This coming Friday, December 11, at 7PM, I will be in a Zoom production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. It’s going to be a very interesting performance. Shakespeare over Zoom. Wild. Here’s the link.
This post is not about the performance. It is about the play itself, as written.
I think Shakespeare got lazy.
According to my director, who is something of a Shakespearean scholar, As You Like It was one of his most commercially succesful plays. It is a mad-cap comedy with cross-dressing, violence, and a couple of the more famous soliloquies oiutside of Hamlet. This is where “All the world’s a stage…” comes from, for one thing.
The simple story revolves around Orlando, who is the third son of a rich landowner, but whose oldest brother, Oliver (that’s me!), has not treated him well. Orlando meets Rosalind and is smitten, and vice versa. So Rosalind pretends to be a boy so she can mingle with people, and she again meets Orlando, and they play a game where they pretend the male-Rosalind is a woman named Rosalind and…
O.K. Maybe not so simple.
The plot is obviously not where Shakespeare got lazy. It’s incredibly complex and everything works out perfecetly and it is an example of the man’s brilliance. There are, like, four romanitc relationships he manipulates, fallen Dukes, conspiracies, you name it.
But the names. Oh, the names.
The show starts with a soliloquy from Orlando. Within the first few sentences, he mentions the second brother, Jaques (pronounces Ja-Queese). Later on, we meet a Jaques (pronounces Ja-Queese), but it is NOT the brother, but a completely different character. When the brother Jaques arrives (pronounced Ja-Queese), he is listed as Second Brother.
So already I’m confused.
Then, my character, Oliver. He’s the eldest brother. But later on, there’s another character named Oliver who is a drunk shepeard in a single scene. He’s given a last name, so it’s almost clear he’s a different character, but still. Why two Olivers?
I am baffled. This is not one of Shakespeare’s histories based on real people. It is a comedy. He made this up. He had full licence to name characters whatever he wanted. Why use Jaques and Oliver twice?
And lets talk about the Lords. There is a Duke Frederick and a Duke Senior. They each are attended by Lords. These Lords have lines. Duke Frederick has First Lord and Second Lord. Duke Senior has First Lord and Second Lord. Same names, different characters.
Who does that?
If I do that in my tenth-grade english class, my teacher marks me off, but Shakespeare gets away with it?
The guy was brilliant. Why couldn’t he come up with a few more names? Let Duke Frederick be attended by John and Paul and Duke Senior by George and Ringo. Or even First and Second Lord are with one guy, and Third and Forth Lord with the other. Now understand, you in the audience will never notice the Lord issue (you will certainly notice the Jaques issue, if only because it is pronounces Ja-Queese), but for an actor who has been given some of First Lord’s lines? It gets confusing.
Menawhile, he names a character Hyman. I mean if you can do that, why can’t you pick a few Richards and Biggles and Wadsworths out of your hat?
Ah well, such is the magic of Shakespeare. He gets to be lazy and creates one of his biggest successes that we are still performing 400 years after he’s dead and gone. Enjoy the show!