(Shakespearean Criticism)

As You Like It

Although As You Like It received little or no critical recognition prior to the early eighteenth century, it has become one of Shakespeare's most-performed comedies. Adapted primarily from Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde, As You Like It was written and first performed between 1598 and 1600, perhaps for the opening of the Globe Theatre. Many commentators have criticized As You Like It for its minimal plot and limited action, while praising the play for its dynamic characterizations and energetic prose. Past critical commentary has addressed such thematic issues as Touchstone's comic role, Rosalind's sexual disguise, and the depiction of time in the Forest of Arden. These topics continue to garner the attention of contemporary critics as well.

Scholars consider Touchstone to be one of Shakespeare's most important additions to the original cast of characters he borrowed from Lodge's Rosalynde. Described as an intellectual fool, Touchstone was regarded as a new figure in English drama. In contrast to the assertion by some that the role of Touchstone was written expressly for jester Robert Armin, who joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1599, Guy Butler (1983) has contended that the role was "originally intended for [Will] Kempe, an old style clown," who was replaced by Armin in 1600. According to Butler, Shakespeare adapted Touchstone's part to Armin's "new style witty fool" in a deliberate decision to merge "the rival styles of humour" found in the taverns and on the stage in Elizabethan times. The significance and dramatic function of Touchstone in As You Like It has been of enduring interest to many critics, who frequently see the clown as a mediator between the action onstage and the audience. As such, David Frail (1981) has pointed out that as the "wise fool," Touchstone's function is to blur the line between wisdom and folly. Through his "riddle-dissolving riddles," Touchstone prods the members of the audience into acknowledging their own paradoxical thoughts, actions, and beliefs, thus enabling them to see what "foolish humans" they truly are. In a similar vein, Bente Videbaek (1996) has asserted that Touchstone's purpose is to "lift the audience to a higher level" of awareness and enjoyment. The critic has claimed that Touchstone mirrors, mocks, and exposes the folly of those he encounters so that the audience can anticipate and "view the 'strange capers' on stage from the delightful distance this new transparency brings."

Rosalind's disguise as the youth Ganymede continues to intrigue modern scholars, particularly as it relates to the theme of sexual identity. Philip Traci (1981) has asserted that although the characters themselves are heterosexual, the dramatization of Rosalind's multiple identities reveals the homosexual side of As You Like It, especially when the role is performed by a boy actor, as it was in Elizabethan times. Analyzing the impact that homosexuality had on families, sex, and marriage in early modern England, Mario DiGangi (1996) has relied on the Ganymede myth, a narrative that recounts Jupiter's desire for his page Ganymede in lieu of his wife, Juno. DiGangi has contended the myth, used by Shakespeare as a "parable of conflict between husbands and wives," reflected the Renaissance culture's promotion of male homoeroticism and fear of female sexuality. Thus, Rosalind's male disguise permits her to "assay the sincerity of Orlando's love" and assuage her fears of postmarital sexual rejection.

The concept of time in As You Like It remains a focus of modern critics. Although the Forest of Arden has frequently been hailed as a timeless refuge where the inhabitants "fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world" (I.i.118-19), recent criticism has focused on alternative views. Frederick Turner (1971) has suggested that time itself has not been eliminated, but that the "measurable, social time of clocks" has transmuted into diverse modes of time that reflect the characters' perceptions: the personal, subjective time that rules Rosalind and Orlando, the historical, objective time that Jacques embraces, and the natural, biological time that governs Touchstone. Arguing for the existence of "more than one 'time-sense'" in the play, Rawdon Wilson (1975) has examined the shift from objective to subjective time, noting that it marks not only the journey from the court to the forest, but the characters' attitudes toward change as well. Harry Morris (1975) has delved into the darker aspects related to the subject of time in As You Like It—death and decay. According to Morris, Touchstone is the initiator of the "death-in-Arcadia motif," the agent of time. His announcement, "Ay, now am I in Arden," echoes the expression, "Ay, now am I in Arcadia," the translated version of et in Arcadia ego. This phrase was inscribed on the tomb of a shepherd found in seventeenth-century pastoral paintings by both Guercino and Nicolas Poussin, nearly twenty-five years after As You Like It was written. Morris nevertheless has speculated that perhaps an earlier source was available to Shakespeare, given the parallels between the death elements in the paintings—the skull, the dead shepherd, and all-devouring time—and those found in the Forest of Arden.


