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Type of work: Drama

Author: William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Type of plot: Pastoral romance

Time of plot: The Middle Ages

Locale: The Forest of Arden in medieval France

First presented: c. 1590-1600

A pastoral romantic comedy set in the Middle Ages, As You Like It takes its plot from Thomas Lodge's popular romance, Rosalyde (1590). Involving the eventual union of four very different pairs of lovers who represent the diversefaces of love, the story is marked by its mood of kindliness, fellowship, and good humor.

Principal Characters

Rosalind (roz'??.lind)--disguised as Ganymede (gan'??.med) in the forest scenes--the daughter of the banished Duke Senior. A witty, self-possessed young woman, she accepts whatever fortune brings, be it love or exile, with gaiety and good sense. She is amused by the ironic situations arising from her disguise as a youth, and she wryly recognizes the humorous aspects of her growing love for Orlando, whose passion she pretends to be curing. Her central place in the lives of her companions is epitomized in the final scene where she sorts out the tangled skeins of romance and, with Orlando, joins three other couples before Hymen, the god of marriage.

Orlando (or.lan'do), youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, the late ally of Rosalind's father. Although his elder brother mistreats him and neglects his education, he reveals his gentle birth in his manner and appearance. His love for Rosalind provokes extravagantly romantic gestures, but the deeper feeling of which he is capable is evident in his concern for his faithful old servant Adam, as well as in his fidelity to his sweetheart.

Celia (se'li.??), Rosalind's gentle cousin, who refuses to let her depart alone for the Forest of Arden. She, too, is gay and witty, ready to exchange quips with Touchstone and tease Rosalind about her love for Orlando. When she meets Orlando's brother Oliver, however, she succumbs to Cupid even more rapidly than did her cousin.

Touchstone, Duke Frederick's clever fool, who accompanies his master's daughter Celia and Rosalind into the Forest of Arden, much to the amusement of Jaques and to the consternation of the old shepherd Corin, who finds himself damned for never having been at court, according to Touchstone's logic. The fool, more than any of the other characters, remains at heart a courtier, even in Arcadia, but he returns from the forest with a country wench as his bride.

Jaques (ja'kwez), a hanger-on of Duke Senior's court in Arden, a professional man of melancholy who philosophizes on the "seven ages of man." He is fascinated by the presence in the forest of a "motley fool," and he delights in Touchstone's explanations of court formalities. He remains in the forest when his lord recovers his dukedom, and he goes off to observe and comment on the unexpected conversion of Duke Frederick.

Oliver (ol'i.v??r), Orlando's greedy, tyrannical brother, who tries to deprive him of both wealth and life. Sent by Duke Frederick to find his brother or forfeit all his lands, he is rescued by Orlando from a lioness. This kindness from his mistreated brother gives him new humanity, and he becomes a worthy husband for Celia.

Duke Frederick, Celia's strong, self-centered father, the usurper. Fearing her popularity with the people, he arbitrarily sends Rosalind away to her exiled father. Later, equally unreasonably, he banishes Orlando for being the son of an old enemy and then sets Oliver wandering in search of the brother he despises. He is reported at the end of the play to have retired from the world with an old hermit.

Duke Senior, Rosalind's genial father, banished by his brother Duke Frederick, who holds court under the greenwood trees, drawing amusement from hunting, singing, and listening to Jaques' melancholy philosophy in the golden world of Arden.

Silvius (sil', a lovesick young shepherd. He asks "Ganymede" to help him win his scornful sweetheart Phebe.

Phebe (fe'be), a disdainful shepherdess. Rebuked by "Ganymede" for her cruelty to Silvius, she promptly becomes enamored of the youth. She promises, however, to wed Silvius if she is refused Ganymede, and, of course, she does so once Rosalind reveals her identity.

Audrey (o'dri), Touchstone's homely, stupid, good-hearted country wench.

William, Audrey's equally simple-minded rustic suitor.

