Rosalind and Celia

Barbara J. Wilson 2005

A search for feminist criticism on William Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It, uncovers a range of different aspects of the play and its players, but none is as well represented as the nature and dynamics of the relationship between Rosalind and Celia. Among other topics are cross dressing or female transvestism and male self-fashioning, which extrapolates on the mode of dress being an identity. A feminist view on Shakespeare examines the poet’s defense of virtue in the play. Quite a few articles focus on Rosalind alone. These varyingly discuss Rosalind in relation to gender issues, romantic power, eroticism, specific performances of actresses portraying Rosalind as well as one piece which questions Rosalind’s very existence. But the most cohesive and edifying critical writings delve the depths of the relationship between Rosalind and Celia.

Most criticisms that include Celia, agree that Celia holds the power on the stage during Act I. In Clare Calvo’s article she asks the question “Is it really Rosalind who moves the play” (95). She questions the long accepted opinion that Rosalind is the heroine not only in As You Like It, but is the epitome of all of Shakespeare’s comic heroines (94). Calvo gives equal accolades to Celia and her important friendship with Rosalind and to Celia’s initiative, decision and capacity for action”(95). She explores the diminishing of Celia in order to elevate Rosalind to mythical proportions in both feminist and non-feminist criticism (95). In Calvo’s words, “ the interest aroused by the figure of Rosalind has tended to eclipse the importance of other characters”(92).

Calvo concentrates on the friendship between Rosalind and Celia and specifically on Celia’s “linguistic behavior”(92). Rather than attribute Celia with immature attributes and a “naive girlhood loyalty” as does Louis Montrose (97), Calvo sees her loyalty as being “mature [and] womanlike”(97). Further, she reminds us that Celia is the only character capable of matching Rosalind’s “repartee”(97).

As Calvo advises us, according to two female critics as well as actresses who have played the two women’s roles: “There is a balance in the roles of Celia and Rosalind. Both are central to the fabric . . . but each is central to well defined and very different parts of the play”(99).

Calvo cites the feminist critics as having similar opinions. Elaine Hobby sees Rosalind’s most important re4lationship as being with her cousin Celia (99). Celia defends Rosalind to her father and decides on the pastoral escape. However, once Rosalind changes to manly garb, Celia assumes the weaker role stating, “I cannot go no further”(II.4.7).

Another feminist critic, Susan Carlson, also sees that “the most steady love of the play is that between two women, Rosalind and Celia”(100). She notes the contrast between the “love, trust and warmth of their woman’s world and the harsh world depicted in I.1 (100). Carlson also sees the third scene in Act I as the “climax of the play’s celebration of woman’s love”(101). She states the significance that the “voice of achievement is Celia, not Rosalind”(100).

But Carlson differs with Hobby and other feminists as to when the turning point in the women’s relationship comes. She feels that it is not until Ganymede starts to court Orlando. At this point, although Celia is always present with Rosalind and Orlando, she remains mostly silent (100).

Fiona Shaw and Juliet Stevenson co-authored an article that explicates Rosalind and Celia’s friendship as it unfolded for them during a production of the play. The actresses recognized a unique opportunity to work with the two characters and their relationship. They were concerned about portraying the friendship as a bonding rather than the divisiveness as actresses vying on the stage, which would be stereotypical female behavior (57). Their portrayal was helped by the freedom of modern dress which nonetheless pointed up that oppressive patriarchal structures are still in existence and that the topic of gaining “freedom and self definition (57) is as relevant today as it was in Renaissance England.

Rosalind shows herself as a divided spirit stating, “ I show more mirth than I am mistress of” (I.2.2). Celia’s words suggest a fear of an unequal relationship saying “Herein I see thou lovest me not with the full weight that I love thee (I.2.8). The actresses also mention Rosalind and Celia’s “shared facility with language and conceit”(58). Shaw and Stevenson point out the total absence of women in Duke Frederick’s court. Neither of the women seem to have present mothers nor are any mentioned (59). Also in the conversation when Rosalind and Celia talk of sports, Rosalind speaks of love while Celia implies general amusements and admonishes her to “love no man in earnest” (I.2.23-24). Clearly Rosalind is ready for an experience with a man while Celia is not (59).