(Shakespearean Criticism)

D. J. Palmer (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "As You Like It and the Idea of Play," in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn, 1971, pp. 234-45.

[In the following essay, Palmer analyzes the nature and purpose of play in As You Like It, and contends that "[t]he heart of the comedy might be described as a demonstration of man's natural propensity for play."]

Now in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom, and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play.

(J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 1949)

Here nowe I recke not much, to passe over untouched, how no maner acte, or noble deede was ever attempted, nor any arte or science invented, other, than of whiche I might fully be holden first author.

(Erasmus, The Praise of Folie, translated by Sir Thomas Chaloner 1549)

There is only enough story in As You Like It to send the main characters to the Forest of Arden and finally to bring most of them out again. Once in the forest, the action virtually dispenses with narrative plot. Rosalind, for instance, no longer requires her disguise when she has found her father, whom she came to seek, and Orlando as well; but she delays the discovery of her identity for as long as she can. Like the other sojourners in Arden, she passes the time (although there seems nothing to wait for) by playing games. The heart of the comedy might be described as a demonstration of man's natural propensity for play.

We first hear of Arden in the opening scene, when Charles the wrestler describes how Duke Senior and his companions live in exile:

They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England. They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.

It seems as though life has become a pastime for the Duke and his followers, as though they have passed out of reality into a story-book world. A legend of Merry England is merged with the classical myth of the Golden Age, and even in the word 'flock' there is a hint of pastoral associations. Yet this is only by report, as the repetition of 'they say' reminds us. Hearsay distances reality, and is itself the way in which legends come into being. We are left uncertain, therefore, whether this idyllic picture of life in Arden is the creation of the Duke and his followers or of Charles and his informants.

As a world of make-believe, however, it certainly reflects a sharp contrast with the stern realities of court life, where instead of a society of 'merry men' there is the conflict of brother with brother. As Duke Frederick usurped his brother's throne, Oliver now plots against Orlando, and immediately after Charles' description of the pastimes pursued in Arden we hear talk of another kind of play: 'You wrestle tomorrow before the new Duke?' Wrestling makes sport out of conflict, yet Oliver has a sinister design to turn Charles' match with Orlando into a game to be played in deadly earnest.

The juxtaposition of these two images of play is followed in the second scene by Celia's persuasion of her cousin to shake off melancholy and 'be merry':

Rosalind: From henceforth I will, coz, and devise sports. Let me see; what think you of falling in love?

Celia: Marry, I prithee, do, to make sport withal; but love no man in good earnest, nor no further in sport neither than with safety of a pure blush thou mayst in honour come off again.

Rosalind: What shall be our sport, then?

Celia: Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally.

Rosalind: I would we could do so . . .

(I. ii. 20-31)

Their sport is in devising sport, experimenting with the exhilarating possibilities of play, and casting around for some suitable object for their wit and mockery. At this point Touchstone joins them, and the advent of the professional fool adds another dimension to the treatment of life as a game. The fool's wit is intelligence at play, delighting in its own caprice, and extending by inverting them the contrary values of folly and wisdom.

Before we reach Arden, therefore, we are given some anticipation of the nature of play, and of the equivocal relations between fiction and reality, game and earnest, folly and wisdom. Each of the different kinds of pastimes presented in these first two scenes is a response to a society broken by violent enmities: Duke Senior and his companions turn their exile into a make-believe life of good fellowship; the wrestling match between Charles and Orlando is a projection of the hostility between the two brothers; while the games of wit that Celia and Rosalind play with Touchstone make sport out of adversity ('Nature hath given us wit to flout at Fortune', as Celia says). Play may be seen as a civilising impulse to create a better world, or as a way of releasing energies restrained by civilised life. Significantly, in a world that has been reduced to barbarism, where violence and cruelty are real enough, there is little use for play: the wrestling match turns into a murder-plot, and the fool is put to silence. Wrestling is a fairly primitive form of sport, in any case ('Is there yet another dotes upon rib-breaking?' says Rosalind, determined out of perverse humour to stay and watch a sport not fit for ladies). But while it reflects what has become of courtly tastes and values in the ascendancy of Duke Frederick, it also suggests by analogy the element of ritualised conflict that exists in wit-combats and games of mockery. Similarly, the pastoralism of Duke Senior's way of life in Arden, as Charles describes it, is both primitivist and civilizing.

