By Philippa Kelly, Resident Dramaturg, November 2023
These words above are spoken by Duke Senior in As You Like It. Betrayed and banished by his brother, expelled from both his home and his beloved daughter, and stripped of his authority, he’s able, nonetheless, to welcome other exiles to his meagre forest feast. It may seem astonishing that the exiled “king of the court,” left with nothing and almost no one from his former life, is not consumed with vengeance, or at the very least with the will to get back what was stolen. How many of us would be the same?
Change is one of the most difficult parts of life to accept – and yet living a life involves inevitable change and constant loss, no matter how much money we earn or stature we gain. But (and there’s a very big but here…) Duke Senior finds that loss can impel him to peel back the curtains of life and uncover its mysteries; and that loss actually can be gain. It’s only through loss that he finds “books in the running brooks” and “Sermons in stones” – fulfilment, in other words, in parts of the world that have lain out there, quietly waiting to be discovered by him. If he hadn’t been exiled, Duke Senior might never have experienced these wonders of feeling and perception for himself. Change, loss, exile, do indeed occasion regret, and often justifiable anger – but they also offer the chance to “feelingly persuade [us] who [we are.]”
This may seem a strange sentiment to be sharing while the world is burning up, not to mention being engulfed in two major wars and many other struggles that don’t make the news cycle. But let’s not be Jaques in As You Like It, sighing lengthily that everything is in decay and there’s nothing new in the universe and that joy is just an illusion. Let’s embrace Jacques for the lugubrious misanthrope he is – we have love enough for him and everyone. Even the bad guys in As You Like It – Frederick and Oliver – are given the chance to see the world anew. It’s never too late to embrace change. It’s never too late to see feelingly, and to experience the joys of giving. Duke Senior, shivering by the running brook and yet rejoicing in the sunlight, and the blind old Earl of Gloucester making his way across a stormy heath, show us this. It’s when they see “feelingly” that they see truly: what they’ve been blind to, and what really matters.
Support Cal Shakes’ production of As You Like It: https://calshakes.org/northstarfund/