As You Like It (1599–1600)
Wilton House; the location of a possible early staging of As You Like It.
- First official record: mentioned in the Stationers' Register on a flyleaf dated 4 August 1600 as "As yolike yt." Grouped with Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour under the heading "to be staied." Who wrote the note, the exact nature of the grouping of plays, and the meaning of "to be staied" is unknown, but is thought to have been an attempt by the Lord Chamberlain's Men to prevent unauthorised printing of the plays listed. The play was not formally entered into the Register until its entry for the 1623 First Folio.
- First published: First Folio (1623).
- First recorded performance: possibly on 20 February 1599 at Richmond Park for Queen Elizabeth. The evidence comes from a payment to the Lord Chamberlain's Men for performances of three unnamed plays on St. Stephen's Day 1598, New Year's Day 1599, and Shrove Tuesday 1599 (i.e. 20 February). Juliet Dusinberre believes Touchstone's reference to pancakes (1.2.50-51) provides evidence that As You Like It was the unnamed play performed on 20 February. Another possible early performance may have taken place in December 1603 at Wilton House. In 1865, William Johnson Cory said that whilst visiting Wilton, he was told of a letter from the Countess of Pembroke to her son, William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, urging him to bring King James from Salisbury so he may see a performance of As You Like It at the house. James did come, residing at Wilton from 24 November to 12 December. Although Cory did not actually see the letter himself, and it has never been found or verified, a record of a payment to the Lord Chamberlain's Men for an unnamed play in December does exist, suggesting that something was performed at Wilton, but whether it was As You Like It seems impossible to ascertain. A Charles Johnson rewrite of the play, called Love in a Forest, was performed at Drury Lane on 9 January 1723. The earliest definite performance of the Shakespearean text was on 20 December 1740 at Drury Lane.
- Evidence: As You Like It is a difficult play to date due to lack of solid external evidence, forcing scholars to rely on topical allusions, parallels with other work and stylistic analysis. Obviously, it was completed by August 1600. It is not mentioned in Palladis Tamia, which could fix the date of composition as sometime between September 1598 and August 1600. In 1600, Thomas Morley published his First Book of Airs, which includes a variation of the page's song from 5.3 of As You Like It. According to the introduction of Airs, Morley compiled the book during the summer of 1599. It is unknown if Shakespeare borrowed from Morley, Morley from Shakespeare or if they collaborated, but irrespective of the exact nature of the relationship, it suggests that that particular passage was written between the summer of 1599 and early 1600. Possible topical allusions also locate the play in 1599/1600. For example, the line "the little wit that fools have was silenced" (1.2.82-83) may refer to the book burnings of June 1599, and Jacques' "All the world's a stage" monologue (2.7.139-166) is a possible reference to the motto of the newly opened Globe Thetare; "Totus mundus agit histrionem" ("all the world is a playground"), taken from Petronius. The Globe was open by 21 September 1599 at the latest, and possibly as early as 16 May 1599. Stylistic analysis has proved inconclusive in terms of establishing exactly where in the canon the play fits, but has served to locate its composition to the turn of the century, and most scholars agree with a rough date of 1599 to 1600.