. 325
3 Ibid, p. 93.
4 Ibid, p. 103.
5 Ibid, p. 234.
6 Ganymede, Rosalind's name-in-disguise, is a moon of Jupiter, and Rosalind is Duke Senior's daughter.