So today, to honor all the independent, take-charge gals, we're heading back to Shakespeare and excerpting some of the Elysian speech of Rosalind, the sublimely immortalized heroine of As You Like It. "Lord knows all that's going on in the Forest of Arden," as a beloved theatre professor of mine would say. Allow me to wax rhapsodic through the words of Harold Bloom who is an unrepentant misogynist (and "an old wanker," as one friend of mine is known to say), but at least puts his female problems aside where Shakespeare's women are concerned:
"[O]f all Shakespeare's comic heroines, Rosalind is the most gifted, as remarkable in her mode as Falstaff and Hamlet are in theirs. Shakespeare has been so subtle and so careful in writing Rosalind's role that we never quite awaken to her uniqueness among his (or all literature's) heroic wits. A normative consciousness, harmoniously balanced and beautifully sane, she is the indubitable ancestress of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, though she has a social freedom beyond Jane Austen's careful limitations."Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, p. 203
It's an exaggeration to draw an explicit parallel between Rosalind and Orlando and Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, but it's tempting. They're from different strata on the social spectrum; the gentleman is awkward at best in his vocal expressions; and the young lady is witty yet well-grounded. And it's not hard to imagine Elizabeth Bennet giving something like this same speech to Mr. Darcy (in fact she does speak something disputing her suitor's sincerity and ardor, but in a much more fraught setting):
No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
almost six thousand years old, and in all this time
there was not any man died in his own person,
videlicit, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains
dashed out with a Grecian club; yet he did what he
could to die before, and he is one of the patterns
of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair
year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been
for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went
but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and being
taken with the cramp was drowned and the foolish
coroners of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos.'
But these are all lies: men have died from time to
time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
I love that line: "[M]en have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love."
Later in the same scene, Rosalind has this slightly better known jewel:
Now tell me how long you would have her after you
have possessed her.
For ever and a day.
Say 'a day,' without the 'ever.' No, no, Orlando;
men are April when they woo, December when they wed:
maids are May when they are maids, but the sky
changes when they are wives...
Given Rosalind's return to ladies' clothes in the form of a wedding dress at the end of the play, that exchange takes on more than a hint of bittersweetness. Everyone is leaving the Forest of Arden and going back to the real world. But at least Shakespeare is canny enough to let Rosalind have the final word:
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
furnished 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 simpering,
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 pleased
me, complexions that liked 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.
I suppose it wouldn't do to stay in the Forest of Arden forever. Too many bugs.