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Treason Can Be Inherited: The Dishonor of Celia's Silent Crush

Butterfly Wings's picture

3 December 2015

Treason Can Be Inherited: The Dishonor of Celia’s Crush

     This past semester, Bryn Mawr’s Shakespeare Performance Troupe (SPT) put on a production of “As You Like It”, in which I played the role of Celia1. Her character is an interesting one, strangely, not for her dialogue when she is present, but for her silent presence in many scenes. Upon reading Adrienne Rich’s piece “On Lies, Secrets, and Silence”, which argues that “[l]ying is done with words, and also with silence” (Rich 186), I came to interpret her choices in a new way. Through the lens of Adrienne Rich, Celia’s silences are a mark of dishonor, and a betrayal of the person dearest to her, Rosalind.

     Celia’s often hinted-at love for Rosalind, so often smoothed over, tie into Adrienne Rich’s notion that if silence is a form of lying, to oneself (herself in Celia’s case) as well as others, Celia actively deprives herself and Rosalind of achieving a true relationship. She cannot allow for the growth of a “womanly idea of honor” (Rich 189) by stifling important truths about her interactions with her cousin. 

     Celia’s love for Rosalind is clear from her very first line: “Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry!” (I.ii). This trend continues throughout the play, with most of Celia’s lines revolving entirely around Rosalind. When Frederick banishes Rosalind, Celia fights back with the protest that if “she be traitor/why so am I; still we have slept together/rose at an instant…/and wheresoever we went, like Juno’s swans/Still we went coupled and inseparable” (I.iii) and the proclamation “I cannot live out of her company!” (I.iii). After the two decide to enter the forest of Arden disguised as Ganymede and Aliena, Celia speaks of “[going] in content to liberty/and not to banishment” (I.iii), a clear call to Celia’s desire to live coupled with Rosalind, as well as her desire to make Rosalind happy. It could almost seem, particularly from the first and last quote, that Celia’s love for Rosalind is one focusing entirely on Rosalind’s feelings. 

     However, Celia falls into a category of Rich’s; she “[tells] herself a lie; that she is concerned with other’s feelings, not her own” (Rich 187).  Celia works towards the selfish goal of having Rosalind to herself. Though her first line seems entirely focused on Rosalind’s well-being, she follows it up by arguing that Rosalind’s sorrows over her banished father are selfish, and proof that “[Rosalind] loves [Celia] not with the full weight/that [she] loves Rosalind” (I.ii). Celia’s focus is solely on claiming Rosalind’s attentions. Her lies to the contrary, silently buried beneath seeming concern for Rosalind’s well-being, show her interactions with Rosalind are based mostly around manipulating Rosalind into reciprocating affection. She is “rewarded for lying” (Rich 186) by Rosalind’s willingness to jest with her, but cannot be vulnerable with Rosalind in turn, thus the lack of direct admissions of love. 

     Knowing Celia’s love for Rosalind, even as she attempts to manipulate Rosalind into reciprocating, one has to question her silent presence in the background of all of Rosalind’s intimate moments with Orlando. There are two main scenes between Rosalind and Orlando: first, Act Two Scene Three, where Rosalind, dressed as Ganymede, convinces Orlando to woo her in lieu of Rosalind, with the end hope of curing Orlando of his love for Rosalind; second, Act Four Scene One, where Rosalind and Orlando confess their love for each other and perform a fake marriage ritual with Celia as the minister. Celia stays for the duration of both, making almost no scripted comments or interjections as the object of her affection chooses a man over her. Her sole remark, that “he [read: Ganymede] hath a Rosalind of better leer than you [Orlando]”(IV.i), implies that Ganymede is out of Orlando’s league, ergo Rosalind would be much more so. It is a sad attempt to insert herself, that goes entirely ignored, and does not address her true critique of the man who steals Rosalind away from her. She then also is convinced to play the officiator, in spite of her wish to “not say the words” (IV.i). 

     Her reluctance to take action in front of Orlando and to establish a relationship with him as a human by challenging him, are both exhibits of her lie to the not-Rosalinds of the world that she does not contest Orlando’s love. In private, she spends much time trying to assure Rosalind that there is “no truth in him” (III.iv) and that he “attends in the forest on the duke”(III.iv) in hopes of making Rosalind recognize his short-comings. Celia’s “And I’ll sleep” (IV.i) at the end of Act Four Scene One speaks to her resignation to Rosalind’s determination to love Orlando. She silences herself to avoid the pain of rejection. Celia creates a cage of wordlessness that “[silently drowns] the erotic feelings between [her and Rosalind]” (Rich 190). 

