As You Like It Summary

As You Like It by William Shakespeare is a comedic play about two couples who fall in love between the contrasting worlds of the court and the forest.

  • Duke Frederick exiles his brother, allowing his niece Rosalind to stay. She falls in love with Orlando. 
  • Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind, who disguises herself as a man and flees with Celia, Frederick’s daughter.
  • Orlando writes love poems to Rosalind. Finding them, the disguised Rosalind persuades Orlando to woo her as if she were Rosalind.
  • Phoebe falls in love with Rosalind. Oliver falls in love with Celia.
  • Rosalind reveals her true identity, and all couples get married.


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

As You Like It is a classic pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare, featuring themes of love, identity, disguise, and the natural world. The play follows Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle's court, accompanied by her cousin Celia and the court jester, Touchstone, to the Forest of Arden.

In the forest, they encounter various characters, including the lovelorn Orlando. Rosalind, disguised as a young man named Ganymede, tests Orlando's love for her. Through a series of comedic and romantic twists, the play explores the liberating nature of life away from society's constraints and the joy of love in its many forms.

The comedic drama of Shakespeare’s time had two key elements that were considered essential: role reversal and a love story. As You Like It contains both elements in ample amounts. The story opens with two preexisting conflicts. First is the issue of Orlando and his brother Oliver, who dislike one another; the second is that Duke Fredrick recently usurped his duchy from his brother Senior. Orlando chooses to challenge the court wrestler, something Oliver tries to use against him, and Rosalind, the daughter of the deposed Duke Senior, falls in love with Orlando while he is wrestling. She gives him a favor, and he swoons.

Orlando then receives word that his brother wishes to harm him and flees. Rosalind is then banished by her uncle, the new Duke Fredrick. Fredrick’s daughter Celia chooses to accompany Rosalind into the Forest of Arden, following after Orlando. As they head into the forest, the comedic elements come into full effect. Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves as Ganymede and Aliena, and when they happen upon several people in love, they end up becoming involved in a complex web of relationships.

The rest of the play is devoted to Ganymede (Rosalind) teaching Orlando to “forget” his love for Rosalind by pretending they are in a relationship, which inevitably leads to Orlando and Rosalind marrying at the end. Along with their marriage, there are three other marriages at the end of the play, including that of the court fool, Touchstone, to Audrey; Celia to Oliver; and Silvius to Phoebe.

Each of those relationships is worked out through the comedic mishaps and misunderstandings that come along with characters in disguise. The other conflicts in the play are solved when Orlando saves Oliver’s life in the forest and when Duke Fredrick denounces his actions and chooses to live a holy life.

The main parts of the plot of As You Like It rely on the comedic elements to make the play work. Without the hidden identities, it would be impossible for the characters to fall in love in a way that is satisfactory and happy. For example, Ganymede is a way for Rosalind to get close to Orlando, cementing Orlando’s feelings for Rosalind.

At the same time, Ganymede is a device for Shakespeare to introduce conflict between Silvius and Phoebe, the shepherds. Silvius can marry Phoebe at the end, in a comedic twist, because Ganymede—to whom Phoebe has taken a liking—is not a real person. That relationship wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the comedic element of role reversal. However, because of the role reversal in the story, the play can end with the multiple marriage and the happy ending that the comedic drama requires.


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One of Shakespeare's early plays, As You Like It (1598-1599), is a stock romantic comedy that was familiar to Elizabethan audiences as an exemplar of "Christian" comedy. Although the play does include two offstage spiritual conversions, the "Christian" designation does not refer to religion itself. Instead, it denotes the restoration and regeneration of society through the affirmation of certain Christian values such as brotherly love, marital union, tolerance for different viewpoints, and optimism about life at large.

