Act I Commentary

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Scene i: This scene, which provides most of the exposition necessary to understand the events of the play, also demonstrates the violation of Christian values that has occurred between the family members. As the relationship between the two sons of Sir Rowland de Boys is revealed, we learn from Orlando that Oliver has not only been remiss in his duties to educate his youngest brother, but openly demonstrates his hostility toward Orlando by treating him like a servant and striking him when he criticizes Oliver's behavior. Oliver's actions contrast what we expect of a brother, and therefore sets Oliver as one of the antagonists of the play. The value of brotherly love and care is also mirrored in the news that Charles brings Oliver about Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, but in this case, the younger brother has violated the sanctity of the sibling relationship.

While Oliver is certainly abusive to his younger brother, he takes the rivalry between them too far in this scene. He lies to Orlando by telling him that he will give him his inheritance after striking and insulting him. Even worse, Oliver plots to kill Orlando by setting Charles against him. While Elizabethan (and contemporary) audiences understand that sibling rivalry does often occur between brothers, plotting to kill a sibling is, of course, unacceptable. Oliver's reasons for hating his brother are also unacceptable. Oliver hates Orlando for reasons that even he does not understand: "for/my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than/he" (ll.151-152). However, Oliver does also mention in this scene that other people tend to prefer Orlando to him, especially his own "people," making clear that jealousy is at issue here.

Scene ii: Scene 2 is the female counterpart of scene 1. In this case, it is Rosalind and Celia who reveal the rest of the exposition. Rosalind, of course, is upset by the recent overthrow and banishment of her father. Despite this, Rosalind manages to engage in a lively and witty conversation on the nature of fortune. This discussion demonstrates Rosalind's immense wit and understanding. Because of her intelligence, Rosalind, like Prospero in The Tempest, will be able to manipulate characters and situations in the play in order to bring the couples together.

However, even Rosalind cannot control herself completely when love strikes later on in the scene. When Orlando insists on fighting Charles despite Charles' reputation, Rosalind immediately does her best to dissuade him. Her interest in him is increased by the knowledge that he is Sir Rowland's son, as Sir Rowland was one of her father's favorite courtiers. This brings up an interesting point about love in this play. Although love certainly needs physical attraction, character and family connections also matter. Rosalind correctly assumes that Orlando has a similar personality to his father, and this turns the physical attraction that she feels upon meeting Orlando into love. Class issues also matter—as an aristocrat (albeit a younger son), Orlando is socially worthy of Rosalind, the daughter of a duke. Orlando returns the affection, partially from physical attraction and partially because Rosalind's father is in a similar predicament to his own.

Another important aspect of this scene is Duke Frederick, who reveals his villainy as the scene progresses. When he first appears, Duke Frederick has just tried to stop Orlando from fighting Charles because he worries for Orlando's welfare. He also welcomes both his daughter and his niece, whom he has permitted to stay even though she is the daughter of his enemy. These actions are not those of an outright villain, and, for a moment, Duke Frederick's status as antagonist is in question. However, when he learns Orlando's identity toward the end of the scene, Duke Frederick's cruelty becomes clear—he tells Orlando that his father, while honored by everyone else, was his enemy and Orlando is forced to flee court. Duke Frederick's antagonism will be further revealed in the next scene, where his mercy to others will end completely.

Scene iii: This scene breaks into three sections. In the first part, Rosalind has suddenly become very quiet, which Celia notes as extremely unusual. When Rosalind reveals her love for Orlando, Celia immediately attacks the notion of loving him because Duke Senior loved Sir Rowland. Celia correctly points out that through that logic, she should hate Orlando, but she does not. However, there is more to Rosalind's love than Orlando's identity. However, this discussion is interrupted by Duke Frederick, who has come to banish his niece from court because he does not trust her. Rosalind argues that she is not a traitor because of her father. This argument, through which Rosalind points out that treason is not inherited, was a critical issue for Elizabethans. During the Elizabethan period, children of people who were found to be traitors were often executed (They were found guilty by association). However, being related to someone does not automatically mean agreement with them, as has been made obvious in the play through Orlando and Oliver, as well as both dukes. Celia continues Rosalind's argument by pointing out that her closeness to Rosalind should classify her as a traitor. However, like the monarchs of the period, Duke Frederick is unmoved by this argument and banishes Rosalind.

The final section of this scene is the unfolding of the escape plan. Rosalind correctly points out that one of the girls must dress as a man in order to protect them both in the forest. Rosalind decides to be the one to become male because she is "more than common tall," but Rosalind's assumption of a male identity is more than just a change in appearance. As a female, Rosalind is powerless—she must do as the men around her order. Because she now appears to be a man, Rosalind is able to manipulate those she will encounter. When Rosalind resumes her female identity at the end of the play, it is no coincidence that she has also finished using her power over those around her.

