Does anyone still think Shakespeare's comedies provide happy endings for their heroines? Come to that, does anyone still think Shakespeare's comedies have either 'happy endings' or 'heroines'? There certainly wasn't much in the way of feminocentric festive renewal going on in Stratford this summer: Steven Pimlott's unusually bleak As You Like It - which appeared to be set at midwinter in the hold of a container ship - gave the impression that the RSC has forgotten why marriage to either Orlando or Rosalind ever looked interesting, let alone a cause for rejoicing. This production's refusal of what used to seem the essential, reassuring pleasures of Shakespearean comedy is symptomatic of something broader, partly, no doubt, of a social climate in which marriage looks a less certain source of closure or consensus than ever, but also of a particular intellectual climate around Shakespeare, admirably represented by these four new books. There is every reason why the historical moment which produces these studies should also produce a Forest of Arden distinctly lacking in the cosy and the connubial: the version of Shakespeare's England which these critics describe is one which leaves the Rosalind whom theatre audiences long knew and loved out in the cold.
LRB 31 October 1996 | PDF Download