As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 and first published in the First Folio in 1623. The play’s first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility.
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Table of Contents
A young woman disguises herself to test the man she loves, and in so doing teaches three other couples what love means.
Young Orlando de Boys feels cheated out of his inheritance. In the orchard of his older brother, Oliver de Boys, he complains to his elderly servant, Adam, that Oliver is denying him the money and education that his late father, Sir Roland de Boys, had instructed Oliver to provide for him. His brother then comes upon them and Orlando demands better treatment.
A fight breaks out, with Orlando pinning Oliver until the older brother promises to make good on their father’s wishes. Yet after Orlando leaves, Oliver plots with the champion wrestler, Charles, to have his younger brother gravely injured during a wrestling match the following day at Duke Frederick’s palace.
The next day at the palace, a young noblewoman, Rosalind, expresses anguish over her situation to her cousin, Celia. Rosalind’s father, the former Duke (referred to as Duke Senior), has been overthrown and banished by his younger brother, Frederick, the present Duke and Celia’s father. Celia consoles her cousin by promising that when she inherits the throne she will return power to Rosalind.
The wrestling match takes place, with Orlando easily defeating Charles. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando while watching him wrestle, and rewards his victory with a chain from her neck.
After the match, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind from the court, fearing her allegiance to her deposed father. Angered by her father’s move, Celia decides to join her beloved cousin in exile. They disguise themselves to avoid the dangers of traveling strange roads—Celia as the poor young woman “Aliena,” and Rosalind as her brother “Ganymede.”
The banished Duke Senior and his lords endure their exile in the Forest of Arden in good spirits—hunting, feasting, and generally enjoying the country life. Back at the court, Duke Frederick is furious over his daughter’s disappearance. He suspects that Orlando is involved and orders his arrest.
When Adam hears of the order, and also of a plot by Oliver to kill Orlando, he warns Orlando and they flee the court together. Rosalind (disguised as “Ganymede”), Celia (disguised as “Aliena”), and their clown, Touchstone, arrive exhausted and frightened in the Forest of Arden.
They overhear the young shepherd, Silvius, telling the elderly shepherd, Corin, about his love for the shepherd girl, Phebe, and Rosalind is reminded of her love for Orlando. They approach Corin and arrange to purchase a small cottage in the forest.
Orlando and Adam arrive in another part of the forest, the old servant approaching death from hunger and exhaustion. Orlando sets out to find food for him and comes upon Duke Senior and his men having a feast. Orlando draws his sword and demands food, but is soon won over by Duke Senior’s kindness and generosity.
As Orlando goes off to fetch Adam to the feast, Duke Senior’s courtier, Jaques, cynically proclaims to the assembled lords his philosophy that “All the world’s a stage / And all men and women merely players.” His pessimism is contradicted, however, by the sight of Orlando carrying the feeble Adam to Duke Senior’s table to join the feast.
Duke Frederick sends Oliver away to look for his brother, telling him to bring Orlando back dead or alive. Orlando, meanwhile, wanders through the forest posting love poems to Rosalind on the trees.
Rosalind and Celia soon find the poems and discover that they were written by Orlando. Orlando then appears and Rosalind (still in disguise) teases him about being so in love. She proposes to “cure” him of his love affliction, which she calls “merely a madness,” by pretending to be Rosalind and having Orlando court her.
She promises to act proud, fickle, shallow, full of tears and smiles, and unpredictable, like a woman passionately in love. This is a foolproof way of curing Orlando of his “madness” since it will show him how silly women are. Orlando readily agrees to give it a try.
Touchstone attempts to tell the simpleminded goatherd, Audrey, that he has made plans to marry her, but is prevented from doing so when Jaques intervenes. In another part of the forest, Rosalind becomes upset when Orlando fails to keep his first date for the “love cure,” and Celia cautions her not to trust him too much.
Corin invites them to watch the spectacle of pathetic Silvius attempting to win the love of the overly proud Phebe. While Rosalind (disguised as “Ganymede”), Celia (as “Aliena”), and Corin secretly look on, Silvius begs Phebe to be his loved one, but she refuses him. “Ganymede” steps forward and angrily tells Phebe she should be grateful to have a man like Silvius.
Yet Phebe falls in love with the disguised Rosalind even as “Ganymede” scolds her. After “Ganymede” leaves, Phebe tells Silvius to carry a message to the “man” she now loves.
Rosalind, still disguised as “Ganymede,” criticizes Jaques for indulging his sad temperament too much, stating her philosophy that emotional extremes are a bad thing. Orlando arrives late for an appointment, and Rosalind (“Ganymede”), secretly hurt, jokingly scolds him for not being a thoughtful lover.
In order for Orlando to learn about the wily ways of women, they go through a make-believe marriage ceremony, with Celia acting as the priest.
