Researching Shakespeare's 'As You Like It'

I'm exploring Shakespeare's play 'As You Like It' in preparation for my participation in a display at the Craft Shop at Manchester Royal Exchange in June and July.  I'm looking for themes and ideas to inspire a set of scenes for some jewellery - as for my 'Strange Music, Rough Magic Series (pictured).

On the face of it this is straightforward romantic comedy. But the world of 'As You like It' is an alternative one. Unlike the Tempest, which inspired 'Strange Music, Rough Magic', there is no magic as such.  But just as the Tempest takes place on an Island, much of the play takes place in the wood of Arden (the Ardennes). This strange world is an alternative space where things are not as they usually are.   People tend to be displaced into this alternative arena - they do not often go there by choice.  There is also something of the multiple worlds of theatre. There is the play itself, where people act out pretend scenes, but within the play the woods acts as another theatre where people are removed from their everyday life and forced to act out another one - a journey of self discovery.  But within this doubly acted world, there is that fact that some people are acting the roles of others; Rosalind Ganymede and Celia Aliena, and even more confusingly, Ganymede Rosalind.  And within the play there is talk of life as a play. "All the world's a stage...' is from here, with its 'seven stages of man'.  As if it is referring back self-consciously from within the play to the real lives of the people watching it.  An eternal loop of dramatism.

Within 'As you like It', people's identities are very fluid.  They masquerade as others and then as others masquerade as themselves.  We have Rosalind pretending to be a young man pretending to be Rosalind.  True rulers hold court in the wood, while usurpers hold court at court.  There is a delightful disdain for nonsense too; from the political wrangling and gossip of court to the verbosity of Jacques to the sickly sentimentalism of Orlando.  But despite this, often the point is got across by a fair amount of reciprocal silliness. Rosalind is the main voice of good humoured realism in the play, but she does this dressed up as someone else, and then spends a fair amount of time acting her real self.

So, for the jewels?  This alternative space idea is important - the tension between an everyday setting and an imaginative overlay. I'd like to get the shadow or reflection of the woods into my pictures somehow.  Also to refer to this loop thing - the 'play within a play within a play, and all life's a play' idea. I'd like to try and find objects and symbols of the everyday to include, and put them in scenes which do not seem quite so commonplace.  I might, because it is after all a romance, look at flowers or love letters - the symbols of love.  Who knows exactly how this will work out. I'll let you know.

The Craft Shop at the Royal Exchange, Manchester
29 June - 6 August 2011. 
For details of opening hours etc, see their website

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