is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more
unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that
good wine needs no bush, ‘tis true that a good play needs no epilogue.
Yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the
better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then,
that am neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with you in
the behalf of a good play! I am not furnished like a beggar, therefore
to beg will not become me. My way is to conjure you; and I’ll begin with
the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men,
to like as much of this play as please you. And I charge you, O
men, for the love you bear to women—as I perceive by your simpering
none of you hates them— that between you and the women the play
may please. If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had
beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that
I defied not. And I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good
faces, or sweet breaths will for my kind offer, when I make curtsy,
bid me farewell.
The Epilogue was a standard component
of Elizabethan drama. One actor remains onstage after the play has
ended to ask the audience for applause. As Rosalind herself notes,
it is odd that she has been chosen to deliver the Epilogue, as that
task is usually assigned to a male character. By the time she addresses
the audience directly, Rosalind has discarded her Ganymede disguise.
She is again a woman and has married a man. Although we may think
the play of gender has come to an end with the fall of the curtain,
we must remember that women were forbidden to perform onstage in Shakespeare’s
England. Rosalind would have been played by a man, which further
obscures the boundaries of gender. Rosalind emerges as a man who
pretends to be a woman who pretends to be a man who pretends to
be a woman to win the love of a man. When the actor 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”— returning
us to the dizzying intermingling of homosexual and heterosexual
affections that govern life in the Forest of Ardenne (Epilogue, 14–16).
The theater, like Ardenne, is an escape from reality where the wonderful,
sometimes overwhelmingcomplexities of human life can be witnessed,
contemplated, enjoyed, and studied.