Rosalind is introduced into ‘As You Like It’ whilst she is in the throes of mourning for her banished father, and seeks solace in her best friend Celia. This immediate, emotive introduction into the play means the audience empathises with her character. This is an obvious starting point for Rosalind to go on to become a liked character, even a heroine. The audience is familiarised with Rosalind over the next few scenes, in which she meets and falls for Orlando. She is portrayed as an emotional yet strong character, with romantic tendencies and lively qualities.
However, when Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind after being reminded of his malice for her family when he discovers Orlando’s father was Sir Roland De Boys, her true character emerges as she sets off bravely into the forest accompanied by Celia. She decides that they should dress in disguises for their own safety, and Rosalind adopts the persona of a male named Ganymede. It is said by some critics that this decision shows Rosalind’s valiance; instead of despairing at being banished, she acts rapidly and wisely.
In her new disguise as Ganymede, Rosalind adopts a manly, rustic courage, as though she were indeed the brother of Aliena. Even when she felt desperate and weary, she maintains this courageous persona by comforting Celia and looking out for both of them – for when she meets Corin she says: “I prithee shepherd, if that love or gold Can in this desert place buy entertainment, Bring us where we may rest ourselves and feed. Here’s a young maid with travel much oppress’d, And faints for succour.”
This is admirable of Rosalind because she uses their disguises well to make the most of their situation and get help, without giving up hope. In the Peter Hall Company Production of ‘As You Like It’, this was how Rosalind was portrayed; she adopted the manly character of Ganymede and used it for their survival. I personally found this admirable, because in this situation many other characters would have given up on their journey before reaching the Forest of Arden.
When Rosalind meets Orlando in the forest, she is still dressed as Ganymede. She realises that Orlando was responsible for her name being carved into tree trunks, and then under her disguise she converses with him and strikes up a friendship in which she counsels him on his love for Rosalind. At first, this is amusing for the audience as it is an example of dramatic irony, and she is admirably bold and spirited.
However, as the play progresses, Rosalind continues to maintain her Ganymede persona, even when it is clear that there would be no danger if she revealed she was a woman. This was of course the reason for dressing as a man – because two women in the forest alone could be perilous. Yet, once this danger has passed, she continues to act as Ganymede so that she can get closer to Orlando without him realising. When Rosalind as Ganymede and Orlando take part in a mock wedding, Celia cannot help but express her annoyance at continuing this pretence:
“Ros: Come sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand Orlando. What do you say sister? Orl: Pray thee marry us? Celia: I cannot say the words.” This reluctance to reveal her true identity may be an indication that Rosalind is not as admirable as the audience is first led to believe, as it would appear that Rosalind is fooling around with Orlando for her own entertainment, and to assure herself of the intensity of his love for her. I personally see this as the weaker, less admirable side to Rosalind’s character, as she plays with Orlando’s emotions to amuse herself.
It is therefore arguable that the strength and valiance Rosalind displays under the disguise of Ganymede is all an act, because the audience does not necessarily see enough of Rosalind as herself to judge whether she is admirable or not without the cover of acting as a man. It is possible she is not as brave when she is herself. An example of this is when Phebe falls in love with Ganymede, but still she does not reveal herself as a woman, but continues to trick people and even scorns Phebe:
“… What though you have no beauty – As by my faith I see no more in you Than without a candle may go dark to bed – Must you be therefore proud and pitiless?” In the final scene of ‘As You Like It’ (Act V Scene III), Rosalind finally reveals her true identity to everyone in the Forest of Arden. However before she does this, she cunningly arranges it so that everyone who is in love is married – she says to Phebe that if Ganymede is proven not to be what he appears, then she must marry Corin. Of course, Rosalind reveals herself as a woman, and therefore Corin is happy because he can marry Phebe. This is admirable, because Rosalind not only thinks of her own marriage, but of others’ happiness as well.
In conclusion, I think overall Rosalind is a courageous and admirable character – however I do believe that she gains a lot of her courage from the fact she is disguised and so can adopt an entirely new persona without having to face any of the consequences. Yet this does not undermine the fact that she did admirable deeds, because technically Ganymede was just an extension of her own character, and in my opinion her use of disguise does not stop her from being an admirable heroine.