As You Like It, Act I

Scene 1

At the outset, we encounter Orlando, an English spelling of the French hero named Roland (of Chanson de Roland, or the “Song of Roland”, the great French heroic poem from the reign of Charlemagne) bemoaning his state of affairs to the family servant Adam in an orchard. The setting is far from the court in a country estate, and news of the court does not come well -the old Duke Ferdinand is banished by his younger brother and has taken up in the forest of Arden with a band of merry men like Robin Hood. The new Duke Frederick has claimed the lands of the Duke Ferdinand’s loyalists so he lets them wander. The time period is unknown, it is perhaps a-temporal, though through textual evidence we can conclude the setting takes place after Robin Hood during a time in which France and England live well together in a mythic context, devoid of Christian allegory but rife with allusions to classical antiquity.

As with other Shakespearean plays, Shakespeare steals much of the story from another playwright, in this case Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde. In Lodge’s play, the setting of the opening scene is explicitly in an apple orchard.

A good play to compare with As You Like It is King Lear. Consider that at the opening of King Lear we are concerned with the perpetuation of the perfect regime. King Lear has united the kingdoms and is attempting to divide his kingdom in a way that is fitting for the future, to ensure a lasting regime. His enemies are subdued and two of his daughters are set to be married to noblemen, and he decides to divide the kingdom unequally between his daughters, with preference given to his chosen daughter, Cordelia. However, the much-discussed “love-test” to which he subjects his daughters fails and Lear is left to the extremities of his kingdom, seeking out the nature of men and kings. However, in As You Like It, we find that the patriarch has already died -Rowland de Boys (or “of the woods”) and, according to the youngest son, Orlando, Oliver, the eldest brother, is giving all of the fruits of their father’s bequest to Jacques, the middle son, while Orlando receives no education. Curiously, Orlando identifies education with “profit” and “gain” -has Jacques “profited” from his education? To what extent might he be worse for his education? His character only appears in Act 5, scene 4. While King Lear is a tragedy about the retreat of a court into nature, As You Like It is a flattering pastoral comedy of the same kind.

However, Orlando desires his portion of the inheritance in order to become a “gentleman” and Oliver bitterly relents, giving Orlando “some part of [the] will” (1.1, 70-75), only after Orlando has physically grabbed Oliver by the throat. Orlando is not afraid to use force if necessary. He is not merely concerned with profit for its own sake, but Orlando is also more physically fit than his brother, capable of overtaking him rather than persuading him. Enter the wrestler Charles who informs Oliver that Orlando plans to come in disguise to challenge Charles, for he would not have been old enough to compete, and Oliver commands Charles take down Orlando in the wrestling match, because Orlando is a “villain”. In private confession, Oliver states that he hates nothing more than Orlando, though he doesn’t know why. We are exposed to Oliver’s resentment for his brother by acknowledging that he is “gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved…” (1.1, 155-160). Yet still he would like to kill his brother in his rage, and resents his natural talents and favorability. As Orlando’s name suggests, he is chivalric or gentlemanly by nature.

Shakespeare is a classical writer, devoted to holding up a mirror to nature rather than providing a kind of salvation for mankind to relive its “estate” or the burdens of life, unlike the project other moderns like Francis Bacon or Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Romantic followers. He exposes nobility, baseness, villainy, and heroism for the audience to consider, as pure contemplation is one of the highest Aristotelian virtues. One can make the argument that Shakespeare has a civilizing effect on his audience, as the goal of identifying a common virtue and a common vice is also the highest end of civilization.

Scene 2

We meet Rosalind (“beautiful rose” or rosa linda in Spanish), daughter of the banished Duke Ferdinand, as she lugubriously laments her “estate” to her cousin Celia (meaning “heavenly”) who is the daughter of the usurping Duke Frederick. She tries to tell Rosalind that she must love Duke Frederick for he will include Rosalind in his estate. In order to reverse her melancholy state, Rosalind decides to “devise sports” such “falling in love”. Celia advises Rosalind not to love a man “in good earnest” (2.1, 50-60). Instead Celia advises that they mock the blind lady Fortune, who does not distribute fate equally, to which Rosalind disagrees and claims that she refers to Nature rather than Fortune. Fortune gives gifts of the world, while Nature is organic.