Orlando promises to love his “Rosalind” forever, but Rosalind urges him to concentrate on love one day at a time instead of having unrealistic dreams of “forever.” Orlando then departs and Rosalind professes her deep love for him to Celia.
When Silvius arrives with Phebe’s love letter for “Ganymede,” Rosalind (“Ganymede”) deliberately misreads Phebe’s praises as insults and sends her back a message that she should love Silvius instead.
Oliver then arrives and gives “Ganymede” Orlando’s bloody handkerchief, explaining how Orlando had frightened away a snake that was threatening Oliver and how Orlando had been injured while rescuing Oliver from a lioness.
Oliver praises his brother’s courage and devotion, and confesses shame at his past treatment of Orlando. Rosalind faints at the sight of the blood, causing Oliver to suspect that “Ganymede” is not really a man.
Touchstone continues in his efforts to marry Audrey by frightening off her fiancé, William. In another part of the forest, Oliver explains to Orlando that he has fallen in love with “Aliena” at first sight, and plans to marry her and live as a simple shepherd.
Rosalind joins the brothers and promises Orlando that he will be able to marry the real Rosalind the following day. Silvius and Phebe join the group, with Silvius still pledging love for Phebe, who stubbornly wants “Ganymede.” Rosalind tells all the lovers to meet her the following day when she will so arrange matters that all will be satisfied.
As they come together the next day, Rosalind has Duke Senior (who is fooled by her disguise) promise to consent to Rosalind and Orlando’s marriage should his daughter be brought forth.
She then has Orlando pledge to marry Rosalind, a request he easily agrees to. Finally, she has Phebe pledge to marry Silvius should she for any reason decide she no longer desires “Ganymede.”
Rosalind then exits with Celia. Touchstone arrives and announces that he and Audrey will also be married. The undisguised Rosalind and Celia enter, accompanied by Hymen, the god of marriage.
The four couples are married in a joint ceremony. Afterwards, Jaques de Boys, middle brother to Oliver and Orlando, arrives to tell of Duke Frederick’s conversion from his evil ways and of his renunciation of the throne, thereby returning Duke Senior to power. Before the duke’s return to court, the couples perform a dance in celebration of the weddings.
Only the courtier Jaques (not to be confused with Jaques de Boys) remains unhappy, announcing that he will go live with Duke Frederick. Rosalind ends the play with a direct address to the audience, telling them to take the play’s thoughts on love and life as they like it.
Rosalind: Daughter of banished Duke Senior. Intelligent, independent, witty; yet also a devoted, thoughtful lover. Disguised as a man through most of the play; marries Orlando in the end. Combines worldly wisdom with youthful love to make for a well-rounded, balanced character.
Orlando: Youngest son of the late nobleman Sir Roland de Boys. His strength of body and personality allows him to survive adversity and win the inheritance originally denied to him by his brother Oliver. His intelligence, honesty, and charm help him win Rosalind’s love.
Celia: Daughter of Duke Frederick. She defies him and follows her cousin Rosalind into exile. A devoted, honest friend. Marries the reformed Oliver.
Touchstone: Court jester. Accompanies Rosalind and Celia into exile. Witty, earthy, sarcastic; mocks other characters’ illusions and romantic excesses.
Jaques: Member of Duke Senior’s court. His melancholy and cynical personality keep him from enjoying life. He sees humankind as evil and base, and always points out others’ faults.
Oliver: Eldest son of Roland de Boys. Seeks to have Orlando killed when he rebels against ill-treatment. Converted from evil later; makes up with his brother and marries Celia.
Duke Senior: Rosalind’s father. Former ruler at court; banished to the Forest of Arden by his usurping brother. Good-natured, optimistic, and devoted to his followers. Makes the best of his exile.
Duke Frederick: A usurping duke who has overthrown and banished his older brother, Duke Senior. Unjust and arbitrary ruler; later converts to religious life, renounces the throne to live a simple, honest life.
Phebe: Plain yet proud shepherdess. Falls in love with the disguised Rosalind, who tricks her into marrying Silvius.
Silvius: Young shepherd; loves Phebe despite her cruel treatment of him.
Adam: Orlando’s old servant who gives his life savings and support to his master so that he can flee the court.
Themes and Ideas
The play shows how love is at its best when balanced between the extremes of romantic ideals and worldly reality. Silvius’s love for Phebe and Phebe’s love for “Ganymede” are too idealistic—they involve illusions about one’s loved one, irrational behavior, and an excess of sentimentality. The characters throw themselves into love without looking at the reality of the situation.
Touchstone’s love for Audrey is at the other extreme—physical, unsentimental, and self-centered. He looks at the reality of the situation without feeling its romance. Rosalind and Orlando’s love strikes a balance between the two extremes: it is both romantic and realistic, passionate and rational. The characters do not give in to love’s “madness,” yet still enjoy its energy.
