Comment on Shakespeare's handling of the pastoral element in As You Like It.
One of the central oppositions that we are presented with in this Shakespeare play is the conflict between court life in the civilised city and the country life of the Forest of Arden. This division is confirmed throughout the play, but it is clear that both locations have a separate code of rules and behaviours that are not synonymous. It is interesting how Shakespeare uses the Forest of Arden to present his ideas on Pastoral literature. Note how at the beginning it is depicted as a favourable alternative to the machinations of Machiavellian court life under the rule of Duke Frederick and Oliver. We are told that Duke Senior and the lords that have fled the city to the woods "live like old Robin Hood of England." They appear perfectly happy with their lives in the Forest, enjoying nature and their Pastoral lifestyle.
But it is important to note how Shakespeare shakes this idyllic Pastoral vision of life in the Forest. Reality breaks into this Romanticised setting with various negative elements such as difficult terrain, dangerous creatures and various n'er-do-wells roaming through the forest. Thus, arguably, we can see Shakespeare questioning the idealised innocence of Pastoral life and injecting a somewhat more robust realism into this problematic concept of "Pastoral" in this play.
One important point related to the portrayal of the pastoral in this play has to do with the romantic relationship at the center of the plot. Rosalind has decided to leave her court life temporarily and dress as a man, but she has also chosen the relatively difficult path of living in the woods, requiring her to leave behind any delicate notion of ladies' physical weakness or fragility. This necessity makes her male character appear even more appealing in his confidence and surety.
There is also a strong correlation drawn between the forest and the concept of romantic love. When Rosalind, as Ganymede, meets Orlando, she decides to engage him by directly commenting on his sad expression. She calls him "forester" and asks him the time, and when he replies there is no clock in the forest, she cleverly uses his answer to say "then there is no true lover in the forest, else sighing every minute and groaning every hour would detect the lazy foot of time as well as a clock." She is implying that the forest is the natural environment for the true lover, and that somehow Orlando does not belong there. This allows Ganymede to challenge both Orlando's claim to be in love, and also his status as a forest dweller: a interesting reference to her own situation and her own feelings.