Touchstone enters (a smooth rock used to test whether a rock is of quality gold or silver), but they are distracted discussing the merits of fools until Le Beau,a courtier, tells them that they are missing much of the sport but can still catch the end. Le Beau points to three able bodies brothers who were killed or left with broken ribs at the hands of Charles. Touchstone says it is hardly a sport for ladies but Rosalind asks that they watch the violent and dangerous sport. When she first sees Orlando, she notices how he is too “young” but he also looks “successfully”. Upon speaking to the ladies, Orlando says he has no friends and nothing in the world, so his death would not be a loss in the match. Charles taunts Orlando, and Orlando throws Charles, knocking him out or possibly killing him, either way rendering him incapacitated. Astonished, Duke Frederick asks who Orlando is, to which he responds that he is the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys. Dismayed, Duke Frederick (the usurping Duke) notes that the “world esteemed thy father honorable” but Duke Frederick still found hime an “enemy” (1.2, 214-215).

Neither Duke Frederick nor Oliver recognize natural greatness, meritocratic values. Both resent those who are excellent and successful because of prejudices or past transgressions. Is Shakespeare showing us the character of the tyrant?

An argument can be made that the moment Rosalind and Orlando find love is when she places her necklace round his neck and he claims “my better parts are all thrown down, and that which here stands up is but a quintain (a dummy wooden post used in jousting), a mere lifeless block” -the first of many connections between wrestling and falling in love. At the same moment Rosalind claims that her ‘pride fell with her fortunes’ and that he has ‘overthrown more than his enemies’.

To make mention of the many homoerotic undertones of the play, the love between Rosalind and Celia (who is taller) are described as unique. For example, their loves are described by Le Beau, the courtier, as “dearer than the natural bonds of sisters”.

Le Beau warns Orlando of the usurping Duke Frederick’s intent to be rid him and also his jealous wrath towards Rosalind due to the people’s praise of her virtues and their pity for the loss of her father. Le Beau bids Orlando farewell: “hereafter in a better world than this I shall desire more love and knowledge of you” (1.2, 273-274).

Scene 3

The final scene of Act I opens with Celia trying to reason away Rosalind’s affection and Rosalind swooning madly over Orlando.

Suddenly, Duke Frederick enters in a fury and demands that Rosalind leave his court. If she is not gone in 10 days, she shall be put to death. Rosalind asks once what she has done, and the Duke responds that he does not trust her, she claims that mistrust alone is not a punishable offense, and the Duke responds that she is her father’s daughter and that is enough to banish her. Once again, Rosalind responds that “treason is not inherited”. Celia also tries to persuade her father stating that she and Rosalind have been like Juno’s swans and have slept together -doing everything together- therefore she must also be accused of treason. However Duke Frederick notes how the people value Rosalind’s “silence and patience” and he calls his daughter a “fool” for she will “seem” more virtuous to the people. Duke Frederick is always concerned with his image among the people, in desiring his daughter to appear more virtuous rather than behave virtuously in earnest. Celia states she cannot live without the company of Rosalind.

In grief Rosalind and Celia decide to retreat to the forest of Arden to find Duke Ferdinand. Celia will cover herself with dirt to look like a peasant and Rosalind, since she is tall, will dress like a man to be called “Jove’s own page”, Ganymede (who was a Trojan shepherd boy swept up by Jove disguised as an Eagle to serve as his cupbearer and attendant). While Celia will be called Aliena (meaning “stranger”). The purpose of their disguises are for protection -Rosalind becomes the homoerotic disguise of a boy called Ganymede and heavenly Celia becomes a stranger. Celia also notes that this will help as she will no doubt be trailed by members of the court. Lastly, Celia decides to “woo” Touchstone the “Clowne” into joining them: “Now we go in content to liberty and not to banishment” (1.3, 134-135). Why does Celia even suggest they bring the clown with them? Could it have some relationship to their discussion Fortune and Nature in Scene 2? Or could it be connected to the fact that her father called her a “fool” twice before banishing Rosalind. It should be noted that he never explicitly banishes Celia.


