Acting Out(Law): Feasts, Outlawry, and Identity Constructions in Two Shakespearean Comedies

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

Food and Feast in Premodern Outlaw Tales


In Shakespeare's corpus of plays, it is predominantly the comedies that feature Robin Hood in any meaningful way; two—Two Gentlemen of Verona (c. 1589–1592) and As You Like It (c. 1599–1600)—make explicit reference to the Robin Hood legend in conjunction with outlaw figures on the stage during the production. As a dramatist, Shakespeare's contrast of the outlaw with the nobleman is performed through dialogue and indirect characterization, primarily achieved through careful and constant juxtaposition of images associated with outlawry, such as the Robin Hood tales, with images associated with nobility, such as feasting scenes. However, Shakespeare does not simply contrast the two; he intermingles them so that we see a clear ambivalence concerning identity construction and acceptance of social change. Shakespeare uses the figure of the outlaw, the figure of the nobleman, and the image of the feast in a call-and-response format similar to that found in the development of the outlaw tales in the medieval tradition to create a space for audiences of these plays to examine social instabilities and to make a case for accepting the reformed outlaw figure as a potentially positive influence on society, a move only made acceptable by these plays’ classification as comedies.

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