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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010 ©
Type of Work
.......As 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.
.......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.
Written: 1599 or earlier.
First Printing: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays.
.......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 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.
.......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."—G.B. Harrison, ed. Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952 (Page 776)..
.......The 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.
Antagonist: Duke Frederick
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
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.
Rosalind: Daughter of Duke Senior. She is the ideal
heroine—intelligent, beautiful, courageous, cheerful, morally upright.
Celia: Daughter of Duke Frederick and good friend of Rosalind.
Le Beau: Courtier attending upon Frederick.
Charles: Wrestler in the service of Frederick.
Adam, Dennis: Servants of Oliver. Adam, an old man who is mistreated by Oliver, befriends Orlando.
Touchstone: Clown. 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: A vicar.
Corin, Silvius: Shepherds.
Audrey: Country wench.
William: Country fellow in love with Audrey.
Representative of Hymen: Hymen was the god of marriage in Greek mythology.
Minor Characters: Lords, pages, forester, and attendants.
Plot Summary ........Before 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:
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:
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and
good in every thing.
I would not change it. (2. 1. 17-20)
.......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
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
So near our public court as twenty miles,
Thou diest for it. (1.
.......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.
.......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 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
.......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, 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:
..............HYMEN.....Then is there mirth in heaven,
..............When earthly things made even
..............Good duke, receive thy daughter
..............Hymen from heaven brought her,
..............Yea, brought her hither,
..............That thou mightst join her hand with his
..............Whose heart within his bosom is. (5. 4. 60-67)
The others follow up with these lines:
..............ROSALIND.....[To Duke Senior] To you I give myself, for I am yours. Imagery: Extended Metaphors
...................................To you I give myself, for I am yours.
SENIOR.....If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.
..............ORLANDO If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.
Love 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.
Love 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 I."
Nature 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.
All 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 I
.......In 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 Rosalind:
..............CELIA..Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from
..............her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.
..............ROSALIND..I would we could do so, for her benefits are
..............mightily misplaced, and the bountiful blind woman
..............doth most mistake in her gifts to
..............CELIA...'Tis true; for those that she makes fair she scarce
..............makes honest, and those that she makes honest she
..............makes very ill-favouredly.
..............ROSALIND..Nay, now thou goest from Fortune's office to
..............Nature's: Fortune reigns in gifts of the world,
..............not in the lineaments of Nature.
Extended Metaphor: Act
.......In 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.
.......However, 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
Other Figures of Speech
All the world's a stage,1
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad3
Made to his mistress'
eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,4
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation5
Even in the cannon's mouth.6And then the justice,7
In fair round belly with
good capon lined,8
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
wise saws9and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank;10and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness11and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
.......Following are examples of other figures of speech in the play.
Repetition of a consonant sound
Stand you both forth now: stroke your chins, and swear by your beards 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)
I 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 Paradox
Are all thrown down, and that which here stands up
Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless
block. (Orlando, 1.2.129-131)
Comparison 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)
Comparison 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)
Comparison of trees to books and barks to pages of the books
Contradiction that reveals a truth
O, what a world is this, when what is comely 16 Personification
Envenoms him that bears it! (Adam, 2.3.16-17)
That which is comely (attractive, beautiful) is poisonous.
Sweetest nut hath sourest rind (Touchstone, 3.2.41)
That which is sweet is also sour.
A metaphor that compares a thing to a person
.......In the following prose passage, beginning with line 123, Rosalind and Orlando speak of time as a person.
ROSALIND. I pray you, what is’t o’clock? Biblical 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
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 Time withal?
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 withal.
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.
.......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 in
Act II, Scene I, when Duke Senior extols the carefree life of the forest:
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile, .......It 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 custom12made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp?13Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,14
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind. (3-9)
Use of Disguises
.......Time 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.
Study 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. Plays on DVD (or VHS)
2. Why does Oliver mistreat Orlando?
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 actually exist?
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 are firing.
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, aphorisms, sayings.
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 plot.
9. Hose . . . shank: His knee-high stockings (hose) no
longer fit his shrinking, withering shank (lower leg).
10. Second childishness: Senility.
11. Sans: French for without. (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
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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