Thucydides on Greek Origins

At the outset of Thucydides’s “archaeology” of the Peloponnesian War, the greatest “motion” of the city yet seen by either the Hellenes or barbarians or also possibly of all mankind, including the ancient Trojan War, Thucydides provides many opportunities for wonder. Pointing to later thinkers, like Hobbes, Thucydides gives an account of how the Hellenes came to be.

The early peoples of Hellas were not settled, uprooted like the Scythians of the Steppes as discussed in Herodotus. Tribes of fewer numbers were compelled by tribes of larger numbers -the rule of force reigned supreme in this “state of nature”. Men did not plant and grow food because settlements were frequently pirated, and men only cultivated the necessities of life devoid of capital or commerce. Therefore there was heavy competition among the tribes over fertile regions like Boetia or the Peloponnesus. These fertile regions caused certain individuals to seek enrichment, except in Attica where the soil was relatively poor and where many victims of war sought refuge until Attica could no longer maintain them all and they sought out colonies in Ionia.

According to Thucydides, the ancients were weak and barbarous, like the men of the Homeric epics. All of life was devoted to war, and like in Vico, we find the early cities established by the patriarch who provided shelter to the rootless many through both his virtue and wealth. The old Hellenes are like the modern barbarians in that life is governed by the superior rule of force. For example, in Thucydides’s opinion, Agamemnon’s ability to compel the Argives was less due to his oath of Tyndareus and more so to do with his superior strength (his vast navy). Fear was at least as strong as love in the Trojan expedition under Agamemnon, and Chaos and tyranny, rather than freedom, ruled the lives of the early Hellenic peoples. Slowly hereditary monarchies degenerated into tyrannies as wealth grew for the Hellenes and new technologies were developed, such as the triremes that might have originated from the Corcyrans.

“Again, wherever there were tyrants, their habit of providing simply for themselves, of looking solely to their own personal comfort and family aggrandizement, made safety the great aim of their policy, and prevented anything great proceeding from them; though they would each have their affairs with their immediate neighbors” (1.17).

It was Sparta that would eventually put down the tyrannies thanks to their long-lasting regime free from tyranny for over 400 years, supported by Athens (Note: this is distinct from the Athenian account of their victory without the help of Sparta who was busy at a religious festival when the Medes invaded). After the repulsion of the Medes (Persians), the Hellenes split into two factions: the Spartans, the chief military power of the Hellenes who established their regime by building loyal oligarchies at each polis under their protection, and the Athenians, the democracy and naval power who imposed monetary tributes on their subordinate city-states. However, Thucydides is critical of Athens, the first city to embrace a relaxed and luxurious style of life. Thucydides muses on the distinctions between Spartan and Athenian culture -while he maintains the superiority of the Spartans, he also imagines that years from now the ruins of Athens will be looked upon as greater than those of Sparta. He states that while many accept the account of the origins of the Peloponnesian War to be the breaking of the peace treaty between Athens and the Peloponnesians, Thucydides claims the chief cause must be the alarming growth of Athens that Sparta found threatening.

In a dispute between the Corcyrans and the Corinthians, both request aid from Athens, but Athens chooses Corcyra by providing defensive naval support. This threatens Sparta and her allies. Corinth attacks Sparta for allowing the Athenian tyranny to spread, and the Athenians try to self-righteously defend their actions.

