Phebe Monologue (Act 3, Scene 5)
One of As You Like Its most loved characters Phebe presents an interesting problem. Originally written to be the punchline to a joke, in a more modern context she becomes rather sympathetic. Phebe is a young shepherdess who is doted on, chased around, and obsessed over by another young shepherd named Silvius. This monologue is her response to his outlandish claims, but before we get into the nitty gritty, we need a little context…
We begin in a Duchy, where before the story of the play has even begun, Duke Senior, father to our protagonist Rosalind, has been usurped from his throne by his brother Duke Frederick, and has fled to the forest of Arden along with his loyal followers. Rosalind, however, being the oldest and closest friend of Duke Frederick’s daughter Celia allows Rosalind to remain at court.
This brings us to the beginning of the play where we meet Orlando, the son of the late Sir Roland de Bouys who is lamenting his treatment from his older brother Oliver, who has cheated him out of his inheritance, education, and general way of life. Orlando has plans to wrestle the Dukes champion Charles the wrestler. But Charles tries to get Oliver to call off the match. Oliver warns Charles that Orlando will kill him if he is beaten so Charles agrees to give the match his all.
The day of the wrestling match we meet Rosalind and Celia who are talking with Touchstone and Le Beau about love and wrestling. They try to dissuade Orlando from going ahead with the match but what does he do? He goes ahead and wrestles anyway. But to the surprise of literally everyone (maybe except Orlando) he wins! Rosalind offers her congratulations to Orlando and in that moment we can see they are in love with each other. Congratulations flow from all around. The newly appointed Duke begrudgingly congratulates Orlando when he learns who his father was.
Distrusting Rosalind, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind from the Kingdom as well, and she and Celia, the Dukes own daughter, decide they’ll go to the forest of Arden together and disguise themselves for safety, bringing Touchstone the court jester too. Rosalind disguises herself as a man named Ganymede, and Celia as a common shepherdess called Aliena. Meanwhile Orlando has learned about a plot against his life by his older brother Oliver, and decides to flee to the forest as well.
This is where we meet the inhabitants of The Forest of Arden. Phebe and Silvius included. When we first come across Silvius he is lamenting the fact that Phebe doesn’t have the same feelings for him as he does for her. Silvius and Corin continue on with their days and the next time we see Silvius, is also the first time we see Phebe.
Silvius and Phebe burst onto the scene with Silvius desperately following her in every footstep. Begging her to give him a soft answer. Silvius in his attempts to garner some sympathy compares her to an executioner. To which Phebe replies…
I would not be thy executioner;
I fly thee for I would not injure thee.
Thou tell’st me there is murder in mine eye.
’Tis pretty , sure, and very probable
That eyes, that are the frail’st and softest things,
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be called tyrants, butchers, murderers.
Now I do frown on thee with all my heart,
And if mine eyes can wound, now let them kill thee.
Now counterfeit to swoon – why now fall down!
Or if thou canst not – O, for shame, for shame –
Lie not, to say mine eyes are murderers.
Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee.
Scratch thee but with a pin, and there remains
Some scar of it; lean thou upon a rush,
The cicatrice and capable impressure
Thy palm some moment keeps. But now mine eyes,
Which I have darted at thee, hurt thee not,
Nor I am sure there is no force in eyes
That can do hurt.
nice, proper, apt
surely, assuredly, certainly
old form: atomyes
atom, mote, speck
imprint, impression, indentation, stamp
scar, scar-like mark
sensitive, receptive, responsive
I will not be your executioner
I run from you so I don’t hurt you
You tell me I have murderous eyes
That’s a pretty thing to say, and quite probable
That eyes, that are so frail and soft,
And cowardly close themselves when there’s dust
Should be called tyrants, butchers and murderers.
Now I’m frowning on you with all my strength,
And if my eyes can kill then let them kill you now.
Come on, faint. Fall down.
If you can’t then you are shameful;
Don’t lie and say my eyes are murderers.
Come on now, show me the injury my eyes have given you.
If you get scratched with a pin it leaves a scar
If you lean on a rush your palm shows it’s impression for a moment after.
But now my eyes, which I’ve darted all around you, haven’t left a mark on you.
Now I’m sure there’s nothing in anyone’s eyes that can do harm.
Notes on Performance
First thing to keep in mind when it comes to this speech is the history between Phebe and Silvius. Silvius has been hounding and annoying Phebe for a while now and this is the culmination of all that frustration. So it doesn;t just come out of nowhere. It’s been bubbling beneath the surface for a while now. So connect to that history and allow it to bubble up until you can’t contain it anymore.
Another thing to keep in mind is this is an opportunity to focus on directly attacking your scene partner. Don’t hold back and let it rip.
And finally always remember what you’re trying to get the other character to do with your actions. What Phebe wants is for Silvius to leave her alone. So take that objective and run with it.
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