Audiences in Shakespeare’s time would have expected any comedy to include romance. The two main characters of a comedy would have been a pair of lovers or two people destined to fall in love. Much of the plot would revolve around their initial attraction, short separation, and happy ending. A...
Audiences in Shakespeare’s time would have expected any comedy to include romance. The two main characters of a comedy would have been a pair of lovers or two people destined to fall in love. Much of the plot would revolve around their initial attraction, short separation, and happy ending. A comedy also usually has a set of improbable circumstances or settings, such that a group of people is thrown together who will relate in unlikely ways, even through comic hijinks.
Love and the foolishness of human behavior (particularly in love) is a central theme of As You Like It. The primary romance between Rosalind and Orlando has many comic elements. Witty dialogue about love pervades the play. It also contains two of Shakespeare’s most famous lines about love. The characters are always falling for each other immediately, and Phoebe has the line,
Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?
In response to Orlando saying he will die of love, Rosalind says,
Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
Their dialogue about love is generally more comic than serious and sets the tone for other characters' talk.
Shakespeare includes many layers of romance, often between characters who are not well suited to each other, to create some of the comedy’s humorous aspects. He also creates a mix-up in the identities of the beloved which has to be sorted out. This is especially true for Rosalind and Orlando. The audience learns early on that she has fallen for him when she sees him wrestle. But her father’s misfortunes cause her to flee to the forest, where she disguises herself as a youth to travel safely. Her encounters with Orlando mostly occur while she is disguised.
Added to this confusion are two more characters, Silvius and Phoebe. His love for her is unrequited, and their talks of love are full of humorous plays on words. She, in turn, falls for Ganymede, not realizing he is really Rosalind. A third love trio of Touchstone, the court jester; Audrey, a shepherdess; and William, a country boy, round out the general silliness. Their interactions have added humor from Touchstone’s commentaries about human nature.