It should be noted that Thucydides gives an account of the Hellenes -a city in “motion”, i.e. at war. Socrates calls for this in the Timaeus, the Platonic dialogue immediately following the Republic, and a similar account of Hellenic origins and decay is given in the Laws. In the same way that Plato uses the particular to explore the universal, i.e. the life and death of Socrates, so Thucydides uses the particular -the “great motion” of the war between Sparta and Athens, to explore the universal. However unlike the philosopher, Thucydides’s horizon extends only as far as the city, not in speech but in motion. That is, his history is an account the particular cities in situations that have already come to pass in an effort to proceed to a better account of the good and just city.

For this reading I used the impeccable Landmark edition by businessman turned classical scholar, Robert B. Strassler.

Darius and the New Persian Regime

In Book III of Herodotus’s Inquiries, we encounter a problem among the Persians. The untimely death of the insane king Cambyses has led to a power vacuum filled by the corrupt Magi. When the Persians finally instill a revolt against the Magi, a conspiracy of seven men decides to storm the palace and regain power. However, the problem remains for the future of Persia: what form of government should be established? How will it be decided? What is the most just regime?

The first to declare the best means forward, Otanes, encourages the men to place the government in the hands of all Persians, a democracy. He says this in reaction to a monarchical form of government wherein the regime is neither “pleasant nor good,” and as justification he reminds the men of the terrible monarchs, Cambyses and the Magus, to demonstrate that a Monarchy is unnatural and short lived. Additionally, in presenting his case, Otanes asks: how could a monarchy be coherent and harmonious when the ruler is accountable to no one? Otanes seeks for accountability and a more pleasant regime. He makes the claim that even the “best of men” will go insane by the immense amount of power placed in him, which spawns envy and arrogance, in which all evil lies, and human nature is incapable of overcoming these in the position of a tyrant. However, the rule of the majority has the most “beautiful” name of all -Equality. All actions are drawn by lot and are held accountable by the many, everything is held to an audit. Nothing is left unseen. The masses can become like Gyges and see the truth. Therefore, Otanes proposes elevating the masses of men to a ruling position, because “in the many is the whole”. As is the nature of democracy, or a rule of the people, Otanes is concerned primarily with numbers. Like the shape of a square, he longs for a mathematical equality that can be apportioned to the “whole” so as to present a safe option that does not risk corruption.

Next, Megabyzos, defends an oligarchic regime. He agrees with Otanes’s criticism of a monarchy, however he states that nothing can be more worthless than an effectual mob, which is the natural tendency of democracy. In escaping the arrogance of a tyrant, the Persians must not seek salvation in the undisciplined and uneducated common people (here, Megabyzos employs the word demos meaning common people or demes, districts located outside the center of the polis, the Acropolis. Otanes had previously employed the use of plethos, meaning a majority or koinon meaning the authority of the public or the common people). Megabyzos accuses the masses of men of behaving like an undiscerning torrent -this is a good option for the enemies of the Persians but not for the best of men among the Persians. He ends his apologia stating that the present company will be included among the future oligarchs, in the rule of the few.

Finally, Darius comes forth in defense of a Monarchy. In his central argument, he asks the men to consider the best possible regime for each -democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy. Undoubtedly the perfect man, the best of all men, is the ideal ruler who rules justly, like a philosopher king. In the rule of the few, an oligarchy on the other hand, private men’s quarrels turn to public hostilities as power is grappled for and this naturally results in a monarchy. On the other hand, in a democracy, when the people rule, they will always do so incompetently, so that the people must form compacts or friendships with one another to keep the regime alive until the people elevate one man who they much admire, capable of keeping the regime from collapsing into anarchy. Therefore, democracy necessarily results in a monarchy as does an oligarchy. Both a democracy and an oligarchy must be forcibly instated by means of a revolution, however an oligarchy is the most naturally occurring regime. Darius concludes by providing justification for the regime in that freedom for the Persians came from one man, and they should therefore preserve this inheritance by preserving their own traditional cultural values.