Act II Commentary

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Scene i: The dichotomy between court and country, one of the major themes of this play, becomes one of the subjects of the discussion between the banished Duke Senior and Amiens in this play. The duke expounds upon the virtues of country life, which is more honest than that of court. He also states that the only harm in country life is the weather, which is much better than the "toads" of court. Amiens, who is meant to be a foil for Le Beau in the previous act, quickly agrees with the duke, and spends his time in the Forest of Arden singing the way a stereotypical shepherd would, despite his status as a lord. The idea that the country brings out the good in people that was often absent in city life is a common theme in literature. While Shakespeare appears to conform to this idea through the duke's speech in this scene, the characters that claim to appreciate the wonders of the country will all eventually return to the city.

However, not everyone is happy in the country. Jaques is introduced as a melancholy attendant to Duke Senior that moralizes over every event—in this case, the killing of a deer. This incident makes Jaques, already depressed, cry and lament the fact that the duke and his attendants have "usurped" the Forest of Arden and become its tyrants, just as Duke Frederick has usurped the dukedom. The identification of this similarity shows Jaques' sensitivity and his intelligence, which, like Rosalind, he will display throughout the play. Unlike Rosalind, however, Jaques takes no joy in life, and thus misses the point of having a wit in the first place. (Jump to the text of Act II, scene i)

Scene ii: This scene juxtaposes the previous scene by further displaying the cruelty of Duke Frederick, as opposed to the happiness and good humor of Duke Senior. Duke Frederick, in shock over his daughter's sudden departure, immediately tries to blame someone else for it instead of realizing that Celia would indeed leave with Rosalind, despite the fact that she begs him to banish her in Act I, scene 3, when he banishes Rosalind. Duke Frederick will also make Oliver find Orlando, believed to be in the company of Celia and Rosalind, instead of committing his own resources to do it. Duke Frederick's lack of love for his daughter and the tyrannical demands that he intends to place upon Oliver shows both violations of both family values as well as those pertaining to governance. This is much different from Duke Senior, whose good humor and appreciation for honesty make him the more appealing monarch.

Scene iii: This scene demonstrates the value of servant loyalty. Adam, the faithful servant of Sir Rowland, offers to use all of his savings to save his former master's youngest son, and even goes so far as to offer his services to Orlando for the rest of his days. Adam receives no advantage in this—all of his money will be gone, and he will continue to be nothing more than a servant. However, this is precisely what makes Adam the ideal servant because he gives everything to his master and aspires to nothing more than his current station. Orlando notes the "antique" nature of Adam's offer, which is what a good servant of the "old days" would do, and accepts it gratefully.

Meanwhile, Oliver's treachery, like Duke Frederick's, becomes more nefarious in this scene. Orlando and Adam leave for the Forest of Arden because Oliver intends to kill him because of the praise Orlando has earned by defeating Charles. This is the second attempt that Oliver has made on Orlando's life, and this attempt has a clear motivation—jealousy.

Scene iv: Scene 4 begins with a character reversal. Rosalind, who is portrayed as distressed throughout Act I, is now the merry one of her party, while Touchstone and Celia are exhausted. Rosalind's transformation is due the movement to the Forest of Arden, where values exist, and to her change of gender. Rosalind cannot allow herself to cry or be upset because she is male, which she notes in lines 4-8. This is the beginning of the gender theme of the play, and Rosalind especially will spend a great deal of time identifying what it means to be male and female.

Another major aspect of this scene is Silvius' love for Phebe. According to Silvius, Corin cannot possibly understand the depth of his love for Phebe because he is too old and has not committed as many foolish acts for love as he has. Silvius also maintains that "loving heartily" means that the lover remembers every foolish action, talks incessantly of his love to others, or leaves abruptly in order to be alone. While Rosalind sympathizes with Silvius' passion, she also notes the wisdom of Touchstone's assertion that "as all is mortal in nature, so/is all nature in love mortal in folly" (ll. 50-51). Silvius' love for Phebe is clearly folly because he fails to control it, allowing it to become obsession. While this is pitiable, it is not the ideal kind of romantic love, and Silvius' depression reminds us not to allow passion too much sway. (Jump to the text of Act II, scene iv)

Scene v: This scene features the introduction of Jaques. When Amiens sings of the pleasures of the country, once again evoking pastoral images, Jaques remains stubbornly depressed. He also notes the silliness of those who believe that the country is better than the city because the country is without the pleasures or the conveniences of the city. However, Jaques takes no pleasure in city life, either, especially because he cannot avoid people in the city. His misanthropic nature makes him incapable of taking any pleasure in life, be it in the country or in the city.

