What is a summary of the poem/song "Under the Greenwood Tree" by Shakespeare in five to six sentences?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The song is split into three sections interspersed between dialogue in Act II, scene 5 of As You Like It.

In the first section, Amiens, a courtier, sings:

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.
This bit of pastoral song celebrates (or mocks) the (supposed) happiness of living in nature under the greenwood tree, listening to cheery song of a bird. In this verse, Amiens calls the people who share his sentiments to join him: "come hither." The key word in this part of the song is "lie," which in typical Shakespearean punning fashion can be interpreted two ways. It means either "lie" as in "lie down with me under the greenwood tree," or it means lie, as in "join me in this falsehood about how cheery it is under the greenwood tree."
 
In the second part, people do join him in singing:
Who doth ambition shun
And loves to live i' th' sun,
Seeking the food he eats
And pleased with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

In this section, the group celebrates the joys of the pastoral life: in the forest, people do not pursue ambition, but instead appreciate life in nature and are satisfied with what food they can get. Unlike in the court, there are no enemies here. 

The third section is composed by the sour Jaques, a lord who doesn't like the pastoral world, and goes as follows:

If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame.
Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me.
 This portion contradicts the earlier verses, openly implying that, as the first verse covertly suggested, the song tells a happy lie. Jaques' verse says that anyone who leaves the wealth and ease of the court to pursue a pastoral fantasy under the greenwood tree is an ass and a fool.
 
If all the world is a stage and people play their parts, as Jaques contends, then even here, in this pastoral setting, there's no escape from playing a role. Amiens plays the part of courtier even in the forest, saying what people around him want to hear, whether true or not. It takes Jaques, a noble, to tell the truth: he doesn't have to pretend to good cheer.
 
The play can be read as a lighthearted fantasy, a pleasant escape with a happy ending, or, as the play's title suggests, as Shakespeare giving his audience just that unreality that they want: a fantasy about what you (the audience) wants life to be (as you like it), not what it really is.
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The verses of this song/poem are from Shakespeare's joyous and elegant play, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 5. They are sung by the characters of Amiens and Jacques and others in the forest. The focus of this song is upon the happiness and beauty of the pastoral life, in contrast to the treachery of the court. This song extols the pastoral; a man can sit under a greenwood tree and enjoy nature without any fear other than the cold of winter. If this man wishes to shun the "ambition" of the court, let him come and live in nature where he has only the weather to be concerned about:

Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather. (2.5.5-7)

However, there is also a third verse which the satirical Jacques has written, and Amiens volunteers to sing it. This verse contradicts the first two by stating that if any man leaves the court for the forest and the pastoral life, and "turns ass" (fool) by giving up his "wealth and ease," he will find equally foolish men like himself there:

Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me. (2.5.45-47)

Read the study guide:
As You Like It

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