“Disguised as a young man, Rosalind consistently tests Orlando’s love for her while also grooming him into a proper courtesan.”

I post this in honor of the many many Summer Shakespeare productions in Connecticut and elsewhere.

As You Like It is an interesting play from numerous angles; most relevantly for this post, it has generated a lot of scholarly ink as a study in gender identity. But my student has added a whole new dimension to the concept, one that might fascinate actors who play Orlando in the future….

I knew what she meant, but as I tried to walk myself through her thinking, I began to think I too was wandering in the Forest of Arden.

We begin, of course, with the verb “to court.” I must have used that term myself, in class, and none of the students gave any indication that the term might be new to them. I don’t think it confused anyone.

The next step, though, may be tricky: what to call a person who courts, or is courted. To be decided there is the context, or the aim, of the courting. If the person is “at court” in the governmental (rather than the legal) sense, the act of courting favor is the wooing of a monarch through flattery, service, deference–courteous behavior–and the person doing it is a courtier. But Orlando doesn’t fit that description, whether Rosalind can be called the monarch of his heart or not (and that’s one thing he doesn’t call her, at least in the tree-published poem we get to hear). If he did fit it, he could be called a courtier perhaps. But not in the field of romance.

Orlando and Rosalind are engaged in courtship, that’s certain, whether Orlando realizes it or not. Clearly she is grooming him into something. “Suitor” leaps to my mind, but not to my student’s. It doesn’t have the word “court” in it; the route connecting the terms is via “sue,” but we don’t use that in romantic contexts nowadays.

In Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary of 1977, a battered copy of which I keep under my desk for spelling crises and a new copy of which this student might very well have had on her desk, the first noun that comes after “court” is “courtesan.” The definition doesn’t fit, but it’s the right part of speech; the only other person-related noun that starts with “court” is “courtier,” which wouldn’t fit even if the student turned the page in the dictionary and found it. Hmmm. What’s a writer to do? And maybe the student didn’t look in a dictionary (or thesaurus) but just grabbed a word that was already vaguely floating in her mind and sounded appropriate.

Shakespeare gave Rosalind a lot of role-playing but never asked Orlando to pretend to be anyone but Orlando. Imagine the scene he could have written! I dare you!

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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