Scene vi: In this scene, Orlando returns the loyalty demonstrated by Adam at the end of scene 3. When Adam cannot walk any further for lack of food and energy, Orlando carries him. He also offers to find Adam food, and warns him that he cannot die unless Orlando fails to find any. Orlando demonstrates that he is worthy of Adam's servant loyalty by showing loyalty to him.

Scene vii: This scene begins with the typically depressed Jaques looking shockingly merry because of Touchstone. When Jaques hears Touchstone's observations on life, he erupts in laughter because a fool can be so contemplative. Jaques wishes to be a fool (jester) so that he can "cleans the foul body of th' infected world,/If they will patiently receive my medicine" (ll. 60-61). Being a fool will allow Jaques to speak when he chooses and say whatever he likes. However, Jaques has failed to understand the basic purposes of a fool—to bring laughter and entertainment to a court.

When Orlando stumbles upon the duke's party, the theme of city and country resurfaces. As a city dweller, Orlando automatically assumes that everything in the forest must be savage, and therefore savagely demands some of the duke's meal. However, because the country is more "civilized" than the city, Duke Senior graciously offers to feed both Orlando and Adam. He also welcomes Orlando when he realizes who he is. Thus the country has become much more welcoming than the dangerous city.

The miseries that lead to Orlando's hostility lead to Jaques' famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech. This speech reminds the audience that not only are they watching a play, but life in general is merely a play that has many parts. Every person goes through several different stages throughout their lifetimes, from infancy and childhood to senility and total depravation. However, Jaques fails to note that despite the eventual loss of senses, we are not left "sans everything" if we have enjoyed what life has to offer. Jaques' bleak analysis of life and his simple reduction of it to seven absurd stages demonstrate a good deal of wit, but little wisdom.

Act III Commentary

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Scene i: Another city scene creates a second juxtaposition between the two dukes. While Duke Senior is merciful and helpful to Orlando, Duke Frederick is tyrannical and threatening to Oliver in this scene. Despite his comment that he is "the better part made mercy," he seizes Oliver's lands and money and threatens his life if he does not deliver Orlando within a year (l. 2). When Oliver tells him that he never loved his brother, Duke Frederick criticizes him by stating that the lack of love makes him more loathsome: "More villain thou" (l. 15). This statement is purely hypocritical, as Duke Frederick clearly lacks love for his own brother, which, by his own estimation, makes him even more of a villain as well. However, Oliver's tyranny is limited to Orlando while Duke Frederick's affects an entire kingdom.

Scene ii: This lengthy scene covers the themes of country/city life and love. In the first part of the scene, Orlando is hanging some badly written love poems to Rosalind on trees. This is typical of lovers, and Rosalind is immediately acquainted with the fact that Orlando returns her affections. However, this will not deter her from fully investigating the depth of Orlando's affections. After displaying her wit to Orlando through her discussion of the passage of Time (which passes differently depending upon point of view), Rosalind offers to "cure" Orlando of his love by pretending to be Rosalind so that he can see the folly of woman. The idea here is that by exposing him to the inconsistency of the "touched" (tainted) feminine mind, he will be cured of love's "madness." However, Shakespeare does not intend his audiences to believe that women are so ridiculous because Rosalind is, after all, female, and most certainly not absurd.

Rosalind's approach to Orlando's love seems to be in agreement with Jaques' opinions on the subject. Jaques ridicules Orlando for his love of Rosalind and the multitude of poems left on trees. However, Jaques clearly does not completely dislike Orlando because he asks Orlando to sit with him and rail against their fates. This is because, despite his fawning love for Rosalind, Orlando demonstrates his own wit in this scene by cleverly answering Jaques' questions and by recognizing that Jaques is indeed a fool. Thus, like the "Seven Ages of Man" speech, Jaques' observations on love are not meant to be taken seriously.

Orlando is not the only one affected by love in this scene. While Rosalind manages to fool Orlando and convince him to play her game, she is also silly when it comes to her love. When Rosalind reads the various poems left by Orlando, she does not mind the bad verses, even though she criticizes them to Touchstone and Celia. Rosalind blushes when she discusses Orlando with Celia, and demands to know what Orlando looked like, what he said, where he was, etc., when Celia mentions that she saw him. When Celia tries to tell her, Rosalind keeps interrupting excitedly, another typical action for someone in love. While Rosalind will often make fun of love throughout the play, the fun is ironic, as Rosalind knows that she is love's fool just as much as any of the characters in the play.

