Marta Powell Harley (essay date 1985)

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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 play's menagerie and Rosalind's delight in her role have drawn a good deal of critical attention, no one has yet remarked Rosalind's use of animal lore as she playfully alludes to her role as sexual chameleon.


In two instances Rosalind refers to the hare or “its more plebeian relative, the rabbit.”1 First, in response to Orlando's question, “Are you natiue of this place?” Rosalind quips, “As the Conie that you see dwell where shee is kindled” (III.ii.355-57).2 Later Rosalind remarks of Phoebe, “Her loue is not the Hare that I doe hunt” (IV.iii.18). Being, as Eric Partridge puts it, “notoriously repetitive in the act,”3 rabbits and hares have long enjoyed, in Beryl Rowland's terms, “a reputation for extreme lasciviousness.”4 But Rowland's research brings to light a more provocative piece of lore unusually applicable to the sexually variable Rosalind:

One of the most persistent beliefs about the hare is that it is a hermaphrodite or bisexual. This error appears in works of various periods and is said to have survived until the end of the eighteenth century. Aristotle does not record it, but the superstition appears in both Pliny and Aelian, and in the Gwentian code of north-east Wales, supposed to be of the eleventh century, the hare is said to be incapable of legal evaluation because it is male one month and female another. Twiti [in La Venerie] states that “at one tyme he is male, at other female,” and in common with the writer of The Master of Game he applies masculine and feminine pronouns indiscriminately. In a poem on the names of the hare in a late thirteenth century manuscript, the word ballart occurs, which may be an allusion to the hare's reputed bisexuality, and in the fourteenth century Welsh poem, “Ysgyfarnog,” the hare is termed gwr-wreic: a hermaphrodite.

(pp. 57-58)

John Boswell's recollection of a passage from “Alexander Neckam (d. 1217), an early and widely quoted encyclopedist,” may be added to Rowland's findings: “They say that the hare of the nobler sex [i.e., the male] bears the little hares in the womb. Can it be that a bizarre nature has made him a hermaphrodite?”5 More importantly, in his History of Four-Footed Beasts (originally published in 1607), Edward Topsell records the “opinion that all Hares were females, or at the least that the males bring forth young as well as females”—a belief provoking hunters to “make him an Hermaphrodite.6 Phipson, in fact, identifies references to this unusual misapprehension in both Lyly and Fletcher: “Lyly alludes to a very curious notion: ‘Hares we cannot be, because they are male one year and the next female’ (Mydas); and Fletcher, in the Gentle Shepherd, writes, ‘Hares that yearly sexes change.’”7

Rosalind's allusion to the hyena is also provocative. In Act IV, scene i, Rosalind forewarns Orlando of her future perverseness, concluding her series of promises with the assurance, “I will laugh like a Hyen,...

(This entire section contains 2368 words.)

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and that when thou art inclin'd / to sleepe” (ll. 155-56). That the “bark of the hyena very much resembles a loud laugh”8 obviously explains Rosalind's remark. However, the allusion raises two other ideas about the hyena that apply well to Rosalind. First, the hyena's facility with imitation and impersonation was thought remarkable. Kenelme Digby, in his 1644 natural treatise, explains that the hyena, when hungry, imitates the “actions and soundes” of beasts “which vse to serue him in that occasion”: “… like a parat he representeth them so liuely that the deceiued beasts flocke to him, and so are caught by him. …”9 It was believed that the hyena could “counterfeit a mans voice” and thus lead men, too, to destruction, a practice which, as Topsell tells us, earned the hyena “her proper Epithet … Aemula vocis, Voyce-Counterfeiter.” (p. 341). Phipson calls attention to the line from Lyly's Euphues, “… Hiena when she speaketh like a man deviseth most mischief. …”10

Since Rosalind imitates, attracts, and captures a man and thus promotes the play's mischief, the hyena lore is quite apt. But a second belief about the hyena is no less so. The allusion raises the same “very curious notion” attached to the hare: “The Physiologus says that the hyaena changes sex, and is sometimes male, sometimes female. …”11 Topsell remarks on this idea as one that was persistent in the earlier bestiaries: “… I marvail upon what occasion the writers have been so possessed with opinion that they change sexes, and are sometimes male and another female, that is to say, male one year, and female another …” (p. 340). Shakespeare may well have read Ovid's remark on the double-natured hyena in Book xv of Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses:

But if that any noueltye woorth woondring bee in theis,
Much rather may we woonder at the Hyen if we please.
Loo see how interchaungeably it one whyle dooth remayne
A female, and another whyle becommeth male againe.(12)


Rosalind's references to the hare and the hyena are consistent with her determination to enjoy her fluctuating sexual identity. But the allusions may, in fact, have further import, for classical and medieval allusions associate the reputedly “sexually aberrant” hare and hyena with homosexuality.13 For example, Alexander Neckam follows his description of the hare's double nature with the observation that “Effeminate men who violate the law of nature are thus said to imitate hares, offending against the highest majesty of nature” (Boswell, p. 306). And the Physiologus account of the hyena closes with the injunction, “Be not you, man, like the hyaena, the symbol of those who in the beginning serve God, later give themselves over to lust, and assume the nature of the female. And the Apostle said: ‘Male lay with male in great ignominy, in the sight of God, and both died’ (Romans 1:27).”14 So persistent were the notions that, as Boswell points out, “Half a millennium after [the Epistle of] Barnabas [dated in the first century a.d.], the bishop of Pavia could make fun of a gay male by comparing him to a hare, and a thousand years later Bernard of Cluny could assail homosexual relations with the simple observation that a man who thus ‘dishonors his maleness’ is ‘just like a hyena’” (pp. 142-43).

