Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
You Like It is a stage play in the form of a comedy. Its rural locale
and subject matter also qualify it as a pastoral romance. Pastoral
means having to do with shepherds and rural life.
wrote the lines of the play in verse and in prose. For more information
about Shakespeare plays that mix verse and prose, click
Written: 1599 or earlier.
Printing: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection
of Shakespeare's plays.
based As You Like It on Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie (1590),
prose romance by Thomas Lodge (1557-1625). Lodge based his
romance, in turn, on The Tale of Gamelyn, an anonymous poem of 900
lines written in the middle of the 14th Century. This 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.
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."—G.B. Harrison, ed. Shakespeare:
The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952 (Page 776)..
action takes place in a palace in northern Europe and in the Arden Forest.
There is an Arden Forest in Warwickshire, England, and an Ardennes Forest
in continental Europe. The latter forest encompasses parts of Belgium,
Luxembourg, and France. Thomas Lodge, who wrote a play that Shakespeare
used as the source for As You Like It, earned a medical degree in France
and practiced medicine in Belgium, not far from the Ardennes forest.
Duke Senior: Rightful
duke living in banishment with his followers in the forest of Arden. He
is reminiscent of Robin Hood.
Duke Frederick: Duke
Senior’s brother, who usurps Senior's dominions.
Amiens, Jaques: Lords
attending on the banished duke.
Orlando, Oliver, Jaques
de Boys: Sons of Sir Rowland de Boys. Orlando is in love with Rosalind,
daughter of Duke Senior. Oliver, the eldest son, maltreats Orlando and
denies him his full share in their father's bequest. Jaques (not to be
confused with the lord of the same name) is away at school, prospering.
of Duke Senior. She is the ideal heroine—intelligent, beautiful, courageous,
cheerful, morally upright.
Daughter of Duke Frederick and good friend of Rosalind.
Le Beau: Courtier
attending upon Frederick.
in the service of Frederick.
Adam, Dennis: Servants
of Oliver. Adam, an old man who is mistreated by Oliver, befriends Orlando.
His presence in the play makes others react in a way that reveals their
qualities; hence, he lives up to his name. Literally a touchstone is a
black stone used to assay the purity of precious metals. When a sample
believed to contain gold or silver is rubbed against a touchstone, the
sample leaves a streak on the stone. Acid is then used to burn away impurities
that adulterate the gold or silver in the sample, leaving behind only the
precious metal. Assayers then can evaluate the quality of the sample.
Sir Oliver Martext:
Corin, Silvius: Shepherds.
Audrey: Country wench.
fellow in love with Audrey.
Representative of Hymen:
Hymen was the god of marriage in Greek mythology.
Lords, pages, forester, and attendants.
Sir Rowland de Boys died, he made Oliver, his eldest son, promise to rear
and educate Orlando, his youngest son. But after Sir Rowland’s death, Oliver
virtually imprisons Orlando in their home. The younger brother receives
no schooling, no guidance, and almost no money—unlike
a third brother, Jaques, who lives away at school, prospering. In the orchard
of Oliver’s house, Orlando complains to Adam, an old servant, that Oliver
even pays more attention to his horses. When Oliver enters the orchard,
Orlando tells him:
Michael J. Cummings...©
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)
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
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:
Finds tongues in trees,
books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good
in every thing.
I would not change it. (2.
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.
and Celia, present to witness the competition, try to dissuade Orlando
from competing. Rosalind even attempts to have the match canceled.
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
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.
So near our public court
as twenty miles,
Thou diest for it. (1. 3.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
everyone lives happily ever after.
presentation of the conflicts—as well as the use of Rosalind's disguise
to create suspense—takes place quickly in the play. The audience can then
settle back and delight in the complications that follow. Overall, the
plot structure moves along smoothly and plausibly, with Rosalind—an appealing,
well-developed character—controlling the direction of the story. However,
the change of heart of the two villains, Oliver and Duke Frederick, seems
contrived and forced. Oliver reforms, unqualifiedly contrite, after his
brother Orlando saves him from a lion (leo ex machina). Then, Orlando's
other brother, Jaques de Boys, pops up from nowhere in Act V to tell us
that an "old religious man" has converted Duke Frederick, turning him into
an upright man who has yielded his crown to his banished brother, Duke
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,
according 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 a person representing Hymen,
the god of marriage in Greek mythology, enters in Act V, Scene IV, with
Rosalind 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:
is there mirth in heaven,
earthly things made even
duke, receive thy daughter
from heaven brought her,
brought her hither,
thou mightst join her hand with his
heart within his bosom is. (5. 4. 60-67)
The others follow up with
Duke Senior] To you I give myself, for I am yours.
you I give myself, for I am yours.