The plot is very simple: the resolution of the dramatic problem in the warped attitudes of two evil brothers toward good brothers, and related obstacles to marriage for several couples in the play (most notably Rosalind and Orlando) are easily overcome, and a happy ending is never in doubt. On one level, the play was clearly intended by Shakespeare as a simple, diverting amusement; several scenes in As You Like It are essentially skits made up of songs and joking banter. But on a somewhat deeper level, the play provides opportunities for its main characters to discuss a host of subjects (love, aging, the natural world, and death) from their particular points of view. At its center, As You Like It presents us with the respective worldviews of Jaques, a chronically melancholy pessimist preoccupied with the negative aspects of life, and Rosalind, the play's Christian heroine, who recognizes life's difficulties but holds fast to a positive attitude that is kind, playful, and, above all, wise. In the end, the enjoyment that we receive from the play's comedy is reinforced and validated by a humanistic Christian philosophy gently woven into the text by a benevolent Shakespeare.


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William Shakespeare’s As You Like It is a comedy written around 1599. This play follows Rosalind and her cousin, Celia, as they flee the Court of Duke Frederick into the countryside. In the Forest of Arden, the two women disguise themselves as men and meet other travelers, including the men they love, Orlando and Oliver. The pastoral landscape and strange circumstances of their flight examine the problems inherent to Shakespeare’s England and the peculiar “performance” of human life.

Act I

The play opens with two brothers: Orlando, the younger, and Oliver, the elder. Their father has just died and Oliver refuses to share the inheritance. Instead, Oliver convinces Orlando to participate in a wrestling match that is so dangerous it is meant to kill him. However, against all odds, Orlando wins the wrestling match. Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, falls in love with Orlando when he wins the fight. Rosalind gives Orlando a necklace as a sign of her affection. Unfortunately, Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior, has been deposed by his younger brother, Duke Frederick. Though the two young lovers long to be together, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind. Rosalind and her cousin, Celia, flee to the Forest of Arden with Touchstone, the court fool. Rosalind disguises herself as a young man named Ganymede in order to protect herself and Celia on the road.

Act II

Act II begins in the Forest of Arden. Here, Duke Senior has created a type of mock court. He and his courtiers reminisce about their courtly life while in exile.

Meanwhile, back in the court, Duke Frederick is disturbed to find his daughter, Celia, missing. Rather than believe she would willingly run away, he blames Orlando. But Orlando is no longer at home because he has discovered his brother’s murderous plot. He and his servant, Adam, flee into the forest to escape Oliver.

When they arrive in the forest, Touchstone, Rosalind disguised as Ganymede, and Celia disguised as Aliena, meet two country folk in the woods. They ask Corin, an old shepherd, to help them find a cottage in which to live. As an interlude between this merry scene and the scene to come, Jaques mocks Amiens’s pastoral song and establishes himself as the critical clown of the story.

Orlando and Adam, having had no luck finding a place to stay, are close to starvation. Orlando leaves Adam under a tree to go off in search of help. Luckily for both of them, Orlando finds Duke Senior’s court in the woods. Though Orlando initially demands food, Duke Senior benevolently invites Orlando and Adam into his court.


Back in the city, a furious Duke Frederick seizes all of Oliver’s lands until he can bring Orlando back to the court.

Orlando, now settling into his life in the woods, begins to hang poems on trees praising Rosalind’s beauty. He has been infatuated with Rosalind since meeting her at the wrestling match. Orlando’s love poetry is atrocious. Rosalind reads some of it and decides that she cannot accept such a terrible wooer as a lover. Dressed as Ganymede, she offers her help to Orlando. She teaches him how to woo women by asking him to pretend she is Rosalind and court her.

While the highborn characters are learning how to fall in love, the lowborn characters go through a series of comedic love affairs. Touchstone falls in love with a goat herder named Audrey. Though he arranges for a priest to marry them in the woods, Touchstone convinces him that they should wait until they can be married in a real church. Ganymede, Corin, and Aliena watch Silvius, a shepherd, try to court Phoebe, who wants nothing to do with him. When Ganymede intervenes to help Silvius in his pursuit, Phoebe falls in love with Ganymede.

