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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

#103 " AS YOU LIKE IT "
Description of Painting - Oil on Canvas 26" x 28"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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Within the themes of romance and redemption this play also explores the complexities of the human psyche; on the premise that when the diverse and opposite parts are not reconciled, the result is a 'split-personality'. The person is 'not himself', and acts in strange ways. This acting inhibits genuine self-understanding. As Celia says:
"If you saw yourself with your own eyes
Or knew yourself with your judgement..."
In the general absence of this knowing, in life as in the theater, everyone is acting a part "..for all the world's a stage

In the painting, the upper half is divided vertically into dark and light grounds, representing the split personality. Each part is framed by a theatrical curtain of opposite colors extending the length of the canvas flanking the spotlight in which 'good and evil' are locked in combat.

Although the destructive elements of our natures cannot be entirely eliminated, they can be tamed and controlled by the better parts. This duality is apparent in the casting of the two dukes, two brothers, two servants, etc. each pair having its benevolent and malevolent constituents that collide in contention.

The painting shows the fiery angel wresting the weapon from the devil adversary and forcing him to his knees.

In the first act, Orlando rebels against his malicious brother Oliver, in just such a physical encounter and censures him with:
"Thou hast railed on thyself".
The good servant Adam intervenes for a temporary truce, and when they have left, Oliver secretly incites the evil duke's wrestler (whom Orlando has covertly challenged), with a sinister behest:
"I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger".
This pugnacious delegate of the "tyrant duke and tyrant brother' is the favorite contender in the scheduled courtly 'fun and games'. That Shakespeare intended a metaphoric emphasis on wrestling is substantiated by the fact that he devoted a whole scene to the match, with Orlando as the victor.
However, this triumph incurs his banishment and he seeks refuge in the Forest of Arden where he is recognized by Celia, the duke's daughter. She and cousin Rosalind are also fugitives from the court. Celia reports her discovery to Rosalind:
"It is young Orlando, that tripped up the wrestler's heels
And your heart, both in an instant."
And Rosalind replies:
" Nay, but the devil take mocking.."
In the painting, the 'devil and angel' struggle is attended by two sets of dual heads housed in the split loges, bound with a single balcony, denoting the split elements of the psyche; good-evil and male-female, which must be brought into a balance to effect a harmony.

The conflict between the two sets of brothers is in sharp contrast to the bonding of the two cousins who "being from their cradle bred together .. still went coupled and inseparable".
Celia tells Rosalind:
"Thou and I am one".
a prelude to the concord of male and female, for when they are forced to flee, it is Rosalind who takes on the disguise of a man and they go forth as brother and sister.

This "coupled and inseparable" harmonic alliance is amplified in an 'in love' experience, which blossoms at the play's end.

Oliver is ultimately converted by the forgiveness of his brother and the love of Celia:
The ruthless duke is converted by a religious man and restores his brother to his rightful dukedom.

And so destructiveness has been disarmed and love prevails, presiding over the four simultaneous marriages, two of the court and two of the. country folk.
"..give me leave to speak my mind, and I will through and through,
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine."
         --Jacques: "As You Like It"
FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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