What is the atmosphere like in Shakespeare's As You Like It, especially with respect to the Forest of Arden?
In many of his plays, including in As You Like It, Shakespeare creates contrasting atmospheres and settings that his characters move between. One of these atmospheres is that of a city or a court, where things are often portrayed as needlessly complicated and shrewdness and immorality wins. The other atmosphere is the country, where life is simple and straightforward, and hard work pays off. This country setting is referred to as the "green world," and appears in numerous Shakespearean plays, particularly in his comedies, such as As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet.
Notably, many of Shakespeare's plays that utilize the green world begin with a conflict that develops in the city setting. In As You Like It, this conflict is between Rosalind and Duke Frederick, culminating in Frederick banishing Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone. As the play progresses, this conflict is resolved through lessons learned by the characters in the green world—in the case of As You Like It, the Forest of Arden.
Shakespeare, however, was never one to wholly adopt a literary convention, like the green world, wholesale. In As You Like It, his depiction of the green world of the Forest of Arden goes beyond it being simply simple and straightforward. Instead, Shakespeare hints at aspects of rural country living that are less ideal, including the danger of wild animals and the constant worry of famine caused by poor harvests.
The concept of the green world was explored in the The Anatomy of Criticism, by the noted literary critic Northrop Frye. There, Frye traces the sources and the complexities of the concept of the green world through Shakespearean plays.
Since As You Like It is a comedy, the atmosphere, especially in the Forest of Arden, is portrayed as a light, happy atmosphere, despite the harshness of reality. Most importantly, As You Like It is a pastoral play, and like other pastoral literature, the forest is portrayed as a peaceful and even healing place. Pastoral literature likens the country to a type of utopia, while city life is portrayed as being full of corruption.
We see the jovial atmosphere in the forest especially portrayed by Duke Senior and his courtiers. Despite the obvious hardships they must face, they remain happy and optimistic, as shown in Duke Senior's first speech in Act 2, Scene 1. He even opens by asking his courtiers:
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? (2-4)
What's more, they also seem to have plenty, also lending to the jovial atmosphere. We especially see how much they have when they are able to offer Orlando and Adam something to eat in Act 2, Scene 7.
Beyond how cheerful Duke Senior and his courtiers are in the face of adversity, other elements lend to the jovial, healing atmosphere in the forest. Touchstone, the fool, is able to make even melancholy Jaques laugh; Oliver is transformed into a loving brother when Orlando rescues him in the forest from a lioness; and even several marriages take place, showing us what ultimately a happy, healing place the forest is presented as being.