If I were to say that As You Like It is about family, I’d probably get very little argument. After all, there are two main biological families in the play: the Dukes (for lack of a better or a real name) and their daughters, and the de Boys boys. And given that most would agree that Rosalind is the play’s main character (remember the source material for the play comes from a novel with her name–or at least a variant–as the title), we might think that the central familial link in the play would be cousins.
And we’d be wrong if we look at a concordance of the play (and its place within the spectrum of plays).
A concordance, for the uninitiated, is a tally of the words used in a play, and a count comparison of those usages throughout the totality of the plays.
“Cousin” is used 12 times in As You Like It, in 12 different speeches. By comparison, the word is used more times in eight different plays. So while the word frequency here is in the top quartile of the plays, 12 usages is far behind the 33 times it’s used in either Richard II or Much Ado About Nothing. Even adding “cousins” and “cousin’s” into the mix doesn’t budge the relationship’s relative position within the plays. It is only when you factor in the word “coz” that we see any shift rankings: “coz” is used more in As You Like It than any other play, and taking this into account, “cousin” moves from the 9th ranking to a 6th ranking among plays overall, and still 2nd ranking within the comedies.
So, not cousins.
Well, each of these cousins has a father living in the play, so let’s take a look at fathers…
Accounting for the use of “father,” “father’s,” and “fathers,” As You Like It employs the word(s) 44 times and ranks 7th in all of the plays and 2nd again within the comedies. The history Henry VI, Part Three leads the plays with 90 usages, and The Taming of the Shrew uses some variant 75 times to lead the comedies.
So, it doesn’t look like fathers, either.
Those fathers are brothers, too, so let’s see where that takes us.
And here, As You Like It cracks the top five. If we only take into account the base root “brother,” As You Like It is a quite a few instances behind the 4th ranked play, Much Ado About Nothing (32 compared to 38). When we take into account the variants “brothers,” “brother’s,” and “brotherly,” however, As You Like It is within two instances of the 4th ranking overall and the top comedic ranking (41 compared to 43). The “problem play” Measure for Measure and the history Henry VI, Part Three are tied for the top overall ranking with 71 instances.
So what does this tell us?
It probably signifies nothing.
However, I find it fascinating that while the play has only one cousin relationship (Rosalind – Celia), and two father relationships (Senior – Rosalind, and Frederick – Celia), there are multiple real/imagined brother relationships:
- Senior – Frederick
- Oliver – (the oft-ignored–in productions, at least) Jaques
- Oliver – Orlando
- Jaques – Orlando
- Ganymede – Aliena
Sure, that last is counterfeited, but it is there. And why have the character of Jaques de Boys at all? Unlike the pairing of deaths in Romeo and Juliet, his existence doesn’t bring the play or its character relationships into balance. Rather, it throws off that balance. So, why have him?
Is Shakespeare trying to draw our attention to this type of familial bond? And if so, why?
I always like it when I can end an entry on a kumbaya moment (it doesn’t happen often!).
In the family of man, we are all brothers, and we should love each other (thus, the “evil” Frederick’s statement to Oliver that since he never loved Orlando, Oliver is “more villain” then [III.i.15]).