Comparing Rosalynde and As You Like It


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Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde is an unwieldy piece, the romance is thick, heavy, and conventional. Yet when Shakespeare took it in hand, to rework the tangled web of disguise and romance into As You Like It, he changed much of the emphasis, by both altering and adding characters. Rosalynde is a celebration of love; As You Like It, a philosophical discourse on love..

 

Shakespeare cuts to the chase, eliminating much of the prologue to Rosalynde. We hear of old Sir Roland de Boys (Lodge's John of Bordeaux) only through Orlando's opening speech, not the extended deathbed collection of aphorisms Lodge provides (though this shade of Polonius perhaps influences old Adam's long-winded style). Likewise, the extended ruminations are cut entirely or, for the forest scenes, condensed into tighter dialogue. Lodge's grand tournament, with the jousting prowess of the anonymous Norman (proto-Charles) happens offstage, and we see only a wrestling match. Lodge's usurper favors Rosader after the tournament, but Shakespeare's Frederick spurns Orlando for his parentage and Oliver plots more quickly against his brother, further excising the plot-perambulations of the source and removing the months of tension and reconciliation that plague Saladin and Rosader.

 

But Shakespeare also takes care to lighten his villains, more in the spirit of a playful comedy than Lodge's sometimes grim pastoral. His Charles is relatively innocent, deceived by Oliver rather than entering willingly into his pay (as the Norman does with Saladin). Oliver, in turn, is not such a relentless foe as Saladin: he has no cronies to assist in binding up Orlando, he does not so mistreat his brother before us as happens in Lodge's pastoral. Even the usurper Duke, Torismond/Frederick, does not exile his own daughter in Shakespeare's play (only remonstrating her with "You are a fool"). And he is not killed in battle at the end of the play, but rather converted to a holy life, in much the same fate that Lodge's Saladin plans for himself in remorse ("[I shall] wend my way to the Holy Land, to end my years in as many virtues, as I have spent my youth in wicked vanities." (p.273)).

 

In contrast, Shakespeare darkens his heroes: they are not all the blithe, pastoral folk Lodge paints. Celia's single "Is it not a foul bird that defiles its own nest?" (p. 245) early in Rosalynde becomes Celia's more extended harangue at the end of IV.

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i. -- unlike in Lodge, Celia does not volunteer to marry Orlando and Rosalind, but is rather shanghaied into the task, to her chagrin. Orlando is not nearly as polite in his first appearance to the exiled Duke: "Forbear, and eat no more!" (II.vii.88) is rather more abrupt and impolitic than Rosader's polished and chivalric challenge. Shakespeare's people are more human, with virtues and flaws for all.

Amidst this simplification of Lodge's mass of material, Shakespeare also changes many emphases. Lodge's lovers do little but harangue each other about the legendary inconstancy of the other sex: Rosalind performs her share of carping, but also attacks the overwhelming over-romanticism of Orlando's love. Lodge's plentiful sonnets become objects of ridicule in As You Like It, material for the doggerel imitations of Touchstone's "Sweetest nut hath sourest rind, / Such a nut is Rosalind" (III.ii.109-110). And Rosalind's lessons to Orlando are meant to make him respect that "sour rind," not to put his love on a pedestal for worship. Touchstone and Audrey present raw sexual love, lust instead of romance; Silvius' longings for Phebe show the foolish extreme of Petrarchan love, a losing of the self rather than a finding of the lover, and more worthy of mockery than respect. Rosalind's disguised love-play is not merely a game with hapless Orlando, but an education: he must care enough to keep his promises and appointments, and respect her enough to speak as well as kiss (IV.i.). Orlando's wound is not merely the delay in the plot that Lodge makes it, but the occasion for his proof that the lesson is learned: Oliver's arrival with the bloody napkin shows Orlando's new-found sensibility.

 

Lodge's Rosalynde's characters concern themselves greatly with whether to love: Shakespeare's are more worried with the question of how to love. Rosalind strives for the triumph of rational relationships over heady emotionalism, a romance that will allow the woman to keep her intelligence and dignity intact, but still achieve romantic bliss. No wonder she seems so modern, and pleases so many modern audiences.

 


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