(Shakespearean Criticism)

As You Like It

Generally thought to have been written and first performed sometime between 1598 and 1600, As You Like It is largely a dramatic adaptation of Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde (1590). One of Shakespeare's most frequently performed plays, the work is essentially a light-hearted comedy with satirical elements and is filled with the requisite misunderstandings and farcical happenings of the genre. The play centers on the figures of Orlando de Boys and his beloved Rosalind, who are separately banished from Duke Frederick's court to the bucolic setting of the Forest of Arden. Critics agree that in these two characters Shakespeare personified two of the work's leading themes: Orlando represents dishonored virtue restored, while Rosalind—who is disguised as Ganymede, a young man, for the majority of the play—characterizes the theme of appearance versus reality. In his introduction to the Oxford Shakespeare edition of As You Like It (1993), Alan Brissenden highlights the play's central concern—love—and its motifs of metamorphosis and character doubling, both of which contribute to the play's representation of harmony restored. Surveying the work as a social drama, Camille Wells Slights (1993) concentrates on the efforts of Rosalind and the other exiles in the Forest of Arden to renew the disrupted social order.

Critical studies of character in As You Like It often focus on Rosalind, the drama's principle figure. Marta Powell Harley (1985) examines Rosalind's references to hyenas and hares, two animals commonly viewed as sex-changers by Renaissance audiences. Harley connects these references to the shifting gender identity of Rosalind as she dons her masculine disguise as Ganymede. Marjorie Garber (1986) similarly concentrates on gender disguise, arguing that Rosalind maintains her identity as a young man for the three intermediate acts of the drama so that she can more easily orchestrate events in the Forest of Arden and vigorously educate Orlando on the subtleties of love. Unlike Harley and Garber, Arthur Stuart Daley (1988) and Michael Gelven (2000) focus their attention on two of the play's minor figures. Duke Frederick is the subject of Daley's study. Drawing attention to the events of Act I, scene ii, which features a wrestling match between Orlando and the Duke's champion Charles, Daley emphasizes Frederick's role as a stock Elizabethan stage villain—an unyielding tyrant figure who subsequently finds his despotic plans thwarted by virtuous adversaries. Turning to the conventional pastoral characters that populate Shakespeare's Forest of Arden, Gelven observes that Silvius, an inept shepherd whose affection for the shepherdess Phebe remains unrequited, nevertheless personifies the qualities of true love elsewhere tainted by Rosalind's deceitful wooing of Orlando.

The theatrical history of As You Like It has largely been governed by the quality and skill of the actresses who have played the part of Rosalind. This forceful, witty, and intelligent character has attracted many of the best performers of every generation, and the varied interpretations of Rosalind have been seen as reflecting society's changing attitudes toward women. Appraising Barry Edelstein's 1999 production of the drama at the Williamstown Theatre, reviewer Robert Brustein comments on the performance of celebrated film star Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind, claiming that she carried the drama despite a generally mediocre supporting cast. In cases where a contemporary Rosalind has failed to charm the critics, estimations of the play have tended to be less than favorable. Such is the case in regard to Gregory Doran's staging of As You Like It for the 2000 Royal Shakespeare Company season at Stratford-upon-Avon. Reviewers Patrick Carnegy (2000) and Russell Jackson (2001) both acknowledge that substandard acting and direction impaired the drama, which was dominated by sumptuous costumes, setting, and design that generally eclipsed the individual performances. Amelia Marriette (2000) looks back to Christine Edzard's commercially unsuccessful but artistically viable 1992 film adaptation of As You Like It, an avant-garde rendering in which a gritty, urban, and contemporary setting foregrounds Edzard's strongly anti-utopian interpretation of Shakespeare's pastoral drama.

