At court, young Orlando, though he attracts attention by beating the Duke’s wrestler, has to flee the hatred of his eldest brother. His new love, Rosalind, is exiled by her uncle, the Duke, who has usurped her father’s throne. Together with her faithful cousin Celia, Rosalind flees to the Forest of Arden dressed as a young boy; there the two settle as sheepkeepers.
Orlando meanwhile arrives and joins a band of merry outlaws headed by the exiled Duke (Rosaland’s father). Rosalind in disguise undertakes to argue Orlando out of his passion for Rosalind; she feigns to scorn love and lovers. Eventually the usurping Duke repents and voluntarily restores his brother; Orlando weds Rosalind, Celia wins Orlando’s brother, and all ends happily.
One of the most delightful of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, this play features various views of love: the head-over-heals passion of Rosalind, the scornful scoffing of her disguised male self, the sonnet writing of Orlando, the literary artificiality of the shepherd Silvius and the disdain of his beloved Phebe, the realistic lust of the clown Touchstone and his mate, the country wench Audrey.
There is discussion from several angles, too, of the relative virtues of urban and pastoral living, with the affectedly satiric Jacques providing a melancholy counterpoint to the joys of simple country life. His description of the “seven ages of man” is one of the most famous set speeches in Shakespeare’s plays.
Halio, Jay L., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “As You Like It.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Includes essays by Helen Gardner, John Russell Brown, Marco Mincoff (on Lodge’s Rosalynde as the source), and the editor (on time and timelessness in Arden). Also includes an introduction and bibliography.
Jenkins, Harold. “As You Like It.” Shakespeare Survey 8 (1955): 40-51. Mainly concerned with the structure of the play, this essay notes the dearth of big theatrical scenes and causally linked events, which are replaced by a more complex design that emphasizes comic juxtapositions.
Knowles, Richard. “Myth and Type in As You Like It.” English Literary History 33 (1966): 1-22. Discusses the many mythical allusions in As You Like It that make the literal action reverberate beyond itself. Hercules is the dominant mythological figure, whom by analogy Orlando resembles. Biblical overtones are also discussed.
Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1974. Leggatt shows how the forest scenes provide an imaginative freedom to explore ideas and play roles. Partisan laughter against any one character in the play is discouraged, for the audience is reminded of the partiality of any single perspective.
Young, David. The Heart’s Forest: A Study of Shakespeare’s Pastoral Plays. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972. Young reviews the pastoral tradition and its salient characteristics, so important in this play, and shows how Shakespeare explored and exploited the medium of pastoral drama in As You Like It and other plays, including The Winter’s Tale (c. 1610-1611) and The Tempest (1611). A deliberate self-consciousness, he says, pervades As You Like It, whose atmosphere of artifice and hypothesis is fostered by extensive use of “if,” and whose major theme is self-knowledge.