As You Like It


William Shakespeare

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As You Like It: Personification 2 key examples

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Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Fortune's Wheel:

In Act 1, Scene 2, Celia and Rosalind discuss Fortune and its role in the lives of women, personifying Fortune as an old housewife sitting by her wheel.

Celia:   Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune
from her wheel, that her gifts may be henceforth be
bestowed equally. 

Rosalind:  I would we could do so, for her benefits are
mightily displaced, and the bountiful blind woman
doth most mistake in her gifts to women. 

Celia: 'Tis true, for those she makes fair she scarce
makes honest, and those she makes honest she
makes very ill-favoredly.                                                    

Celia and Rosalind mock the "housewife" Fortune, saying that she does not distribute her “gifts” equally; some people receive better luck than others. Rosamund describes her as “bountiful” but “blind,” giving but not discerning. Rosamund, as the child of an exile, likely feels the unfairness of her father’s (and her own) fate acutely. Here, though, she draws attention specifically to the role of Fortune in women’s lives, saying that Fortune errs the most in her gifts to women. 

Celia jokes that the women that Fortune makes “fair” (beautiful) she doesn’t often make “honest” (faithful), and those she makes honest she often makes “ill-favoredly” (unattractive). The two women squabble playfully,  Rosalind countering that beauty is Nature’s responsibility, rather than Fortune’s. The personification of these two forces (Fortune and Nature) reflect how much power these forces have over the lives of women in this era. Celia and Rosalind are totally at the mercy of Nature: if they are deemed conventionally unattractive, they cannot marry and attain financial security. Equally, they are also victims of Fortune. As noblewomen, the shifting fortunes of their families within the political and social sphere can upheave their lives in a moment. Their playful personification of Fortune as an old crone sitting by her wheel can be seen as an attempt to cope with the uncertainty in their lives through humor. 

Act 4, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—A Woman's Thoughts:

In Act 4, Scene 1, Rosalind (as “Ganymede”) is “married” to Orlando by Celia, who plays the role of priest. Rosalind personifies her thoughts in this scene:  

Rosalind: There’s a girl goes before the priest, and certainly a woman’s thought runs before her actions.

Orlando: So do all thoughts. They are winged. 

Rosalind guides the scene, feeding Orlando and Celia their lines, and prompting them to play their parts as groom and priest respectively. Rosalind jokes self-deprecatingly about going “before the priest” (anticipating his speaking part), and then comments that certainly “a woman’s thought runs before her actions.” Orlando counters that all thoughts do,  by their nature (“they are winged”).

Rosalind personifies thought itself, granting it the autonomy and speed to “run” ahead of action. Certainly, it is clear that Rosalind’s mind is working furiously in this  scene, as she goes about testing the limits of Orlando’s affections. 

In this scene, Rosalind “teaches” Orlando that women are jealous, fickle, shallow, and overly emotional by nature. Rosalind’s leveraging of misogynistic stereotypes reveals her “lessons” are not lessons, but tests meant to assess Orlando’s view of women and herself. The personification here works in line with this strategy. “Women’s” thoughts are given unusual power, gesturing directly to the stereotypical “hysterical” and emotional nature of women. The thoughts of women race ahead of their ability to act, creating confusion in themselves and others.

Orlando expands this instance of personification  to “all” thoughts, reflecting his disinterest in the stereotypes Rosalind uses to gauge his interest. His remark acts as a denial of Rosalind’s self-diminishment (though he does not realize he is speaking to Rosalind). His responses imply that even if Ganymede is right about women, Orlando does not believe that Rosalind will fall into these tropes (“Oh, but she is wise”). The reader can also intuit that perhaps Orlando feels his own thoughts have gotten ahead of him—they have lately been of Rosalind, and driven him so far as to publicly proclaim his love, carve her name into trees, and follow this strange boy into the forest to perhaps be cured of his feelings. 

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