One of Shakespeare's early plays, As You Like It (1598-1599), is a stock romantic comedy that was familiar to Elizabethan audiences as an exemplar of "Christian" comedy. Although the play does include two offstage spiritual conversions, the "Christian" designation does not refer to religion itself. Instead, it denotes the restoration and regeneration of society through the affirmation of certain Christian values such as brotherly love, marital union, tolerance for different viewpoints, and optimism about life at large.
The plot is very simple: the resolution of the dramatic problem in the warped attitudes of two evil brothers toward good brothers, and related obstacles to marriage for several couples in the play (most notably Rosalind and Orlando) are easily overcome, and a happy ending is never in doubt. On one level, the play was clearly intended by Shakespeare as a simple, diverting amusement; several scenes in As You Like It are essentially skits made up of songs and joking banter. But on a somewhat deeper level, the play provides opportunities for its main characters to discuss a host of subjects (love, aging, the natural world, and death) from their particular points of view. At its center, As You Like It presents us with the respective worldviews of Jaques, a chronically melancholy pessimist preoccupied with the negative aspects of life, and Rosalind, the play's Christian heroine, who recognizes life's difficulties but holds fast to a positive attitude that is kind, playful, and, above all, wise. In the end, the enjoyment that we receive from the play's comedy is reinforced and validated by a humanistic Christian philosophy gently woven into the text by a benevolent Shakespeare.
Summary of the Play
Orlando, youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, complains to Adam, an elderly family servant, that his brother Oliver has unfairly withheld his late father's inheritance and prevented him from being educated as a gentleman. Oliver enters and a heated argument ensues. When Oliver learns that his brother plans to challenge Charles, Duke Frederick's hulking wrestler, he plots with Charles to break his brother's neck during the match.
The next day Duke Frederick, his daughter Celia, and his niece Rosalind witness the competition. Charles has subdued his first three opponents, but Orlando manages to defeat his adversary. Duke Frederick is infuriated when he learns the identity of Orlando's father, in life his bitter enemy, but Rosalind is captivated by Orlando and gives him a chain from her neck as a reward for his victory. Orlando is immediately taken by her charm, yet he finds himself speechless to thank her.
Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior whom Frederick has usurped, tells Celia that she has fallen in love with Orlando. Duke Frederick has allowed Rosalind to remain at court because of her friendship with his daughter, but now he banishes her, despite Celia's pleas to allow her to remain. Rosalind and Celia make plans to join Rosalind's father in the Forest of Arden. They decide to travel in disguise, Rosalind as Ganymede, a young man, and Celia as Aliena, a peasant girl. Touchstone, Duke Frederick's court jester, agrees to accompany them.
Duke Frederick is enraged when he learns that his daughter and Rosalind have fled. He believes Orlando is with them and plans a search party, led by Oliver, to find them. Orlando, meanwhile, has learned from Adam that Oliver is plotting to have him killed, and they make plans to leave the court for the countryside.
Rosalind and Celia, now in disguise, arrive in the Forest of Arden along with Touchstone. There they overhear a young shepherd, Silvius, tell an old Shepherd, Corin, of his love for Phebe, a shepherdess who has spurned his affections. Orlando and Adam, in the meantime, have arrived in another part of the forest. Adam becomes weak with hunger, and Orlando sets out in search of food. He soon discovers the banished Duke Senior and his court and confronts them with his sword drawn. Duke Senior greets him with kindness, however, and invites him to share in his feast. Orlando agrees and leaves to bring Adam to safety.
Obsessed by his love for Rosalind, Orlando writes poems about her and hangs them on trees. Rosalind discovers the poems and is critical of their literary merit, but when she learns they are by Orlando, she has a change of heart. She meets Orlando, who does not recognize her in her male disguise, and offers to cure him of his lovesickness if he will court her as if she were Rosalind. Touchstone, in the meantime, has begun courting Audrey, a goatherd, and Silvius has continued to pursue the shepherdess he loves. Phebe, however, has fallen in love with Rosalind in her Ganymede disguise.
Orlando meets with Rosalind and tells her how he would charm and win his beloved. Oliver arrives in the forest soon afterward and tells Rosalind and Celia that Orlando, unaware of Oliver's identity, had rescued him from a lioness while he slept beneath a tree. He tells them he is Orlando's brother and that he and Orlando have reconciled. When he reveals that Orlando was wounded by the lioness, Rosalind faints.
Oliver confesses to Orlando that he has fallen in love with Celia. Orlando tells Rosalind that his brother's marriage is to take place the next day and wishes he could marry his own beloved. Rosalind, still in disguise, tells him that through "magic" she will make her appear. She also pledges to help Silvius and Phebe. Touchstone tells Audrey that they, too, will be married on the morrow.
