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.