As You Like It: Midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at As You Like It.

There are 2678 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1339, or at Act Three, Scene Two, line 213. This is the scene where everything regarding the Rosalind/Orlando relationship (and I mean just about EVERYthing) starts to come together: Orlando begins to hang poetry, Rosalind finds poetry, Celia finds more than poetry, and Orlando finds Ganymede.

The exact midpoint comes when Celia confirms the identity of the lovelorn poet, Orlando, to Rosalind.

ROSALIND
Nay, but the devil take mocking: speak, sad brow and true maid.
CELIA
I’ faith, coz, ’tis he.
ROSALIND
Orlando?
CELIA
Orlando.
  • III.ii.209-13

Now, since we have so much prose in the play, and prose can throw off line calculations, we have a bit of leeway when it comes to where the exact midpoint is. In the few dozen lines leading up to our assumed midpoint, we have what I call the “aggravating slowness” of Rosalind. Given Celia’s hints, Rosalind should “get” Orlando’s identity long before she does. If the midpoint comes here, then it’s almost as if Shakespeare is pointing out the ridiculousness of the plot device (possibly a clue to not play this as “straight’ as normally done).

If it comes a little later, there’s the wonderful comic interplay of Rosalind interrupting Celia’s story, finally culminating in the gender-political line: “Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak” (III.ii.244-5). And I think this is closer to the crux of the play than the “slowness” issue, which is just a mere comic convention.

Tying into this gender view (and yesterday’s concordance discussion and the day before’s epilogue explication) is the line that comes immediately after our calculated midpoint: “Alas the day! what shall I do with my doublet and hose?” (III.ii.214-5). Orlando has arrived in the forest (or at least in Rosalind’s section of the forest), and she is immediately ready to reveal herself (as she wonders what to do with her disguise, her “the typical masculine attire” [“doublet and hose, n.; 1b” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 26 August 2014.]).

So she is ready to abandon her disguise at that moment, but when she actually sees Orlando, she not only does not give up her counterfeit life, but rather prolongs it. She wants to be a woman, to be Orlando’s mate, but she–in my opinion–enjoys being a man, and does not want to give that up quite yet.

And when you look at the epilogue, combined with the emphasized use of the word “man” in the play, this reluctance to give up masculine power is understandable. And maybe this is also why she doesn’t reveal herself to her father.

I can see how all these strands weave together now…

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