The dynamics of relationships in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”

Katie Whipple

“Pronounce that sentence on me, my liege. I cannot live out of her company”(Shakespeare quoted in Norton Anthology 1611). Who made these remarks about the dear Rosalind, was it Celia, the one whom she calls ‘coz’, or is Orlando the man that she is in love with? The question then becomes if Celia said these words what was her meaning. Is it that Celia is attracted to Rosalind as more than a friend or is this just an example of the female friendships of the time? This is a look at the different dynamics of relationships during the Renaissance. Those relationships of female friends, male bonding and homoeroticism in “As You Like It”.

During the Renaissance the friendship between females was very important. At this time in history there came a time when a woman was no longer considered attractive to a man. When she reaches this point the friendship that she forms between herself and another female takes the place of a marriage. “The female friendship seems to appear in a specifically social form of female chastity which revises the characteristic masculinity of friendship rhetoric in the period” (Shannon 658). An example of the friendship that exists between Celia and Rosalind in “As You Like It” can be found in Act 3 scene 4 lines 1-5:

Rosalind: Never talk to me. I will weep.”

Celia: Do, I prithee, but yet have the grace to consider that tears do not become a man

Rosalind: But have I not cause to weep?

Celia: As good cause as one would desire; therefore weep

(Shakespeare quoted in the Norton Anthology 1634)

In this conversation Celia takes on the masculine role even though it is Rosalind that is dressed as a man. Celia is very strong at a point in the play where Rosalind is facing some emotional troubles. As the more masculine of the two at this time, Celia tells Rosalind that maybe she should reconsider crying if she is trying to be a man. One can see the intense friendship that Celia and Rosalind share in the passage when Celia agrees that Rosalind does have a good reason to cry. The bond that is between female friends is analogous to the autonomy valorized in ideal male friendships (Shannon 658). Celia and Rosalind’s friendship can also be example of the phenomenon of female friendship. The phenomenon of the female friendship that is so elusive in the writings of the Renaissance appears as an extraordinary dramatic effect, linking marriage and tyranny and enhancing the otherwise familiar disapprobation towards the absolute power of the patriarchal society (Shannon 658).

The bonding between males is something that is not an obvious in the writings of the Renaissance as other types of relationships. It has been noted that the structures of a patriarchal society have an “obligatory homosexuality” built in the male dominated kinship systems (Sedgwick 3). It is apparent in “As You Like It” that there is a bond between Adam and Orlando. The question is whether this bond is that of male bonding, master/servant, or homoerotic. The relationship really can’t be categorized as homosexual because at no point in the play is there any actions taken in that manner. In Act 2 scene 3 Adam and Orlando are discussing Orlando’s money issues. Adam offers his support in lines 39-41: “But do not so. I have five hundred crowns, the thrifty hire I saved under your father” (Shakespeare quoted in the Norton Anthology 1615). Found further in the scene Adam asks Orlando to take him with him on the journey. In line 54 Adam states “Let me go with you, I’ll do the service of a younger man in all your business and necessities” (Shakespeare quoted in the Norton Anthology 1615). Is the reason that Adam is so adamant about joining Orlando merely based on the years that he has served with the family or is there a stronger bond between the two. Later in the conversation Orlando is excited that Adam will give is services to Orlando without compensation. In line Orlando proclaims: “When service sweat for duty, not for meed!” (Shakespeare quoted in the Norton Anthology 1615). Orlando decides that he will take Adam with him as a companion. In lines 67-69 Orlando says “We’ll go along together, and ere we have thy youthful wages spent we’ll light upon some settled low content” (Shakespeare quoted in the Norton Anthology 1615). Orlando’s eagerness to take Adam with him may be due to greed or Orlando’s fear of being alone or possibly there is something between them that is hidden in the patriarchal structures of relationship.

The idea of homoeroticism is not something new it is something that was quite prevalent in Shakespeare’s writings. Not only is there evidence of homoeroticism in “Twelfth Night” but also in many of Shakespeare’s sonnets. One question is if there is really homoeroticism in “As You Like It”. One passage in the play causes critics to take different sides pertaining to the meaning behind the words. The passage is Celia’s speech about her relationship with Rosalind in Act 1 scene 3 lines 63-70:

“I did not entreat to have her stay. It was your pleasure, and your own remorse. I was too young that time to value her, but now I know her. If she be a traitor, why, so am I. We still have spelt together, Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together, and whersoe’er we went, like Juno’s swans still we went coupled and inseparable.”

(Shakespeare quoted in Norton’s Anthology 1610).

Valerie Traub argues in her work “The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England” that Celia’s speech is “emotionally and erotically compelling as anything spoken in the heteroerotic moments” (Traub 257). Traub states, “ Even before Rosalind’s incarnation as the saucy youth, Ganymede, it is the ‘feminine’ Celia that urges Rosalind to ‘love no man in good earnest’ (1.2.26) (Traub 257). The argument is made that the relationship between Celia and Rosalind is exceptional in quantity and but unexceptional in type (Traub 257). It is not only the audience that notices the relationship shared by Rosalind and Celia but other characters notice as well. Charles and Le Beau describe the love in Act 1 scene 2 line 244 as “dearer than the natural bond of sisters” (Shakespeare quoted in Norton Anthology 1609). Nathaniel Strout disagrees with Traub. In his work “As You Like It, Rosalynde and Mutuality” he argues that the relationship between Celia and Rosalind is merely the affections of a cousin (Strout 277). The convention of a cross-dressed heroine in early modern drama also seems to represent same-sex attraction (Walen 411). When other female characters encouraged women in male disguise it signified attraction (Walen 411). Cross dressing is not only a convention used by Shakespeare but a convention that is found in roughly thirty plays written between 1580-1660 to construct scenarios of female homoerotic desire (Walen 411). Although most of the attention is on the relationship between Celia and Rosalind there is also another character that is part of both homoerotic situations but also heteroerotic at the same time (Walen 421). Phoebe’s desire for Ganymede is hetererotic for her but at the same time the audience knows that it is a woman that Phoebe is directing her desire to (Walen 421). “Although Shakespeare’s plays presume to break heterosexual authority by presenting a mutual attraction and Rosalind’s affection for Orlando is given textural precedent, they manipulate character and story to fashion a homoerotic tension between the actual and the perceived” (Walen 421).

As one can observe the relationships that are represented in “As You Like It” are as complicated as the love triangles that are formed. Whether the true gender of a character is known or unknown the erotic thoughts are still present. It is a difficult situation to state if a relationship is truly erotic or if it is only the views that our modern society is placing on it. A society in which sex sells and it doesn’t matter who the relationship is between.


Works Cited

Sedgwick, Eve. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York. Columbia Univ. Press1985

Shannon, Laurie. Emilia's Argument: Friendship and 'Human Title' in The Two Noble Kinsmen. ELH 64.3 (1997) 657-682

Strout, Nathanial. As You Like It, Rosalynde, and Mutuality. SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 41.2 (2001) 277-295

Traub, Valerie. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.2 (2001) 245-263

Walen, Denise. Constructions of Female Homoerotics in Early Modern Drama. Theatre Journal 54.3 (2002) 411-430