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image: Departments headerLike "so many of Shakespeare's plays," Amy Kass begins, "As You Like It enacts a rite of passage in which young people are inducted into their next stage" of life. "The 'it' in the title refers to marriage," and the chosen scenes show the move from "detachment to attachment" that occurs between the young and impetuous nobleman Orlando and the maiden Rosalind.

Clever? Witty?
Look, she's Shakespeare's
jewel--she's spritely!"

Amy Kass, AB'62

"Describe Rosalind in one word," Amy Kass invites the class with the enthusiastic air of one issuing a parlor-game dare. When no one leaps in to play, she prompts a student, "Miss Hicks?" Throughout the class, that formal style of address--surname prefixed by Mr. or Miss--is used by professors and students alike in a ritual of academic civility that mirrors the "old-fashioned" ideal of courtship.

Quickly the one-word descriptions get offered: Strange. Manipulative. Stubborn. Cunning. Clever.

"Clever? Witty? Look, she's Shakespeare's jewel--she's spritely!" Amy Kass chides, her eyes flashing with humor. "I want someone to volunteer to read her part in a spritely, witty style."

The roles of Rosalind, Orlando, and Rosalind's cousin, Celia, get quickly assigned, and the reading begins, with laughter both at Shakespeare's lines and at Leon Kass's stand-in readings as Duke Frederick and as Charles, the wrestler whom Orlando has challenged.

"You--you're all Rosalind," Amy Kass says as the scene ends. "Are you interested in Orlando?" The young man's honesty and strength get nods. "He's got that rebel without a cause thing going for him," one young woman volunteers.

"Okay, we'll pick up where the duke leaves," Amy Kass directs her players. Two vignettes later, she calls the reading to a halt. "Celia's question is a nice one: 'Is it possible, on such a sudden, you should fall into so strong a liking…?'"

For the next few minutes, students circle Celia's question as they interpret Orlando and Rosalind's feelings toward each other. Is it puppy love? "She just has a crush on him--she doesn't know him at all," a dark-haired woman says indignantly. "This woman is so incredibly witty and he can't even talk to her." Or is what the two feel a friendly empathy? "There's sympathy between their plights," offers a young man in a green cable-knit sweater, reminding the class that both Rosalind and Orlando are fatherless and alone.

The tousle-haired student who plays Orlando is the first to bring up the matter of love at first sight: "I see this as first-sight madness--definitely, there's a spark."

When Amy Kass turns the observation into a general question--"By the way, do you all believe that love at first sight is possible?"--there's nervous laughter. From the back row, a woman asks for clarification: "Does she love him before or after he wins the wrestling match?"

Leon Kass ticks off several of Rosalind's opening comments to and about Orlando, proposing that "she has an interest in him maybe even from the start."

"Strong eye contact sounds like something between you and your ophthalmologist.
What about love
as desire?"

Leon Kass, SB'58, MD'62

"Is there love at first sight?" the woman repeats. "I don't really think so. Certainly…." As her sentence trails off, the room lapses into silence.

"The floor's open," Leon Kass says firmly.

"I believe in love at first sight--in hindsight," offers a curly-haired guy in a black V-neck sweater. "If it's not love, I'm not sure what it is. There's certainly strong eye contact."

"Strong eye contact sounds like something between you and your ophthalmologist," Leon Kass replies. "What about love as desire?"

The student holds his ground. "What you have later on is much larger. What I'm saying is, when it first starts out, it's as attention, focus, a pouring out of the heart."

"I don't believe in love at first sight for teenagers," says a no-nonsense guy in a dark-plaid shirt. "Maybe," a woman concedes, "but she's so ready for any of these things to happen. If I were to pick one word to describe her, it would be 'giddy.' If he'd been called away, she would have fallen in love with somebody else."

Amy Kass nods. "She's ready, she's ripe. If you ever remember yourself on the cusp of womanhood, when all of your senses are alive and the world is beginning to come alive…. It's not an accident that we have that locution, 'to fall in love.' It's not something you can control."

Rosalind "wants to fall in love," Kass continues, "but she also wants to marry." When she and Orlando, both having been forced into exile, meet in the forest of Arden, Rosalind is masquerading as a youth to aid her escape. She quickly decides not to reveal her identity to Orlando, even though he has papered the forest with lovesick verse. In deciding "to play the knave with him," the class agrees, she's testing Orlando. As Leon Kass sums up, "She's not just giddy, she's also smart. She's protecting herself in some way from too rapid revelation of her own feelings."

Rosalind greets Orlando by asking him the time--an odd question in the forest, but "the perfect question," Amy Kass says, to ask a lovelorn youth. "She wants to bring him down to earth, bring him back into time." Before they part, Rosalind sets a specific time for their next meeting. "A person who keeps time is reliable, responsible," Kass continues as a student's watch beeps the hour.

Orlando arrives late. "How do you feel if someone is late?" Amy Kass asks. "It's lowering in a way," one woman admits. Meanwhile the student who's reading Orlando seems perfectly typecast: "It's good to be 20 minutes late. It makes it more intense."

Degrees of lateness get discussed: how late, how good the excuse, how well you know the person who's late. "I give people the benefit of the doubt," a black-haired woman announces. "They show up--that was the point of the meeting."

"A promise has been broken," Leon Kass notes. "On the face of it, minimally, you're owed an explanation. Why?"

"Because a promise has been broken," the woman responds, not yet convinced it's a promise that matters. If Orlando had known he was meeting Rosalind--not some rustic youth--offers the pragmatic student in plaid, he would have been on time. Across the table, a woman disallows the point: Rosalind is testing Orlando to find out how he'll treat "the Rosalind he'll be married to 20 years down the road, the one he's not infatuated with anymore."

With the class running short on time, Amy Kass calls for the next scene, where Rosalind leads Orlando through a mock marriage and its aftermath, including the spectre of adultery. Full of puns and word play, the scene can seem silly, Kass says, but it has a serious purpose: "What is she trying to find out?"

"She's witty in both senses of the word," offers the student who plays Celia. "She's trying to find out something about either his wit or how he will deal with hers."

"She's gotten him to the mock marriage," Leon Kass agrees, pulling together punctuality and adultery. "Immediately after, she makes him think: All right, now that you've possessed her--now what? A woman who's really in command--can you manage that? A man who isn't ardent in the pursuit of the beloved might wind up there in time to find the beloved someplace else. So, get a watch." --M.R.Y.

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  APRIL 2000

  > > Volume 92, Number 4

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Good guys finish first
  > >
Edward Hirsch Levi
  > >
U of C Folk Festival
  > >
The prophetic art

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