SHE GOES UPON THE STAGE AS ROSALIND: Mary Darby Robinson
b. 27 November 1757? – d. 26 December 1800
… a wandering beauty is a blade out of its scabbard.
You know how dangerous…
–John Crowe Ransom, Judith of Bethulia
Enter Rosalind, with her legs unsheathed
Of their skirts. Every blade in the theatre
Stands en garde before “Ganymede” has breathed
A line. Such dangerous games are sweeter
The more dangerous. Does wearing breeches
Breach the gates of her virtue? The question
Profits the house. The Crown Prince beseeches
Her, with ardent letters, to indiscretion—
Which is his aphrodisiac. For love,
It seems, he will risk all. Ah, men have died
And worms have eaten them, but not for love.
He leaves her undone and penniless beside.
Beauty, though a weapon wielded by who wears it,
Proves a guardless sword that wounds her when she bares it.
Mary (née Darby) Robinson became famous for her beauty and for her performances at Drury Lane Theatre, particularly in “cross-dressed” roles such as Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Viola. She was mistress for a time to the Prince of Wales, who promised her an annual income in recompense for giving up her profession on the stage—and later reneged. Later in her life, after suffering an illness that left her partially paralyzed, she became known again; this time as a writer of poetry, novels, and essays (including several in defense of the rights of women, such as A Letter to the Women of England on the Injustice of Mental Subordination).
“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” is Rosalind’s reply, in her guise as a young man, to Orlando, when he professes that love will be the death of him (As You Like It, Act IV Scene i).
Melinda Mueller grew up in Montana and Eastern Washington, and has lived in Seattle for 30 years. She majored in botany at the University of Washington, where she also studied poetry with Nelson Bentley. She teaches high school biology, biotechnology and evolution studies at Seattle Academy. Her most recent book, What the Ice Gets (Van West & Company, 2000) received a Washington State Book Award (2001), and a “Notable Book” award from the American Library Association (2002).