Shaw and Stevenson tell us that

We noticed, too, how it is clearly Celia, throughout this section of the play [Act I], who leads and drives the scenes – the rhythms of her language are very indicative of a confident, even assertive, young woman, very rooted in her class and at the centre of the court’s ‘culture.’ Rosalind’s speech-rhythms are markedly different, her thinking less linear and her utterances spasmodic, as though she were frequently only half engaged (59).

When Orlando comes out half naked to wrestle, Rosalind is more forward with him than convention allow. Celia, annoyed that her friend has a passion other than herself, reacts with admonitions that instruct Rosalind to “hem” (I.3.9) away the “burs”(I.3.11) of Orlando, her “child’s father” (I.3.9) (60-61). Celia’s love becomes a sacrifice when Rosalind is banished and Celia puts he fate in with hers (620.

The finale of Act I, Shaw and Stevenson note, is “perhaps the only part in the play at which they are completely equal – both disinherited now, both fatherless, neither of them any longer with anything to lose and equally matched in their confidence, daring, exhilaration, and mutual interdependence” (63). Once Rosalind becomes Ganymede, she accustoms herself to her new freedom and responsibilities. While Rosalind changes constantly to fit into her new role, Celia remains unchanged (65). As Rosalind expands further in her relationship wit Orlando, Celia seems to diminish into a powerlessness evidenced by her silence (66).

Unwillingly, Celia is turned into a shepherdess working for her brother, Ganymede and with a persona including no father but a distant uncle. She must listen while Orlando and Ganymede slander her sex and must look forward this as a daily event as the males embark Orlando’s “love cure” (66). The authors conclude that, though silent, Ganymede needs Celia for moral support and as a chaperone of sorts (67). Their relationship has changed further. No longer does Rosalind pick up on Celia’s witty conversational lead-ins. She is too enamored with Orlando. Celia thence becomes totally uninvolved in her relationship with Rosalind (68). Celia is left out. Rosalind replaces fathers with lovers and a new autonomy while Celia has only Rosalind. The gulf between them grows wider with each encounter between Ganymede (68). Celia chastises Rosalind for having “misused our sex in your love prate” (IV.1.172) (69).

In the emptiness formed by the absence of Rosalind, Oliver appears and Celia falls in love with him as if only to fill the vacancy (69). She is silent. Her last line in the play is long before the ending of the play. She says “Good Sir, go with us” (IV.3.176) and the two friends never speak to each other the rest of the play (70).

Shaw and Stevenson stress a hope for the women’s relationship because they make their last entrance together. The authors stress that this joint entrance is symbolic of the journey the two women have made together (70).

Louis Martin cites a study by Janet Adelman, which states there is a strong pattern of male bonding in the play while there is a denial and dissolution of female bonds (94). Martin then goes on to stress Celia and Rosalind’s bond and to minimize the apparent rift at the end as having more to do with “dramatic efficiency” (94). He continues on to stress “[t]hey are married in one ceremony suggesting an ongoing friendship” (94).

Susan Carlson sets out to show how the society sets limitations for the women through testing of the normal that occurs during the middle of the play and challenges the stereotyping of the women. She admits that Rosalind’s friendship with Celia is a source of Rosalind’s power in the play (159). Carlson feels that with the creation of Ganymede, Rosalind and Celia are no longer a same sex couple, which causes a chasm to develop. She states, “They never regain the safe, warm closeness of Act I” (161).

To illustrate her point, Carlson enumerates several incidents. One such is Celia teasing Rosalind about the whereabouts of Orlando only to fall silent when Rosalind begins to court Orlando (161). Celia’s silent presence at the couple’s sessions highlights Celia’s demotion in the hierarchy of Rosalind’s affections (161). The women’s former verbal support of each other seems to have evaporated (161).

Gilchrist Keel agrees that Celia is the moving force in the first act and pinpoints the change in dominance to the point when Ganymede is created. The strength of the women’s friendship is verified in several places in the first act. Oliver questions Charles about Rosalind’s possible banishment and Charles answers

O, no; for the Duke’s daughter her cousin so loves her,

being ever from their cradles bred together, that she would

have followed her exile, or have died to stay behind her She is

at the court, and no less beloved of her uncle than his own

daughter; and never two ladies loved as they do (I.1.93-97).