Corin (kor'in), a wide, well-meaning old shepherd. He gives good counsel to William and expresses the virtues of the simple life in his cross-purposes discussion of court and country with Touchstone.

Adam, a faithful old servant of Orlando's family. He accompanies his young master into the forest.

Jaques (ja'kwez, jak), the brother of Orlando and Oliver. He brings the news of Duke Frederick's retirement to the forest.

Sir Oliver Martext, a "hedge-priest" hired by Touchstone to marry him to Audrey in somewhat dubious rites.

Le Beau (l?? bo), Duke Frederick's pompous attendant.

Charles, a champion wrestler challenged and defeated by Orlando.

Amiens (a'mi.enz), one of Duke Senior's lords.

Dennis, Oliver's servant.

Hymen (hi'm??n), the god of marriage.

The Story

A long time ago the elder and lawful ruler of a French province had been deposed by his younger brother, Frederick. The old duke, driven from his dominions, fled with several faithful followers to the Forest of Arden. There he lived a happy life, free from the cares of the court and able to devote himself at last to learning the lessons nature had to teach. His daughter Rosalind, however, remained at court as a companion to her cousin Celia, the usurping Duke Frederick's daughter. The two girls were inseparable, and nothing her father said or did could make Celia part from her dearest friend.

One day Duke Frederick commanded the two girls to attend a wrestling match between the duke's champion, Charles, and a young man named Orlando, the special object of Duke Frederick's hatred. Orlando was the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, who in his lifetime had been one of the banished duke's most loyal supporters. When Sir Rowland died, he had charged his oldest son, Oliver, with the task of looking after his younger brother's education, but Oliver had neglected his father's charge. The moment Rosalind laid eyes on Orlando she fell in love with him, and he with her. She tried to dissuade him from an unequal contest with a champion so much more powerful than he, but the more she pleaded the more determined Orlando was to distinguish himself in his lady's eyes. In the end he completely conquered his antagonist, and was rewarded for his prowess by a chain from Rosalind's own neck.

When Duke Frederick discovered his niece's interest in Sir Rowland's son, he banished Rosalind immediately from the court. His daughter Celia announced her intention of following her cousin. As a consequence, Rosalind disguised herself as a boy and set out for the Forest of Arden, and Celia and the faithful Touchstone (the false duke's jester) went with her. In the meantime, Orlando also found it necessary to flee because of his brother's harsh treatment. He was accompanied by his faithful servant, Adam, an old man who willingly turned over his life savings of five hundred crowns for the privilege of following his young master.

Orlando and Adam also set out for the Forest of Arden, but before they had traveled very far they were both weary and hungry. While Adam rested in the shade of some trees, Orlando wandered into that part of the forest where the old duke was, and came upon the outlaws at their meal. Desperate from hunger, Orlando rushed upon the duke with a drawn sword and demanded food. The duke immediately offered to share the hospitality of his table, and Orlando blushed with shame over his rude manner. Moreover, he would not touch a mouthful until Adam had been fed. When the old duke found that Orlando was the son of his friend, Sir Rowland de Boys, he took Orlando and Adam under his protection and made them members of his band of foresters.

In the meantime, Rosalind and Celia also arrived in the Forest of Arden, where they bought a flock of sheep and proceeded to live the life of shepherds. Rosalind passed as Ganymede, Celia, as a sister, Aliena. In this adventure they encountered some real Arcadians--Silvius, a shepherd, and Phebe, a dainty shepherdess with whom Silvius was in love. But the moment Phebe laid eyes on the disguised Rosalind she fell in love with the supposed young shepherd and would have nothing further to do with Silvius. As Ganymede, Rosalind also met Orlando in the forest and twitted him on his practice of writing verses in praise of Rosalind and hanging them on the trees. Touchstone displayed, in the forest, the same willfulness and whimsicality he showed at court, even to his love Audrey, a country wench whose sole appeal was her unloveliness.

