Counting by Threes: Sounding the Maternal in Shakespeare’s As You Like It

By: Elise Denbo 

Abstract: This paper opens with Mary Beth Rose’s question, “Where are the mothers in Shakespeare?” Although Shakespeare’s plays often dramatize the emotional bonds between fathers and sons or fathers and daughters, mothers are generally presented as threatening, dangerous, or remarkably absent. Although there are no mothers in As You Like It, embedded within the structure and ‘sounding’ of Arden there is a powerful maternal voice, the Latin anima or Greek psyche as animating spirit or breath of the greenwood. Ironically access to the maternal voice can be understood through Julia Kristeva’s notion of ‘the imaginary father,’ a ‘mother-father-conglomerate,’ which she revisions from Freud’s ‘father of individual prehistory.’ Unlike what most readers may think, such a ‘father’ is not a father but a metaphorical process – a ‘becoming’ – offering a means to consider how psychoanalytic approaches can lead us to current theories of embodied cognition, ecofeminism, and the ecological nature of play.