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Among other things, As You Like It is a play about the instability of normative ideas of friendship, sexuality, family, identity, and gender. But as many critics have pointed out, including Valerie Rohy, who you read this week, the play′s ending––the fact that it concludes in marriage––is a conservative one, as it forces its characters into the normative generic conventions of a comedic love plot. As Rohy explains:
The problem lies in any narrative (whether of Shakespearean comedy or of ″ex-gay ministries″) that can have only one conclusion–marriage and the reconstitution of social order–in pursuit of which it both promotes and effectively denies desire′s contingency. This paradox of determinism and possibility resembles what Zizek calls ″the empty gesture,″ whereby ″the subject is ordered to embrace freely, as the result of his choice, what is anyway imposed on him″ (Rohy 58).
Still, as Rohy points out, the play is invested in the possibility of ways of life that are ″defined by neither voluntarism nor subjection″ (59). In this sense, the conclusion remains subject to change. Perhaps this change is why, for William N. West, the events of As You Like It are not really what matters: ″Instead, they are there to create a background against which the characters can reflect on their situations, in love, in society, in family. . . . The most memorable and central parts of As You Like It do not really happen at all, or at least not as we usually imagine events or actions to happen. They are topics for debate″ (As If 19). It would seem that the process of debate, or of thinking and imagining different outcomes, different ways of life, and different kinds of worlds, may in fact be more important in this play than what happens at the end. Even Rohy admits that her own love of Shakespeare′s work was defined in her teenage years by her ″willful elision″ of the plot (60). Her love of the play ″lingered″ on the possibility that ″Rosalind and Celia never left the first act″ (60). Perhaps your own appreciation of Shakespeare′s play will linger on a different possibility.
Your task this week is to choose one character whose meditations, musings, or philosophical ideas posit a world that is not just different but better. What kind of world does this character make? What are the social possibilities that these worlds conjure should they be made real?
Because As You Like It is itself heavily invested in the process of analyzing, imagining, and thinking, your response can be more freely organized and experimental than in the past. Choose a concrete idea or set of ideas presented by one of the characters and try to follow the logic to see where you end up. As Rohy says at the end of her work, she thought her essay was going to be about one thing but it ended up changing form, adding contingencies and complications along the way, and seeming to escape her narrative intentions. You don′t need to end where you thought you′d end when you began writing. As You Like It suggests that is okay.