Thoughts on Celia - Alice Carlill
For the fourth in our series of blog posts, actor Alice Carlill writes about her thoughts on her character, Celia, and tells us why she is not just a supporting character.
Alice Carlill – Thoughts on Celia
Celia: supporting actress, loyal friend to Rosalind, daughter of a usurping Duke and eventual wife to Oliver. Right? Technically, yes – but she is so much more than that.
When I accepted the role of Celia, I was determined she would not ‘just’ be any/all of the above. This did not only stem from my personal aversion to wet, weak female characters – a staging of Celia with which I am well familiar, and which I feel is both boring and textually incorrect. Read Shakespeare’s language and a sassy, bold and self-assured woman emerges:
…let my father seek another heir!
Therefore devise with me how we may fly,
Whither to go, and what to bear with us;
And do not seek to take your change upon you,
To bear your griefs yourself and leave me out:
For, by this heaven, now at our sorrows pale,
Say what thou canst, I’ll go along with thee.
Examine the verbs: ‘devise’, ‘fly’, ‘go’, ‘bear’. Examine her affectionate, but imperative command that Rosalind allow Celia to share her grief. And examine, perhaps most bold of all, her rejection of family and status for the love of her cousin. Celia is no wet woman, and I was not going to disgrace Shakespeare’s words or the character by playing her thus.
Certainly she is not as immediately comfortable as Rosalind or Touchstone in the forest. But it is she who advises fleeing the court for the rural haven, and she settles in happily enough, pronouncing that now-infamous line – ‘I like this place/And willingly could waste my time in it.’ Neither is she as wordy as her cousin, but that is not to say she is stupid – quite the opposite, as she, Rosalind and Touchstone demonstrate in their bantering exchanges. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I believe that the text is the ultimate source to which Shakespearean actors must refer themselves, and I am not playing a Celia who is inconsistent with the woman the bard wrote (except, perhaps, in the provision of feminist literature in those scenes where she is onstage but not saying much – look out for the likes of Woolf and Wollstonecraft).
This production of As You Like It has embraced the ambiguities of gender and sexuality that are there in Shakespeare’s text. However, in terms of Celia’s relationship with Rosalind, it has not been played with any of the queerness that directors sometimes bring to it. For me, it was important that their friendship be played straight, ratifying and embracing the female bond that is at the heart of the play. It is rare that such female relationships are so central to a text even today, and, what with our production team being so overwhelmingly female, it would be a sin not to honour that. To this end, Celia does not remain the silent woman post Act IV, spoken for by her husband. Shakespeare’s text must be the starting-point for any production, but that is not to say it cannot be played with to accommodate its vision; it is the plays’ timelessness, after all, that has contributed to their continuing success and longevity. Ultimately, Orlando and Oliver may come and go, but Rosalind and Celia are forever.