What pastoral elements are present in Shakespeare's As You Like It?

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Pastoral elements in literature contain idealized conventions of a rustic or rural life. Various descriptions of landscape and nature come into play as well as participants in country life (like shepherds). In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the Forest of Arden provides a perfect backdrop against which pastoral elements come alive on stage.

The idealization of pastoral life can be observed in the fact that by the end of act 1 almost all characters in the play abandon the court for the forest. The simplicity of life in the forest appears attractive to the characters, whose lives at court might appear overly complicated in comparison to a life in a more natural environment.

The fact that marriages also take place in the Forest of Arden is evidence of the idealization of the pastoral. Time passes differently in the countryside than at court, which gives time in the forest the quality of a vacation or a holiday. The joyfulness of the wedding celebrations that take place in the forest lead the audience to link a sense of emotional freedom with the rural lifestyle.

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The pastoral idyllic poem originates with Greek poet Theocritus and idealizes the simple rural life of shepherds and other people who dwell in the countryside and live their lives close to nature and the ways of nature. Shakespeare's As You Like It is an oft cited example of the pastoral theme in drama (Wordsworth's Michael: A Pastoral Poem is an oft cited pastoral in poetry). As the University of Victoriaexplains it, the features of pastorals are country life, a comparison to city life, shepherds, living close to nature, simple happiness, contentment, plentiful fruits of nature.

As You Like Itcontains these features on several levels. First, the majority of the play takes place in Arden Forest with shepherds as some of the minor characters--who nonetheless guide plot development and character development in several major characters--and with exiles living in abundance off the goodness of the fruit of the land, all of whom have a simple happiness that brings good and contentment. Second, pastoral features apply to Rosalind and Celia who settle in a pastoral setting and find their opportunities expanded in a way that was never possible, despite their privileges, at court. This expansion of opportunity is true for all the court characters who come to Arden's pastoral life from Duke Frederick to Oliver to Touchstone to Orlando.

Pastoral features are instrumental in plot and character development in regard to several characters: Rosalind, Touchstone, Celia, Duke Senior, Duke Frederick, Phebe, and others. In each case, the idllyc country life materially alters a characters life choices and/or opportunities. Using Duke Frederick as an example, his encounter with unexpected power in the pastoral has convinced him to enter the most pastoral of occupations and joins a monastary to pursue the divine, thoughtful life. Using Oliver as another example, Oliver has an enlightening experience (an epiphany) and, while choosing Celia for a wife, also chooses, along with her, to abandon court life and adopt a pastoral life with Celia's sheep herd offering the perfect pastoral element to their happiness.

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