Summary and Analysis
Revised in 2010, 2011 ©
Type of Work
.......As You Like It is a stage comedy. Its rural locale and subject matter also qualify it as a pastoral romance. Pastoral means having to do with shepherds and rural life. Shakespeare wrote the lines of the play in verse and in prose. For more information about Shakespeare plays that mix verse and prose, click here.
.......Shakespeare based As You Like It on Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie (1590), a prose romance by Thomas Lodge (1557-1625). Lodge based his romance, in turn, on The Tale of Gamelyn, an anonymous poem of nine hundred lines written in the middle of the fourteenth century. That poem tells the story of Gamelyn de Boundys, a young man whose brother confiscates his inheritance. Gamelyn is forced to live as a forest outlaw but eventually recovers what is rightfully his.
.......In explaining the title of the play, Shakespeare scholar G.B. Harrison wrote, "[As You Like It] is a lighthearted comedy which appeals to readers at all stages and in all lighter moods. It pleases some by its idyllic romance, others by its optimistic philosophy of simple goodness, and yet others by its cynical irony. Indeed, you can take this play just as you like it."—Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952 (page 776)..
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
My father charged you in his will to give me good education: you have trained 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, or give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament; with that I will go buy my fortunes. (1.1.23).......Meanwhile, two other men—Duke Frederick and his younger brother Duke Senior—also live at odds. Frederick had unjustly seized the dukedom of Senior and banished him to the Forest of Arden. There, Senior and his loyal followers learn to live like Robin Hood and his merry men, enjoying all the simple pleasures of a rustic existence. As Senior says,
And this our life exempt from public haunt.......Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, remains behind at the court of Frederick. Rosalind is the central character in the play, the hub around whom the wheel of fortune revolves. At Duke Frederick’s behest, Rosalind is to serve as a companion for his daughter, Celia. It so happens that Rosalind has a sympathizer in Celia, for the two of them have been best friends since childhood. Whenever Rosalind pines for her missing father, Celia is there to comfort her. She says, “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry” (1.2.3). Rosalind soon will have good cause to be merry, for she is destined to fall in love with Orlando, the young man maltreated by his brother Oliver. Here is what happens:
.......Orlando somehow flourishes on his own, like an unattended flower, displaying the spirit and courtly bearing of his father, Rowland de Boys. However, restricted as he is by his brother, Orlando lapses into melancholy. When he learns that Duke Frederick’s champion wrestler, Charles, will take on challengers, Orlando bids to compete. After all, he has nothing to lose but his miserable life. Oliver, jealous of the fine young man that his brother is becoming, urges Charles to break Orlando’s neck during the match.
.......Rosalind and Celia, present to witness the competition, try to dissuade Orlando from competing. Rosalind even attempts to have the match canceled.
.......But the match goes on and Orlando, heartened by the kindness shown by Celia and Rosalind, defeats Charles! Duke Frederick admires the young man for his courage and skill. But when Frederick learns Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, who was a friend of the banished Duke Senior, he leaves the scene in a huff. Rosalind, however, rewards Orlando with a chain from her neck. Later, when Rosalind and Celia are discussing Orlando, Frederick bursts in and banishes Rosalind, for she reminds him too much of her father, Duke Senior, and his late friend, Sir Rowland. Frederick declares:
Within these ten days if that thou be’st [be] found.......Disguised as a man and calling herself Ganymede, Rosalind leaves to seek out her father in the forest of Arden. Celia accompanies Rosalind, wearing the clothes of a country maid and posing as Ganymede’s sister, Aliena. Tagging along is Duke Frederick’s saucy-tongued court jester, Touchstone. In the forest, they first encounter an old man, Corin, talking with a young shepherd, Silvius. Silvius is deep in the throes of melancholy because the woman he loves, a shepherdess named Phebe, does not return his love. Rosalind empathizes with Silvius, for she now knows what it is like to be in love but not be united with the beloved. Rosalind contracts with Corin to buy a cottage for her, and she and Celia move in.
.......Orlando, too, must leave. Oliver’s elderly servant, Adam, has warned Orlando that the evil Oliver vows to burn Orlando’s chamber that very night as Orlando sleeps. Orlando flees with Adam to the safety of the forest. Rosalind and Celia buy a flock of sheep and become shepherds. When old Adam complains of hunger, Orlando, sword in hand, demands food from Duke Senior’s followers; but they generously share their food. When Senior learns Orlando is the son of his old friend, Sir Rowland, he takes Orlando under his protection.
