Midway through the play, Rosalind and Celia are invited to witness a "pageant truly play'd" between "the pale complexion of true love/ And the red glow of proud disdain." And on cue, enter Silvius and Phoebe, who offer yet another study in love's folly. He's the faithful shepherd, delicate and love sick; she's his cruel and disdainful mistress, who, as Rosalind says, insults and exults over the wretched.
The pageant they play is a parody of scenes familiar to Elizabethan audiences, who loved their pastoral as we love our westerns. Today, the scene feels a bit like a parody of the erotic world of Dominance and submission, which also features "scenes" (usually played out in dungeons, though forests might work too).
We've met Silvius before--he enters almost as soon as Rosland & Co. arrive in Arden. He's talking about Phoebe, of course, and his passion for her (he has no other subject), and in a spasm of wrenching torment he runs off stage shouting out her name. In rehearsal the other day Silvius was quivering everywhere, he was all shook up, and I told him I loved that. In the third act, he comes on again, preceded by his would be girlfriend, who is a piece of work. He begs her not to scorn him; she mocks his ridiculous agony: she darts her eyes in his direction and then asks him to show her the wound they've made. Rosalind can't bear this, and she jumps into the scene to scold Phoebe for her heartlessness.
Her interference only complicates things, because Phoebe instantly falls in love with Ganymede. The scene ends with Rosalind leaving in frustration, and Phoebe getting Silvius's help in writing a "taunting" letter to her new love.
Both Silvius and Phoebe are comic cariacatures, yet both are particular and wonderfully familiar. Our Phoebe, Jessica Compton, is a pint sized pistol with flashing dark eyes and a fabulous figure. You could make a woeful ballad to her eyebrow. You understand immediately why Silvius is besotted with her, and you also know right away this is a girl who needs a good spanking. Ironically, it is the verbal smacking Rosalind gives her that makes Phoebe so hot and bothered: she's getting what she needs and deserves and what Silvius can never give her. When Phoebe tells Silvius about how rude the youth was to her, we see her--in our production--getting very turned on, and using the always pliant Silvius as a sort of love doll as she considers the features of her new infatuation.
Silvius is indeed the "tame snake" his unconditional devotion has made him. He even offers to be Phoebe's willing cuckold, who thinks it "a most plenteous crop/to glean the broken ears after the man/That the main harvest reaps." He's truly pathetic. And yet, Rosalind sees her own feelings mirrored in his, and in the great quartet that operatically crowns the play, Silvius is the lead tenor, the voice of love itself. Phoebe tells him to tell Rosalind what it is to love. And he does. And what is it to love? It is "to be all made of "signs and tears," all "faith and service," all "fantasy and wishes, "All adoration, duty and observance,/ All humbleness, all patience and impatience,/ all purity, all trial, all observance." And so is he for Phoebe. In other words, love is surrender and complete submission. To be truly in love is to be as pure and as pathetic as Silvius.
I love this quartet, in which Rosalind, Orlando and Phoebe join Silvius in musically sighing out their passion. When we rehearsed the scene, I asked everyone to sing their lines and the result was suddenly full of passion and beauty and wonder. Ben Bonenfant, our Silvius, has a wonderful sweetness about him, which carries all the other lovers into opening their heart chakras.
Of course it goes on a little too long, and the love wailing grows a little stale. "No more of this," Rosalind says, "Tis like the howling of Irish wolves after the moon."
In one of the play's many concluding improbabilities, Silvius and Phoebe do get together at last. When Phoebe sees that the boy she fell in love with is a girl, it's all over for her. She's promised to take Silvius if she can't marry Ganymede, and she does so in two lines: "I will not eat my word; now thou are mine/ Thy faith my fancy to thee doth combine." The moment has given directors headaches for centuries. How can Phoebe plausibly give in to the man she's scorned throughout the whole play? In many productions (including one I directed years ago), the lines are spoken sarcastically--like, "OK, a deal's a deal." But that note is jarring and misplaced in the collective wedding harmonies, calling far too much attention to itself. I had thought perhaps we would some more of the D/s scenario that resonates more today, and have Phoebe accept Silvius as her slave, by putting a collar around his neck (nice parallel with Rosalind claiming Orlando with her necklace). But this too seemed heavy handed when proposed in rehearsal yesterday. So far the scene works best when Phobe says her lines simply and gracefully, and ends them with a kiss. We've used the hymn to marriage as her transition; in the song, Phoebe finally "gets it" and embraces the love she is so lucky to have. It's a lovely moment, and it seems to work beautifully, even if it has no rational right to.