We are on a road trip to nowhere, with no end in sight. Today I went shopping, did my gym class with Daisy and Erin, and baked brownies. I shopped at the Biocop, wtih organic food, and I bought grape juice, yogurt, honey, and eggs. Yesterday, all day, I had a leg of wild boar in the slow cooker with homemade barbecue sauce, and tonight we’ll have the pulled wild boar meat with mashed potatoes. The meat is fork-tender and yummy. Brownies for desert. Hurrah!
I also spent a couple hourse on the balcony enjoying the sun and reading. I have started to read “As You Like It”, by Shakespeare, and it took me all morning to get through the introduction and prologue because it was so fascinating, and because I really don’t know anything about Shakespeare’s plays – especially this one. I have seen the play; I even have the DVD by Kenneth Brannagh, and enjoyed it (except for the Japanese theme in the beginning which always threw me), and now, reading the play, I think he made a mistake there but, hey – to each his own.
What is interesting about this play at this particular time is the context. Shakespeare wrote this play in the 1590’s, when England was going through a period of stress. Politically, things were stable, but “plagues and bad harvest were compounded by the dearth caused by the pursuit of gain […] and by landlords and usurers evicting or buying out their tenants from their holdings.”* So there was a plague, food was scarce, and a ‘for profit’ mentality had begun to take hold that would shake the world order, starting with the rural dwellers, the farmers, and the small land owners.
This play can be seen as through a social magnifying glass – the nobles, the peasants, the myth (and distortion) of pastoral life – seen so often through the eyes of the wealthy who used the country as a sort of ‘fantasy’, the fantasy of the rich who imagine the shepherd or farmer as living in leisure while they work hard in the city. So the play takes place in a forest (in the most imaginary sense of the word) and the characters mostly come from the court (city). Everyone in the play is pretending to be someone else, women pretend to be men, men pretend to be women, nobles play the peasant, and the peasants are fine-spoken and polite. It’s an easy play to watch on the surface – but it demands a closer look. Shakespeare was a genius at showing people as they really are – no matter what disguises they wear.
As You Like It is a play within a play. It’s set in a political frame that pits ethical systems against status systems, and Shakespeare is enough of a cynic to make it clear in the end that no matter if the story ends well, it is a happily ever after riddled with “if’s”. As Hymen concludes, “If truth holds true contents” (5.4.114). Shakespeare knew he was living in the end of an era. This is surely one of his most joyous yet most pessimistic plays.
If you want to learn more, here is Dr Daniel Swift, giving an interesting lectureabout the play.
*John Walter and Keith Wrightson, Dearth and the social order in early modern England.