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Reviewed by:
  • The Arden Shakespeare As You Like It
  • Tracey Sedinger (bio)
The Arden Shakespeare As You Like It. Edited by Juliet Dusinberre . London: Thomson Learning, 2006. Illus. Pp. xviii + 449. $81.99 cloth, $13.99 paper.

An editor working within the Arden series faces a daunting task. Arden editions have traditionally served as primary texts for many scholars. But recent advances in textual scholarship have challenged the ideal of a single, authentic original. In addition, an Arden editor must present an overview of the play's criticism, a field so large as to be virtually ungraspable by a synoptic critical gaze. And finally, she must also take into account the play's ongoing dissemination through performance on stage and screen. Despite these arduous demands, Dusinberre's edition, with its editorial apparatus, its substantial introduction (142 pages), its notes, and its various appendices, fulfills the above requirements admirably.

Dusinberre does not have to deal with the exceptionally knotty problems occasioned by the existence of multiple and quite different printed versions of the play, since As You Like It only appeared in print in the 1623 Folio. As a result, her discussion of the editorial difficulties presented by the playtext is relatively brief. More extensive is her account of critical developments in the light of feminist, materialist, and historicist criticisms and theory's influence on Shakespeare studies. In addition, Dusinberre addresses a theater history that bears witness to the impact that various social movements, especially feminism and gay/lesbian (and now queer) activism, have had on the performance of one of Shakespeare's most gender-bending plays.

In an interesting revision to more traditional introductions, Dusinberre refuses to separate all of these various strands. And it is here that a direct comparison with Agnes Latham's 1975 edition is illuminating.1 Latham's introduction distinguished text from performance; it is organized into sections with such titles as Text, Date, Sources, People and Themes, and finally, Stage History. Latham devotes considerable space to a discussion of the play's relationship to its sources, specifically, Lodge's Rosalynde (an overview that remains quite useful in its succinct thoroughness). Her discussion of themes remains character-centered and somewhat brief, devoted to the rounder characters' moral growth in the Forest of Arden's pastoral setting. For Latham, the play is, in the end, devoted to the articulation and/or representation of "right values and the good life" (lxxxiv). As a result, she [End Page 238] concludes, in her discussion of performance history, that its popularity has declined somewhat, since "it is hackneyed . . . the pastoral mode is unfamiliar and its kind of sweetness less and less acceptable to present-day taste" (lxxxix). Finally, she ends her discussion of its performance history with an account of a 1967 production with an all-male cast that evaded "ambiguities and innuendoes" (xci).

Latham's edition, valuable as it was (and is), demonstrates critical assumptions that Shakespearean criticism and performance have called into question since its publication, not the least of which is the rigid separation of stage and page. In contrast, Dusinberre assumes that editing is an interpretive activity (as opposed to something that precedes interpretation or performance), and she points out that a director is as much an editor as a textual scholar. As a result, she does not separate performance from other forms of interpretive activity but instead proceeds thematically.

In addition, she does not take for granted the virtues of transcending gender and sexual ambiguity. Latham's edition was published in 1975, a year that also witnessed the publication of Dusinberre's groundbreaking book, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, which heralded the explosion of feminist—and later queer—work on Shakespeare that has made a huge difference to the reading and staging of As You Like It. When one compares Latham's conclusions about the play's hackneyed sweetness to Dusinberre's overview, the influence that feminist and queer political movements have had on Shakespeare studies is quite apparent. Dusinberre's introduction immediately announces the centrality of the play's "cross-dressed heroine, gender games and explorations of sexual ambivalence" (1); her discussion of Rosalind and four centuries of performance falls under a section entitled...


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