Thematic estimations of As You Like It embrace a wide variety of critical perspectives, including Shakespeare's use of language, allusion, and generic convention, as well as the drama's representation of nature and personal identity. Concentrating on the prevalence of “ifs” in the drama, Maura Slattery Kuhn (1977) emphasizes the conditional quality of As You Like It and its motifs of paradox, specious logic, and dramatic feigning. Contemplating the subject of rhetoric, Dale G. Priest (1988) highlights three competing forms of manipulative language in the play, represented by the words of Jaques, Touchstone, and Rosalind. Priest concludes that Jaques's mannered oratory and Touchstone's wit eventually cede to the power of Rosalind's talent as a charming negotiator. Paul J. Willis (1988) explicates the metaphor of the “book of nature” in the drama, contending that while various characters offer differing interpretations of nature, Shakespeare ultimately endorsed a relatively orthodox Christian view. The illumination of antithetical or contrary thematic elements in the drama is another major concern of late twentieth-century critics. W. Hutchings (see Further Reading) views As You Like It as essentially a conventional pastoral romance, but notes that powerful satire and parody add substance to the otherwise artificial drama. Mark Bracher (1984) finds that Shakespeare contrasted opposing notions of identity—one exclusive and satirical, the other inclusive and compassionate—throughout the comedy. A. Stuart Daley (1985) argues against the generally held view that As You Like It portrays a clear antithesis between city and country, the former represented by Duke Frederick's court, the latter by the Forest of Arden. Focusing on the theme of time in As You Like It, Maurice Hunt (1991) suggests that Shakespeare presented both the classical conception of seizing the opportune moment and a Judeo-Christian teleological view of temporality to imply a providential return to paradise by the close of the drama.

Alan Brissenden (essay date 1993)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Brissenden, Alan. Introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare: As You Like It, edited by Alan Brissenden, pp. 1-86. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Brissenden surveys theme and character in As You Like It, concentrating on motifs of love, transformation, and doubling.]


Love is associated with Rosalind from the beginning, when she suggests falling in love as a game that might make her merry (1.2.23), and Celia warns that she must be careful to ‘love no man in good earnest’, nor go so far that she cannot escape the situation without losing her honour. But, grieving for her father, Rosalind is in an...

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Camille Wells Slights (essay date 1993)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Slights, Camille Wells. “Changing Places in Arden: As You Like It.” In Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths, pp. 193-215. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, Slights evaluates As You Like It as a social drama essentially concerned with the attempts of its principal characters to renew the disrupted social order.]

‘one man in his time plays many parts’


While in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Much Ado About Nothing the tranquility of provincial communities is disrupted by visitors from outside, in As You Like It and Twelfth Night trouble...

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Marta Powell Harley (essay date 1985)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Harley, Marta Powell. “Rosalind, the Hare, and the Hyena in Shakespeare's As You Like It.Shakespeare Quarterly 36, no. 3 (autumn 1985): 335-7.

[In the following essay, Powell considers the relationship between animal allusions and Rosalind's shifting sexual identity in As You Like It.]

The presentation of the character Rosalind in Shakespeare's As You Like It produces a dizzying cycle of both physical and verbal sexual disguises: the boy-actor plays Rosalind, who plays Ganymede, who assumes the nominal identity Rosalind, which is dropped in her return to Rosalind, who ultimately gives way to the boy-actor in the play's epilogue. Though the...

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Marjorie Garber (essay date 1986)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Garber, Marjorie. “The Education of Orlando.” In Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan: Change and Continuity in the English and European Dramatic Tradition, edited by A. R. Braunmuller and J. C. Bulman, pp. 102-12. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986.

[In the following essay, Garber contends that Rosalind maintains her disguise as Ganymede throughout most of As You Like It so that she can more easily educate Orlando about love.]

When Rosalind learns from Celia that Orlando is in the Forest of Arden, she cries out in mingled joy and consternation, “Alas the day, what shall I do with my doublet and hose?” (3.2.219-20).1 Members of...

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Arthur Stuart Daley (essay date 1988)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Daley, Arthur Stuart. “The Tyrant Duke of As You Like It: Envious Malice Confronts Honor, Pity, Friendship.” Cahiers Élisabéthains 34 (October 1988): 39-51.

