William Shakespeare takes most of the plot of As You Like It from a popular novel of the period, Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde (1590). What he adds is a dramatic characterization and wit. The play, a splendid comedy on love and life, is compounded of many elements, the whole set to some of Shakespeare’s loveliest poetry. As You Like It more than fulfills the promise of its title. Its characters are, for the most part, wonderfully enamored of love, one another, and themselves. The play has freshness and vitality and, although adapted from an older story full of artifice, suggests a world of spontaneity and life.
As You Like It is often called a pastoral comedy because it employs the conventions of pastoral literature. Beginning in the third century b.c.e. and popular in the late sixteenth century, pastoral literature enabled poets, novelists, and dramatists to contrast the everyday world’s fears, anxieties, disloyalties, uncertainties, and tensions with the imagined, mythical world where peace, longevity, contentment, and fulfillment reigned. Each age develops its own manner of describing lost happiness, far removed from the normal toil of human existence; the pastoral was the dominant vision in the late sixteenth century.
In the pastoral, the mythic, lost world is set in a simple, rural environment, which then becomes the image of all things desirable to honest people. As...
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