Class Notes

As You Like It

By Paula Marantz Cohen | November 29, 2011


Quiz on Act I of As You Like It

  • Where does Rosalind fall in love with Orlando? _________________.
  • What is the relationship between Celia and Rosalind? _______________________.
  • _______________ accompanies Celia  and Rosalind into the Forest of Arden.
  • This character  is an example of what familiar character in Shakespeare? ___________________.
  • Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind because:______________________________.


I recently recruited several of my best senior English majors to help develop weekly quizzes for my Shakespeare course. Above are five questions that they framed for the first act of As You Like It.

The fill-in-the-blank questions were meant to allow for unambiguous answers that my novice TAs could grade easily on their own. But even seemingly straightforward questions proved open to interpretation, so I often found myself revising the grades after the quizzes had been returned. The whole thing was far more trouble than I had imagined.

Take, for example, the first question: Rosalind falls in love with Orlando at a wrestling match was the expected answer. But is this true? We know that Rosalind falls in love with Orlando at some point with respect to the wrestling match, but it is not entirely clear whether it is during the match or before or after. One of the intriguing aspects of the play is when precisely that “falling in love” happened—and indeed, more generally, when it is that we fall in love. This became a fruitful topic of discussion after I returned the quizzes, one that students were eager to weigh in on. I should add that the wrestling match itself happens at court—which some of the students gave as their answer—an ingenious sidestepping of the issue, though it did open up the contrary possibility that she only really falls in love with Orlando later, during his (mock) courtship of her, disguised as the boy Ganymede, in the Forest of Arden.

The second question also turned out to be unexpectedly complex. The simple answer is that the two women are cousins. But they are also, of course, devoted friends—Celia is in fact more devoted to Rosalind than she is to her own father. There were students who pushed this further and maintained that they were possible lovers—an answer that might seem to contradict question #1, but that, I suppose, depends on your lifestyle. Though I find this answer out of synch with the thrust of the plot, it provides fuel for a potentially interesting discussion, particularly with regard to the cross-dressing aspects of the play.

The third question required the proper name, Touchstone, and at least there we had no problem, but the fourth question regarding what sort of character he was was more problematic.  Touchstone is listed in the dramatis personae of the Signet edition as “a clown,” though the answer we had intended was a fool. I had discussed with the class Shakespeare’s use of the professional fool or court jester as a means of showing that a marginal, seemingly light character could be the repository of great insight and wisdom. Clown or fool might seem interchangeable, but in Shakespeare, a clown is often a rube or simpleton, while a fool is satirical and wise. Touchstone has elements of both. Several students answered that he represents “folly,” a more abstract idea that does not seem in keeping with the character’s bawdy humor but which is hard to mark wrong.

The last question invited even more ambiguity. Duke Frederick, Celia’s father, banished Rosalind because he thought that she made his own daughter look less impressive in the eyes of the people or he wanted his own daughter to shine or he wanted to save his daughter from having to compete (some such thing)—was the “right” answer. Duke Frederick spells this out in the play to Celia. However, most students either missed this or went beyond it. They said that Duke Frederick banished Rosalind because he had banished her father and didn’t like to be reminded of this, or because he was jealous of her relationship with his daughter. These answers are not literally supported in the text, but can be derived from it, given the complexity of the relationships that Shakespeare is able to suggest.

The result of the fill-in-the-blank quiz was a slew of answers that, while not quite right (or at least not quite what we had had in mind), did not seem quite wrong either. It made me wonder whether our deconstuctionist literary climate has penetrated even the simplest sorts of questions—or whether (a version of the same thing, I suppose) there are no simple questions, and we have become more aware of this. Certainly, this seems to be true of Shakespeare and why we continue to teach him. We do so in order to discover something new and unexpected about the world and about ourselves.

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