[In the following essay, Daley views Duke Frederick of As You Like It as an example of the stock Elizabethan tyrant character, and assesses his thematic purpose in the drama as it is principally expressed during the wrestling match episode of Act I, scene ii.]

For the first six scenes of As You Like It, Shakespeare concentrates on elaborating an extraordinarily evil world. The first three scenes, making up Act I in the Folio, dramatize by a series of discussions and...

(The entire section is 7792 words.)

Michael Gelven (essay date 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Gelven, Michael. “Silvius.” In Truth and the Comedic Art, pp. 11-20. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Gelven sees the minor character Silvius as an embodiment of true love in As You Like It, who serves as a foil to the deceitful lovers of Shakespeare's romantic comedy.]

He is the purest lover in the forest. It is a magical place, this forest of Arden, where the very thickets are barbed with lovers; yet this poor shepherd with the golden tongue outloves them all. At his first entrance (II, 2) he shows us his scars:

No, Corin, being old thou canst not guess;
Though in thy youth thou wast as true...

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Robert Brustein (review date 1999)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Brustein, Robert. Review of As You Like It. The New Republic 221, no. 14 (4 October 1999): 35-6.

[In the following review of Barry Edelstein's 1999 production of As You Like It at the Williamstown Theatre, Brustein focuses on the success of acclaimed film actress Gwyneth Paltrow in the role of Rosalind.]

[In August, 1999], the Williamstown Theatre produced a version of As You Like It, staged by the new director of New York's Classic Stage Company, Barry Edelstein, and featuring Gwyneth Paltrow as Rosalind. I went for the same reason everybody else did, to see whether Paltrow could handle a major Shakespearean role.


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Patrick Carnegy (review date 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Carnegy, Patrick. “Verbal Magic.” Spectator 284, no. 8956 (1 April 2000): 66-7.

[In the following review of Gregory Doran's 2000 Royal Shakespeare Company staging of As You Like It, Carnegy notes that the production's lavish costumes generally outdid the lackluster performances in the play, save for Adrian Schiller's well-interpreted Touchstone.]

Never is the theatre at greater risk than when it hopes to import a touch of glamour by co-opting a couturier. At the Royal Opera House, Versace's costumes for Capriccio and Armani's for Così fan tutte were indiscretions that were fatal to the business in hand. The couturiers had better music,...

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Amelia Marriette (essay date 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Marriette, Amelia. “Urban Dystopias: Reapproaching Christine Edzard's As You Like It.” In Shakespeare, Film, Fin de Siècle, edited by Mark Thornton Burnett and Ramona Wray, pp. 73-88. London: Macmillan, 2000.

[In the following essay, Marriette appraises Christine Edzard's 1992 anti-utopian, anti-pastoral, urban, and contemporary film adaptation of As You Like It, admiring its provocative interpretation of Shakespeare's text and its artistic integrity.]

When Christine Edzard released her film version of As You Like It in October 1992, the pressure to be successful at the box office was not an overridingly important concern. The...

(The entire section is 6238 words.)

Russell Jackson (review date 2001)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Jackson, Russell. Review of As You Like It. Shakespeare Quarterly 52, no. 1 (spring 2001): 107-23.

[In the following excerpted review of the 2000 Shakespeare season at Stratford-upon-Avon, Jackson explains that Greg Doran's production of As You Like It was dominated by setting, design, and costume, which overshadowed the individual performances and contributed to an artificial and unsubtle staging of the play.]

As You Like It, the first Stratford production by Greg Doran to have misfired, was all but designed off the stage by Kaffe Fassett and Niki Turner. The set, remarkable in itself, was too fussy for the good of the play (even after...

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Maura Slattery Kuhn (essay date 1977)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Kuhn, Maura Slattery. “Much Virtue in ‘If.’” Shakespeare Quarterly 28, no. 1 (winter 1977): 40-50.