The other section of this scene continues the country/city dichotomy. When Corin asks Touchstone how he enjoys being a shepherd, Touchstone praises and criticizes it for its simplicity. All of the advantages of country life (its solitary nature, its location, and its sparseness) are, according to Touchstone, also its disadvantages. This statement summarizes the entire point of the country/city theme of the play—both have their advantages and disadvantages, and anyone who does not recognize this is a fool. However, although Touchstone makes this witty and wise observation, he does not, as Rosalind has pointed out before, understand his own wisdom. Touchstone's attitude in this scene (and throughout the play) is that he is superior to the shepherds in the play because he is from the city and, therefore, more sophisticated, despite acknowledging the advantages of country life. He tries to prove this by attempting to outwit Corin in conversation in this scene, but Corin stands firm by reminding Touchstone that he earns his own way, owes no one anything, and is generally happy.

Scene iii: Touchstone's foolishness is revealed by Jaques' criticisms in this scene. In his conversation with Audrey, Touchstone uses his wit to establish his superiority over her "country" simplicity by wishing that she were "poetical"—a concept that Audrey is not familiar with. Jaques, however, identifies Touchstone's attitudes as foolish and makes fun of them at several points in the scene. Touchstone's superior attitude is also evident in his use of Oliver Mar-Text, who as a questionable priest may provide Touchstone with the excuse to leave Audrey later by claiming that the marriage is illegal. Fortunately for Audrey, Jaques prevents this by persuading Touchstone to listen to his counsel.

Scene iv: Rosalind shows her ability to pine away because of love in this scene. When Orlando is late to their "lesson," Rosalind wants to cry. She then calls him a traitor and is hurt when Celia suggests that he might not be in love with her anymore because he is young and silly. Rosalind is so involved with her feelings for Orlando that she does not even wish to discuss her father, whom she went into the forest to look for. However, despite her sadness, Rosalind is not completely consumed by her feelings, and decides to "play a part" in the scene about to unfold between Silvius and Phebe.

Scene v: Rosalind demonstrates her power to manipulate others because she is a man in this scene. When Phebe rejects Silvius' pathetic advances, Rosalind recognizes that Silvius loves Phebe because she rejects him, and that Phebe will probably be attracted by rejection as well. This observation proves to be correct, and Phebe quickly falls in love with Ganymede (Rosalind). She even goes so far as to use Silvius to bear a love letter to Ganymede, despite the cruelty of such an action. This type of love, which is inspired by cruelty and quickly becomes obsession, is unhealthy and brings misery, as we have seen with Silvius. Although Rosalind will manipulate the situation so that Silvius will eventually marry Phebe, there is little hope that their marriage will be a happy one.

Act IV Commentary

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Scene i: This scene shows the extent of the power that Rosalind has over the characters in the Forest of Arden. She can not only manipulate "simple" characters like Silvius and Phebe in the previous scene, but she can outwit the more intelligent ones like Jaques. When Jaques states that he prefers his own version of melancholy (which he insists is unique) to laughing, Rosalind correctly points out that too much of either depression or humor is bad for a person. This notion of extremes of any kind as bad is a common theme throughout Shakespeare's plays as well as Elizabethan philosophy.

Rosalind then turns her attentions to Orlando, who has arrived late for their "session." In her guise as Ganymede, Rosalind is capable of admitting who she is and what she wants from Orlando without his knowledge. She also makes some very disparaging remarks about women, including comments about women being too jealous, too weepy, too silly, and too contrary. While this allows Rosalind to appear to be male by sounding stereotypes of women, it also allows her to make Orlando express what he really thinks of not only Rosalind, but of women in general. Celia, on the other hand, cannot force herself to play the game because she knows that women are none of these things, and moderates Rosalind's statements by exclaiming that Rosalind has "misused" the female gender (l. 185).

Scene ii: This set piece features Jaques joking about the horns of a deer. In the Elizabethan period, men who were cuckolded by their loves (especially their wives) were said to be wearing horns. The song warns that no one should laugh at those who are cuckolded because one never knows when one will become a fool for love.

Scene iii: While Rosalind can control quite a bit in the Forest of Arden, this scene shows that she cannot quite manipulate everything. When Orlando is late once again, Silvius has time to deliver Phebe's letter. Rosalind deliberately misinterprets the letter in order to anger Silvius so that he sees Phebe for what she is. Rosalind also tries to provoke Silvius because she realizes that Phebe is only attracted to men who will be mean to her, just as Silvius is attracted to Phebe because she is mean to him. She then sets the solution to this problem in motion by telling Silvius to tell Phebe that if she loves Ganymede she must love Silvius. This is a foreshadowing of how Rosalind's trick in Act V.

