How is the idea of belonging portrayed in Shakespeare's play As You Like It?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, the theme of “belonging” – especially the idea of being part of a supportive group or community  -- is a particularly important motif.  This theme is emphasized throughout the play in a number of different ways, including the following:

  • Oliver de Boys tries to have his own brother, Orlando, killed in a wrestling match at court. The court should ideally function as a community in which all good persons have a secure place and to which they all belong, but Oliver betrays that ideal. At this court, Orlando has no chance to feel a strong sense of belonging to a virtuous community.
  • At court, Orlando meets Rosalind, whose own father has been deposed as duke and who has had to flee the court, the community of which he should ideally be the leader. The former duke, then, also a lacks a sense of belonging – at least at the court he once headed.
  • Rosalind herself is banished from the corrupt court – a banishment that prevents her from belonging to that community but that gives her the chance to belong, later, to a much better and more virtuous community in the forest of Arden.
  • Celia, daughter of the usurping duke, decides to accompany her friend, Rosalind, into the forest. She thus sacrifices her privileged position at the corrupt court because she senses that she “belongs” more with Rosalind than with her father and his courtiers.
  • Touchstone, the fool, also leaves the corrupt court, thus sacrificing any possibility of “belonging” there (of being part of that community).
  • The banished duke has established a small, virtuous community in the forest to which many of the other characters will soon belong. They will feel far more comfortable belonging to this community than they felt at the court of the usurping duke.
  • Orlando, in particular, feels a strong sense of “belonging” to the new community in the forest.
  • Eventually, Orlando’s own formerly evil brother, Oliver, feels a sense of belonging with the community in the forest, and he also feels a strong sense of belonging thanks to his new love for (and eventual union with) Celia. Their pairing is just one of several such romantic matches in the play, in which lovers express a strong sense of belonging to (and with) one another. Marriage, in fact, ultimately becomes one of the new symbols of joyful belonging at the conclusion of the play, as Hymen emphasizes in the final scene:

Wedding is great Juno's crown; 
O blessed bond of board and bed! 
'Tis Hymen peoples every town; 
High wedlock then be honoured. 
Honour, high honour, and renown, 
To Hymen, god of every town!

The word “bond” here, in particular, helps emphasize the theme of belonging.

Ultimately, the play shows that virtue is essential to any true sense of "belonging." Evil, pride, and egotism inevitably result in a strong sense of isolation from everything and everyone that matters most.




Read the study guide:
As You Like It

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