As You Like It (1919) Yale/Appendix B

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The History of the Play

An entry in the Stationers' Register, dated August 4, and belonging in all probability to the year 1600, lists As You Like It with three other plays 'to be staied'—i.e., an order to postpone publication. The prohibition was apparently effective, for the first known edition of this comedy is the text found in the First Folio, published in 1623. Scholars are in fairly general agreement that the play was written in the year 1600, or a few months before. The internal evidence, such as it is, tends to confirm this date.

Practically nothing is known of the early stage history of As You Like It from the time of its first mention in the Stationers' Register until its revival in the eighteenth century. There are two traditions, neither of them substantiated by facts, relative to the performances of this comedy in Shakespeare's lifetime. One of them, quoted by Oldys, is to the effect that Shakespeare played the part of old Adam; the other is that As You Like It was performed before King James I at Wilton House, December 2, 1603. Of the latter, Sir Sidney Lee affirms that there is 'no tangible evidence' to show what play or plays were represented at Wilton House upon this occasion of the visit of the King's Players.

On January 9, 1723, Charles Johnson, poetaster and tavern-keeper in Bow Street, brought out at Drury Lane an adaptation entitled Love in a Forest (published the same year), which ran for six nights. Colley Cibber played Jaques; Wilks, Orlando, and Mrs. Booth, Rosalind. This version was wretched stuff. It is chiefly notable for the omission of Touchstone, for making Jaques fall in love with Celia, and for introducing, into the fifth act, the Pyramus and Thisbe interlude from A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 1739 there was published an even more disguised form of the comedy called The Modern Receipt; or A Cure for Love, by one 'J. C (James Carrington, according to Halliwell). This was a modernized paraphrase with the scene laid at Liège and environs. The names of the characters were altered. Nothing seems to be known about a stage performance of this adaptation.

It was not until December 20, 1740, that Shakespeare's As You Like It was revived. This production was at Drury Lane. The obscurity concerning the earlier history of the comedy is well illustrated by the two entries in Genest, the accurate historian of the stage, concerning the revival. In one place he states that it was 'not acted after Charles II until 1740,' and under the entry for 1740, he notes 'not acted 40 years.' During the season of its revival in 1740, however, it was played about twenty-five times. Quin was the Jaques, Mrs. Pritchard, Rosalind, and the sprightly Kitty Clive, Celia. From this time on to the present, the history of the stage lists performances as often at least as once in four years, and, in many instances, in successive seasons.

The eighteenth century productions were characterized by well-balanced casts in which the rôles of Jaques, Orlando, Touchstone, Rosalind, and Celia were each assigned some actor of note. Among the more famous revivals of this century may be recalled Mrs. Woffington's Rosalind, together with Macklin's Touchstone, at Drury Lane, November, 1747. She had earlier played Rosalind in October, 1741, to Theophilus Cibber's Jaques. Francis Gentleman, writing in 1770 of this charming actress's Rosalind, found that her 'utterance and deportment were too strongly tinctured with affectation' to suit the simplicity of the forest of Arden. Peg Woffington's fame was derived from playing more sophisticated rôles. Again, at Drury Lane, in October, 1767, Mrs. Barry (also known at various times as Mrs. Dancer and Mrs. Crawford) played Rosalind, and King, Touchstone. John Taylor, writing the Records of My Life, in 1832–33, described her Rosalind as 'the most perfect representation of the character I ever witnessed. It was tender, animated, and playful to the highest degree.' The prompt-book appears to have been standardized by this performance. Mrs. Barry introduced into the fourth act the cuckoo song from All's Well That Ends Well (the music by Dr. Arne), and this alteration remained a part of the stage text for many years. This is the most notable deviation from the text of the First Folio which As You Like It underwent until recent times, apart from the 'cuts' to reduce the actual time of acting to one hour and forty-nine minutes. Although produced many times during the eighteenth century, Mrs. Inchbald, in 1808, said of this comedy: 'on the stage it is never attractive, except when some actress of very superior skill performs the part of Rosalind.' This complaint is borne out by the fact that the eighteenth century runs were less than average length for popular plays even with the most distinguished actresses, in turn, playing Rosalind.

Toward the close of the eighteenth century, however, there were two famous productions of As You Like It. At Drury Lane, on April 30, 1785, the incomparable Mrs. Siddons chose Rosalind for her benefit performance and played the rôle four times that season. Boaden said of her: 'Rosalind was one of the most delicate achievements of Mrs. Siddons. The common objection to her comedy, that it was only the smile of tragedy, made the express charm of Rosalind.' The other important Rosalind was that of Mrs. Jordan, to the Orlando of Kemble, at Drury Lane, April, 1787. Campbell informs his readers that here alone in her professional career, Mrs. Siddons found a rival who beat her out of a character. Mrs. Jordan 'had the naïveté of it to a degree that Shakespeare himself, if he had been a living spectator, would have gone behind the scenes to have saluted her for her success in it.'