The next day, Rosalind reveals her true identity; and she and Orlando, Oliver and Celia, and Silvius and Phebe are married before the banished Duke. Jaques de Boys, the middle son of Sir Rowland, brings the news that Duke Frederick has met an old religious hermit and has decided to forsake the world and restore his brother's dukedom. The newly united couples dance, and Rosalind speaks the epilogue.
Estimated Reading Time
This play should take the average student about five hours to read. It will be helpful to divide your reading time into five one hour sittings for each of the play's five acts. Shakespeare's language can be difficult for students who are unfamiliar with it, so each act should be read carefully on a scene by scene basis to ensure understanding.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
As You Like It is typical of Shakespeare’s great comedies in many respects. The action of the play occurs in two locales, so that the values taken for granted at court may be presented for examination in the foreign setting of the forest. What might be described as the pattern of pastoral comedy is played out in this drama. The heroes and heroines of the play are forced to leave the city and retreat to the forest, where they learn the simple values of rustic life.
The dramatic action is precipitated by the usurpation of the country’s throne by Duke Frederick, who deposes his elder brother, Duke Senior. When the play opens, Duke Senior has retreated to the forest of Arden. His daughter Rosalind has been allowed to remain at court, but her popularity makes Frederick jealous, so she too is banished. Frederick’s daughter Celia, bound to Rosalind by strong ties of affection, accompanies her to Arden. They are pursued there by Orlando, also a victim of persecution; his older brother Oliver hates him simply because he also is popular. In the forest, Rosalind disguises herself as a man for safety’s sake. Her disguise allows her to test Orlando’s love and to offer sage advice to other pairs of lovers, notably the shepherd Silvius and his beloved Phebe; the fool, Touchstone, and the object of his desire, Audrey; and Celia and Oliver who, while visiting Arden in search of his brother, is converted miraculously from his hatred for Orlando when the...
(The entire section is 527 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The elder and lawful ruler of a French province is deposed by his younger brother, Frederick. The old duke, driven from his dominions, flees with several faithful followers to the Forest of Arden. There he lives a happy life, free from the cares of the court and able to devote himself at last to learning the lessons nature has to teach. His daughter, Rosalind, remains at court as a companion to her cousin Celia, the daughter of the usurping Duke Frederick. The two girls are inseparable, and nothing her father says or does would make Celia part from her dearest friend.
One day, Duke Frederick commands the two girls to attend a wrestling match between the duke’s champion, Charles, and a young man named Orlando, who is a special object of Duke Frederick’s hatred because he is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, who was one of the banished duke’s most loyal supporters. Before Sir Rowland dies, he charges his oldest son, Oliver, with the task of looking after his younger brother’s education, but Oliver neglects his father’s charge. The moment Rosalind lays eyes on Orlando she falls in love with him, and he with her. She tries to dissuade him from an unequal contest with a champion so much more powerful than he, but the more she pleads the more determined Orlando is to distinguish himself in his lady’s eyes. In the end he completely conquers his antagonist and is rewarded for his prowess by a chain from Rosalind’s neck.
When Duke Frederick discovers his niece’s interest in Sir Rowland’s son, he immediately banishes her from the court. Rosalind disguises herself as a boy and sets out for the Forest of Arden, accompanied by Celia and the faithful Touchstone, the jester. Orlando finds it necessary to flee because of his brother’s harsh treatment. He is accompanied by the faithful servant Adam, an old man who willingly turns over his life savings of five hundred crowns for the privilege of following his young master.
Orlando and Adam set out for the Forest of Arden, but before they have traveled very far they are both weary and hungry. While Adam rests in the shade of some trees, Orlando wanders into that part of the forest where the old duke is and comes upon the outlaws at their meal. Desperate from hunger, Orlando rushes upon the duke with a drawn sword and demands food. The duke immediately offers to share the hospitality of his table, and Orlando blushes...
(The entire section is 981 words.)
Act and Scene Summary and Analysis
Act I, Scene 1
Orlando: youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys
Adam: an elderly servant in the household of the late Rowland de Boys
Dennis: another servant in the household
Oliver: eldest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys and inheritor of his father's estate
Charles: Duke Frederick's wrestler
Scene 1, set in the orchard of the de Boys family, begins with the entrance of Orlando de Boys and Adam, an elderly servant. Orlando complains to Adam that his late father had bequeathed him a thousand crowns and requested that his oldest brother Oliver provide for his education as a gentleman. Although Oliver has kept the...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
Act I, Scenes 2 and 3
Rosalind: daughter of the exiled Duke Senior
Celia: daughter of Duke Frederick and Rosalind's loyal friend
Touchstone: Duke Frederick's court jester
Le Beau: a foppish courtier
Duke Frederick: usurper of his brother's dukedom; Celia's father and Rosalind's uncle
The next day, Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior, and Celia, Duke Frederick's daughter, are encountered at Duke Frederick's palace. Celia urges her cousin to "be merry," but Rosalind is still upset by her father's banishment. Celia attempts to cheer her up by pledging her friendship and affection. Rosalind agrees to be joyful for her...