If poetry and drama are themselves forms of play, Shakespeare is also playing games with his own art in As You Like It. His critical intelligence and creative imagination are held in perfect equilibrium as he sports with style through parody and burlesque, and finds in the pastimes of Arden primitive analogues to the spirit of comedy. The forest itself, as we are several times reminded, is both literally and figuratively 'this wide and universal theatre', the wooden circle into which we are drawn, like fools at the call of 'Ducdame', and the 'abandoned cave' that we leave when the comedy is over.


After Charles' picture of the exiled Duke and his 'merry men' fleeting the time carelessly, it comes as something of a surprise when we first encounter the Duke in Arden to find him indulging a vein of serious philosophising:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
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?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference?—as the icy fang
And churlish childing of the winter's wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
'This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am'.
Sweet are the uses of adversity . . .

(II. i. 1-12)

The climate, too, is apparently less hospitable than Charles' comparison with the golden world led us to anticipate. But it is only the nature of the game that is different: this is just as much an exercise in make-believe as playing at Robin Hood. The Duke is using imagination to convert the harshness of existence in Arden into a blessing in disguise; the struggle for survival in a hostile world becomes a benevolent schooling in self-knowledge. It is not the philosophical truth of the Duke's propositions that require assent, but his willingness to look on the bright side. So Amiens responds, not with 'How wise, how true, how noble', but with

Happy is your Grace,
That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style.


The only moralist in evidence is the winter's wind, whose 'churlish chiding' is in marked contrast with the 'sweet' style of the Duke. He speaks here as a poet, a maker of fictions, even necessary fictions.

But discarding this role for another, the Duke abruptly changes his tune by proposing another pastime, and one that matches the cruelty of nature which has just been his theme:

Come, shall we go and kill us venison?

The victim of adversity would now reverse roles; but he recollects himself immediately and returns to his vein of fanciful reflection:

And yet it irks me the poor dappled fools,
Being native burghers of this desert city,
Should, in their own confines, with forked heads
Have their round haunches gor'd.


By attributing rights of prior occupation to the deer, and conflating their 'forked heads' with those of the huntsmen's arrows, the Duke puts man and beast on the same level, and relates bloodsport to the barbarism of the world that has expelled him.

This is the attendant lord's cue to report Jaques' meditation on the 'poor sequestered stag'. It echoes the Duke's own sentimentalising of misfortune so well that we can recognise Jacques and the Duke as complementary figures, even though the Duke's 'sweet' style and his love of fellowship are antithetical to Jacques' bitter raillery and solitariness. The wounded deer was a commonplace emblem of affliction and melancholy retirement, and the familiar Elizabethan pun of hart/heart, which lies just below the threshold of this image, enables it to be extended to conceits about amorous suffering, as we shall see. For his part, by identifying with the forlorn beast Jaques dissociates himself from his comrades-in-exile:

Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of the country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life; swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse,
To fright the animals, and kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place.


Hunting now provides the metaphor for another pastime played between Jaques and the ducal party. His invective 'pierceth through/The body . . . of this our life' like a wounding arrow, but it causes amusement instead of pain, for the Duke and company treat Jaques as fair game for their mockery. The scene ends as the Duke goes to seek Jaques like a sportsman stalking his quarry:

Show me the place;
I love to cope him in these sullen fits,
For then he's full of matter.

Again, in introducing Jaques through the attendant lord's account, the technique of report has been used to arouse anticipation and to present action at an ironic distance.

The first scene in Arden reflects the equivocal nature of play as a series of reversible roles: the victim of misfortune is also its agent, man and beast change places, the usurped become the usurpers, the hunters hunted, the critic a butt of his adversaries. Men are feelingly persuaded what they are, not by 'churlish chiding', but by the contrary parts they play in their games. And these games are a bitter-sweet mixture of whimsical sentiment and wanton cruelty.


