Duke Senior is usurped and banished from his land by his brother Frederick. A young man named Orlando faces a similar threat at the hands of his elder brother Oliver. To escape harm Orlando sets out for the freedom of the open road—though he'd like nothing more than to remain behind with a young woman he has just met, named Rosalind. But Rosalind, daughter to the banished duke, will soon suffer the same fate as her father, and she too is expelled from the safe harbor of the court. Frederick's daughter Celia refuses to part from her beloved cousin, and the two—disguised as shepherdess and page—flee together, accompanied by the court jester Touchstone to search for Rosalind's father, living in exile somewhere in the Forest of Arden.
Disguised as a young man she names "Ganymede," Rosalind is caught off guard when in the midst of the forest she stumbles upon Orlando. As Ganymede she decides to befriend her love and teach him what it truly takes to win and keep a woman's heart—exactly what Rosalind is about to encounter when a country girl named Phoebe falls head over heels for the new arrival in the forest called Ganymede...Oliver pursues his fugitive brother into the forest, but instead finds love for a young shepherdess whose appearance belies her. Now it is left to Rosalind to untangle this web of mistaken notions and misguided loves.
Scholars tentatively agree that As You Like It was written by Shakespeare in the year 1599, and was based upon a popular work published less than a decade earlier. Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde or Euphues' Golden Legacy, published in 1590, served as Shakespeare's primary source for As You Like It. Lodge's romance was based in turn upon a fourteenth-century poem, The Tale of Gamelyn. For entertainment on his long voyage to the Canary Islands, Lodge brought the poem to rewrite into a love story—so popular in Shakespeare's time that it warranted nine printings.
In August 1600, As You Like It was "stayed" in the Stationers' Register of plays, so that no acting company other than Shakespeare's could print the play, suggesting the play's current popularity. The play was not published, until the printing of the First Folio in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death—a distinction it shares with approximately half of the canon.
In contrast to its straightforward past in print, the early performance history of As You Like It has proven elusive. No written record remains as evidence that Shakespeare's popular comedy was ever actually performed during his lifetime, either at the Globe or anywhere else. Some theorize that As You Like It opened the new Globe in 1599; others trace the play's first performance to a private or royal staging. After years of internal debate, some scholars remain fairly certain that no production even resembling Shakespeare's As You Like It was staged until 1723, when Love in a Forest debuted at Drury Lane. It has been said that the stage history of As You Like It is really the history of its different Rosalinds; those have included the famous eighteenth and nineteenth-century actresses Sarah Siddons and Helen Faucit, and in the twentieth century, Katherine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave. A seminal production, directed by Declan Donnellan with his British company Cheek by Jowl, presented an all-male cast led by Adrian Lester (who appeared as Hamlet at CST in Peter Brook's touring production). As You Like It has been staged twice previously on CST's stages: in 1995 at the Ruth Page Theater, directed by David Gilmore and starring Mariann Mayberry; and at Chicago Shakespeare in 2001, directed by David H. Bell and starring Elizabeth Laidlaw as Rosalind and Kate Fry as Celia.
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