Ask Philippa: As You Like It

ask-philippa-othelloAs You Like It is in some ways Shakespeare’s most ambitious play. It follows a group of exiles—some banished, some running away—all of whom leave home to journey to the forest of Arden, finding en route a new home of sorts.  And then there are the banishers in whose hearts “exile” lives: they are given a chance for renewal and a kind of plentitude that they didn’t know existed. Written in Shakespeare’s mature years just before the great span of tragedies, As You Like It features Rosalind, perhaps his greatest female role to date, a character who would, in another age and time, make a very effective lawyer or theatrical director. Rosalind provokes the other characters —and herself—to consider unshackling themselves from social straitjackets: what’s left behind? What is revealed?

Dr. Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg for the California Shakespeare Theater, is also a professor and author. Her 2010 book, The King and I, a meditation on Australian culture through the lens of King Lear, garnered international praise in its very personal examination of themes of abandonment, loss, and humor).

You can email Philippa at, or post below to ask her a question.

As You Like It begins performances May 24 and continues through June 18. Click here to learn more and buy tickets!

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11 Responses to Ask Philippa: As You Like It

  1. Lee Langley says:

    I love this insight into how these plays come into being on the stage!

  2. philippa M kelly says:

    do you mean banishment, Lee? Banishment is Shakespeare’s great trigger – it is one of the most dreadful human conditions and in fact in many cultures it is considered worse than either beating or other forms of corporal punishment

  3. Mary Anne Urry says:

    Dear Philippa–I just sent this to Eric

    Dear Eric, why can’t Rosalind appear in a fabulous ruffled red coat and dress at the end? The singer Laura Mvula in “that’s all right” on YouTube has one. The actors in “as you like it” are singing her song anyway. I love looking at fabulous costumes in a play!
    You know, it’s funny, I totally misinterpreted that song as a love song. Somebody who loves someone does wonder why the whole universe revolves around that person! I’m thinking of an old lady who spends her whole existence taking care of her husband who has Alzheimer’s. Why? Cuz she loves him!
    Love Mary Anne Urry

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. philippa M kelly says:

    Hello Mary Ann.
    Well, you didn’t get your ruffled red coat, but you did get your red pants. Interestingly, it is quite a moment when we don’t get that reveal of Rosalind back in her dress with the flowing hair. What did you make of this in terms of the character? Did you feel that Rosalind’s transformation was a mask or a finding of someone new inside?

  5. Steve Yeh says:

    Philippa – You were great as usual today. How do you manage to stay always so beautiful?

    Beautiful in spirit. Your lighthearted humor, tender kindness and lovably quirky personality make of Cal Shakes a home.

    Steve Yeh

  6. philippa M kelly says:

    Wow, Steve, I only just saw this. I cannot tell you how much it means to receive a response like this. We speakers go out there, every grove talk its own performance of a small kind, but we absorb ourselves utterly and completely in that 20-minute moment. If ever I find myself slipping out of the world I’m talking about with the audience, even for a moment (say, if an unwelcome thought slips in or someone does something distracting), I feel a sense of being momentarily out in a wilderness alone on a hill. It is the strangest experience. I feel that we humans need others, not just for audience, but to find the capacity to reach the profound parts of ourselves that are clear as a bell for just those moments that we can look at them. Sometimes we can’t even remember it, but we have had that moment and in some way it imprints itself on us. I also think this play is about the uniqueness not of one’s accomplishments or gym shoes – everyone can claim those – but about the uniqueness of an unexpected interaction (a collaboration of sorts) that can transform us as we might never have expected. We might not be transformed forever – but the capacity to do it at all is illuminating and unfathomable. In the play, of course, we don’t see the characters all divorced in five years’ time – we are brought to that magical moment, those four weddings, and it is the mystery of human love unfolding before our eyes. Thank you for writing, Steve.

  7. Michael Biehl says:

    I agree wholly with what Steve Yeh says about Philippa, but I had some serious problems with As You Like It. But first let me say I thought the acting and speaking of the verse were generally outstanding. My complaint: for what discernible reason the director chose a contemporary dystopian setting for the forest of Arden I could not fathom. Her choice completely contradicted the text. Furthermore, I thought the musical numbers were an aesthetic intrusion, and the final number, though well executed, utterly ham-fisted and heavy-handed, effectively ruining the delicacy of the play. Whatever happened to simple music played on a lute? Would a director ever dare do something like that with, say, The Glass Menagerie? No, never, never, never, never, never. So why do directors feel free to get all “high-concepty” with Shakespeare? To “update” him and make him “relevant” to contemporary audiences? If that’s the case, then directors must think modern audiences are imaginatively hobbled. Maybe we are. At this point, I’m almost ready to stop spending money on Shakespeare productions, because almost always nowadays directors are given to these sorts of overbearing maneuvers. I think if directors really wanted to help an audience “get” Shakespeare, the best thing to do would be to take the hundreds of obsolete words and phrases in each play and substitute the modern equivalent, taking great care to disturb the rhythm of the verse as little as possible. Basic incomprehension of the vocabulary is the biggest problem for most people when it comes to The Bard.