(The entire section is 1543 words.)
Act II, Scene 1
Duke Senior: an exiled duke, living in banishment in the Forest of Arden; Rosalind's father and Celia's uncle
Amiens: a courtier and singer who attends Duke Senior
First and Second Lords: courtiers who attend Duke Senior in exile
Scene 1 takes place in the Forest Arden. Duke Senior tells his "co-mates and brothers in exile" that he finds life in the forest "more sweet" and "free from peril" than life at "the envious court," despite the inconvenience of cold and winter winds. Amiens, one. of the Duke's courtiers, agrees, noting that the Duke has turned the misfortune of his banishment into a happy life in the forest. Duke Senior...
(The entire section is 598 words.)
Act II, Scenes 2 and 3
In Scene 2, set at Duke Frederick's palace, Duke Frederick reveals his anger when he learns that Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone are missing. A courtier tells him that Orlando is believed to be in their company. Duke Frederick orders Orlando to be summoned immediately, or for Oliver to be brought should Orlando be missing. If Orlando is gone, the Duke will make Oliver find his brother.
Scene 3 takes place at Oliver's house. Adam, in a state of agitation, warns Orlando that he is in mortal danger if he remains at home. Oliver has learned of Orlando's victory in the wrestling match, and he plans to burn Orlando's lodgings that very night while Orlando is sleeping. If that fails, Oliver will...
(The entire section is 396 words.)
Act II, Scene 4
Corin: an old shepherd who dwells near the Forest of Arden
Silvius: a young shepherd who is in love with Phebe, a shepherdess
Rosalind and Celia, now disguised as Ganymede, a young man, and Aliena, a peasant girl, arrive in the Forest of Arden along with Touchstone. All three are weary in body and spirit after their long journey. As they rest, Corin, an old shepherd, and Silvius, a young shepherd, enter. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone overhear their conversation. Silvius sighs that he is hopelessly in love with Phebe, a disdainful shepherdess who has spurned his affections. Corin offers his advice. He assures Silvius that in his younger...
(The entire section is 773 words.)
Act II, Scene 5
Jacques: a melancholy philosopher who resides with Duke Senior in the Forest of Arden
This scene is set in a clearing in the Forest Arden. Ainiens, one of Duke Senior's courtiers, sings a ballad that celebrates the pastoral life. When Amiens concludes his song, Jaques asks for more. Arniens protests that the music will make Jaques melancholy, but Jaques retorts, "I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs. More, I prithee, more/ " Jaques persists, and finally Amiens agrees to sing another verse. Amiens tells Jaques that Duke Senior has been looking for him, but Jaques replies that he has been deliberately avoiding the Duke. Amiens sings...
(The entire section is 490 words.)
Act II, Scenes 6 and 7
In another part of the forest, we encounter Adam and Orlando. Adam tells Orlando that he is famished, can journey no further, and is ready to die. Orlando comforts him and promises to bring him to shelter; he will then venture forth in search of food.
In Scene 7, Duke Senior, preparing for his banquet, inquires as to Jaques' whereabouts. Jaques enters immediately afterward. He is in an ebullient mood, having met Touchstone: "A fool, a fool/ I met a fool i' the forest." Touchstone, Jaques recounts, had "railed on Lady Fortune in good terms." When Jaques greeted him with "Good morrow, fool," Touchstone replied wittily, "Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune." Touchstone then drew...
(The entire section is 1640 words.)
Act III, Scenes 1 and 2
At the palace, Duke Frederick commands Oliver to find Orlando and bring him in, dead or alive, within a year. If Oliver fails to do so, his property and goods will be forfeited. Oliver tells Duke Frederick, "I never loved my brother in my life." "More villain thou," Duke Frederick replies. He orders his men to forcibly remove Oliver from the palace and commands that a writ of seizure be placed on Oliver's house and lands.
In Scene 2, we return to the Forest of Arden. Orlando, obsessed by his love for Rosalind, writes poems to her and hangs them on trees. After he resolves to carve the name of his beloved on every tree in the forest, he exits.
Corin and Touchstone enter, and...
(The entire section is 1869 words.)
Act III, Scenes 3-5
Audrey: a countly wench
Sir Oliver Martext: a clergyman
Phebe: a shepherdess who dwells near the Forest of Arden
Touchstone, in a merry mood, enters with Audrey, a goatherd who lives near the Forest of Arden. Jaques also arrives on the scene; he stands aside, eavesdropping on their conversation. Touchstone attempts to woo Audrey, asking, "Am I the man yet? Doth my simple feature content you?" His witticisms are lost on the simple country goatherd, who does not understand the meaning of the word "poetical." Touchstone has no illusions about Audrey's morals; he suspects her of being a "foul slut." Audrey protests that she is not...
