Shakespeare's As You Like It - The Romantic Love of Silvius and Phebe


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As You Like It:  The Romantic Love of Silvius and Phebe

 

There are several types of love depicted in Shakespeare's As You Like It.  One variety of love portrayed in this comedy is romantic love, the romantic literary ideal which became popular in the Middle Ages. According to the courtly love tradition a lover worships his lady and serves her, suffers all sorts of indignities for her sake, and thinks only of her. He must be loyal to her for life, no matter how badly she treats him, or how much he suffers for unrequited love. A true lover never ceases to adore his lady, and when he speaks of her he only uses poetic language and style. These conventions of courtly love are clearly exemplified in As You Like It in the romantic attachment of Silvius and Phebe.

When Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone arrive in the forest of Arden they meet Silvius and Corin, an old shepherd, who are engaged in a conversation about love. Corin is advising his friend on how to treat the woman he loves. However, Silvius doubts the old shepherd's authority in such matters, for although Corin admits having been drawn into acts of madness for the sake of love during his youth, he cannot recall any of them. Silvius clearly manifests that if Corin has forgotten even the most insignificant detail of the actions love made him run into, then he has never been truly in love. Even more, Silvius also explains that a true lover never ceases to adore his lady in speech, even if this moves his listener to discomfort, and further explains that sincere love may drive a lover to interrupt a conversation out of passion. To prove this last point, Silvius suddenly interrupts his speech passionately crying the name of Phebe, his beloved, several times.

Silvius reflects the behavior of the courtly lover, who is capable of the most foolish actions for the sake of his beloved, and who suffers the pangs of unrequited love and the abrupt separation from his lady. His only concern is love and, although he is uneducated, his language is lofty, poetic, and artificial when he speaks in praise of Phebe. Indeed, both Phebe and Silvius speak in elaborate verse in order to comply with the courtly love conventions. In their courtship, Silvius praises her virtues and begs for the slightest sign of affection, and Phebe scorns and rejects him all along.

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This romantic and artificial attitude towards love was often portrayed in pastoral romantic literature, and Silvius an Phebe were names often given to the lovers in such genre. Thus, it may be said that Silvius and Phebe represent stock characters, the typical characters in pastoral romances who acted out the conventions of the courtly love tradition.

It may further be argued that As You Like It presents a parody of romantic love, achieved mainly through the character of Touchstone, who constantly mocks Silvius's behavior. When Silvius speaks of the follies a lover may run into, Touchstone, who is more practical rather than romantic, humorously mocks him by listing the foolish actions he has been capable of out of love. He even claims having once kissed the udders of a cow just because his beloved had milked them.

            Some of conventions of romantic love are also acted out, at least at a certain point, by other characters in the comedy. As mentioned before, all four couples fall in love at first sight, an unavoidable tradition in the romantic ideal. Rosalind and Orlando feel infatuated when they first see each other. Later, Orlando continues his courtship in the manner of a courtly lover, writing love poems in praise of Rosalind and feeling lovesick for being separated from her. Despite the fact that Orlando has seen Rosalind only once before, he quickly adopts her as the object of his adoration and devotion. Rosalind, for her part, adopts the same attitude and goes into exile with the image of Orlando as the perfect lover, enough reason to feel lovesick. Celia and Oliver also fall in love at first sight, and although very little can be seen about the nature of their love, for it is not so clearly analyzed in the play, they soon join the other couples in the wedding ceremony.


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