Discuss As You Like It as an example of pastoral literature and say what features of the pastoral mode lend themselves to social criticism.

As You Like It is an example of pastoral literature in being set largely in the idyllic Forest of Arden, which is portrayed as a place of innocence in contrast to the corrupt court of Duke Frederick. Features of the pastoral mode that lend themselves to social criticism include its artificiality, as the pastoral obscures the harsh realities of country or wilderness living.

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Pastoral literature pits the corruptions of the city against the innocence of a natural setting. The natural world depicted in pastoral literature is not realistic. It is a dream world, a utopic vision of how beautiful a life freed from conventions and civilization might be.

As You Like It is pastoral in being set largely in the Forest of Arden, when Duke Senior has fled with his faithful courtiers when deposed by his younger brother, Duke Frederick. Rosalind, Duke Senior's daughter, and Celia, Duke Frederick's daughter, also escape to this forest. The refugees have a series of comic, enlightening, and romantic adventures in this pastoral paradise (though Shakespeare, to his credit, brings in ample reminders that winter will come: the idyll will not last forever). Nevertheless, everyone, in their own way and for a time, is liberated from the stifling conventions of the court.

The pastoral genre has been criticized by scholars such as Raymond Williams in The Country and the City for its artificiality and for obscuring the real hardship that a country or wilderness setting entails. Critic Rene Girard has pointed to the play's title, As You Like It, as an indication that Shakespeare was emphasizing that he was giving his audiences the fantasia they craved: life as you, audience, would like it to be, not as it really is. One could argue that Shakespeare uses the pastoral form to critique the pastoral, but it is also a play that celebrates the liberation provided by the natural world and offers a happy ending.

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William Shakespeare’s As You Like It is an example of pastoral literature, particularly pastoral comedy, because it features a shepherd’s life, or country living. In the story, the protagonist, Rosalind, escapes the court of her uncle, Duke Frederick, in order to avoid persecution. Rosalind flees to the Forest of Arden together with her cousin Celia and the court jester, Touchstone.

The Forest of Arden becomes the main setting of the story, hence the reason for the play being considered pastoral literature. The Forest of Arden not only serves as a physical backdrop to the action but is also symbolic in nature. The greenwood represents an escape from the hustle and bustle of busy court life. Rosalind fleeing to the forest symbolizes a retreat to an idyllic world, away from the prying eyes of enemies.

The Forest of Arden is an apt representation of an idyllic pastoral existence. The place is like a utopia that provides the characters the peace, solitude, and love that they all desperately seek. The features of the pastoral mode that lend themselves to social criticism are shown in the stark differences between life in a sophisticated, civilized setting—exemplified by life in the court—and the simpler life the characters discover in the country.

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As You Like It is an oft cited example of the pastoral literary convention employed in drama. Pastoral literature is defined as that which focuses on country life of shepherds and depicts it as ideal and sincere while contrasting it to court life (or urban, city life) that is depicted as artificial and corrupt. It is the contrast between the genuine and the corrupt that lends itself to social criticism and gives the poet opportunity to voice objections to the dangers, evils, and harm of courtly or city life in relation to rulers and affects of the environment and development of personal relationships.

As You Like It fits the definition in that the first setting is the court of the deposed Duke Senior, which is now controlled by the Duke's younger brother, Duke Frederick. The fact that the throne was usurped by a younger brother and the rightful ruler exiled is sufficient to illustrate the pastoral element of corruption of the court. In further acts of corruption, Rosaline and Orlando--in the midst of death threats--are also exiled from or endangered by the corrupt court of Duke Frederick.

The second setting is the pastoral land of Arden Forest where Rosaline and Celia (her companion in exile) meet shepherds and buy a cottage and sheep herd of their own. Shepherds and sheep are a definitive feature of the convention of the pastoral. That the principals meet and become shepherds is sufficient to illustrate the idyllic element in the pastoral. Further illustration of the idyllic are found in Orlando's proliferation of the forest with unschooled love poems. The resolution of the play further illustrates the idyllic when Rosaline/Ganymede properly arranges all the couples who blissfully marry and look forward to happiness under Duke Senior's reestablished rule.

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The play offers a comparison between life at court and life in the Forest of Arden. Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves and move among the shepherds and other rustics, discussing love and other matters. Because the play begins with a number of unrequited relationships, the forest and the pastoral atmosphere it provides can be seen as a place where harmony is restored and romance is alive.

The idea of the simple pastoral life is one that pervades English literature: living among shepherds and sheep, gazing upon the fields, following the simple rhythms of nature are all seen as desirable idyllic mode of being, preferable to the stress and artificiality of city and court life. The pastoral is a very romanticized vision of human existence, idealized and not entirely realistic.

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