How is the song "Under the Greenwood Tress" relevant to the Duke's situation?

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In act II, scene 5 of As You Like It, Amiens, one of Duke Senior's faithful followers sings "Under the Greenwood Tree:"

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird's throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.
Who doth ambition shun
And loves to live i' the sun,
Seeking the food he eats,
And pleased with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

The story is relevant to the Duke's situation because he has been driven from power by his brother, Ferdinand, and forced to flee to the Forest of Arden. There he lives a simple life with his followers amid the pastoral beauties of the forest, an existence similar to what is described in the song.

While Jacques, a fellow courtier, is cynical and depressive, Amiens prefers the pastoral life to civilized life at court. His song, therefore, expresses the positive aspects of living in the forest. The Duke, as the song describes, is removed from the stresses of enemies at court and the politics of power. He doesn't have to worry about ambitious people being out to destroy him because he no longer has any power. He doesn't have much more to concern him at this point than winter and rough weather.

A longing for a simpler, more pastoral life runs deep in the literary tradition, going back at least to Hesiod's Works and Days in the eighth century BCE As You Like It explores pastoral conventions and the contrast between the city and the country. The Forest of Arden is a place of freedom—for example, Rosalind can enjoy the gender bending of disguising herself as the male Ganymede—but that very role, meant to keep her and Celia, disguised as a shepherdess safe, shows the threat the forest also presents.

There are advantages to pastoral life as outlined in the song but in the end, when Duke Ferdinand the usurper leaves court to become a hermit, Duke Senior resumes his civilized life.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 21, 2020
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