What is the historical background of Shakespeare's "As You Like It"?  

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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There is not much in the way of history behind "As You Like It," but, as with all of Shakespeare's plays, he drew on earlier works.

"As You Like It" is based loosely on Thomas Lodge's 1590 novel, Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie. In a note to the reader, Lodge said "if you like it, so. . . ," and we assume this was  the genesis of Shakespeare's title.

Lodge's novel was based on the Middle English poem, The Coke's Tale of Gamelyn, which was itself a pastoral romance, and Shakespeare's version of the pastoral romance, while following the pattern used by Lodge, de-emphasizes some aspects central to Rosalynde and creates a new central focus.  In particular, Shakespeare focuses much attention on the difference between court life, which is dangerous and corrupt, and life in the Forest of Arden, which, though uncomfortable at times, is safe, peaceful, simple, and, most important, free of corrupt men and politics.  In the forest, the most serious worry Duke Senior and his men have is obtaining sufficient food and keeping warm.

In addition to adding the conflict of court versus country life, Shakespeare introduces a few naturalistic characters--Jacques, Touchstone, and Audrey, types missing from Lodge's novel--to bring some realism and irony to the play in order to undercut the pastoral romance's unrelenting lightness.

"As You Like It" demonstrates Shakespeare's trademark changes to source material, which include, in the case of comedies, adding naturalistic elements such as characters who can be humorous but whose view of the world is cynical and ironic.  In the end, even Shakespeare's comedies are not completely sweetness and light.