One morning, as Orlando was on his way to visit Ganymede, he saw a man lying asleep under an oak tree. A snake was coiled about the sleeper's neck, and a hungry lioness crouched nearby ready to spring. He recognized the man as his own brother, Oliver, and for a moment Orlando was tempted to leave him to his fate. But he drew his sword and killed the snake and the lioness. In the encounter he himself was wounded by the lioness. Because Orlando had saved his life, Oliver was duly repentant, and the two brothers were joyfully reunited.

His wound having bled profusely, Orlando was too weak to visit Ganymede, and he sent Oliver instead with a bloody handkerchief as proof of his wounded condition. When Ganymede saw the handkerchief, the supposed shepherd promptly fainted. The disguised Celia was so impressed by Oliver's concern for Iris brother that she fell in love with him, and they made plans to be married on the following day. Orlando was so overwhelmed by this news that he was a little envious. But when Ganymede came to call upon Orlando, the young shepherd promised to produce the lady Rosalind the next day. Meanwhile Phebe came to renew her ardent declaration of love for Ganymede, who promised on the morrow to unravel the love tangle of everyone.

In the meantime, Duke Frederick, enraged at the flight of his daughter, Celia, had set out at the head of an expedition to capture his elder brother and put him and all his followers to death. But on the outskirts of the Forest of Arden he met an old hermit who turned Frederick's head from his evil design. On the day following, as Ganymede had promised, with the banished duke and his followers as guests, Rosalind appeared as herself and explained how she and Celia had posed as the shepherd Ganymede and his sister Aliena. Four marriages took place with great rejoicing that day--Orlando to Rosalind, Oliver to Celia, Silvius to Phebe, and Touchstone to Audrey. Moreover, Frederick was so completely converted by the hermit that he resolved to take religious orders, and he straightway dispatched a messenger to the Forest of Arden to restore his brother's lands and those of all his followers.

Critical Evaluation

As You Like It is a splendid comedy on love and alternate life-styles that more than fulfills the promise of its title. Its characters are, for the most part, wonderfully enamored of love, one another, and themselves. The play has a feeling of freshness and vitality, and although adapted from an older story full of artifice, suggests a world of spontaneity and life.

To understand As You Like It, one must understand the conventions it uses. As You Like It is often called a pastoral comedy because it engages the conventions of pastoral literature. Pastoral literature, beginning in the third century B.C. and popular in the late sixteenth century, enabled poets, novelists, and dramatists to contrast the everyday world's fears, anxieties, disloyalties, uncertainties, and tensions with the imagined, mythical world of a previous age when peace, longevity, contentment, and fulfillment reigned in men's lives. Each age develops its own manner of describing lost happiness, far removed from the normal toil of human existence. The pastoral was the dominant such vision in the late sixteenth century.

In the pastoral, the mythic, lost, "golden" world is set in a simple, rural environment, which then becomes the image of all things desirable to honest men. As You Like It is typical of this convention and it contains two contrasting worlds: the world of the court and the rural world--in this case the Forest of Arden. The court is inhabited by corrupt men; namely, Duke Frederick and Oliver. It is not significant that the gentle Duke, Orlando, Rosalind, and Celia once resided there. Rather, as the play develops, the court is the natural home of the wicked and ambitious. Yet, we do not witness the degeneration of Duke Frederick and Oliver; they are naturally wicked, and the court is their proper milieu.

The elder Duke, Orlando, Rosalind, and Celia, on the other hand, are naturally good, and the forest is their natural milieu. If the court represents elaborate artifice, ambition, avarice, cruelty, and deception, the forest represents openness, tolerance, simplicity, and freedom. In the pastoral, one does not find immensely complex characters such as Hamlet, who like most humans has both good and bad characteristics; instead, good and bad traits are apportioned to separate characters. This allocation imposes a necessary artifice upon the play, which colors all actions, from falling in love to hating or helping a brother. In a play such as As You Like It, one does not expect naturalistic behavior. On the other hand, by using the conventions and artifice adroitly, Shakespeare achieved a remarkable exploration of love and its attendant values.