Play in Arden takes the form of a series of encounters, seemingly at random, for the suspension of narrative progression produces a sense of timelessness. Scenes must follow each other in linear succession, but the effect created is also that of simultaneity as we are taken from 'one part of the forest' to 'another part of the forest', in the words that eighteenth-century editors used for their sceneheadings. Indeed within Arden there is no constant impression of different locations; although logically we must suppose that the Duke's encampment, Rosalind's cottage, and the trysting-place of Touchstone and Audrey lie at a distance from each other, the play as conceived for the Elizabethan stage calls only for a forest setting. The sense of meandering through the forest, of paths that cross by chance, and of a corresponding dislocation in the time scheme, is essential to the feeling of liberation in the free activity of play.

It is curious, therefore, that time occupies so much attention in Arden. In the original golden world of pastoralism, there was no time; spring was eternal. Arden, however, is subject to 'the penalty of Adam,/The seasons' difference', and characters are aware of the passing of time. But since 'there's no clock in the forest', as Orlando says, the sense of time is relative, and Rosalind replies, 'Time travels in divers paces with divers persons'. Despite Orlando's assertion, Touchstone has brought a timepiece with him, for Jaques describes the fool drawing 'a dial from his poke':

And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely 'It is ten o'clock;
Thus we may see' quoth he 'how the world wags;
'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine;
And after one more hour 'twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale'.

If this melancholy rumination is an antecedent of Macbeth's despairing reflections on the 'petty pace' that creeps through 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow', it is also a tale told by an idiot. Touchstone is mocking the sense of futility produced not by time itself but by the way time is spent, in fruitless moralising. 'Pastime', on the other hand, is the way in which those who devise sports 'lose and neglect the creeping hours of time'. Rosalind, for instance, is well aware that love is subject to time: 'men are April when they woo, December when they wed; maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives'. But the purpose of play is to 'fleet the time carelessly', to make time pass quickly, as in MarvelPs response to 'time's winged chariot':

Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Since 'life is but a flower', in the words of the song, sweet lovers must 'therefore take the present time'. There is nothing leisurely about Rosalind's life in Arden; 'woman's thoughts run before her actions', and in addition to her impatience and restlessness, the headlong dash of the prose she speaks is that of a wit moving so fast that the tongue and breath can scarcely keep up with it:

Good my complexion! dost thou think, though I am comparison'd like a man, I have a doublet and hose in my disposition? One inch of delay more is a South Sea of discovery. I prithee tell me who is it quickly, and speak apace. I would thou could'st stammer, that thou might'st pour this conceal'd man out of thy mouth, as wine comes out of a narrowmouth'd bottle—either too much at once or none at all. I prithee take the cork out of thy mouth that I may drink thy tidings.

(III. ii. 180-189)


The mating game is of course the comedy's principal pastime, and like the other encounters in Arden those between the lovers have a certain combative quality which recalls the wrestling at the beginning of the play. Indeed Orlando and Rosalind fall in love in wrestling terms. The conqueror of Charles confesses that 'my better parts are all thrown down' at his first meeting with Rosalind, and she acknowledges a similar defeat:

Sir, you have wrestled well, and overthrown
More than your enemies.

(I. ii. 233-234)

It is only one of the many perversities in love that losers are also winners (as in Juliet's paradox, 'learn me how to lose a winning match').

After this preliminary but decisive bout between Rosalind and Orlando, their mock-courtship in the forest is like a further series of rounds in which roles are again reversed. As Orlando was the unknown youth who overthrew Charles, he now finds himself outplayed by 'Ganymede'. Rosalind exploits the advantage of her disguise not only to take the initiative in wooing but to floor her partner in the lists of love (until she is herself literally floored by the sight of Orlando's bloody napkin). The analogy between love and fighting is continued in Rosalind's comparison of the encounter between Celia and Oliver with 'the fight of two rams and Caesar's thrasonical brag of "I came, saw, and overcame'".

The wrestling match was a game played in deadly earnest, and the treatment of love as a contest between adversaries is a means of using play to explore the cruelties and antagonisms inherent in sexual relationships. Similarly the bawdiness of the comedy confronts aspects of sexuality denied by romantic or Petrarchan attitudes; as the hunting song puts it,

The horn, the horn, the lusty horn,
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn,

(IV. ii. 17-18)

but we do laugh at the old jest about cuckoldry, because we are inclined to joke about what is otherwise embarrassing. So Touchstone's impromptu jingle parodying Orlando's bad verses reflects in its indecent wordplay the use of game to release repressed realities:

If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalinde.
If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalinde . . .
He that sweetest rose will find Must find
love's prick and Rosalinde.