As in the opening sequence of Plato’s Republic wherein Socrates encounters Polemarchus and returns to the house of Cephalus, we are presented with competing visions of a city in speech. The irony of the context in which the men discuss these three regimes, as in the case of the Republic, is that they embody the various regimes. Three of the best men present defenses, putting on trial the three forms of government, however ultimately the new monarchical regime is chosen by casting of lots, Otanes is outvoted. The result is a monarchy that comes under the rule of Darius in Persia, following the rumors of divine circumstances in which lightning breaks the moment his horse whinnies outside the city, as well as subtle lies by Darius and his comrades who rig the situation (as he had alluded to earlier in Book III, foreshadowing his Machiavellian tendencies). Persia, the best polis of the barbarians, has therefore also formed the best politeia.

For this reading I used the impeccable Landmark edition of Herodotus’s Histories by businessman-turned classical scholar Robert B. Strassler.

The Empires of Croesus and Cyrus

The notion of imperial conquest, or the need to build a city that is enduring, is central to the inquiries of Herodotus. What is lasting human greatness? How can we inquire into our shared human past while preserving the question of enduring greatness? What is the just city? Is the just city also an enduring city? These and many other questions are integral to Herodotus’s work.

The first barbarian empire identified in the text is that of the Lydians, inherited from the actions of Gyges, a man who by fate acquired a vast empire. His descendants, Sadyattes and Alyattes, conquered the surrounding territories. When conquering Miletus, they laid siege to the city and nearly burned down every house in order to maintain a slave labor population, the fruits of which they could plunder. The empire of the Lydians comes to us as a tyrannical rule, one that is prone to frequent revolution and attack. A self-conscious rule that destroys the cultures of the people it conquers (see the burning of the temple of Athena, called ‘Asseos’ 1.19). Croesus, the son of Alyattes, inherited this vast kingdom and expanded it into Asia even further, and in his vast splendor, Croesus reclined comfortably in his riches until Solon, the lawmaker of Athens, arrived in his travels at Sardis. When Solon failed to affirm either Croesus’s wealth or his happiness, Croesus grew angry. Croesus asks Solon if he is nothing more than the “common man”. Solon’s advice is to look to the end of a man’s life to discover his true happiness and wealth, otherwise he is merely a lucky man. Thus, if we look to the ends of Croesus’s empire, we find it in decay -his son was killed in a boar hunting accident, and his empire was eventually conquered by Cyrus’s Persian empire. Croesus’s empire had desperately chased after prosperity and happiness at the same time, and tragiclly had found neither. Though Croesus was kept alive as a trusted advisor to Cyrus, it was only because of Croesus’s account of Solon’s visit which he delivered when nearly burned alive by Cyrus.

In contrast, the Persian Empire has its roots in rebellion as Cyrus once overthrew the Medes under Astyagas and claimed kingship. As a result of the war, the Empire lived under constant war and expansion in Cyrus’s 29 year rule from the Medes to the Lydians to Ionia and Babylon. However, unlike the Lydians, the Persians did not subjugate its conquered territories. Client cities were all allowed to adopt and maintain their cultural customs, and in fact, the Persians were liberal enough to assimilate and incorporate the habits and practices of their conquests, as well, unlike the Scythians -a nomadic tribe who ruthlessly ruled Asia for a brief two decades but collapsed as they did not integrate any new customs into their tribe and also failed to establish an enduring regime. However, Cyrus was often praised by his conquered peoples, earning him the moniker of “The Great”. Elsewhere in the Biblical Book of Isaiah, Cyrus is referred to by the subjugated Jews as the “Annointed One” (Isaiah 45:1). He was remembered for his empire that did not force Persian influence upon its conquered territories, but rather adopted the various cultures, unlike the forced subjugation of the Scythians wo were a nomadic group without a connection to place.

For this reading I used the impeccable Landmark edition of Herodotus’s Histories by businessman-turned classical scholar Robert B. Strassler.