In the opening scene, Orlando, who has been denied an education and kept like an animal by his brother, is seen to be naturally good and decent. Talking to his brother Oliver, Orlando says, "You have train'd me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities. The spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it: therefore allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman ..." (I.i.71-76). Oliver, on the other hand, is just as naturally wicked as Orlando is decent. He says, "for my soul--yet I know not why--hates nothing more than he" (I.i.171-172). Logic has no necessary place in this world. Love, however, does.

Love is a natural part of the pastoral world. Practically at first glance, Rosalind and Orlando are in love. Shakespeare's magic in As You Like It is to take the contrived love that is the expected part Of the pastoral convention, and make of it a deeply felt experience that the audience can understand and to which it can react. Shakespeare manages this not only through the extraordinary beauty of his language but also through the structure of his play.

As You Like It is full of parallel actions. Orlando and Rosalind meet and immediately fall in love. Silvius and Phebe are in love. Touchstone meets Audrey in the forest, and they fall in love. At the end of the play Celia meets the reformed Oliver, and they fall in love just as quickly as Rosalind and Orlando had at the beginning of the play. The love match at the play's end nicely sets off the love match at the beginning.

Each love pairing serves a particular purpose. The focus of the play is primarily upon the Rosalind-Orlando match. Rosalind is the more interesting of the pair, for while she recognizes the silliness of the lover's ardor, she is as much victim as those she scorns. In Act IV, while in boy's disguise, she pretends to Orlando that his Rosalind will not have him. He says, "Then ... I die" (IV.i.93). Her response pokes fun at the expiring love: "No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause.... Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love" (IV.i.93-108). She can toy with Orlando in her disguise as Ganymede, yet she is completely dominated by her love passion. Strong passion is a part of the love experience, but Rosalind's and Orlando's passion is highly refined; the passion others know is more earthly.

Touchstone, in his quest for Audrey, exemplifies this side of love. He at first wants to marry her out of church so when he tires of her, he can claim their marriage was invalid. The kind of love he represents is physical passion. The Phebe-Silvius pairing shows yet another face of love. Silvius exemplifies the typical pastoral lover, hopelessly in love with a fickle mistress. He sighs on his pillow and breaks off from company, forlornly calling out his mistress' name. Touchstone's and Silvius' brands of love are extreme versions of qualities in Rosalind's love. In the comedies Shakespeare often used this device of apportioning diverse characteristics to multiple characters rather than building one complete character. Without Touchstone, love in the play may be too sentimental to take seriously. Without Silvius, it may be too crude. With both, love as exemplified by Rosalind and Orlando becomes a precious balance of substance and nonsense, spirituality and silliness.

Curious things happen in As You Like It. Good men leave the honorable forest to return to the wicked court. Wicked men who enter the forest are instantly converted in their ways. At the end of the play Oliver, who came to the Forest of Arden to hunt down his brother Orlando, gives his estate to Orlando and marries Celia, vowing to remain in the forest and live and die a shepherd. Duke Frederick also came to the Forest of Arden in order to kill his brother. Meeting "an old religious man" in the forest, Duke Frederick "was converted/Both from his enterprise and from the world." He too gives up Iris estate, and his crown, to his brother. The forest, the pastoral world, has the power to convert.

Why, then, do the elder Duke, Orlando, and Rosalind elect to return to the court, home of wickedness? They do so because in the end As You Like It is not a fairy tale, but an expression of humanly felt experiences. The forest ultimately is to be used as a cleansing and regenerative experience, a place to which one may retire in order to renew simplicity, honesty, and virtue. It is not, however, to be a permanent retreat. Good men stained by labor and trouble in their everyday world in the end must still participate in that world. They can retreat to the pastoral world in order to renew and reinvigorate themselves, but finally they must return, refreshed and fortified, to the community of men, to take on the responsibilities all must face.
COPYRIGHT 1991 COPYRIGHT 1989 Frank N. Magill
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Masterpieces of World Literature
Article Type:Work Overview
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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