2. Court vs. Country
Shakespeare contrasts the world of the court (or city) to that of the country: The court is depicted as an evil place where brothers plot against brothers, “where none will sweat but for promotion.”
The country (Forest of Arden) is a healthy place of difficult yet fair conditions and the rule of natural law: “More free from peril than the envious court” (i.e., free of the court’s plots, rivalries, and jealousies).
In the country, the characters are able to achieve love (Rosalind, Orlando), gain self-understanding (Oliver, Duke Frederick), and regain their title (Duke Senior), thus enabling them to return to and thrive at the court. The court is corrupt when governed by a usurping ruler, but harmonious when led by the rightful ruler.
3. Fortune vs. Nature
The characters’ ability to overcome bad turns of fortune (fate, luck) with the strength of their own nature (i.e., through their personality or character) is a key theme of the play. Rosalind maintains that “Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature” (i.e., that Fortune may affect one’s situation, but not one’s virtue, intelligence, or determination).
“Sweet are the uses of adversity,” claims Duke Senior, who turns his exile from the court into a carefree, happy time. Celia refuses to accept the ill-fortune of having an evil father, choosing instead to be devoted to Rosalind, the family member she finds most noble. In the world of the play, bad fortune can never truly defeat good nature.
4. “All The World’s Stage”
Jaques’s now-famous “seven ages of man” speech expresses the pessimistic view that life is nothing more than a series of ridiculous “parts” a person must play, that to live is simply to perform according to predetermined roles.
He names the seven ages of man, each absurd and comical: the “puking” infant, “whining schoolboy,” “sighing” lover, the soldier seeking “the bubble reputation” (i.e., a reputation that can burst as easily as a bubble at any time), the lawyer with a “round belly,” the “pantaloon” (i.e., a ridiculous old man), and finally the second childhood of old age, when one is senile and helpless.
But Shakespeare demonstrates that there is more to life than what Jaques makes of it: he shows the limits of Jaques’s pessimism by having old Adam charitably looked after by Orlando and called “venerable” by Duke Senior, just after Jaques finishes speaking. This demonstrates the way in which love and devotion can overcome pessimism and a sense of life’s absurdity.
The play contrasts the timeless world of Arden with the time-conscious world of the court, thus making the Forest of Arden a refuge from the sense of decay and passage of time. The “Court” characters sense time passing quickly, leading to death: Touchstone claims “from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, / And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot”; Jaques sees life as a rapid progression of seven stages of humankind, leading to “mere oblivion.”
The “Forest” characters are not worried about time: Celia sees Arden as a place she can “willingly waste my time in”; Duke Senior and his lords “fleet the time carelessly”; Orlando is always late for dates.
Rosalind, though conscious of time, knows that its passage is relative: it is slow for the lover waiting for her beloved; just right for the rich and healthy; too fast for the person condemned to death. She combines a sense of time with a lack of concern about its passage and is able to enjoy the moment.
6. Appearance vs. Reality
Shakespeare shows how disguises can be used to uncover the truth: By pretending to be “Ganymede,” Rosalind can test Orlando and find out whether he is worthy, and to see if he truly loves her. This allows her to be a lover without sacrificing her independence until she is ready.
Also, Rosalind’s disguise helps Shakespeare criticize overly romantic love, showing how unrealistic it is: Phebe foolishly falls in love with Rosalind, thinking her to be a man.
Shakespeare uses the family conflict to show the breakdown of the social order, and uses family order to show social harmony. In Act 1, society at court is in a bad condition: Duke Frederick has overthrown his older brother and banishes his niece; Oliver seeks to murder his brother Orlando.
In Arden, however, the families are reconciled as the social order is reestablished: Oliver repents and seeks forgiveness from Orlando; Duke Frederick returns the throne to his brother; Rosalind is reunited with her father. The creation of a new, “good” society at the court begins with the creation of four new families at the group wedding in the last scene of the play.
Shakespeare uses several names symbolically in the play: Rosalind assumes the name of “Ganymede,” the mythical boy kidnapped by Zeus to be that god’s cup-bearer (also servant/lover), which symbolizes a feminine nature beneath a masculine exterior; Celia’s assumed name of “Aliena” means “the exiled one” in Latin and symbolizes her exile from the court; Touchstone, the clown’s name, means “a standard by which things are measured” and symbolizes his role as critic and satirist; de Boys, the surname of Orlando and Oliver, is French for “of the forest” (de Bois) and symbolizes the importance that Arden plays in their growth and self-knowledge.
Charles and Orlando’s wrestling match symbolizes the subsequent contests between the lovers in the play: Rosalind is “overthrown” by Orlando’s charms; Celia tells her to “wrestle with thy affections.” Wrestling also symbolizes the contests of wit between the characters: Touchstone and Corin on country life, Jaques and Orlando about love poems, Rosalind and Touchstone over romantic love.