(III. ii. 91-102)

The point of 'love's prick' is felt by Silvius as 'the wounds invisible/That love's keen arrows make', as he sublimates the pain of unrequited passion into extravagant conceits. Though Silvius the fictions of the Elizabethan sonneteers are taken to their furthest extreme and reduced to absurdity, in Shakespeare's own game with contemporary poetic fashions. But Silvius himself is not disabled by the wounds of mockery, embracing his folly and wallowing in Phebe's scorn. Their 'pageant truly played' is a sado-masochistic farce, another variation of that sexual conflict called love. Yet at the point of Phebe's greatest cruelty, when she would employ Silvius thanklessly in her own suit to 'Ganymede', the game ceases to be quite so funny, and Silvius' devotion becomes for one brief glorious moment entirely moving instead of merely silly:

So holy and so perfect is my love,
And I in such a poverty of grace,
That I shall think it a most plenteous crop
To glean the broken ears after the man
That the main harvest reaps.

But the poignancy topples over into absurdity again:

Loose now and then
A scattered smile, and that I'll live upon.

(III. v. 98-103)

Such a moment illustrates the precarious poise between playful and serious values in this comedy, and Shakespeare's ability to turn artifice inside out. 'The truest poetry is the most feigning'.

Of all the love-games played in the forest, Rosalind's counterfeiting with Orlando is the most sophisticated and double-edged. It is essentially equivocal because Rosalind has three personae, as herself, as 'Ganymede', and as 'Ganymede-playing-Rosalind', and we often cannot tell with which voice she is speaking. 'Ganymede' is an inversion of Rosalind's true identity both sexually and as an enemy of love:

Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punish'd and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too. Yet I profess curing it by counsel.

(III. ii. 368-372)

As the free play of a sportive disposition, assuming attitudes for their amusing possiblities rather than their truth, Rosalind's wit has something in common with the teasing disinterestedness of Touchstone's mockery, and her disguise is another version of the fool's motley. But at the same time, since we know 'how many fathom deep in love' she is, the constant scepticism directed towards love's young dream verges on the melancholy disillusion of Jaques. The distinguishing feature of her wit is that, unlike Jaques who is always in earnest and Touchstone who never is, Rosalind/Ganymede is poised in ambivalence:

The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any men died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dash'd out with a Grecian club; yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have liv'd many a fair year, though Hero had turn'd nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer-night; for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont, and, being taken with the cramp, was drown'd; and the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was—Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies: men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

(IV. i. 9-95)

This is the literary game again, turning artifice against itself in mockery of poetic fictions. But if there is a joyful exuberance in the demolition of the 'foolish chroniclers', felt through the running-on of the clauses, the last sentence invites a pause and a slight change of tone. One can almost detect a certain wistfulness in the dying fall of the conclusion, 'but not for love', as though Rosalind sighs behind 'Ganymede's' back. Her enthusiasm for play reflects both security and insecurity in love:

Rosalind: Now tell me how long you would have her, after you have possess'd her.

Orlando: For ever and a day.

Rosalind: Say 'a day' without the 'ever'. No, no, Orlando; men are April when they woo, December when they wed; maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.

(IV. i. 127-133)

At moments such as these, there is a precarious balance between wit and feeling, between the delightful make-believe and the uncomfortable reality.

As for Orlando, for most of the time in these scenes he is little more than Rosalind's 'feed' and the butt of her wit. Her treatment of her lover, whose charm hardly lies in his mental agility, betrays a latent sexual aggression which sometimes rises to the surface:

Rosalind: Make fast the doors upon a woman's wit, and it will out at the casement; shut that, and 'twill out at the keyhole; stop that, 'twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.

Orlando: A man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say 'Wit, whither wilt?'

Rosalind: Nay, you might keep that check for it, till you met your wife's wit going to your neighbour's bed.

Orlando: And what wit could wit have to excuse that?

