I’ve been rather wrought low over the last couple of days, so I did not even read my Shakespeare. This was an act of folly, since he makes everything better.
I’m back now, coming to the end of As You Like It, and, as usual, Rosalind gets the dazzling lines. I think Shakespeare really loved her. She is one of the creations he had the most fun with.
Pray you, no more of this; 'tis like the howling
of Irish wolves against the moon.
With my writer’s hat on, I observe that it is the use of ‘Irish’ in that line which makes it dazzle and dance. If those wolves had been any old wolves, they would not have jumped off the page in the way they do. Sometimes, it is one word that makes all the difference.
Finally, Orlando, who is, if I am being very carping, a tiny bit under-written, gets a universal verity:
I sometimes do believe, and sometimes do not;
As those that fear they hope, and know they fear.
I’d completely forgotten what a good character Touchstone is. I love this little summation:
I have trod a measure; I have flattered
a lady; I have been politic with my friend, smooth
with mine enemy; I have undone three tailors; I have
had four quarrels, and like to have fought one.
I have undone three tailors! That is the shaft of absolute genius. Poor undone tailors, what did they ever do to deserve it?
And if the tailors were not enough, Touchstone really gets into his stride, like a champion racehorse coming into the home straight:
I did dislike the
cut of a certain courtier's beard: he sent me word,
if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the
mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous.
If I sent him word again 'it was not well cut,' he
would send me word, he cut it to please himself:
this is called the Quip Modest. If again 'it was
not well cut,' he disabled my judgment: this is
called the Reply Churlish. If again 'it was not
well cut,' he would answer, I spake not true: this
is called the Reproof Valiant. If again 'it was not
well cut,' he would say I lied: this is called the
Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie
Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.
I can almost see Shakespeare as he wrote this, his face filled with glee, thinking: bugger it, I’m just going to have some fun.
Then of course they all get married and the cross duke stops being cross and the deposed duke is restored to his estate and all is joy and light. Everyone gets what they want. It is the happiest of happy endings, all tied up in a pretty bow, all done in the twinkling of an eye. And clever Rosalind gets the very last word:
It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue;
but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord
the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs
no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no
epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes,
and good plays prove the better by the help of good
epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am
neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with
you in the behalf of a good play! I am not
furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not
become me: my way is to conjure you; and I'll begin
with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love
you bear to men, to like as much of this play as
please you: and I charge you, O men, for the love
you bear to women--as I perceive by your simpering,
none of you hates them--that between you and the
women the play may please. If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased
me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I
defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good
beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my
kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.