The deer that are slaughtered to feed Duke Senior’s court symbolize human capacity to be cruel, violent, and bestial (as seen in Oliver and Frederick). The snake that menaces Oliver symbolizes the sting of reason, the realization of his evil, and the unjust treatment of his brother. The lioness that Orlando fights and kills symbolizes his strength and nobility.
Shakespeare’s use of the god of marriage to perform the final ceremony symbolizes the triumph of love over confusion, evil, and disorder. The dance performed after the wedding also symbolizes the triumph of order (i.e., the social and political structure) over disorder (the flight from court and the wandering about the forest).
5. Poems in Trees
Orlando’s posting of love poems in trees symbolizes Duke Senior’s romanticized conception of the forest as a place where one “finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
1. The portrayal of friendship and love
Shakespeare’s exploration of the relationship between friendship and love is a central theme of “As You Like It.” Through the interactions between Rosalind and Orlando, the play suggests that true love can only thrive between equals who are also close friends.
This idea is particularly relevant to modern audiences, who often seek companionship and connection in their romantic relationships. Moreover, the play’s emphasis on equality and mutual support between partners provides an interesting perspective on marriage and relationships that is both timeless and thought-provoking.
2. The witty dialogue and characters
As with most of Shakespeare’s plays, the language in “As You Like It” is beautiful and poetic. However, the play also features a number of witty and amusing characters, such as Touchstone the clown, who provide comic relief and levity.
Moreover, the use of disguises and mistaken identities adds an element of intrigue and humor that keeps the audience engaged and entertained.
3. The exploration of gender roles
The play’s use of gender roles and identity is another fascinating aspect. By having Rosalind disguise herself as a boy, the play raises questions about gender and societal expectations.
Besides, the relationships between same-sex characters, such as Rosalind and Celia, and the potential for romantic attraction between women, adds an interesting layer of complexity to the play’s exploration of love and relationships.
1. The Tidy Ending
The biggest problem with “As You Like It” is the ending. While it’s understandable that the romantic tangles would be resolved, the resolution is too tidy. There’s an overly convenient twist that stretches believability to the point of snapping.
The ending feels like Shakespeare wrapped up everything in a neat little bow, leaving little room for any real surprises or drama. It’s a shame because the rest of the play is filled with Shakespeare’s usual witty banter and clever jokes, which make for an enjoyable read.
2. The Pedantic Wit
Throughout the play, there are tiresome and pedantic displays of wit that feel forced and unnecessary. The melancholy scholar-courtier Jacques and Fool Touchstone are the worst culprits, with the latter’s travesties of classical learning being particularly grating.
The constant jabs at scholarly pursuits might have been hilarious to a Renaissance audience, but to a modern reader, it feels like a cheap shot. The play’s attempts at humor would have been better served by a more natural and effortless style of wit.
3. Lack of Compelling Dilemmas
“As You Like It” shares many similarities with other Shakespearean comedies, but it lacks the compelling dilemmas that make those plays so memorable. There are no charismatic characters to root for, and the romantic hero is particularly bland.
The play’s attempts at gender fluidity and role-play fall flat, and the forest as a magic or transformative space is not explored as well as it is in other plays like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” “As You Like It” is a pleasant enough read, but it lacks the emotional depth and complexity that make Shakespeare’s other works so enduring.
“As You Like It” may not have been a play that caught my attention at first, but as I have delved into it more deeply, I have come to appreciate its many charms. With its witty dialogue, well-defined characters, and powerful themes, it is a testament to Shakespeare’s genius as a playwright.
From the famous “Seven Ages of Man” monologue to the delightful third act, this play is a joy to read and to watch performed. The Pelican Shakespeare series, in particular, offers a beautiful and scholarly edition that is sure to enhance any reader’s experience of this classic work.
As I revisit this play time and time again, I am reminded of Shakespeare’s unparalleled ability to capture the complexities of the human experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with such a rich and rewarding text.
William Shakespeare, who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England around 1564 and arrived in London in 1586, had a successful career as a playwright, poet, actor, and theatre shareholder in London from the early 1590s until 1612.
Shakespeare wrote various types of plays such as tragedies, comedies, romances, and historical dramas that were popular in the theatre. His early plays showed optimism and reflected the exuberant spirit of England, which was emerging as a world power.
However, his later plays such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, which were written around 1602 to 1606, were pessimistic and cynical. They reflected the decadence and political corruption of the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts. The Elizabethan era refers to the period when Elizabeth I was queen, from 1558 to 1603, while the Jacobean era refers to the reign of James I, which began in 1603 and lasted until his death in 1625.
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