Playing a Sport

When we first meet Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It, Celia wants to bring Rosalind out of her funk, and when Rosalind relents, she tells her cousin that she will “devise sports” (I.ii.23-4). When I read this, my immediate thought was sport = entertainment = play = play acting… ah, this is how we get into disguises. And while this might make sense, Rosalind continues her line by saying, “Let me see, what think you of falling in love?” (I.ii.24).

When I first read that, I felt literary (or at least cognitive) whiplash, as in “whoa, where did that come from?” It just seemed like such a tangent.

But was it?

“Sport” is used nine times in eight speeches in the play, all but one of which is in that second scene:

  • Rosalind: “From henceforth I will, coz, and devise sports. Let me see; what think you of falling in love?” (I.ii.23-4)
  • Celia: “Marry, I prithee, do, to make sport withal; but love no man in good earnest, nor no further in sport neither than with safety of a pure blush thou mayst in honor come off again. (I.ii.25-28)
  • Rosalind: “What shall be our sport, then?” (I.ii.29)
  • Le Beau: “Fair Princess, you have lost much good sport.” (I.ii.94)
  • Celia: “Sport! of what color?” (I.ii.95)
  • Touchstone: “But what is the sport, monsieur, that the ladies have lost?” (I.ii.124-5)
  • Touchstone: “Thus men may grow wiser every day. It is the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport for ladies.” (I.ii.127-9)
  • Oliver:
    Brief, I recover’d him, bound up his wound,
    And, after some small space, being strong at heart,
    He sent me hither, stranger as I am,
    To tell this story, that you might excuse
    His broken promise, and to give this napkin,
    Dy’d in his blood, unto the shepherd youth
    That he in sport doth call his Rosalind.

    • IV.iii.149-55

In most of these cases, “sport” most likely means “Diversion, entertainment” (“sport, n.; 1a” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 20 August 2014.), though the second of the Touchstone references comes closer to today’s meaning, “An activity involving physical exertion and skill, esp. (particularly in modern use) one regulated by set rules” (“sport, n.; 4a” OED Online.), and Oliver’s usage either the first meaning or–more likely–“theatrical performance; a show, play, or interlude” or “a piece of intellectual or literary playfulness” (“sport, n.; 2b and 2c” OED Online, respectively).

“a play”


Which, of course, brings us to an associated word deployment: “play,” used 16 times in ten speeches, and the focus of the last two blog entries:

  • Celia
    I did not then entreat to have her stay;
    It was your pleasure, and your own remorse;
    I was too young that time to value her,
    But now I know her. If she be a traitor,
    Why so am I: we still have slept together,
    Rose at an instant, learn’d, play’d, eat together;
    And wheresoe’er we went, like Juno’s swans,
    Still we went coupled and inseparable.

    • I.iii.163-74
  • Duke
    Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy:
    This wide and universal theatre
    Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
    Wherein we play in.

    • II.vii.135-8
  • Jaques (lord)
    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
    Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
    Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
    And shining morning face, creeping like snail
    Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
    Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
    Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
    Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
    Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
    Seeking the bubble reputation
    Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
    In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
    With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
    Full of wise saws and modern instances;
    And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
    Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
    With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
    His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
    For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
    Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
    And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
    That ends this strange eventful history,
    Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.

    • II.vii.138-65
  • Rosalind
    [Aside to CELIA] I will speak to him like a saucy lackey, and under that habit play the knave with him.- Do you hear, forester?

    • III.ii.289-91
  • Corin
    If you will see a pageant truly play’d
    Between the pale complexion of true love
    And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
    Go hence a little, and I shall conduct you,
    If you will mark it.

    • III.iv.48-52
  • Rosalind
    O, come, let us remove!
    The sight of lovers feedeth those in love.
    Bring us to this sight, and you shall say
    I’ll prove a busy actor in their play.

    • III.iv.52-5
  • Rosalind
    Patience herself would startle at this letter,
    And play the swaggerer. Bear this, bear all.
    She says I am not fair, that I lack manners;
    She calls me proud, and that she could not love me,
    Were man as rare as Phoenix. ‘Od’s my will!
    Her love is not the hare that I do hunt;
    Why writes she so to me? Well, shepherd, well,
    This is a letter of your own device.

    • IV.iii.14-21
  • Rosalind
    Do you pity him? No, he deserves no pity. Wilt thou love such a woman? What, to make thee an instrument, and play false strains upon thee! Not to be endur’d! Well, go your way to her, for I see love hath made thee tame snake, and say this to her–that if she love me, I charge her to love thee; if she will not, I will never have her unless thou entreat for her. If you be a true lover, hence, and not a word; for here comes more company.

    • IV.iii.65-73
  • Duke
    Welcome, young man.
    Thou offer’st fairly to thy brothers’ wedding:
    To one, his lands withheld; and to the other,
    A land itself at large, a potent dukedom.
    First, in this forest let us do those ends
    That here were well begun and well begot;
    And after, every of this happy number,
    That have endur’d shrewd days and nights with us,
    Shall share the good of our returned fortune,
    According to the measure of their states.
    Meantime, forget this new-fall’n dignity,
    And fall into our rustic revelry.
    Play, music; and you brides and bridegrooms all,
    With measure heap’d in joy, to th’ measures fall.

    • V.iv.164-77
  • Rosalind
    It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no epilogue. Yet to good wine they do use good bushes; and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play! I am not furnish’d like a beggar; therefore to beg will not become me. My way is to conjure you; and I’ll begin with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you; and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women- as I perceive by your simp’ring none of you hates them- that between you and the women the play may please. If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleas’d me, complexions that lik’d me, and breaths that I defied not; and, I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.

    • Epilogue

In the first case, when Celia is describing her time with Rosalind, the meaning is most likely “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than for a serious or practical purpose” (“play, v.; II.11.a” OED Online.). The remainder of the references–up to the last two pre-Epilogue uses–all are variations of the noun meaning of “dramatic or theatrical performance” (“play, n.; III.16.a” OED Online.) and the verb meaning of “act a drama, or a part in a drama; to perform” (“play, v.; IV.26.b.” OED Online.); Rosalind uses a variation of this verb use– “behave as or like” (“play, v.; IV.28.” OED Online.)–when she says that she will play the lackey and the swaggerer, but the connotation is still that of taking on a role. The last two pre-Epilogue uses both pertain the verb meaning “perform on a musical instrument” (“play, v.; III.21.a.” OED Online.). And the epilogue takes us back to the “theatrical performance” noun meaning.

There is quite a bit of “perform(ing)” and “behav(ing) like” in this play: Rosalind and Celia, as Ganymede and Aliena; Ganymede as “Rosalind”; Orlando as a lover to “Rosalind”…

… so I find it interesting in a play with so much sport and playing that both “sport” and “play” also share a meaning:

SPORT: “lovemaking, amorous play; (also) sexual intercourse; an instance of this, an amorous exploit” (“sport, n.; I.1.c.” OED Online.)

PLAY: “engage in amorous play, to make love; to have sexual intercourse with” (“play, v.; II.11.b.” OED Online.)

And suddenly, I’m back at the beginning of this blog entry: with the seemingly cognitive whiplash between “sports” and “falling in love.” But maybe there’s no whiplash here at all. There’s neither whip nor lash (unless, of course, that’s your cup of kink).

Maybe this is a randier play than either Eric Partridge or I give it credit for…

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