     Having near-resigned herself at the end of Four-One, it is little wonder that her feelings are further decimated under the weight of her expected conversion to heterosexuality on meeting a man that adores her at first sight. While Celia starts off as a character willing to fight for her opinions, as in her confrontation with Duke Frederick over Rosalind’s banishment, her silence grows towards the end of the play. Her marriage to Oliver, while supposedly one of love in the eyes of her fellow characters, goes entirely uncommented on by her. Oliver himself touts their love the day after they meet, telling Orlando not to question 

“my sudden/wooing, nor her sudden consenting; but say with me,/I love Aliena; say with her that she loves me;/consent with both that we may enjoy each other…/ and here [with her I shall] live and die a shepherd” (V.ii)

Oliver is smitten beyond doubt; the only notes on Celia’s emotions, however, are through the eyes of Rosalind, who is oblivious to Celia’s affection for her, and cannot therefore be considered a reliable source as far as Celia’s emotions go. She describes it to Orlando as

“your brother and my sister no sooner/met but that they looked, no sooner looked but they/loved, no sooner loved but they sighed, no sooner/sighed but they asked one another the reason, no/sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy” (V.ii)

Celia’s sole scene of speech with Oliver, the latter half of Act Four Scene Two, shows no proof of Rosalind’s claim. While she does subvert Rosalind’s usual tendency of doing the talking with strangers, her attention on Oliver mostly follows the revelation that he is the brother “who so oft contrived to kill [Orlando]” (IV.ii). This attention is also immediately shifted away from Oliver when Rosalind swoons at the thought of Orlando being injured by a lion. Her invitation for him to return to their cottage follows an understanding that Rosalind and Oliver have a conversation to finish. Knowing there to be no proof of romantic feelings towards Oliver in the text, her silence follows a description of Rich’s, whereby “the institution of heterosexuality [forces] the lesbian [read: Celia] to dissemble” (Rich 190). Because Celia’s true emotions, those of lust or love for Rosalind, run counter to the heterosexual norms, she silences her opinions beyond that scene. She is allowed no more lines, and no longer asserts herself in any way. While she is present in the final scene, Act Five Scene Three, and is in fact embraced and acknowledged by several characters, she and Oliver are the only canon couple on stage with no scripted interactions in the scene. They are also the only canon couple to never speak. “The liar leads an existence of unutterable loneliness” (Rich 191), so Celia is self-punished for her lies both by a relationship sans words (though not necessarily sans love) and by a lack of resolution regarding her emotions towards Rosalind. 

     Through her increasing silences over the course of the play, Celia accrues dishonor, by Rich’s standards. Combined with her father Frederick’s usurpation of Senior, and with the villainy inherent to Oliver’s character, Celia is but a piece in a legacy of family dishonor. The parallel between all three’s initially strong voices and later silence is too strong to be ignored. This is an interesting contrast with Rosalind’s main argument against Frederick’s choice to banish her; Rosalind claims that “treason is not inherited…/Or, if we did derive it from our friends/what’s that to me?/my father was no traitor” (I.ii). In truth, Rosalind is here pointing out her father’s honor, and defending the idea that he wished for anything less than the best for his dukedom and his brother. It is, too, a direct insult, as Frederick himself is undeniably a traitor to his own blood. His banishment of Senior, and of Rosalind, is clear proof of that fact. As Celia too betrays Rosalind with her silent lies in not confessing her love, and thus not allowing for the “possibility of truth between [them]” (Rich 194), she follows in her father’s footsteps. Betrayal, thusly, was inherited, while Rosalind received her father’s goodness.

     As Rosalind herself is a character with consistently genuine emotional presentation, she is the harshest contrast to Celia. Duke Frederick’s certainty that Celia will “show more bright and seem more virtuous/[if Rosalind] is gone” (I.iii) is true by Rich’s standards. This theory is problematized by Rosalind’s dishonest performance of herself; while she consistently presents candid opinions without care for their consequences, she still acts under a guise of a man for the majority of the play. Her relationship with Orlando is largely founded on her ruse. However, she seemingly goes unpunished for her lies, though Rosalind’s lies are those of words, rather than those of silence. This is because of the privileges Rosalind can assume in dressing as a man; she is no longer within the rules of women. Lies of words are all that impact them; since she tells the verbal truth while dressed as both herself and Ganymede, she can go unpunished. BMC’s production further addressed this in reading Rosalind in genderqueer or transmasculine. We used “they/them” pronouns for Rosalind, in attempt to explain their moments of deep-rooted misogyny2 and immediate eagerness to dress as a man when provided the opportunity. It does, however, serve as an interesting alteration in the context of Rich, as it removes the idea of Rosalind lying in any way.

