In As You Like It, in what way does Arden provide a means of escape from the court? Is that its mere function, to provide a sanctuary to various "runaways"?
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I think any sophisticated analysis of the role of the Forest of Arden in this excellent comedy needs to move beyond a simple approach of regarding the Forest of Arden as a mere escape for various characters from the corruption of court life. It is clear that this is how the Forest of Arden is presented at first, as Charles talks of the life of the exiled Duke in the Forest as if he were living the life of "Robin Hood of England." He has gathered with him other exiles who have chosen to follow him and together they "fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world." It is true that for various characters like Celia, Rosalind and Orlando, going into the Forest is part of their escape from the corruption and evil of court life, and is done in self-preservation.
However, let us also focus on the way in which the Forest of Arden heals those that are within it. Note the way that those who are lovesick are matched with their partners and the Duke is restored to his position. What is key to realise is that Shakespeare presents country life as a temporary matter. Characters go there, are changed and restored, and, apart from a few, are made ready to return to court life. Thus it is important to examine the function of the Forest of Arden together with its relationship with court life. Whilst country life might give a well-needed break from the intrigues of court life, it is shown that the simplicity of country life also emphasises the need for the various advantages of court life. Shakespeare very wisely suggests that we need both.
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