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Shakespeare/As you like it Act 1 scene 1


Dear Dr. T.
First of all many thanks for agreeing to answer our questions about Shakespeare. I was looking for someone to whom I could ask my questions and I found you. Thank you very much for your time !
I don't know how long it takes for you to answer those questions. Do you think you can do it as soon as possible as I  need an answer urgenly.
So here is my question : I read many analysis on "As you like it Act 1 scene 1" and it is said that this scene is entirely in prose. I would like to know what you think about it. Is it not true to say that for example that when Orlando says "I am not taught to make any thing" it is an Iambic Pentameter and when he says "O, sir, very well; here in your orchard" it is a Spondee
And when Olivier says "Know you where your are, sir?" it is a Trochee. If this is wrong can you please explain to me why.
Is it possible to have a all scene in prose and in the middle those sentences in verse ?
Thank you very very much and I can't wait to read your answer !

Hello Tsipora,

I must first apologize for taking longer than I usually would to answer the question; we are finishing classes and taking final exams in my university, so I am a little crazy!

To answer your question:  there is a simple answer and a complex answer.  

The simple answer is that we just do not know what Shakespeare intended to accomplish when he wrote this play in prose. We have no records to explain why this play is almost completely in prose, first of all. Second, there are no statements from the time period that explain these odd poetic fragments, either. Moreover, there is no imagined explanation that covers everything we see in this play, as hard as we may try to make hypotheses.

The complex answer would begin with the fact that the play is over 50 percent in prose, while Shakespeare’s established pattern seems to be that lower classes speak in prose and nobility speak in verse, unless the nobles in question are either insane (Hamlet’s “mad speech,” for example) or deliberately trying to disguise themselves or fit in with lower-class people (Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays speaks prose when he is near the prose-speaking lower-class people and speaks in verse when he is near his family members).   However, As You Like It does not fit any of these patterns, as you know.  Moreover, there are in fact these remnants of verse in the play-- what have been called “verse fossils”--that are imbedded in the prose.  You are very astute to have found some of them!  They are, indeed, there.

As I said in the simple answer, above, we don’t know how this happened, but the designation of the term “verse fossil ” is meant to imply a part of the explanation (though we don’t know the “why” of this). Scholar John Dover Wilson first supplied this term and the idea, I think, that is, at some earlier point this play was in fact written in verse, or rather presumably following the patterns that Shakespeare pretty much follows elsewhere in his works, but that for some reason he (or someone else, more likely?) converted it to prose. Was this perhaps a script for the winter touring company to use?  We know that Shakespeare provided altered scripts for those tours (expressly shorter scripts, in the case of the hypothesis regarding Macbeth ’s short length). Or was there some other reason to put it into prose?  Perhaps it matters less the reason than that at least the mystery of the abundance of prose is (possibly) solved.

Not all scholars accept this idea, mind you, but those who do accept it point to these phrases and sentences like the ones you have found; they say that these pieces of poetry are clearly “leftovers” from some time when the play (or parts of it) existed in verse.  It seems fairly straightforward, as a theory, and I personally find it an interesting hypothesis.

Those who argue against these scholars tend to point out that some linguists (and poets, actually) believe that the English language is sort of “naturally” iambic.  Do you agree with this?  As I read back over my first sentence of this paragraph, I don’t see any particular iambic rhythms “naturally” flowing here, unless we unnaturally stress certain syllables to make it iambic. For me, a simple test of this sort (picking random prose English sentences and analyzing them to see how strong the iambs are within them) is enough to disprove the theory that the so-called “verse fossils” you found are there by accident.

These are just samplings of ideas about the prose (and poetic) aspects of As You Like It . If you have further questions, please write back!

Best wishes,
Dr. T.


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Dr. T.


I can answer questions about Shakespeare's life and times, his plays and poems, the history of criticism and critics' responses to Shakespeare's works, other authors of the time period, the audiences of the time period, Queen Elizabeth I, women of the Renaissance or Early Modern age, history of rhetoric, British drama, etc.


I have taught Shakespeare, Early Modern literature, Early Modern women's literature, the history of rhetoric, Arthurian literature, and related general literary subjects and many others in university classrooms for more than 25 years.

Renaissance Society of America, South-Central Renaissance Society, John Donne Society

3 books with University Presses, 1 book with HarperCollins Press; articles with: Continuum Press, DLB, Gale Research Shakespearean Criticism and Shakespearean Criticism Yearbook, College English journal, Studies in English Literature journal, CEA Critic journal, Renascence journal, Texas Papers on Language and Literature journal, several others.

Ph.D. in British Renaissance Literature and Rhetoric; M.A. in English; B.A. English and Theatre

Awards and Honors
I was editor of a scholarly journal for 10 years; Recipient of my university's Recognition Awards for Research, Teaching, and Service; two Sabbatical awards; graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude

Past/Present Clients
Panelist/Reviewer for National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC, 2001, 1997, and 1993; Referee for College Literature, Yale University Press (numerous editions of Shakespeare’s plays), College English, Harper/Collins (1992 to 1995: full-length book manuscripts, including the complete manuscript of The HarperCollins World Reader, Volume I.); Dramaturg for local Little Theatre, 2001–03 (including productions of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Dangerous Liaisons); Dramaturg for various productions in Theatre/Dance Dept at my University (including As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, Measure for Measure, The Tempest)

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