Rosalind may be able to control the people in the Forest of Arden, but she cannot control the forces of nature. When Oliver enters the scene and tells Rosalind and Celia of Orlando's heroics, Rosalind faints when she sees the bloody bandage. This is a reminder to Rosalind that she is not only female but uncontrollably in love. Rosalind does recover quickly enough to make several admissions about being female and to tell Oliver she is only pretending to swoon.

Act V Commentary

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Scene i: This scene functions as comedy relief after the serious issues of the previous scene. Touchstone and Audrey, still looking for an appropriate priest to marry them, encounter William, Audrey's other suitor. Touchstone uses his witty remarks to scare William away, but he once again does not realize the depth of his observations. When William insists that he has a "pretty" wit, Touchstone's reply is that "'The fool doth think he is wise, but the/wise man knows himself to be a fool'" (ll.30-31). Touchstone is telling William that he is a fool, but he fails to realize that the comment applies to him as well. Touchstone's attempts to outwit the country dwellers are an abuse of language because he only uses his words to insult them and establish his own superiority.

Scene ii: This scene begins to wrap up the problems of the play. In the first section, Oliver reveals his engagement to Celia, who he believes to be a simple shepherdess. Oliver's conversion to the value of love is complete in this scene—he is willing to give up all he possesses to stay with his love, and he asks his brother's permission to do so. Oliver even goes so far as to play Rosalind's game by referring to her ironically as "fair sister," which we know she will soon be.

The next problem to be solved is the situation between Orlando and Rosalind. When Orlando can no longer pretend because he is too depressed about his brother's happiness, Rosalind claims to be able to use magic to bring him Rosalind. Of course, the magic is simple honesty, which the city lacks but the country makes possible.

Rosalind then must solve the issue of Silvius and Phebe. When Rosalind states that she is in love with no woman (another ironic admission), Phebe asks her why she is angry that Phebe is in love with her: "If this be so, why blame you me to love you?" (l. 98). Silvius then asks Phebe why she blames him for being in love with her when she is in love with Ganymede, who does not love her back. The purpose of the repetition of this line is to remind Phebe that she should be more understanding of his pain because she experiences it as well. Orlando's repetition of the line serves the same purpose for Rosalind, although he does not know she is present. This reminds Rosalind to bring her games to a close and to finish solving the love problems of the play.

Scene iii: This scene, designed to "lose" time before the conclusion of the play, uses on of several songs of the play in order to do so. There are several songs in the play with varying purposes. The first is as a set piece, as with the song in this scene. Another purpose that this song fulfills is that of theatrical entertainment, which almost always included song and dance. The third purpose of this song is to delay the inevitable. Shakespeare makes very little attempt to hide the fact that all of the problems presented in the beginning of this play will be resolved, and we are never in suspense over this issue. This song, as with some of the other songs in the play, merely provides light entertainment to "lose time," as Touchstone ironically states, before the happy ending we know is to come.

Scene iv: Rosalind begins this scene as Ganymede, but will end it with yet another change of identity by marrying Orlando. She enters the scene as Ganymede in order to make sure that her final commands are in place. She must do this as Ganymede because the other characters respond to her power as a male. Once she resumes her true identity, she will be subject to her father and her husband and will lose her influence over Phebe.

The ending of this play is extremely convenient. Not only do all of the lovers manage to marry each other, but even Duke Frederick is conveniently converted off stage so that Duke Senior can take back his kingdom. Shakespeare makes no attempt to hide the silliness of this resolution, and even goes so far as to bring the god of marriage, Hymen, in to conduct the ceremony. As with the various metadramatic references to playacting throughout the play ("All the world's a stage," etc.), this scene reminds us that we are, after all, watching fiction on stage, and instead of hiding that fact, Shakespeare uses it for his own comic purposes.

Epilogue: An epilogue typically serves to sum up the major points of the play, or to comment on it, but this epilogue at first glance appears to do neither. However, the fact that Rosalind, a female character, is delivering the epilogue is highly unusual, as male characters always deliver the epilogue in Elizabethan drama. Rosalind's delivery of the epilogue reminds us that she has been in control of the plot since Act II, despite her "femininity." However, Shakespeare, who does not let us forget that this is a play, reminds us that the idea of a female character is also ironic because Rosalind was played by a boy ("If I were a woman," etc.). Even though Rosalind's statements in the epilogue seem to be about nothing, the fact that a boy playing a girl who has controlled this play as a girl playing a boy reminds us of the issue of gender and power that pervades As You Like It.

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As You Like It (Vol. 90)


Reification and Utopia in As You Like It: Desire and Textuality in the Green World