Rosalind: Marry, to say she came to seek you there. You shall never take her without her answer, unless you take her without her tongue. O, that woman that cannot make her fault her husband's occasion, let her never nurse her child herself, for she will breed it like a fool!

(IV. i. 144-157)

In those unenlightened days, before Women's Lib was afoot, such an attitude was accounted shrewishness. Rosalind was sufficiently peremptory when she encountered it in Phebe:

Down on your knees,
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love,

(III. v. 57-58)

but her own treatment of Orlando bears a close resemblance to that belligerence she falsely attributes to Phebe's style:

Why, 'tis a boisterous and a cruel style;
A style for challengers. Why, she defies me,
Like Turk to Christian.

(IV. iii. 31-33)

If Rosalind's wit frequently leaves us guessing how far she believes what she says, it also seems at times to run away with her: 'the wiser, the waywarder'. 'We that have good wits', says Touchstone, 'have much to answer for: we shall be flouting, we cannot hold'. Her disguise is not merely the assumption of another personality; it serves as a liberation and extension of her true self, licensing what feminine modesty and a sense of decorum would else inhibit. Her game with Orlando is a lesson in awareness for each of them, a rehearsal for encountering with resilience the adversities that lie ahead. Yet, if she is being cruel only to be kind, there is no doubt that she also enjoys the sport, and that she proves herself as capricious as 'that same wicked bastard of Venus, that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen, and born of madness, that blind rascally boy'. The truths that are spoken in jest flout not only at romantic illusions but at the painful realities as well. Nevertheless, if love has its limitations, so does the play-world of Rosalind's wit. She seems willing to prolong the game for ever, but when Orlando hears that his brother and Celia are betrothed without fussing about such preliminaries as courtship, he loses interest in make-believe, finding 'how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes'. The game must come to an end when he 'can no longer live by thinking'.


As commentators on the world of play around them, Jaques and Touchstone are complementary figures, the one transparently foolish in his wisdom, the other opaquely wise in his fooling. In a comedy composed of mutually balancing elements, where the qualities of correspondence and antithesis are as evident in the encounters between the characters as in the disposition of the scenes or the characteristics of the prose style, Jaques and Touchstone are symmetrically related. Jaques himself recognises this kinship of opposites in his ambition for motley, though his description of his meeting with the fool is another example of the dramatic use of report to gain ironic distance:

When I did hear
The motley fool thus moral on the time,
My lungs began to crow like chanticleer
That fools should be so deep-contemplative.

(II. vii. 28-31)

The encounter might have been staged, but instead the joke is enriched at Jaques' expense by having him relate what is patently a parody of his own 'deep-contemplative' moralising, while he himself remains oblivious to the irony: 'O that I were a fool!'

Jaques might be described as the one character in Arden who lacks the capacity for play, since he refuses to join any of the pastimes around him. In another sense, however, to this detached observer of the passing scene life has indeed become no more than a play, as he declares in his speech on the Seven Ages of Man. 'All the world's a stage', and he is its spectator. Yet nobody takes him at his own valuation, because there is a self-conscious preciosité about his melancholy that smacks of affectation:

it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels; in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

(IV. i. 14-18)

Jaques is suspected by his fellow-exiles of playing a game, and ironically he is made a subject for their sport; even Orlando gets the better of him. But Jaques comes into his own at the end of the comedy, by sustaining his part after they have abandoned theirs. He will remain in Arden while they return to court, and his consistency lends a certain authority to his wry benedictions. As he awaits the next party of 'convertîtes', Jaques the spectator is the only character who refuses to believe that the comedy is over.

If Jaques is paradoxically at home in exile, Touchstone is out of his element in Arden, wasting his sharpness on the desert air and the rustics, 'like Ovid among the Goths'. True to his name, his wit serves to bring out the nature of those he encounters, particularly through parody. He seems only to exist as a witty echo of those around him, turning all experience into a disinterested love of wordplay. His encounter with Corin is typical:

Corin: And how like you this shepherd's life, Master Touchstone?

Touchstone: Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is nought. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now in respect that it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well, but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my humour well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach.

