The Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It is symbolic indeed. At the beginning of Act I, scene ii, Rosalind and Celia discuss the fact that Rosalind's father, Duke Senior, is banished. Later, Rosalind is banished and ends up in the same forest; hence, the forest first seems like a punishment and a symbol of dishonor. It would seem that title and money were very important to people in Shakespeare's time, and so having those things taken away would seem sad and disheartening. The opposite is discovered, though as Duke Senior and his men are found enjoying life in the forest--except maybe for Jacques, but he's melancholy about everything. What can certainly be inferred about the forest is that it is a place of healing from the worries of the "court" and the world. There seems to be so much stress in daily life that if one can slow down and live a slower life, then one would find more happiness. This can be seen especially as Oliver, Orlando's villainous brother, heads into the forest to overtake his brother. In the process, though, Oliver's heart is changed not only as Orlando saves him from a lion and a snake, but also because he is not in his place of empowerment in the city. Almost everyone who ventures into the forest discovers a better way of life as opposed to what city life had to offer with its society and competitiveness. It can be inferred that the message is that only in nature can we truly discover happiness. Duke Senior describes the mood in the forest quite well:
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?" (II.i.1-4).