OF THE BABY NAME CELIA
Celia is the beautiful protagonist of Jonathan Swift’s 1732 satirical poem, “The Lady’s Dressing Room”. This nasty little snipe at women’s vanity has Celia’s lover, Strephon, venturing into her empty dressing room and becoming disillusioned by the odorous mess he finds there, realizing that the vision of loveliness he gazes upon daily is just that – a vision. The beautiful mistress is unmasked – indeed, she has bodily functions, she blows her nose, she spits, she has dandruff, she sweats and she smells. She is, in effect, a human being. Yes, yes, we know Master Swift is a master of satire, and so we should be appreciating his exhortation of the wrongs of a society that forces women into such subterfuge, and the less than lofty intentions of the men who have such ridiculous standards of unnatural beauty to which women must aspire. Sure, sure – but you know what? We think he was also being pretty snarky under the guise of satire. Swift was excoriated by his contemporary audience for the scatological nature of the poem- they shouldn’t have stopped there. (Well, some didn’t – check out Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s reply.)
Celia is a character in William Shakespeare’s popular and much adapted comedy, As You Like It, believed to have been written in 1599/1600. Celia is the cousin and close friend of the heroine, Rosalind. Duke Frederick, Celia’s father, has usurped his younger brother, Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father, who lives in exile in the Forest of Arden. When Frederick banishes Rosalind in anger, she and Celia flee to the forest as well, but naturally, in disguise. What else? Rosalind is dressed as a man (but of course) and Celia passes herself off as a shepherdess. While Rosalind (as Ganymede) is toying with her lover, Orlando, Celia (as Aliena) wins the heart of Oliver, his older brother (and these brothers have as many problems as the older generation). After lots of intervening nonsense, everyone marries the right person, and just to put the icing on the cake, Frederick conveniently decides he’s been a bad boy and gives the throne back to Senior. Then Orlando and Oliver make up. All’s Well That Ends Well. Oh, wait, wrong play. Nonetheless, in spite of, or perhaps because of, all this confusion, our Celia comes across as a singularly appealing young woman. She cheerfully volunteers to accompany Rosalind in exile, only to be reduced to having to listen to that young woman’s plaints of love. This proves tiresome until Celia finds her own love, and then she is once again Rosalind’s equal – they have both fallen head over heels, and Celia’s once somewhat jaded eyes are opened – so that’s what all the fuss is about! Who knew?
As You Like It