As You Like It
Act V, scene iv & Epilogue
Summary: Act V, scene iv
Your ‘if’ is the only peacemaker; much virtue in ‘if’.
On the following day, Duke Senior asks Orlando if he believes that Ganymede can do all that he has promised. With them, Oliver, Celia disguised as Aliena, Amiens, and Jaques have gathered to see whether the miracle of multiple marriages will be performed. Rosalind enters in her customary disguise, followed by Silvius and Phoebe. She reminds all parties of their agreements: the duke will allow Orlando to marry Rosalind, if she appears, and Phoebe will marry Ganymede unless unforeseen circumstances make her refuse, in which case she will marry Silvius. Everyone agrees, and Rosalind and Celia disappear into the forest.
While they are gone, Duke Senior notes the remarkable resemblance of Ganymede to his own daughter—an opinion that Orlando seconds. Touchstone and Audrey join the party. Touchstone entertains the company with the description of a quarrel he had. As he finishes, Rosalind and Celia return, dressed as themselves and accompanied by Hymen, the god of marriage. Phoebe, realizing that the young man she loves is, in fact, a woman, agrees to marry Silvius. Hymen marries the happy couples: Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Phoebe and Silvius, and Touchstone and Audrey. A great wedding feast begins.
Halfway through the festivities, Jaques de Bois, the middle brother of Oliver and Orlando, arrives with the information that Duke Frederick mounted an army to seek out Duke Senior and destroy him. As he rode toward the Forest of Ardenne, Duke Frederick met a priest who converted him to a peace-loving life. Jaques de Bois goes on to report that Frederick has abdicated his throne to his brother and has moved to a monastery. All rejoice, happy in the knowledge that they can return to the royal court. Only Jaques decides that he will not return to court. He determines to follow Duke Frederick’s example and live a solitary and contemplative existence in a monastery. The wedding feast continues, and the revelers dance as everyone except Rosalind exits the stage.
It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue.
Rosalind steps forward and admits that the play is breaking theatrical customs by allowing a female character to perform the epilogue. But the play, she says, improves with the epilogue, and so she asks the audience’s indulgence. She will not beg for the audience’s approval, for she is not dressed like a beggar. Instead, she will “conjure” them (Epilogue, 9). She begins with the women, asking them to like as much of the play as pleases them “for the love [they] bear to men” (Epilogue, 10–11). She asks the same of the men, saying that if she were a woman—for all the female roles in Renaissance theater were played by men—she would kiss as many of them as were handsome and hygienic. She is sure the compliment would be returned, and that the men will lavish her with applause as she curtseys.
Analysis: Act V, scene iv & Epilogue
In the play’s final act, Rosalind makes good on her promise to “make all this matter even,” that is, to smooth out the remaining romantic entanglements (V.iv.18). Both Duke Senior and Orlando seem to have discovered Rosalind’s game by this time, and, indeed, Orlando might well have known Ganymede’s true identity from the start: “My lord, the first time that I ever saw him, / Methought he was a brother to your daughter” (V.iv.28–29). That Rosalind’s identity is known before she reveals it does nothing to undermine the charm of her spell. On the contrary, her lover would not be any less willing than the audience to play along with her charms.
Rosalind’s love for Orlando requires the blessing of marriage in order to have currency in the world beyond the forest. Hymen, by his own declaration, is a god not of the forest but “of every town,” and it is to town that the lovers will now return (V.iv.135). This movement should not be read as a simple victory of city over country, especially when we consider that one location necessitates the other: only a respite in the country could mend what civilization had broken. Although As You Like It draws discernable lines between the merits of town and country, heterosexual and homosexual unions, artifice and nature, youth and age, and idealism and realism, it refuses to take a definitive stand on any issue. Rather, the play insists on the complexity of life by allowing for the crossing of such boundaries. The characters’ delight in transcending these boundaries suggests a utopia where human existence is no less joyous for all its absurdities and hardships, and one where all that has been broken can, to some degree, be rebuilt. The play’s hopeful vision is one in which not everyone can or will share, as the implacable Jaques makes clear, but it is one to which most of us are only too delighted to cling.
The Epilogue, in which one of the actors remains onstage after the play has ended, was a standard part of many plays in Elizabethan times. An epilogue proves a convenient way to tie up loose ends, to distill the thematic concerns of the play into a neat speech, and to ask the audience for applause. But Shakespeare explodes the conventions of the form when he allows Rosalind to take the stage. Not only has Rosalind dropped her disguise as Ganymede, but the boy actor playing Rosalind lets slip the mask of Rosalind. When he solicits the approval of the men in the audience, he says, “If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me” (Epilogue, 14–16). The dizzying intermingling of homosexual and heterosexual affections that govern a man pretending to be woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in the hopes of seducing a man reiterates the play’s celebration of the wonderful complexities of human life.
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