.......Meanwhile, Duke Frederick, believing that Celia and Rosalind have run off with Orlando, orders Oliver to find his brother and bring him back dead or alive. If he fails in this task, he will lose all of his possessions.
.......In the forest, Orlando thinks often of Rosalind and carves her name on trees and attaches love poems. At the same time, Touchstone tests the worth of every character he meets in the forest with his quick-witted rejoinders—the kind he delivered at court as a fool—spicing his language with puns and paradoxes to lay bare the marrow of his interlocutors. After Touchstone teases Rosalind about how her name is appearing on trees everywhere in the forest, Rosalind (still disguised as Ganymede) crosses paths one day with Orlando and playfully chides him about abusing the trees by carving his poems into them. Then she asks whether his rhymes truly reflect the love that he feels. Orlando replies, “Neither rime nor reason can express how much” (3.2.152).
.......Rosalind says Orlando can cure himself of his foolish love if he will come to her cottage each day and woo her as if she were Rosalind. In this way, he will learn of the ways of whimsical ladies and gradually fall out of love. Intrigued by this proposal, Orlando does as she asks. However, Orlando only falls more deeply in love with the memory of Rosalind as he takes part in the mock courtship. Rosalind’s love also deepens.
.......While searching for Orlando, Oliver falls asleep under a tree. A green snake entwines his neck, preparing to kill him. Nearby a lioness awaits her turn at Oliver. Orlando happens upon the scene on his way to woo Ganymede. He scares off the snake and, as Oliver awakens, draws his sword and kills the lion at the cost of a deep wound to an arm. Suddenly, Oliver repents and becomes a loving brother. Because Orlando’s wound has made him too weak to continue to Ganymede’s cottage, Oliver goes in his stead and explains what happened, displaying a bloody handkerchief as proof of Orlando’s wound. Rosalind faints.
.......While at the cottage, Oliver falls in love with Celia, and they vow to marry the next day. Rosalind (as Ganymede) goes to Orlando and tells him she is versed in magic and will conjure up Rosalind the following day so that he can marry her. On the appointed day, Rosalind appears as herself while the wedding guests, including Duke Senior and his followers look on. By this time, Touchstone has found a love of his own—Audrey, a country wench. In addition, Phebe, through a little trickery worked by Rosalind, agrees to marry Silvius. Thus, on the wedding day, four couples exchange vows: Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audry. But it so happens that there is also another event to celebrate. Jaques de Boys, the third son of Rowland de Boys and the brother of Orlando and Oliver, arrives to announce that a holy man has shown Duke Frederick the error of his ways. Consequently, Frederick has ceded his crown back to Duke Senior and retired from the corrupt and wordly life.
.......Presumably everyone lives happily ever after.
.......The main conflicts in the play center on the discord between Orlando and Oliver, Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, Celia and her father (Duke Frederick), and the struggles of the lovers to overcome the obstacles that separate them.
.......The tone of the play is lighthearted and carefree. The playgoer and reader sense that the discord between several characters will eventually resolve itself into amity and goodwill.
.......The climax of a
play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can
be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to
resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most
exciting event in a series of events. The climax of As You Like It occurs,
to the first definition, when Rosalind faints after learning
that a lion has wounded Orlando, then decides to reveal her true
identity to bring about a resolution to the plot complications.
According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Hymen, the
god of marriage in Greek mythology, enters in the fourth scene of Act V
with Rosalind, who is no longer wearing her disguise as the male
Ganymede. Hymen then unites Rosalind with her father, Duke Senior, and
her beloved, Orlando, by reciting these lines:
Senior] To you I give myself, for I am yours.
.......Romantic, brotherly, and humanitarian love all bring great joy to the major characters in the play after they overcome the obstacles that separate them from one another.
Romantic Love: a Many-Splintered Thing.
.......Although romantic love triumphs in the end, all of the lovers undergo trials that divide them. Touchstone observes, "We that are true lovers run into strange capers" (2.4.35). Celia tells Rosalind, "It is as easy to count atomies [tiny creatures] as to resolve the propositions of a lover (3.2.82)
Nature as a Healer
.......Notice that everyone who enters the forest becomes better for the experience. Shakespeare used the "nature heals" theme in other plays as well, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost, and The Tempest.But nature does not always behave well in Shakespeare. King Lear found that out during a raging storm, and Macbeth fell victim to the trees of Birnham Wood.