(The entire section is 1396 words.)
Act IV, Scene 1
Rosalind and Celia, still in their disguises, enter with Jaques, who expresses a desire to become better acquainted with Ganymede. Rosalind comments that she has heard that Jaques is "a melancholy fellow." Jaques admits this is true; he tells Rosalind that he likes melancholy better than laughter. Rosalind cautions against going to extremes of either melancholy or mirth, and Jaques retorts that "tis good to be sad and say nothing." In that case, Rosalind replies wittily, it is good to be a post. Jaques remarks that his melancholy was acquired during his travels abroad, but Rosalind is skeptical of his tale. Orlando enters soon afterward. Jaques bids farewell to Ganymede and departs.
(The entire section is 1489 words.)
Act IV, Scene 2
In another part of the forest, Jaques encounters several Lords bearing the carcass of a deer. He asks which of the Lords killed the deer and suggests that they "present him to the Duke, like a Roman conquerer." He inquires if they have a song for the occasion, which they do. "Sing it," Jaques commands. "'Tis no matter how it be in tune, so it make noise enough." The Lords break into a lusty song that features a play on words comparing a deer's antlers and the "horns" of a cuckold.
Jaques' response to meeting the Lords and seeing their slaughtered prey is in sharp contrast to his "weeping and commenting" after encountering a wounded deer in the second act....
(The entire section is 285 words.)
Act IV Scene 3
It is now past two o'clock, the appointed hour of Rosalind and Orlando's meeting, but Orlando has not appeared. Celia teases Rosalind by telling her that Orlando is so deeply in love that he has probably fallen asleep.
Silvius enters and presents Ganymede with the letter Phebe has written to her. He confesses that he does not know the contents, but tells her that he believes the letter was written in anger, judging by Phebe's expression while she was writing it. Rosalind pretends to Silvius that Phebe has been harsh in her criticism of Ganymede. She playfully accuses Silvius of writing the letter himself and comments that it appears to be in a man's handwriting. But Silvius innocently...
(The entire section is 1091 words.)
Act V, Scene 1
William: a simpleminded young man
Touchstone asks Audrey to be patient; he assures her that their marriage will indeed take place. Audrey argues that Sir Oliver Martext was good enough to perform the ceremony, but Touchstone disparages the cleric and moves on to another topic, remarking that there is a youth in the forest who "lays claim" to Audrey. However Audrey, interested only in marrying her urbane man of the court, protests that her supposed suitor "hath no interest in me in the world."
William, an unsophisticated young man of twenty-five, enters. As soon as Touchstone sees his potential rival, he decides to have some fun at his...
(The entire section is 367 words.)
Act V, Scenes 2 and 3
Orlando has learned that Oliver has fallen in love with Aliena at first sight. He is incredulous at the news, but Oliver assures his brother that his love is genuine and asks for his permission to marry. He tells Orlando that after he is married he plans to give him their father's house "and all the revenue that was old Sir Rowland's." Furthermore, Oliver plans to "here live and die a shepherd." Orlando grants his consent. He tells Oliver that the wedding will take place the next day and bids him to invite the Duke and his followers.
Rosalind enters, still disguised as Ganymede. After she exchanges greetings with Oliver he departs. She tells Orlando that she had been distressed to hear of...
(The entire section is 788 words.)
Act V, Scene 4
Hymen: the god of marriage
Jaques de Boys: second son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys; brother of Oliver and Orlando
The next day, Duke Senior, Amiens, Jaques, Orlando, Oliver, and Aliena gather in the forest. Duke Senior asks Orlando whether he feels Ganymede can do all he has promised. Orlando replies that he has been wavering between belief and disbelief; he is afraid of being disappointed. Rosalind, still disguised as Ganymede, enters with Silvius and Phebe and asks those who have assembled to have patience while she confirms that everyone has agreed to keep their promises. Duke Senior pledges his permission for Rosalind to marry...
(The entire section is 1445 words.)
After the wedding dance, Rosalind steps forward and addresses the audience. She comments that a good play needs no epilogue, just as a good wine needs no bush-a reference to the ivy bush vintners in Shakespeare's time used on signs of their trade. Yet she argues that even good plays can be improved with the help of good epilogues. She apologizes for not being a good epilogue, and adds that she cannot slyly gain the audience's approval, for she is not dressed like a beggar; thus, it is improper to plead for an ovation. Instead, she will "conjure" the audience into applause. She addresses the women in the audience, telling them "for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play that please...
(The entire section is 313 words.)