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.