Theme of Gender in As You Like It

Shakespearean works deal with the idea of gender in one way or another. The play As You Like It operates with the idea of gender on two-level because the protagonist of the play Rosalind is a cross-dressing character. 

Once Rosalind is banned by her uncle from the palace, Celia gives the idea of going into the forest of Arden. Rosalind chooses to disguise herself as Ganymede and Celia disguise herself as Aliena.

The very choice of the name is suggestive of Shakespeare’s intention. Ganymede is a Greek mythical character, a cupbearer of Zeus. Her choice of disguising herself as the boy character known for its beauty subverts the whole idea of gender bound beauty. 

The play challenges the convention of gender and tries to establish the fluidity of it. In Shakespearean times, the role of the female was also played by a man. So, when a female character cross-dresses, Shakespeare proves the point that gender role is society given and it is not something which is bound to nature. 

It reminds us of what Simone de Beauvoir said that one is not born a woman, one becomes a woman. Rosalind is naturally a frank, bold and upright character. Her wit is much sharper than any other male character.

But one comes to understand why Rosalind keeps disguising herself even when the first reason of safety is secure. When society has restricted the freedom of women, is it only through disguise that they can enjoy the freedom?

The disguise of Rosalind and her free manipulation of the whole gender convention gives us the idea of the stupid rigidity with which society deals with gender. 

The play raises the question of the whole idea of love as pursued by defined gender. Rosalind isn’t a conventional woman who waits for the man to love her and approach her.

If she loves someone then she can express it first but in a society, such a personality is considered less desirable. Rosalind does all that under the guise of a man. She even criticizes her own gender at times. Celia pointing this out to her says that one shouldn’t criticize one’s own gender.

The play by initiating this game of cross-dressing, in a playful way questions seriously the idea of gender and how it is not as rigidly defined as we may think.