At the conclusion of As You Like It, Rosalind remains on stage to end the play with a standard epilogue. After acknowledging that it is unusual to assign the epilogue to a female character, she sends the audience home with the words, "My way is to conjure you and I begin with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of the play as please you; and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women … that between you and the women the play may please" (V.iv). This upbeat but very slight final word is consistent with Shakespeare's primary purpose in As You Like It: to entertain his audience. Filled with skits, songs, and superfluous side stories (the love affairs between Touchstone and Audrey and between Silvius and Phebe) and featuring many exchanges of comic wordplay, As You Like It does not have any dominant theme or message to convey beyond goodwill to all and tolerance toward each. There is, however, a particular point of view that is brought to bear on the subjects that arise in its course (love, aging, time, nature, and the like). That perspective or worldview is brought to the fore in the person of Rosalind (as both a woman and a man) and contrasted with the dour outlook of Jaques.
We are at liberty to choose how we wish to live and to experience life, Shakespeare tells us in As You Like It. The most obvious choice presented to us in the play is between the civilized realm of the courtly society and the natural world of Arden. As the veteran shepherd Corin tells us, "those that are good manners at the court are ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at court" (III.ii.46-47). The Forest of Arden is initially presented to us as a romanticized and idealized alternative to the cruelty of the court under Duke Frederick and the "evil" brother Oliver. The first that we hear of Duke Senior and the lords who have taken refuge in Arden is that, "They live like old Robin Hood of England" (I.i.117). While they recognize the hardships of natural life, the good Duke and his men are a merry lot, happy to trade their station at court for the freedom of the woods.
But Shakespeare also includes some negative dimensions to country life, which is seen to be physically strenuous with uncertain terrain, lions and miscreants roaming about along with bumpkins and rural fools. When Touchstone is asked by Corin how he likes life as a shepherd, the jester answers: "In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life" (II.ii.15-16). Since "solitary" and "private" are virtual synonyms, the clown's opinion seems meaningless; in fact, it encompasses a broader point made time and time again in the play: that our experience of anything is largely a product of how we look at it and define it.
The most consistent and recognizable worldview in As You Like It belongs to Jaques, the melancholic member of Duke Senior's court who finds fault not with individuals but with life at large. The constant target of ridicule from Amiens and the hearty lords of Duke Senior's sylvan court,...
(The entire section is 1285 words.)
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