  8. Mike Tracy says:

    During the Grove Talk on Saturday you suggested that everyone is changed by going to the forest. I asked you afterwards, “Was Rosalind changed in the forest?” All the other characters from the court were changed, but was she?
    After seeing the play, I am not sure Rosalind was not changed. She did remain in control. She orchestrated the weddings. She tested Orlando. Her love for Orlando did not waver. Did the forest change her? Maybe when Oliver came to her, maybe when she saw the wounds from the lion something changed. I don’t know if she changed. Do you think the forest changed her? How?
    Were the locals changed by the influence of the court? Audrey was changed by Touchstone. Do the locals of the forest treat the court like locals in a tourist town accept and tolerate the seasonal visitors?
    I had one minor point of criticism for this production. I understand the willful suspension of disbelief. I understand that we accept that Orlando does not recognize Rosalind as Ganymede. I accepted the plot device that Orlando is to be tested by Ganymede, by calling him Rosalind. Where I had to stretch my willful dis-believing was when after kissing Ganymede, Orlando did not recognize Rosalind because of their earlier kissing. People kiss uniquely. If he was worldly enough to have kissed a number of women and/or men he would recognize Rosalind. If the kisses with Rosalind and Ganymede were his first it seems he would have some reaction to kissing who he thought was another guy. Orlando not having some kind of reaction was out of character. What was the thought behind adding this kiss to the play?
    And one final question, in the play there is no reconciliation of any sort between Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Is there any reason or history for this? Many of Shakespeare’s comedies go to lengths to make everyone happy and resolved. Was there just not room for a non- love interest reconciliation?

    • philippa M kelly says:

      Hi Mike,
      What a wonderful, rich post. Your first point, the question: is everyone changed in the forest? Perhaps Jaques stays most the same – although in our production he undergoes a change when grabbed by Orlando, and an area of past trauma comes back. (So in our show he does change, or reveal part of his buried self, to himself). But in most productions I think Jaques is the one character to stay very much within the mold of his self-styled world-weariness and his humorous cynicism. I think that Shakespeare uses a forest like he does shipwrecks, storms and heaths – as a metaphor for human transformation. The question I come up with is: are we all capable of change? Certainly, exile is a huge force for change. I think Shakespeare is fascinated by the idea of banishment. I do think that in order to change, we need other people – that we can’t do it alone.

      This brings me to your point 3 – in Shakespeare’s play (we cut this), Frederick undergoes a very sudden late-game change: he suddenly decides to give his brother back his court and lands. But in our version Duke Senior doesn’t want them back – he is quite happy in Arden.

      Your point 2 – the kissing – someone asked Orlando (Patrick) about this in the talkback the other day. He said he thinks he can tell that Ganymede is Rosalind.

  9. philippa M kelly says:

    Hello Michael,

    I really hope you will continue with us. For a start, what would have to write and complain about to your old, trusty on-line friend Philippa? We can’t discuss how bad the weather is! It’s not the same!

    What I love with these productions is the sense that directors are taking words that were written 400 years ago and building them into the architecture of our times.

    By the way, talking of our times – yesterday I happened to be in a bathroom that had a mirror incorrectly placed, so that it actually distorted my reflection. I suddenly thought of the line from Rosalind to Phebe: ‘Sell while you can: you are not for all markets.” A shepherdess in that time would have NO access to any self-reflection except for a piece of tin. Glass mirrors had only been “invented” in their cheaper versions the century before in Germany, so they’d only spread to the court in England. Phebe would have NO idea as to what she looked like – imagine her surprise, then, when Rosalind says that!

    • Michael Biehl says:

      Thank you, Philippa. I also like it when directors take risks (sometimes). I recently saw a production of The Winters Tale, directed by L. Peter Callender for the Afro-American Shakespeare Co. He took a lot of sizeable risks, and for the most part I really enjoyed them. But to exchange the forest of Arden for a dystopian, Mad Max setting, well, what’s the point except perhaps to underscore how ugly we’ve become contrasted with the natural glories of the pre-industrial past? Who needs that?

      I had exactly the same feeling a couple years ago at a concert at Zellerbach at UC Berkeley. The music was Olivier Messiaen’s rapturous, mystical, musical meditation on Bryce Canyon in Utah called “From the Canyon to the Stars.” Incomprehensibly, accompanying the entire performance was a series of visuals depicting a wasteland pitted with rusted out shells of cars, oil derricks, castaway junk of all kinds, and so forth. I could only close my eyes as tight as possible and listen to the music, with an occasional glimpse to see if the assault had ended. But the visual ugliness continued right to the end. Go figure.

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