Stage Directions, Episode 1: Via Dialogue

Shakespeare is not known for stage directions. There may be entrances and exits, but beyond the occasional “They fight” there’s not much there. So actors and directors have to look for clues elsewhere–usually in the dialogue, but also in the verse and meter, as well–to help them create their stagecraft.

As You Like It is no different.

Today, let’s take a look at the (relatively) explicit stage direction in the words the characters speak.

At the beginning of Act One, Scene Two, Celia implores, “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry” (I.ii.1). Needless to say, Rosalind can’t enter the scene smiling and laughing.

In the next scene, as the cousins plan to go into the Forest of Arden, Rosalind decides to disguise herself as a man “because that (she is) more than common tall” (I.iii.114). This is less a stage direction than a casting direction… think back on Midsummer and the contrasting heights of Helena and Hermia.

When Duke Frederick learns that his daughter and Rosalind have fled the court (and have been overheard talking about Orlando), he tells his followers,

Send to his brother; fetch that gallant hither;
If he be absent, bring his brother to me;
I’ll make him find him: do this suddenly,
And let not search and inquisition quail
To bring again these foolish runaways.
  • II.ii.17-21

Here, it’s not so much the individual words that provide subtext, it’s the whole. As we noted in our Act Two synopsis, it’s a confused jumble. He orders them to seek out Oliver (Orlando’s “brother”), and bring the “gallant” to him. Oliver is no “gallant” and it’s obvious that here he’s talking about Orlando. If Orlando is absent, then he wants them to bring Oliver to him. He’s so upset over his desire of bringing back Celia and Rosalind (“these foolish runaways”), he cannot think straight, and the actor’s performance should convey this.

After Orlando brings Adam to Duke Senior’s encampment, they are fed and entertained by a song. In the speech following the song, Duke Senior’s line tells the actors playing Orlando and the banished duke what to pantomime during the song: “If that you were the good Sir Rowland’s son, // As you have whispered faithfully you were…” (II.vii.190-1).

At the beginning of Act Three, Scene Two, though there is no stage direction for what action Orlando should be taking, his line leaves no doubt: “Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love” (III.ii.1).

When Celia attempts to tell Rosalind of seeing Orlando in the woods:

CELIA
Give me audience, good madam.
ROSALIND
Proceed.
CELIA
There lay he, stretched along, like a wounded knight.
ROSALIND
Though it be pity to see such a sight, it well becomes the ground.
CELIA
Cry ‘holla’ to thy tongue, I prithee; it curvets unseasonably. He was furnished like a hunter.
ROSALIND
O, ominous! he comes to kill my heart.
CELIA
I would sing my song without a burden: thou bringest me out of tune.
  • III.ii.233-45

It’s obvious that the actress playing Rosalind must interrupt or jump Celia’s lines at every turn.

In both Act Three, Scene Three, and Act Five, Scene One, the characters of Jaques and William should have hats, but have them off, as in both scenes Touchstone tells each “Nay, pray be covered” and “Cover thy head, cover thy head” (III.iii.71 and V.i.16-17, respectively).

In Act Three, Scene Five, when Rosalind/Ganymede chides Phebe, two indirect stage directions are given. In the midst of her Rosalind’s speech, it’s obvious that Phebe’s non-verbal reaction should include some kind of longing gaze, as Rosalind says, “Why, what means this? Why do you look on me?” (III.v.40). Later in the same speech, Rosalind directs Phebe’s action (or at least gives an order): “Down on your knees…” (III.v.57).

When Rosalind sees Orlando, post-lion attack, her dialogue tells which of his body parts should be in a sling (“scarf”): “It is (his) arm” (V.ii.21).

In the play’s last scene, when Touchstone is regaling Duke Senior with his tale of the quarrel of the seventh cause, an aside of his directs the physical action of the actress playing his fiancee: “(bear your body more seeming, Audrey)” (V.iv.68-9). Needless to say, that could and should be a sight gag.

That’s a pretty good handful of dialogue-based stage directions… can you think of any others?

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