The Place of the Cousin in As You Like It


This essay argues that the relationship between Celia and Rosalind at the center of As You Like It exemplifies the public countenancing, ethical utility, and social primacy of oath-based friendship between women—particularly women cousins. “Cousin” was not only a kinship term, but also one particularly endowed with affective, and even erotic, meanings—an enhancement of intimacy beyond the more capacious “friend,” condensed in the potent single syllable “coz.” When Celia tells the banished Rosalind, “Say what thou canst, I’ll go along with thee,” she echoes Ruth’s famous words to Naomi in the Book of Ruth (“For whither thou goest, I wil go”), thus highlighting the play’s abiding interest in chosen kinship between women, and the role of these bonds in creating the webs of kinship that characterized early modern life.