Le Beau tells Orlando that the women’s “loves/ are dearer than the natural bond of sisters” (I.2.242-243).

Keel notes Celia’s use of “language analogous to marriage” in scene I.3 (7). The first occurs when speaking to her father saying, “We still have slept together,/rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together,/And whereso’er we went, like Juno’s swans,/ Still we went coupled and inseparable (I.3.69-70). Later she pleads with Rosalind saying, “Rosalind, lack’st thou then the love/ which teacheth thee that thou and I are one?/ Shall we be sundered? Shall we part, sweet girl?” (I.3.90-92). Keel surmises from this that Celia is the needy one in the relationship. Rosalind never speaks of her feelings for Celia (7).

Keel observes that the gap in the friendship occurs with Rosalind’s change to Ganymede. Celia becomes “the weaker vessel” (II.4.4). Rosalind seems to forget Celia’s presence whenever Oliver is around. That is why on one occasion when Oliver leaves, Celia is sharp with Rosalind; telling her to “holla” (III.2.222) her tongue. Before he re-enters, Celia complains that “You bring me out [of tune]” (III.2.229), which suggests a “disharmony” (9) in the friendship.

Keel notes that in Act III.4, Celia tries repeatedly to get Rosalind to give up Orlando. She calls hi a “Judas” (III.4.7) among other things including insinuations that he is a liar, frigid and unfaithful (9-10). Keel remarks that “Celia seems as aware that marriage will exclude their friendship as Rosalind is oblivious to it” (10). In the end, Keel believes that Rosalind and Celia’s already strained friendship falls apart completely. When both marry, they have “no room for feminine relationships” (11).

Jessica Tvordi argues that Celia has an erotic attachment to Rosalind (114). She cites Valerie Traub as suggesting that “the erotic verbal displays of a number of Shakespeare’s most ‘feminine’ heroines, including Celia, rival those of the play’s heterosexual couples” (115). Tvordi states that Celia’s femininity is deceptive in that she “directly challenges masculine constructs of feminine subjectivity by transgressing accepted boundaries of gender, sexuality, and power both with Rosalind . . . and with other characters” (116). She calls Celia’s behavior “manipulative and combative” (116). In the context of Celia and Rosalind being members of the same class, a certain amount of affection would be normal but Celia “continuously voices her love for Rosalind” (116). While Rosalind more overtly transgresses society’s mores, Celia’s verbal attempts to trick Rosalind into a homoerotic relationship are more transgressive (117). Celia shows no interest in heterosexual relationships while speaking plainly of her love for Rosalind. Celia’s aggressiveness in “wooing the object of her desire”(117)as well as her resistance “to the play’s movement away from the ideal of the female homoerotic alliance” (117) make her suspect.

Celia uses words and phrases normally used in hetero-erotic relationships such as her example of the life long mating of “Juno’s swans” (I.3.69), and the term “coupled” (I.3.70), which has a sexual connotation. By using the example of Juno’s swans, she implies reciprocity on the part of Rosalind (117). However, there is no evidence in the play that Rosalind returns her affection in kind.

Celia also exercises her political authority to control Rosalind. Paradoxically, she veils her power to imitate equality between herself and Rosalind and “directly challenges Rosalind’s authority by displaying her power openly” (118). The goal of both strategies is to “negotiate the gap between her desires and those of Rosalind’ (119). She promises to replace Rosalind’s political power with affection. She also makes plain her lack of interest in a heterosexual relationship. she advises Rosalind to “love no man in good earnest, nor further in sport neither, than the safety of a poor blush thou mayest in honor come off again” (I.2.23-25). Celia repeatedly relates to Rosalind the hazards of men and particularly the danger of Orlando. When they leave the court, Celia hopes to use the change to strengthen her power. But she doesn’t realize that her only source of power over Rosalind was in her father’s court (120).

Celia is two people – meek and mild when others are around and controlling when only she and Rosalind are present. For example, after the mock marriage is finished and Orlando is gone, Celia castigates Rosalind almost to the point of a physical attack. Celia threatens to remove Rosalind’s clothing and reveal her private parts. She uses the words “head” and “nest” which are slang words for her genitals. She also verbally twists Rosalind’s bottomless love into a reference to a bottomless vagina –basically calling Rosalind a whore (120-121).

