Was there an actual Forest of Arden?
The maiden name of Shakespeare's mother was Mary Arden and her father, Robert Arden (died 1556) owned substantial parcels of rich farmland around Stratford that he leased to farmers, including Richard Shakespeare, the playwright's father. Richard Arden may have been a descendant of the Ardens of Park Hall, the largest owners of land in England prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066. We have some grounds to believe that Shakespeare had the woods around his boyhood home in mind when he named the rustic setting of As You Like It. Nevertheless, some Shakespeare scholars argue that the "Arden" of the play is simply an English translation of Ardennes, a heavily wooded region that spans France Belgium and Luxembourg. Whatever the provenance of its name, the Forest itself is not a real locale. It is an idyllic and imagined realm akin to Prospero's Island in The Tempest or Portia's home at "fair" Belmont in The Merchant of Venice.