(III. ii. 11-20)

Touchstone's wit is evasive. He remains perfectly uncommitted, sceptical of every point of view. His motley is so impenetrable that we wonder whether there is any identity at all beneath it. And his relationship with Audrey especially brings out this opaqueness: it is impossible to be certain whether he is happy or cynical, infatuated or merely contemptuous in his intentions towards her:

I press in here, sir, amongst the rest of the country copulatives, to swear and to forswear, according as marriage binds and blood breaks. A poor virgin, sir, an ill-favour'd thing, sir, but mine own; a poor humour of mine, sir, to take that that no man else will.

(V. iv. 53-57)

One can understand Jaques' concern for Touchstone, and bafflement at intelligence seemingly wasting itself in this way: 'O knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a thatched house!' Perhaps his function is no more than that of the professional fool, to expose others but not himself. Yet delightful as it is there remains a sense of limitation in Touchstone's inability to do anything except in play, forever hedging his bets.

Before the lovers are united in Hymen's bands (the ceremonials of the theatre doing service for those of the church), it is Touchstone who rounds off this comedy of pastimes with his account of how a quarrel may be translated into a courtly game:

O, sir, we quarrel, in print by the book, as you have books for good manners. I will name you the degrees. The first, the Retort Courteous; the second, the Quip Modest; the third, the Reply Churlish; the fourth, the Reproof Valiant; the fifth, the Countercheck Quarrelsome; the sixth, the Lie with Circumstance; the seventh, the Lie Direct. All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may avoid that too with an If. I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel; but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If, as: 'If you said so, then I said so'. And they shook hands, and swore brothers. Your If is the only peace-maker; much virtue in If.

(V. iv. 85-97)

Like the Lie Direct, the confusions of make-believe are finally resolved with an If, as Rosalind reveals herself:

Duke Senior: If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.

Orlando: If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.

Phebe: If sight and shape are true, Why then, my love adieu!

Rosalind: I'll have no father, if you be not he; I'll have no husband, if you be not he; Nor ne'er wed woman, if you be not she.

And Hymen unites the lovers in similar style:

Peace, ho! I bar confusion;
'Tis I must make conclusion
Of these most strange events.
Here's eight that must take hands
To join in Hymen's bands,
If truth holds true contents.

In the world that now lies before them, subject to time and the stubbornness of fortune, there is indeed much virtue in vows made with If. 'If is the provisional assent that play requires of us.

Joseph Alulis (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Fathers and Children: Matter, Mirth, and Melancholy in As You Like It," in Shakespeare's Political Pageant: Essays in Literature and Politics, edited by Joesph Alulis and Vickie Sullivan, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1994, pp. 37-60.

[In the essay below, originally presented at the University of Chicago in 1994, Alulis argues that As You Like It is about the relation between differing social statesone of convention, represented by the fathers, and the other of nature, represented by the childrenand examines issues of justice and dependence that occur in the play.]

Midway through As You Like It, in act 3, scene 4, there occurs a passage that, taken in context, is very amusing and, as Duke Senior might say, "full of matter." Rosalind speaks to her "coz" and confidant, Celia, of a chance encounter with her father in the Forest of Arden. She brings her account to an abrupt close by saying, "But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando" (3.4.34-35).1

Part of what makes this line so attractive is that it captures the spirit of the comedy. We laugh because of the pleasure we take in the sight of young love. Granted, one might criticize Rosalind for a lack of filial piety. She seems inconsiderate of a father from whom she has been long separated.2 But in her defense it might be said there is a natural justice in the daughter's neglect of the father for the sake of the lover: for every old father was once a young lover. This equation is made explicit just after Rosalind has fallen in love with Orlando. Celia, seeing her cousin absorbed in thought, asks her if she is thinking of her exiled father. Rosalind replies that that is only partly true; part of her thought is for her "child's father" (1.3.11).3

The significance of Rosalind's line in act 3, scene 4 is, first, that it reflects the structure of the play. The play literally begins with the children talking of the fathers; first, Orlando talking of his father, Sir Rowland de Boys, then Celia and Rosalind talking of their fathers, Dukes Frederick and Senior. The latter two fathers dominate acts 1 and 2 respectively. Then, in the center of the play, the fathers are forgotten. Through all of act 3, save a short first scene, the fathers are gone from the stage and this is true of all of act 4 as well and nearly all of act 5. It is only at the end, in the last scene of the play, that the fathers are recalled.