Celia’s stinging words and foul behavior causes Rosalind’s rejection. She realizes through Rosalind’s spoken intent to sigh until Orlando returns that the physical access to Rosalind’s body is to be had by Orlando and not herself (121). When Celia unexpectedly appears engaged to Oliver, everyone but his brother, Orlando, rejoices. Orlando dubiously asks “Is’t possible that on so little acquaintance you should / like her? That but seeing, you should love her? And loving,/ woo? And wooing she should grant?(Tvordi’s emphasis) (V.2.1-3). Tvordi assesses Celia’s situation arguing that “rather than offer Celia’s verbal compliance to heterosexual norms, which might acknowledge Oliver as a satisfactory substitute for Rosalind, the play offers Celia’s silent compliance to the inevitability of marriage” (121)

In interpreting the play on the basis of the research, there are three possible interpretations on how Celia and Rosalind’s relationship might be interpreted. One would be a simple straightforward friendship. The verbosity of Celia might be interpreted by her position of comfort in the court as her home with her father. Rosalind’s relative reticence is due to her loss of her father’s presence. When the women leave the court, the change in Rosalind is because of her new freedom both from the court and freedom as a man. Celia is miffed because she hasn’t the same freedom and because Rosalind is spending more time with Orlando and becomes more verbal due to happiness. Celia’s outbursts of displeasure are downplayed as that of a spoiled immature woman-child. Her involvement with Oliver is simply not shown because of pacing of the play and dramatic effect. At the end of the play, the relationship has changed because they have gone from maids to matrons.

A second interpretation involves a power struggle between the women with Celia wielding more power on Rosalind but having little influence on her father. Celia’s plan is necessitated by Rosalind’s banishment and because she sees herself as away from her father’s power. Complications arise because of Ganymede’s newfound male freedom and her involvement with Orlando. Celia’s silence and displeasure is mild and is tempered by her betrothal to Oliver who is her new person to control. The women’s friendship is salvageable.

The third and most drastic interpretation of the play would involve the homoerotic aspect. Celia is aggressive in her pursuit of Rosalind as erotic love object while Rosalind does not recognize Celia’s bent of mind and is distracted by the handsome virile Oliver. Celia suggests the flight because she truly loves Rosalind and hopes that getting away into the country would facilitate her plans. Rosalind’s decision to dress as a man displeases Celia. After all, she is only attracted to women. She withdraws into a brooding silence. When Rosalind begins to see Orlando as a love interest, Celia finds it hard to hide her jealousy. The scene between the women after the mock marriage is fueled by Celia’s jealousy and escalates to a physical and emotional abuse of Rosalind. Celia acts as an enraged jealous suitor and Rosalind is aghast at the intensity of Celia’s negative emotions and ends the friendship. Celia becomes engaged to Oliver because he is Orlando’s brother and she would have a chance of seeing Celia again. The marriage also represents inevitability for Celia.

The third interpretation would be a fascinating experimental production but a difficult one to cast and direct. In addition it needs a receptive and open-minded audience.

Works Cited

Calvo, Clara. “In Defense of Celia: Discourse Analysis and Women’s Discourse in As You Like It.” Essays and Studies 47 (1994): 91 – 115.

Carlson, Susan. “Women in As You Like It: Community, Change, and Choice.” Essays in Literature 14, 2 (1987 Fall): 151 – 159.

Keel, Gilchrist. “ ‘Like Juno’s Swans’: Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It. Conference of College Teachers of English Studies 56 (1991 Sept): 5 – 11.

Martin, Louis. “As She Liked It: Rosalind as Subject.” Pennsylvania English 22,1 – 2 (2000 Fall-Spring):91 – 96.

Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Norton Shakespeare Comedies. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York: Norton, 1997. 594-651.

Shaw, Fiona, and Juliet Stevenson. “Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It.” Jackson, Russell ed. intro., Robert Smallwood ed. Players of Shakespeare II: Further Essays in Shakespearean Performance. New York: Cambridge UP, 1988. 55 – 71.

Tvordi, Jessica. “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night.” Frye, Susan ed. and intro., Robertson, Karen ed. and intro., Howard, Jean E. after word; Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s alliances in Early Modern England. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 114 – 130.