SENIOR.....If there be truth in sight, you
are my daughter.
If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.
is life's greatest joy and greatest healer. Romantic, brotherly, and
humanitarian love all bring great joy to the major characters in the play
after they abandon their ill feelings for one another and open their hearts.
is a many-splintered thing. Although love triumphs in the end, all
of the lovers—except Theseus and Hippolyta—undergo
trials that divide them.
Fortune and Nature often
work at odds. See "Imagery, Extended Metaphor, Act
heals. 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.
is not what it seems. Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves, fooling
everyone. Duke Senior, branded an outlaw, is really the rightful ruler;
his brother, the usurping duke, is really an outlaw.
Extended Metaphor: Act
extended metaphors in Act I, Shakespeare personifies Fortune and Nature
in order to convey a central theme of the play: that Fortune and Nature
often work at odds. For example, Fortune may bestow such gifts as wealth,
position, and power on a person simply because he was born into the right
family. However, if he lacks certain gifts of Nature—such as nobility,
foresight, courage, and wisdom—he will not have the wherewithal to manage
his material gifts properly. On the other hand, Nature may bestow a bounty
of gifts on a person whom Fortune has ignored. This person will have the
faculties to make his way in the world but not the material gifts to succeed
without a struggle. The extended metaphors, in the form of personifications,
occur in Scene II in a discussion of Fortune and Nature between Celia and
us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from
wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.
would we could do so, for her benefits are
misplaced, and the bountiful blind woman
most mistake in her gifts to women.
true; for those that she makes fair she scarce
honest, and those that she makes honest she
now thou goest from Fortune's office to
Fortune reigns in gifts of the world,
in the lineaments of Nature.
Extended Metaphor: Act
Act II, in another extended metaphor, Shakespeare philosophizes through
Jaques (spelled without 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 all of Shakespeare. The passage
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.
the passage is cynical and pessimistic in its metaphorical message, making
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:
Lines 139-166, Act
II, Scene VII
Figures of Speech
the world's a stage,1
all the men and women merely players:
have their exits and their entrances;
one man in his time plays many parts,
acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
and puking in the nurse's arms.
then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
shining morning face, creeping like snail
to school. And then the lover,
like furnace, with a woeful ballad3
to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,4
in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
the bubble reputation5
in the cannon's mouth.6
And then the justice,7
fair round belly with good capon lined,8
eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
of wise saws9
and modern instances;
so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
his shrunk shank;10
and his big manly voice,
again toward childish treble, pipes
whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
ends this strange eventful history,
and mere oblivion,
teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
are examples of other figures of speech in the play.
Repetition of a consonant
forth now: stroke your
chins, and swear by
that I am a knave. (Touchstone, 1.2.26)
That is another simple
sin in you, to bring the ewes and the
rams together, and to offer to get your living by the copulation
of cattle; to be bawd
to a bell-wether, and to betray a she-lamb (Touchstone, 3.2.35)
Repetition of a word, phrase,
or clause in successive groups of words
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)
have trod a measure; I have
flattered a lady; I have been politic
with my friend, smooth with mine enemy; I have
undone three tailors; I have had four
quarrels, and like to have fought one. (Touchstone, 5.4.42)
Comparison a thing to an
unlike thing without using like, as, or than
My better parts
Are all thrown down, and
that which here stands up
Is but a quintain, a mere
lifeless block. (Orlando, 1.2.129-131)
of a man to a quintain, a practice target for knights wielding lances
I shall ne’er be ware of
mine own wit till I break my shins against it. (Touchstone, 2.4.37)
of wit to a solid object
O Rosalind! these trees shall
be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts
I’ll character, (Orlando, 3.2.5-6)
of trees to books and barks to pages of the books
Contradiction that reveals
O, what a world
is this, when what is comely 16
Envenoms him that bears
it! (Adam, 2.3.16-17)
which is comely (attractive, beautiful) is poisonous.
Sweetest nut hath sourest
rind (Touchstone, 3.2.41)
which is sweet is also sour.