Brother Against Brother
.......In world literature, the theme of brother against brother is as old as the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. Shakespeare presents this theme anew in Act 1 when he reveals that Oliver despises his younger brother Orlando and fails to provide for him in accordance with their father's will. In the same act, Shakespeare also reveals that Duke Frederick despises his older brother, Duke Senior, and has usurped his lands political power. However, Oliver reconciles with Orlando after the latter saves Oliver from a snake and a lion. Later, through the intervention of a holy man, Duke Frederick reforms his ways and surrenders his dukedom to Senior. These developments demonstrate that even the deepest family divisions are not beyond repair.
Nature: How They Differ
CELIA.. Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.Orlando apparently benefited more from nature than from fortune; the opposite is true of Oliver.
Figures of Speech: Extended Metaphor on the 'Ages of Man'
.......In an extended metaphor, Shakespeare philosophizes through Jaques (spelled without a c before the q), a lord in the service of Duke Senior. The metaphorical passage—focusing on "The Seven Ages of Man"—is one of the most famous passages in Shakespeare. It is stunning poetry—in fact, it is often included in anthologies as a separate poem demonstrating the remarkable power and beauty of Shakespeare's words.
.......However, the passage is cynical and pessimistic in its metaphorical message, which makes the world a stage and human beings actors in the gloomy drama of life. Each man, it says, goes through life playing various parts and ends up old and toothless, without being the better for his experience, wondering, What was life all about, anyway? However, although this passage seems out of place in this mostly uplifting play, it does serve a purpose: to illuminate, by comparison and contrast, the enthusiasm and optimism of other characters in the play as they pursue their heart's desires. Following is the passage:
All the world's a stage,1Other Figures of Speech
.......Following are examples of other figures of speech in the play. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.
When Nature hath made a fair creature, may she not by Fortune fall into the fire? (1.2.16)Anaphora
By my troth, thou sayest true; for since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show. (Celia, 1.2.33)Apostrophe
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,Metaphor
My better partsMetonymy and Simile
My lungs began to crow like chanticleer. (2.7.33)Oxymoron
My [old] age is as a lusty winter. (2.3.55)Paradox
Know you not, master, to some kind of menPersonification
.......In the following prose passage, Rosalind and Orlando speak of time as a person.
ROSALIND Time travels in divers paces with divers persons. I’ll tell you who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.Simile
Wheresoe’er we went, like Juno’s swans,
.......It is possible that Shakespeare intended the rifts between the two sets of brothers in the play—(1) Duke Frederick and Duke Senior and (2) Oliver and Orlando—to symbolize the deadly rift between Cain and Abel as described in Chapter 4 of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. Cain and Abel were sons of Adam.
.......In Shakespeare’s play, Adam is an elderly servant who attempts to pacify Orlando and Oliver—as if the biblical Adam had come alive to temper the anger between his sons. Shakespeare’s Adam is described as very old, like the biblical Adam, who lived to an extremely old age. There is also a direct reference to the biblical Adam by Duke Senior:
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,.......It also appears that the Forest of Arden is the Garden of Eden, a new Eden that brings only happiness to those who enter it. Orlando does not eat of forbidden fruit on a tree. Rather, he carves on trees poems to lovely Rosalind. When Rosalind shows his poems to Touchstone, the latter says—in an apparent biblical allusion (and a play on words)—“Truly, the tree yields bad fruit” (3.2.44). However, although the poems are less than sterling, they do bear good fruit: Rosalind. After discovering the identity of the author, Orlando, her love for him intensifies.
.......Shakespeare presents several songs in As You Like It that bolster the lighthearted tone of the play. Perhaps the most famous and most delightful of the songs are the following. The first merrily reproves man's ingratitude and his tendency to forget a friend. The second celebrates the joy of springtime love.
Blow, Blow, Thou Winter WindMan's Encroachment on Nature
.......Duke Frederick usurped Duke Senior's property. In turn, Duke Senior expropriated the domain of deer and other animals, according to Jaques. The following passage focuses on Jaques' reaction to Senior's "offense."
SENIOR Come, shall we go and kill us venison?
appears to suggest that Shakespeare was aware more than four hundred
years ago of the deleterious effects of man's encroachment on his
natural surroundings. Jaques' concern for nature may in part account
for his melancholy demeanor.
Use of Disguises
1.....Rosalind falls in love with Orlando upon
first seeing him. Likewise, Oliver falls in love with Celia when they
first meet. In an informative essay, define “love at first sight” and
explain whether it can really be true love or is simply infatuation.