The Will to Love in As You Like It: Desire, Wrestling, and Brendan Schaub

Rosalind is another great example of a dynamic female character in Shakespeare’s comedies. She is banished from the court, but she manages to become the puppet master of the world she inhabits. She moves to the country and sets up shop as a boss bitch. Even though she is a victim of circumstances, Rosalind manages to turn every situation to her advantage.

We never really know why Celia’s old man hates Rosalind so much, except for who her father was. She’s paying a heavy price for her lineage. The play is a portrait of power in flux. As You Like It portrays two situations where a patriarch has died, and the power structure is adjusting to that vacuum. In the case of Orlando and Oliver, the death of their father has resulted in conflict. Orlando feels like he has been denied his due rights to his inheritance.

Rosalind’s father has also recently died, and her uncle is attempting to consolidate power. Banishing Rosalind is an attempt to erase history, to preemptively silence dissent. In Shakespeare’s comedies the force of love is stronger than the desire to control and that first is apparent in this play when Celia abandons her father and her life at court to join her cousin Rosalind in exile. Her love for her cousin drives her actions.

For the other plot, we have a case of brothers feuding. It seems to have all the ingredients of a tragic scenario. Orlando, however, finds an appropriate outlet for his aggression. He is not a narcissist. The struggle of wills between brothers creates a context for conflict. Orlando is a badass and naturally refuses to accept the limitations imposed upon him by his older brother Oliver. Given no other recourse, he challenges the court wrestler to a match to assert his authority. He is willing to fight for his right to party. 

It just so happens that Rosalind and Celia are in the right place at the right time to witness this battle. From the context of 2021, the wrestling scene resonates with the world of cage fighting and UFC. The character of Orlando is an archetypal model of someone like Brendan Schaub who used fighting to assert himself, to gain access to an audience, and to act forcefully with the knowledge that “all the world is a stage.”

In the play, Orlando’s performance wins over Rosalind. She is instantly attracted to him and stays to talk to him after the fight. This is another moment when Shakespeare is still funny. Here we have Orlando, who has just beaten a professional fighter, and we gain insight to his mind suddenly overcome with anxiety and insecurities as Rosalind attempts to talk to him. He is unable to speak.

This unexpected transformation, when love conquers the wrestler, leads to another very funny scene featuring Orlando. When Rosalind and Celia explore their new territory in the woods, they find horrible poetry dedicated to Rosalind written by Orlando everywhere. He has caught the incurable madness of unrequited romantic love and it is causing him to produce prolific attempts at art. Schaub fancies himself an artist, too. I’m not going to belabor the comparisons, but let’s just say that Schaub would absolutely nail this role because it is so close to his experience. Not that Schaub lacks artistic merit; he doesn’t. He is a skilled and dedicated comedian and podcaster who inspires countless numbers of people with his work. 

The humor of the situation charms an audience because Schaub is a heavyweight UFC ex-fighter who wants to be slimmer and more artistic looking. Like the wrestler writing poetry in the woods, Schaub is a walking contradiction but an honest one and therefore likeable. Orlando is writing poems and messages to Rosalind almost involuntarily. He can’t help it. He is compelled to express his love and this compulsion is the epitome of authenticity. Not only is he not faking it, but he also can’t stop it.

The same is true with Schaub. His love of fashion, food, and women oozes out of him moment by moment and the audience has little doubt that he is being true to himself, partly because it is so unexpected. We don’t often put fighting and loving color ways together, but Shakespeare did it with Orlando, by showing him waxing poetic in the forest after smashing the ferocious wrestler Charles and being struck dumb by meeting Rosalind. 

Great characters push against the grain. They are tested and they find ways to persevere. Their process of overcoming obstacles becomes a protein to our beliefs. They embolden our sense that the will to love can be stronger than the will to control or to amass power. The uncontrollable force of romantic desire inspires a will to love that is stronger even than the will to live. In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, romantic love is a drug. It is a supernatural force, transformative and wild.

Keeping it Comedy: As You Like it, Dave Chapelle, and Joe Rogan

Listening to Dave Chapelle on the Joe Rogan podcast was more awesome than I had even hoped. Chapelle articulates his thoughts with such clarity and precision it is amazing to follow his stream of consciousness as he enjoys a conversation with one of the best talkers in history. He is self-aware and grounded in his craft, in his identity as a comic. 

There is something Shakespearean about Dave Chapelle and Joe Rogan. I realized what it is this past weekend. I was also listening to As You Like it and an Oxford University produced lecture on the play. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it compares the countryside, specifically the forest, to the court. Chapelle was talking to Rogan about his experience having moved to Austin from Los Angeles, and the parallels couldn’t be more obvious.

Chapelle lives in Ohio. He figured out this trick of comedy a long time ago. Ohio is the Forest of Arden. Austin is too. What is most important, however, is the intention to exist in a way that fits the comedic genre. This might be easier to do in a rural setting if you didn’t need to be in a cosmopolitan metropolis to get work. With podcasting, you could theoretically achieve success from anywhere with Internet access. While most comics live in Los Angeles or New York, Chapelle and now Rogan have been preaching the virtue of living outside the pressurized bubble of the industry.

To best enjoy listening to As You Like It, you need to understand the plot and the relationship of the various characters. There are parallel happenings and characters take on different names as they disguise themselves. It can be confusing if you don’t know who the characters are. For the sake of this short essay, you only need to understand that all the main characters of the play have been banished from the court to the forest.

Rogan and Chapelle relate to each other because they are members of the tribe of comedy, but also because they have chosen to live rural lifestyles. There is a freedom in the countryside that they enjoy and that shows up in their work. Part of what the rural context provides is a lack of things happening. In that quiet space civil conversations or imaginative ramblings are given space to roam. It becomes more about dialogue and philosophical comparisons than an attempt to resolve a problem.

In the play, there are philosophical theories laid out in verse. We have the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech that outlines the seven stages of life. This has nothing to do with a plot, but that’s the point. The emptiness provided by the countryside creates the space for poetry and philosophy. 

There are different metaphors available in a rural setting. Being connected to hunting, agriculture, livestock, and fundamental human resources creates a kind of competency and confidence in relation to the world. Knowing where food comes from, being close to the supply chain is a smart idea if you want to focus on making people laugh.

Podcasting itself is a Forest of Arden. In many ways, Joe Rogan left Los Angeles a long time before he moved to Austin. By creating his own show and relentlessly innovating and improving his ability to engage in interesting conversations, Rogan became one of the first great developers of this wild alternative to the culture industry. He recently described it as having made it out past the gates and he is now swimming in open waters, but he could have also described it as having escaped court to live in the country.

As You Like It shows us how a rural setting can create a space for music, philosophy and most importantly comedy. There is something about certain natural settings that proves conducive to everything working out in the end. That is after all the spirit of comedy. Things may go differently than planned, but when there is enough space for reflection, thought, and expression, then comedy is given what it needs to flourish.