As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

'The Wresting Scene from As You Like It' by Francis Hayman (1740-42).

As You Like It is a comedy by William Shakespeare written around 1599, and first performed around 1603. It is notable for, among other things, the character Rosalind, who has the longest speaking role out of all of Shakespeare's female characters, speaking some 685 lines (seven more than Cleopatra of Antony and Cleopatra and exactly as many as Richard III in Richard III). The leading men in Shakespeare's plays as we know tend to have much longer parts though this isn't a hard and fast rule: Hamlet has 1,506 lines, Iago of Othello 1,088, Henry V 1,031, Othello 880... There are in fact thirteen male characters with more lines that Rosalind. Having read As You Like It I took the opportunity to compare the number of lines of some of Shakespeare's most famous women with some of the men using the website Shakespeare's Words - here's some of my favourite female characters, their number of lines, and how it corresponds with male characters:

Rosalind of As You Like It (1599)
Number of lines: 685
Number of lines of male lead (Orlando): 331
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Rosalind: Richard III of Richard III (685)

Number of lines: 542
Number of lines of male lead (Romeo): 517
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Juliet: Troilus of Troilus and Cressida (537)

Number of lines: 221
Number of lines of the male lead (Petruchio): 589
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Katherina: Jacques of As You Like It (221)

Number of lines: 574
Number of lines of the male lead (Shylock): 352
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Portia: Prince Hal of Henry IV Part 1 (572)

Number of lines: 391 
Number of lines of the male lead (Othello): 880
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Desdamona: Valentine of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (391)

Number of lines: 141 
Number of lines of the male lead (Bottom): 255
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Titania: Lord Hastings of Richard III (140)

Number of lines: 173 
Number of lines of the male lead (Hamlet): 1,506
Male character with approx. same number of lines as Ophelia: Duke of York of Henry VI Part 3 (173)

While we're at it, there are, I believe, some 1,358 male characters in Shakespeare's plays compared with 175 female characters, but, despite all that, I'm not actually going anywhere with this (though I would remark that in some of these plays it is quite fitting that the male lead dominates all, especially the female lead), it was just a good opportunity, what with Rosalind, to compare and I do like some facts and figures!

So, back to As You Like It. It begins with a speech by Orlando:
As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion
bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns,
and, as thou sayest, charged my brother, on his
blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my
sadness. My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and
report speaks goldenly of his profit: for my part,
he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more
properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you
that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that
differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses
are bred better; for, besides that they are fair
with their feeding, they are taught their manage,
and to that end riders dearly hired: but I, his
brother, gain nothing under him but growth; for the
which his animals on his dunghills are as much
bound to him as I. Besides this nothing that he so
plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave
me his countenance seems to take from me: he lets
me feed with his hinds, bars me the place of a
brother, and, as much as in him lies, mines my
gentility with my education. This is it, Adam, that
grieves me; and the spirit of my father, which I
think is within me, begins to mutiny against this
servitude: I will no longer endure it, though yet I
know no wise remedy how to avoid it.

We learn that Orlando's father Sir Rowland de Boys has died and Orlando's brother, Oliver, has been entrusted to care for Orlando and Jacques, the third brother. Oliver however has abused his authority and neglected his responsibilities, and treats Orlando very badly. Orlando, as it turns out, is an excellent wrestler and his skills caught the eye of Rosalind. She is the daughter of Duke Senior, recently usurped by his brother Duke Frederick. Oliver hears that Orlando plans to wrestle Charles, a wrestler in the court of Duke Frederick, and Oliver spitefully tells him Orlando is a dirty player. 

Meanwhile, Duke Senior is living in exile in the Forest of Arden; Rosalind remains in the court of Duke Frederick with her best friend Celia, the daughter of Duke Frederick. She falls in love with Orlando whilst watching him wrestle Charles, and when Rosalind is later exiled herself Orlando is also on the run, hearing of Oliver's plot to burn his house down with him still in it. Rosalind disguises herself as a pageboy, Ganymede, whilst Celia who has also run away with her adopts the guise of a poor woman, Aliena. They're accompanied by the court fool Touchstone. 

And so, all the 'exiled' - Duke Senior, Rosalind, Celia, and Orlando are in the Forest of Arden and it's not long before they all come together, however, at first, Rosalind maintains her disguise and even 'coaches' Orlando on how to be a good husband. To add some confusion, the essential ingredient in Shakespearean comedy, Phoebe, a shepherdess, falls in love with 'Ganymede'. But, all eventually resolves itself: Oliver tracks down Orlando to kill him, however Orlando actually saves Oliver's life, and so Oliver repents; Celia ends up falling in love with him, and Rosalind finally reveals her true identity. Jaques de Boys appears and announces that Duke Frederick has renounced his throne following a recent conversion, so Duke Senior returns to claim it. Orlando and Rosalind marry, as do Celia and Oliver, Touchstone and Audrey (a country girl), and also Phoebe and Silvius, a shepherd.

This is a very fun and warm play, though with a touch of darkness at times. It portrays love as a positive force, far from the tragic love stories in Shakespeare and other Elizabethan / Jacobean plays. There is also the idea of nature being a force of restoration on a soul too immersed in city life; everything is resolved in the Forest of Arden. Finally, it shows the powers of forgiveness and repentance. This is not necessarily a favourite of mine, but all the same I did enjoy reading it.

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