This structure, in turn, points to the play's "matter," that is, what the play is about.4 The great division in the play is between the court and the Forest of Arden. This division, as has often been noted, is not one between a corrupt state of society and an idyllic state of nature but rather between two different social states or ways of life: one a way of wealth and brilliance, the other, of simplicity and freedom.5 But the contrast between these two ways of life, by raising the question of which is better (cf. the conversation between Touchstone and Corin, 3.2.11-83) suggests the idea of nature, not as a possible human state distinct from society but as a standard by which different social states may be evaluated. In this way, the theme of the relation of nature and convention emerges. This theme is then readily associated with the relations of fathers and children. For it is the fathers who make the rules, thereby defining a way of life, and it is the children who encounter these rules as an alien imposition upon their own natural impulses. But nature in this sense is not a standard but the human given, which must be shaped to conform to the standard. Thus nature appears in two lights. If the fathers represent "the right way of life," then nature is both child and "super" or "first" father.6 In the play, Rosalind personifies both senses, as teacher and lover, judge and daughter.

The argument of this chapter is that the matter of the play is the relation between nature and convention, the former understood as both standard and native impulse, the latter understood as a society's accepted ideas of right and wrong and the mechanisms by which such ideas are made to govern our lives. The play explores the different standards of justice supplied by nature and convention and the different ways in which the children, or nature, are dependent upon and independent of the fathers, or convention. What makes this play the delightful affair it is, is that while it affirms an essential goodness of nature, hence the deficiencies of convention that depart from nature's standard, it also shows the necessary role of convention in relation to natural impulses, both in curbing those that are harmful and in protecting and fostering those that are beneficial. It rejects the melancholy view, occasioned by the spectacle of human injustice, that both nature and convention are meaningless, respectively teaching and serving...

(The entire section is 15921 words.)


(Shakespearean Criticism)

David Frail (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "To the Point of Folly: Touchstone's Function in As You Like It" in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XXII, No. 4, Winter, 1981, pp. 695-717.

[In the essay below, Frail asserts that Touchstone mirrors the "kaleidoscopic" nature of As You Like It, blurring the lines between wisdom and folly so that we may free our minds long enough to recognize ourselves as "the foolish humans we are. "]

Some recent critics of Shakespeare's comedies have emphasized the plays' dissonant undertones and somber forebodings of the later (and, it is implied, greater) tragedies and romances. Since As You Like It...

(The entire section is 18333 words.)

Sexual Identity

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Philip Traci (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "As You Like It: Homosexuality in Shakespeare's Play," in CLA Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 1, September, 1981, pp. 91-105.

[In the essay below, Traci discusses the intimations of homosexuality between Orlando and the Ganymede/boy actor found in the text of As You Like It.]

The diversity of sexual preference in As You Like It has long been noted. "As its title declares," Dame Helen Gardner explains, "this is a play to please all tastes."1 Agnes Latham, editor of the recent New Arden, is one who echoes this idea. She sees the title of the play as "particularly suited to the...

(The entire section is 23781 words.)


(Shakespearean Criticism)

Frederick Turner (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "As You Like It: 'Subjective', Objective', and 'Natural' Time," in Shakespeare and the Nature of Time: Moral and Philosophical Themes in Some Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, pp. 28-44.

[In the essay below, Turner describes the attitudes of Jaques, Touchstone, and Rosalind and Orlando toward timehistorical, natural, and personal, respectivelyand asserts that all three viewpoints are reconciled through marriage at the end of the play.]

As You Like It opens with two characters who, in terms of the hierarchy of social power, are...

(The entire section is 14809 words.)

Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Alpers, Paul. "Mode and Genre." In What Is Pastoral? pp. 44-78. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Classifies pastoral as a literary mode and examines the pastoral characteristics of As You Like It.

Calvo, Clara. "In Defence of Celia: Discourse Analysis and Women's Discourse in As You Like It" In Essays and Studies 47 (1994): 91-115.

Argues that Rosalind's centrality to As You Like It has been overblown and demonstrates Celia's significance in the play through an analysis of her linguistic behavior.

Elam, Keir. "As They Did in the...

(The entire section is 677 words.)