[In the following essay, Kuhn observes the suppositional and conditional quality of As You Like It, reflected in the prevalence of “ifs” in the language of the play.]


Four arresting problems occur in As You Like It within the space of one scene, V. iv. The first involves staging; the second, decorum; the third, the text; the fourth, dramatic recognition.

The first problem does not leap off the page at the reader but does emerge in production. In the course of V. iv, the last scene, Rosalind and...

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Mark Bracher (essay date 1984)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Bracher, Mark. “Contrary Notions of Identity in As You Like It.Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 24, no. 2 (spring 1984): 225-40.

[In the following essay, Bracher assesses the thematic structure of As You Like It in terms of two opposing conceptions of identity—one exclusive and expressed via satire, the other inclusive and portrayed through romance and love.]

In her chapter on comedy in Feeling and Form, Susanne Langer observes that comedy “sets up in the audience a sense of general exhilaration, because it presents the very image of ‘livingness.’”1 This “immediate sense of life” which is “the...

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A. Stuart Daley (essay date 1985)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Daley, A. Stuart. “The Dispraise of the Country in As You Like It.Shakespeare Quarterly 36, no. 3 (autumn 1985): 300-14.

[In the following essay, Daley argues against the critical opinion that Shakespeare presented a thematic “antithesis between court and country” in As You Like It.]

There is a well-established critical consensus that in As You Like It Shakespeare celebrates the superiority of life in the country to life in the city and the court. Is it possible that this consensus rests on a misunderstanding of the play? Or does the text in fact support the conviction of many critics that the forest of Arden represents a golden world, a...

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Dale G. Priest (essay date 1988)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Priest, Dale G. “Oratio and Negotium: Manipulative Modes in As You Like It.Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 28, no. 2 (spring 1988): 273-86.

[In the following essay, Priest concentrates on the three “manipulators” of As You Like It—Jaques, Touchstone, and Rosalind—the last of whom emerges as the most skilled and benevolent negotiator of the play.]

Most of the personae in As You Like It address themselves in characteristic ways to the pastoral world Shakespeare has created in Arden. Each has his own distinct mode of response to that world. Still, a general bipartite pattern can be found in the...

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Paul J. Willis (essay date 1988)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Willis, Paul J. “‘Tongues in Trees’: The Book of Nature in As You Like It.Modern Language Studies 18, no. 3 (summer 1988): 65-74.

[In the following essay, Willis surveys the widely varying interpretations of nature expressed by the characters of As You Like It, finding these interpretations parody, but ultimately preserve, the Christian metaphor of the “book of nature.”]

In As You Like It 2.1, Duke Senior assesses the Forest of Arden with a sweet variation on a theological commonplace:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good...

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Maurice Hunt (essay date 1991)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Hunt, Maurice. “Kairos and the Ripeness of Time in As You Like It.Modern Language Quarterly 52, no. 2 (June 1991): 113-35.

[In the following essay, Hunt describes Shakespeare's references to classical and Christian notions of time in As You Like It as they suggest the possibility of a renewed Golden Age or the providential recovery of a lost paradise.]

Not every series of critical articles cumulatively deepens our understanding of a Shakespearean play. Such an effect, however, does come from critics' exploration of the motif of time in As You Like It. In a now-classic essay, Jay Halio first defined a contrast in the play...

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Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)


Black, James. “The Marriage-Music of Arden.” English Studies in Canada 6, no. 4 (winter 1980): 385-97.

Analyzes the behavior of the major characters of As You Like It and their concerns with romantic love while residing in the Forest of Arden.

Burns, Margie. “Odd and Even in As You Like It.Allegorica 5, no. 1 (summer 1980): 119-40.

Comments on the movement toward harmony, continuity, community, and the resolution of ambiguity in As You Like It.

Daley, A. Stuart. “To Moralize a Spectacle: As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 1.” Philological Quarterly...

(The entire section is 762 words.)