As I’ve mentioned in our “(the not-so-digital) Tools of the Trade” (and by its inclusion in the persistent left-hand navigation), I love OpenSource Shakespeare and their tools, especially their concordance.
What’s a concordance? It’s an exhaustive listing of the uses of any word within a given body of work. So… let’s say you need to know how many times the word “hand” is used in Titus? A concordance is where you find it.
Or in the case of As You Like It, I wanted to know how a handful of words were used, especially in comparison to their use in other plays…
Let’s start off with “disguise.” Given Rosalind and Celia, you would figure this would be a great example, right? Not so much. It’s not used once in the entire play. Not that it’s a widely used word in the Canon, at all. It appears only 19 times in 15 plays, with The Merry Wives of Windsor using the word three times, and All’s Well That Ends Well and Twelfth Night (not surprisingly) using it twice.
OK, then, what about “counterfeit.” That’s used 54 times, in 47 speeches, in 28 of the Bard’s works, including four times in As You Like It (with an additional two times for “counterfeited” and one “counterfeiting“). As You Like It uses “counterfeit” (and its forms) more than any other play in the Canon: seven times (in its three forms) compared to three times each (only in the simple “counterfeit” form) for both All’s Well That Ends Well and Much Ado About Nothing.
So while “alteration of the fashion of dress from that which has been usual” or “altered fashion of dress and personal appearance intended to conceal the wearer’s identity” isn’t used in the play (“disguise, n.; 1 and 2a, respectively” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 26 August 2014.), “a pretender, an impostor” and “to feign, pretend, simulate” (“counterfeit, n.; 2a” and “counterfeit, v.; 4,” respectively. OED.) is. The distinction is a subtle one, but significant. What we’re looking at here isn’t a concealment, but a pretending (remember our discussion of “playing” a while back).
But what is being pretended?
Let’s dive back into the concordance…
“Man” is used 1840 times, in 1705 speeches, in 42 works in the Canon. Eighty of those appearances, or nearly 4.5% of them, appear in As You Like It; only Much Ado About Nothing and its 87 instances is greater than As You Like It‘s use of “man.” And the vast majority of instances don’t use the generic “human being” meaning (“man, n.; I” OED.), but rather the “adult male human being…contrasted with a woman” (“man, n.; II.4.a” OED.) meaning.
If the predominate difference in diction between this play and others in the Canon is in the use of “counterfeit” and “man,” then are the root questions at the core of this play something along the lines of “what is a man (as in the male adult)?” and “what does it mean/take to be one?”
Is this why Jaques, even after he says that “all the men and women (are) merely players” (II.vii.139; emphasis mine), then goes on only to focus on the male?
And how does this then relate to our conclusions from the epilogue and how this may give us insight into the title of the work?