In America, As You Like It was first performed at New York, at the John Street Theatre, July 14, 1786. Mrs. Kenna played Rosalind and Hallam, Touchstone. It was again played at the same theatre on June 21, 1796, with Joe Jefferson (the grandfather of the Joseph Jefferson of Rip Van Winkle fame) as Le Beau. There was only one other important production of this comedy in America during the eighteenth century: that of January 29, 1798, when the Park Theatre, New York, was opened.

The great stage popularity of As You Like It really began in the nineteenth century and has continued to the present day. More than sixty important revivals were witnessed in the nineteenth century. We find, likewise, a gradual change from the stock company method of production, which assigned the leading roles to well-known actors, to the 'star' method which emphasizes one, or at most two, of the characters. The latter was illustrated in Kemble's performance of Jaques at Covent Garden, October, 1805, with Miss Smith as Rosalind. The comedy now alternates as a 'star' play, with sometimes a great actor playing Jaques, or, again, a famous actress stressing the character of Rosalind. Space does not permit of reference to all the numerous performances of this century; only the more important will be mentioned.

Following Kemble, the next actor of note to essay Jaques was Macready, at Drury Lane, January 11, 1820, the Rosalind by a 'young lady.' Macready again revived it at Covent Garden in October, 1842, with Mrs. Stirling as Celia. Colman described this as 'the most superb production of As You Like It the world has ever seen or ever will see.' By far the most famous Rosalind of the nineteenth century was Helen Faucit (Lady Martin). She first performed the comedy on March 18, 1839, at Covent Garden, and made her last appearance in it at Drury Lane, April 23, 1875, although she played it once more at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, on October 2, 1879. Macready called her Rosalind 'perfect.' Sir Henry Irving said of it: 'a more brilliant and exquisite conception of Rosalind never entered the imagination of man.'

One alteration in the text was frequently adopted in the nineteenth century. The speeches of the First Lord in Act II., Scene i., Kemble gave to Jaques, a custom in which he was followed by many others. This change, which, curiously enough, Johnson had anticipated in his version, Love in a Forest, is not a judicious one.

Charlotte Cushman played Rosalind for the first time in London in 1845, appearing in New York, at the Astor Place Theatre, in this rôle, January 8, 1850. Among other famous actors and actresses of the period were: Charles Kean as Jaques, 1851, W. Wallack, 1854, Barry Sullivan, 1855, and Samuel Phelps, at Sadler's Wells, in 1857. Phelps introduced the custom of producing Shakespeare with gorgeous scenery and with costumes supposed to be appropriate to the historical settings of the plays. From his time onwards the tendency has been to make Shakespearean productions gorgeous pageants, necessitating compression of several scenes into one and other questionable alterations of the text.

The most noteworthy of comparatively recent productions were: the Rosalind of Mrs. Kendall to her husband's Orlando and the Jaques of Hermann Vezin at the Opéra Comique, London, 1875; ten years later she played Rosalind with John Hare as Touchstone. For this performance Alfred Cellier wrote new incidental music. Mrs. Langtry first appeared as Rosalind in 1882, with Kyrle Bellew as Orlando. At Stratford-on-Avon, in August, 1885, the beautiful American actress, Mary Anderson, opened the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre with a performance of her Rosalind. She was noted for her earnest candor and demure reserve in the part.

The American manager, Augustin Daly, gave several productions of As You Like It in New York, as well as at Stratford-on-Avon and London. By the playgoers of the last generation, Daly's productions of Shakespeare were looked upon with respect little short of idolatry. As a matter of fact, he took many liberties with the text and had a fondness for inappropriate musical accompaniment to the longer speeches. He was, on the other hand, aided by a company of excellent artists, such as Miss Ada Rehan and John Drew. In his acting version of As You Like It, he omitted Sir Oliver Martext and the Second Lord, and rearranged the incidents of the fifth act. On the credit side, he omitted the cuckoo song, restored the speeches of the First Lord in II. i., and the Masque of Hymen, which latter was not generally played, except by Mrs. Langtry, in nineteenth century versions. Miss Ada Rehan first played Rosalind under Daly's management, at New York, on December 17, 1889, and in London, in April, 1894. Miss Rehan acted Rosalind as a young girl enjoying a merry woodland frolic. William Winter says her Rosalind was 'all sweetness and brilliancy.'

Of late years, As You Like It has been frequently seen upon both the amateur and professional stages. It likewise crossed the Channel to the Continent. George Sand wrote, in 1856, a free French translation under the title, Comme il vous plaira, which was played in Paris. In Germany it is also a familiar comedy—at least, in German translations. In America, Julia Arthur, 1898, E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe, 1910, and Margaret Anglin, 1914, have continued the stage history of this play. In England, Sir George Alexander, Ben Greet, Sir F. H. Benson, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson, Oscar Ashe and Lily Brayton, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Nigel Playfair, and others have given acceptable and often beautiful performances. Perhaps the most remarkable chapter in all its history occurred during the Great War. At Ruhleben, the English civilian prison camp in Germany, Welland produced the forest scenes with actors chosen from among the prisoners of war.