Act IV

As Ganymede, Rosalind follows through on her promise to teach Orlando how to woo her by pretending to be Rosalind. First, she chides him for being late to their meeting. She then asks him what he would do if she were the real Rosalind. Orlando reveals himself to be an impetuous lover when he says, “I would kiss before I spoke.” Much like his sentimental, poorly structured love poetry, his wooing is uninformed and immature. On the surface, Ganymede sets out to right his errors; behind the disguise, Rosalind teaches the object of her affection how to properly court her. After going through the beginning of a wedding ceremony in which Celia, as Aliena, pretends to be the priest, Ganymede makes Orlando promise that he will prove his love for Rosalind by arriving on time to their next meeting. Though Rosalind feigns indifference and control in Orlando’s presence, as soon as he leaves, she too affects the sentiments of a love-struck poet. Celia mocks her cousin by telling her that her love is not “fathomless” but rather “bottomless”: the more she pours in, the more pours out the bottom.

While the two women are waiting for Orlando to return, Silvius enters and gives Rosalind a letter from Phoebe stating that she wants to marry Ganymede. Rosalind derides the letter and mocks Silvius for loving such a woman. Then she sends him away. Oliver, Orlando’s brother, enters in a state of distress. He presents Rosalind with a bloody napkin and explains why Orlando is late for his lesson with Ganymede. Orlando happened upon a sleeping Oliver in the woods at the same time as a lion. Orlando battled the lion to save his brother. Rosalind, as Ganymede, faints and Oliver questions Ganymede’s masculinity. Rosalind attempts to convince him that the reaction was an act, though Oliver does not believe her.

Act V

Touchstone and William fight over Aubrey’s love. Touchstone prevails because of his power with words. Oliver and Celia have fallen in love and plan to be married. Orlando expresses his jealousy and bitterness to Ganymede. He is annoyed that his brother has found the woman he loves while Orlando cannot find Rosalind. Ganymede convinces Orlando that he can summon Rosalind with magic. Ganymede says that Rosalind will be at Oliver’s wedding and ready to hear Orlando’s proposal to her. Ganymede also convinces Phoebe to make a drastic promise: If at the wedding Phoebe refuses to marry Ganymede, Phoebe must marry Silvius.

After a pastoral song interlude, the story continues in Duke Senior’s court. Ganymede reminds Phoebe, Orlando, and Silvius of their promises. Touchstone entertains the court while Aliena and Ganymede leave to change back into their natural identities. When they reenter the court, they are escorted by Hymen, the Hellenistic god of marriage. Duke Senior graciously welcomes his daughter and niece. Realizing her true identity, Oliver pledges to marry Celia. Phoebe rejects Ganymede now that she knows that the “young man” was Rosalind in disguise the entire time. Having rejected Ganymede, Phoebe accepts Silvius, in accordance with the promise she made. Rosalind and Orlando confess their love for each other. Hymen then speaks to each of the couples and restores the natural order. He tells them that Duke Frederick has stepped down from the throne and returned power to the rightful Duke Senior. After Senior returns to his lands, Oliver names Orlando his heir. All is set right.


Uncharacteristically of Shakespeare’s comedies, “As You Like It” ends with an epilogue delivered by a woman. Rosalind returns to the stage to bid the audience farewell. She begins by claiming that it is strange to see a woman present the epilogue and that a good play does not need an epilogue.

In this way, she makes a joke that the play is not very good and that hers is not a very good epilogue. She explains that she will not beg the audience to like the play, since she is not a beggar, and will instead charge men and women appropriately. She charges women to “like as much of the play as please you”; she tells men that they should like the play as much as it improves their woman’s opinion of them.

Then, the actor playing Rosalind breaks the fourth wall. He says “If I were a woman” to distance himself from his female costume. He ends on the joke that he would kiss all of the bearded men in the audience were he a woman. He then curtsies to end the play.

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Act Summaries