A metaphor that compares
a thing to a person
the following prose passage, beginning with line 123, Rosalind and Orlando
speak of time as a person.
I pray you, what is’t o’clock?
Allusions and Symbolism
ORLANDO. You should
ask me, what time o’ day; there’s no clock in the forest.
ROSALIND. Then there
is no true lover in the forest; else sighing every minute and groaning
every hour would detect the lazy foot of Time as well as a clock.
ORLANDO. And why not
the swift foot of Time? had not that been as proper?
ROSALIND. By no means,
sir. 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.
ORLANDO. I prithee,
who doth he trot withal?
ROSALIND. Marry, he
trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the
day it is solemnized; if the interim be but a se’nnight, Time’s pace is
so hard that it seems the length of seven year.
ORLANDO. Who ambles
ROSALIND. With a priest
that lacks Latin, and a rich man that hath not the gout; for the one sleeps
easily because he cannot study, and the other lives merrily because he
feels no pain; the one lacking the burden of lean and wasteful learning,
the other knowing no burden of heavy tedious penury. These Time ambles
ORLANDO. Who doth
he gallop withal?
ROSALIND. With a thief
to the gallows; for though he go as softly as foot can fall he thinks himself
too soon there. (3.2.121-131)
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.
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 in Act II, Scene I, when Duke Senior extols the carefree
life of the forest:
Now, my co-mates
and brothers in exile,
also appears that the Forest of Arden is the Garden of Eden—a new Eden,
sans serpent—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.
Hath not old custom12
made this life more sweet
Than that of painted
pomp?13 Are not
More free from peril than
the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty
The seasons’ difference,
as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of
the winter’s wind. (3-9)
and again, Shakespeare disguises women as men to further a plot. For example,
In All's Well That Ends Well, Helena wears the attire of a pilgrim
to get close to Bertram. In Cymbeline, Imogen becomes a page boy
to win back Posthumous. Julia also becomes a page boy in The Two Gentlemen
of Verona, as does Viola in Twelfth Night. In The Merchant
of Venice, Portia disguises herself as a male judge to save the friend
of her lover in a court of law. Rosalind, in As You Like It, dons
the garb of a man to become a shepherd as she seeks out her love, Orlando.
In each of these plays, the women disguised as men eventually reveal their
true female identities All of this could have been quite confusing to playgoers
in Shakespeare's day, for only men played women's roles. Thus, in the above-mentioned
plays, men played women disguised as men who at some point doffed their
male identities to reveal themselves as females.
Questions and Essay Topics
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.
on DVD (or VHS)
2. Why does Oliver mistreat
3. Which character in the
play is the most admirable? Which character is the least admirable?
4. Duke Senior lives in
the Forest of Arden like Robin Hood. Who was Robin Hood? Did Robin Hood
5. After Rosalind disguises
herself, she calls herself Ganymede. In Greek mythology, who was Ganymede?
1. All the world’s a stage:
This clause is the English translation of the Latin motto of the Globe
Theatre: Totus mundus agit histrionem. The clause begins the extended
metaphor in which the world becomes a stage and the people—in various stages
of their lives—become the actors.
2. Ballad: Poem.
3. Bubble reputation: Fame
is like a bubble: it develops quickly, then bursts.
4. Pard: Leopard or panther.
5. Even in the cannon’s
mouth: To achieve fame, the soldier will even charge when enemy cannons
6. Justice . . . lined:
Some judges in Shakespeare’s time accepted gifts, such as capons (immature
roosters that are castrated and well fed to improve the quality of their
meat), in return for a favorable ruling.
7. Saws: Proverbs, maxims,
8. Pantaloon: Foolish old
man. Pantaloons were stock characters in a type of Italian comedy called
commedia dell’arte, which became popular in the middle of the Sixteenth
Century. Actors improvised their parts after receiving an outline of the
9. Hose . . . shank: His
knee-high stockings (hose) no longer fit his shrinking, withering shank
10. Second childishness:
11. Sans: French for
(French pronunciation: sahn, spoken nasally; English pronunciation: sanz.
Shakespeare used the latter.)
12. Custom: The experience
of life in the forest.
13. Painted Pomp: Life at
court, with all of its artificial trappings.
14. Penalty of Adam . .
. wind: As descendants of Adam and inheritors of original sin, the men—though
they may live in a kind of Eden—do feel the sting of a cold wind.
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