While Shakespeare plays are fun to watch, modern viewers often struggle to follow the language. It's easier to understand the characters and cadence when you read the play out loud with others. Plus, sharing the text with a group of Shakespeare lovers heightens the pleasure.
This June, Julia Lupton led a weekly reading group on As You Like It, the pastoral comedy featured in New Swan Theater's 2023 season. Participants included UCI staff, students, and community members.
“Reading ‘As You Like It’ with Prof. Dr. Julia Lupton was a wonderful experience where people from different cultural perspectives were encouraged to think more about Shakespeare and experience a homogeneous cultural coexistence,” said Mehmet Ozbek, a Shakespearean actor and visiting scholar from Turkey.
As You Like it is a dense play with complex images and ideas. It's a pastoral comedy that contrasts the court to the countryside. The reading group allowed us to slowly work through images and ideas in a casual environment. For example, we learned that the snail's shell represents Rosalind's mask as a boy. “I love getting to share bits of my research with community members,” said Lupton.
We also noticed that Rosalind speaks a lot! She controls most of the events and surpassses the limitations that society places on women.
We got a kick out of how a wise man can say foolish things and a fool can say wise things. And many of us related to what it's like to be annoyed with one's partner.
We also discussed the denser passages that might be cut from New Swan's production, and we explored how As You Like it was been performed in Shakespeare's day and how it's been performed today. For example, Duke Senior and Duke Frederick were most likely played by the same person in Shakespeare's time. The two are never seen at the same time and only Duke Senior appears in the final scene.
Jaques is played by a woman in many modern productions to allow for enough female roles. In Beth Lopes’ production, Jacques, played by Hope Andrejack, gets to deliver the final epilogue.
Whether it's mustard and pancakes or cringey love letters, we laughed many times. We can now enjoy the show understanding its main themes and messages.
--- Jessica Rosenow, New Swan summer intern