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About this book

This essential guide provides a comprehensive survey of the most important criticism surrounding As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and engaging comedies, from the earliest appraisals through to twenty-first century scholarship. Dana Aspinall outlines, assesses and explores the key critical issues, including As You Like It and the genre of comedy; Shakespeare’s adaptation of sources; gender, love and marriage; and interrogations of power.

Highlighting how critical and scholarly studies of As You Like It continue to enrich our understanding of this complex and popular play, this guide is an invaluable resource for undergraduate and postgraduate students of English literature, teachers, researchers, scholars, and lovers of Shakespeare everywhere.

Table of Contents

Chapter One. 1709–1800: “To Breed Me Well”: Determinations of Genre and Character

Abstract
During the eighteenth century, a far-reaching and totalizing “Shakespeare apparatus” came into being. Scholarly editions of the playwright’s works, biographical accounts, and “expert” explanations of Shakespeare’s drama proliferated. In short, an industry intent upon immersing the English middle classes in the reading and attending of Shakespeare’s plays commenced. These eighteenth-century evangelists formed many of our “conceptions” of the man, according to Michael Dobson, and included testaments from esteemed men and women who established his importance for all Much of the early praise for Shakespeare’s achievements centred around his trueness to “nature”, his realistic portrayals, that is, of the world and its beauties, pitfalls and disappointments, and, most importantly, its inhabitants. Writing in “An Essay on the Art, Rise and Progress of the Stage in Greece, Rome and England”, Charles Gildon exemplifies his age’s devotion to nature as a guide
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Two. 1800–1900: “Dancing Measures”: Arriving at Critical Consensus

Abstract
While eighteenth-century scholars recreated Shakespeare as England’s national poet, nineteenth-century critics ushered him into the British educational system, including English colonial schools. These critics increasingly regarded Shakespeare’s oeuvre, in Hugh Grady’s words, as a “secular Bible, a revered body of thought, values, characters, words, and forms held to be the common property of culture”.1 According to Grady, these sentiments reveal a commitment “to preserve a sense of cultural unity in the face of the fragmentation and differentiations brought on by modernization”.2 They also mark the passage of Shakespeare studies “out of the sphere of public discourse” and into “new bureaucratic institutions”, including the universities.3
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Three. 1906–72: “A Great Reckoning”: New Criticism

Abstract
With New Criticism, which began in the American South soon after the conclusion of World War I and dominated critical praxis into the 1970s, came close textual study and even more rigid standards of “correct” reading, including a new vocabulary (theme, image, symbol, juxtaposition, and irony, to name only a few) to help scholars articulate the discoveries that close reading afforded. Its goals included a separation of the literary text from other forms of writing, largely because New Critics believed literature should be considered art and not merely an expression of ideas or emotions. As such, the study of literature demanded a more systematized, some would say scientific, method of making sense of a text, one that sought, first, the discovery and then the articulation of a text’s unity. While New Criticism may appear constricting to twenty-first-century undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars, it inspired some of the most insightful and enlightening studies of As You Like It to date; the approach’s fixations on form, pattern, and structure coaxed out many of the play’s nuances and complexities.
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Four. 1948–83: “Not for All Markets”: Movements Away from New Criticism and the Authority of the Text

Abstract
Even while New Criticism dominated scholarly and pedagogical practice well into the 1980s, departures from it always existed and allowed critics alternate approaches to a text. These disparate voices set the stage for subsequent critical practices which, borrowing from disciplines such as Freudian psychoanalysis, myth studies, Marxist economic and political thought, sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, developed new lines of argument and eventually became known as Cultural Studies, feminism, and New Historicism, among other terms.
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Five. 1978–Present: “All the World’s a Stage”: Cultural Studies

Abstract
In 1987, critic Walter Cohen (b. 1949) commented that a “comprehensive survey of recent Shakespearean scholarship would undoubtedly reveal that the majority of publications do not engage in ideological critique”.1 Now, no scholar worth his or her salt would venture such a statement. Beginning in the 1970s a generation of scholars, informed by the political and social unrest of the 1960s and engaged in political activism, emerged. Educated in their respective graduate programmes by C.L. Barber, Northrop Frye, Jan Kott, and Raymond Williams (1921–88), among others, and thoroughly versed in cultural, political, linguistic, and psychoanalytic theorists such as Louis Althusser (1918–90)
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Six. 1980–Present: “To Mutiny Against this Servitude”: New Historicism

Abstract
One of the most influential literary theories to arise in the aftermath of Cultural Studies, New Historicism stands unique in that its first proponents focused their studies primarily on Shakespeare and early modern literature. Stephen Greenblatt (b. 1943), whose Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980) and Shakespearean Negotiations (1988) changed the way our culture reads and discusses early modern texts, especially Shakespeare, coined the term “New Historicism”. Cultural Materialism, an English counterpart, of sorts, to New Historicism, approaches the text somewhat differently.
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Seven. 1965–Present: “If I Were a Woman”: Feminism and Gender

Abstract
Although the term began circulating widely in the 1960s, feminism (not to mention the issues associated with the term) has existed for centuries, and since the twentieth century has impacted every facet of Western culture. Our understanding and appreciation of As You Like It has been enhanced by the many feminist and gender-based discussions the play inspires, and these examinations’ foci continue to widen as feminism influences and informs other theories, including Gender and Queer Studies. Appraisals of the play’s representations of patriarchy, identity, gender, gender relations, and even of power abound: they constitute a valuable body of work that has made a considerable impact on how we read As You Like It and on how we view Shakespeare and his culture
Dana Aspinall

Chapter Eight. 1981–Present: “She Phebes Me”: Homoerotics, Queer Theory and Identity

Abstract
After establishing itself as a logical theoretical extension of feminism, Gender Studies expanded to include studies of masculinity and male desire; from these explorations of maleness and male desire emerged Queer Theory. As discussed in Chapter 7, nearly all Gender Studies practitioners maintain that gender and gender roles are culturally constructed and, therefore, malleable and manipulable by a subject’s culture and the individual subject. Queer Theorists complicate this premise by rejecting the male/female binary construction – the belief, in its rudest articulation, that men are men and women are women. (Queer Theorists, incidentally, actually eschew most if not all culturally constructed bifurcations, including those of colour, faith, or politics.) In its place emerges the concept of a spectrum, where all males and females situate themselves onto varying measurements of maleness and/or femaleness. Within any given human being, in other words, there exists a fluidity of gender, and each human is free, as Shakespeare exemplifies in his depiction of Rosalind, to explore female or male identity, as well as desire and experience, at any moment.
Dana Aspinall
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