     Adrienne Rich argues that hiding a truth through silence is as much a lie as any misleading words, as it is a way of lying to the self and changing the way we interact with each other as human beings. Celia, in “As You Like It”, continues a tradition of dishonor in her silences on matters regarding Rosalind and Oliver, and further silences her own homosexuality and loses her own voice.





1.  To briefly summarize, the play starts after Duke Frederick deposes his older brother (named only Duke Senior in the play) and claims his dukedom. At the time of this upheaval, Frederick’s daughter Celia and Senior’s daughter Rosalind are both very young. While Frederick banishes Senior to the forest of Arden, he allows Rosalind to stay on as Celia’s companion. The play flashes forward a decade or so, to Orlando and Oliver, the sons of another noble. Oliver, the eldest, despises his younger brother and thus convinces him to attempt a wrestling challenge in the Duke’s court with a man known for his brutality. Once at court, Orlando meets Celia and Rosalind for the first time; for Rosalind and Orlando, it is love at first sight. Celia is greatly dismayed by this development, as her dialogue reveals a less-than-platonic love for her cousin. After Orlando miraculously wins the fight with Frederick’s wrestler, he reveals his parentage as the youngest son of one of Senior’s dearest friends, leading Frederick to banish, rather than reward him. After Orlando’s departure, Rosalind confides her feelings to Celia, who is horrified, but is cut off in her remarks by the appearance of Frederick, who banishes Rosalind to the forest of Arden, on the grounds that she is far too likable to the people. Celia argues for Rosalind to remain, but is shut down. She instead chooses to accompany Rosalind in exile, acting out her own fantasy of living alone with Rosalind; to protect themselves, Rosalind dresses as a man, Ganymede, while Celia assumes the guise of a poor woman named Aliena. Once set up in a shepherd’s cote in the forest of Arden, they learn that Orlando is also roaming the woods, a part of Senior’s forest court. Rosalind tells Orlando she will cure him of his love for her by pretending to be Rosalind and allowing him to woo her as Ganymede. Celia, meanwhile, is set up with Oliver, originally roaming the forest trying to kill or capture Orlando on Frederick’s orders, until Orlando saves him from a lion. Upon meeting Celia, he promptly falls in love and decides to give Oliver his lands and remain a shepherd in the forest with her. When Rosalind learns that Orlando is tiring of pretending to woo Rosalind, so she sets up an elaborate scheme to reveal her and Celia’s true identities, leading to happy, heterosexual marriages for all. (There are several couples/characters whose semi-irrelevant side plots I have left out of this summary for sake of saving space)

2. See their treatment of Phoebe & Silvius, along with other throwaway comments made about Celia’s frailty and the general evils of women.


Anne Dalke's picture

Butterfly Wings--
I’m really glad to see you applying Adrienne Rich’s claims to a text outside those assigned in our course, one which you yourself have performed, and so know intimately. I think you do a great job here of demonstrating how, re-read through the lens provided by Rich, Celia’s silences become “a mark of dishonor, and a betrayal of the person dearest to her”: “Through her increasing silences over the course of the play, Celia accrues dishonor, by Rich’s standards.” Your textual reading is close-grained, and well substantiated; it’s quite a pleasure for me to see the ideas of the class extended in this way.

And/but! Where this stops short is in your speaking up (because now we know that remaining silent is to lie…?) about how you yourself understand this dynamic. Although you tell us at the beginning of the essay that you have played the role of Celia, your reading is done in the third person (i.e. “one has to question her silent presence”).

I’m particularly interested in this question because, during our class discussion of Rich, the group as a whole seemed to find her position too strong, too harsh: the class seemed to be saying that Rich was holding us all to an unreasonable standard. You say that Celia “continues a tradition of dishonor in her silences,” but of course she appears in a play that was written several hundred years before Rich took her stance against dishonorable silence. In now resurrecting and analyzing that play, are you thereby calling your classmates’ position and critique of Rich into question?