The remark by Rosalind-Ganymede, “her loue is not the Hare that I doe hunt,” is quite suggestive in this context. Boswell shows that during the period 1050 to 1150, a time marked by “the reappearance for the first time since the decline of Rome of evidence for what might be called a gay subculture,” “‘Hunting’ and terminology related to it figure prominently in poetry by or about gay people, and it is possible that it represented what ‘cruising’ describes in the gay subculture of today, although as a metaphor it is obvious enough not to require any special explanation.” Boswell surmises that the “rich irony of Ganymede having been hunting himself when the eagle swooped down upon him doubtless added to the effectiveness of the metaphor, as did the residual association of hares with homosexuality” (pp. 243, 253). The terminology is used, for example, in “Ganymede and Hebe,” a “decidedly progay poem” of the twelfth or thirteenth century, in which Hebe laments the shameful state of the heavens since Ganymede's usurpation of her place; “Here,” she says, “a hare hunts hare.”15

Rosalind's allusions to the hare and the hyena come quite naturally in the play's principal setting, the Forest of Arden, and they serve the heroine's sportive sense of humor even in their surface meanings. But, further, they suggest that Shakespeare and his Rosalind were exploiting the well-known lore that the animals were sex-changers and that the hyena, in addition, was an accomplished male-impersonator. Because the cross-dressing,16 the same-sex pairings (Rosalind-Phoebe, Ganymede-Orlando),17 and the name Ganymede18 show Shakespeare flirting with the theme of homosexuality in As You Like It, it is interesting to speculate that the two animals (and, in particular, the notion of “hunting the hare”) may have retained the homosexual implications apparent in earlier periods. The hermaphroditic animals certainly emphasize Rosalind's symbolic role as a reconciler of opposites,19 an agent of harmony, since the dualities male and female, as well as heterosexual and homosexual love, are represented and resolved through her. In the closing scene, Rosalind puts all into ark-like order. But the epilogue, wherein the sexual duality is reasserted,20 leaves us with a resistant afterimage of a character whose playful, ambiguous attractiveness is more compelling than the artistic and social proprieties of plot and sexual identity.


  1. Emma Phipson, The Animal-Lore of Shakespeare's Time (1883; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1973), p. 157.

  2. All citations are to As You Like It, A New Variorum Edition, ed. Richard Knowles (New York: MLA, 1977).

  3. Shakespeare's Bawdy (1948; rpt. New York: Dutton, 1960), p. 125.

  4. “Animal Imagery and the Pardoner's Abnormality,” Neophilologus, 48 (1964), 58.

  5. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 306.

  6. The History of Four-Footed Beasts (New York: Da Capo Press, 1967), pp. 207, 209. Following their observation that “the sex of the hare has always seemed a mystery,” George Ewart Evans and David Thomson quote from Topsell's discussion of the hare in The Leaping Hare (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), pp. 24-25.

  7. Phipson, p. 160.

  8. Knowles records this observation from Samuel Johnson and George Steevens' 1773 edition of AYL in his New Variorum Edition, p. 231, n. 2064.

  9. Two Treatises: The Nature of Bodies, the Nature of Man's Sowle (Paris, 1644), p. 314. Phipson cites this work (p. 33).

  10. Phipson, p. 32. I draw the quotation from John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, Euphues and His England, ed. Morris William Croll and Harry Clemons (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1916), p. 97. The editors quote a passage from Erasmus' Similia that they feel “makes it probable that Erasmus is Lyly's source” (p. 97, n. 2).

  11. Physiologus: The Very Ancient Book of Beasts, Plants, and Stones, trans. Francis J. Carmody (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1953), item xxviii. Carmody's translation is “a ‘composite’ text of the Greek, Syrian, Ethiopian, and Latin” (Michael J. Curley, trans., Physiologus [Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1979], p. xxxiii). Curley's translation, “based on the two editions of the Latin Physiologus prepared by Francis Carmody” (p. xxxiii), likewise identifies the hyena as “an arenotelicon, that is an alternating male-female” (p. 53). T. H. White's translation from a twelfth-century Latin bestiary (The Book of Beasts [New York: Putnam's Sons, 1954]) advances the notion that hyenas “are neither male nor female” (p. 32).

  12. Ovid, The Fifteen Bookes of P. Ouidius Naso, Entituled Metamorphosis, trans. Arthur Golding (London, 1567), fol. 192v, ll. 9-12. Knowles notes that “The classical writer most often cited as a source for AYL is Ovid” (p. 500), and in his summary of these citations are found references to Golding's “Epistle Dedicatorie” and to passages in Book xv. In Lois E. Bueler's recent article, “Webster's Excellent Hyena,” Philological Quarterly, 59 (1980), 107-11, Bueler gives attention to Ferdinand's remark in John Webster's Duchess of Malfi, “Methinks I see her laughing— / Excellent hyena!” (II.v.38-39); she cites Pliny, Golding, Topsell, and Le Bestiare Divin of Guillaume de Normandie to establish the ideas of the hyena's “sexual mutability and magical potency” and concludes “that it is [Ferdinand's] sense of the Duchess as neither singly female nor male that is most important to his use of the word hyena” (pp. 107-9).

  13. Boswell, pp. 138-43, 305-7.

  14. Carmody, item xxviii. See plates 9 and 12 in Boswell for illuminations in medieval Latin bestiaries that depict “two hyenas embracing, a common artistic reference to the animal's alleged homosexuality.”

  15. Boswell, pp. 253, n. 38, 393. This application of the terminology does not obviate J. H. Walter's obvious observation that, “The hare was one of Venus' creatures, and to hunt the hare was emblematic of a love-hunt” (Knowles, p. 244, n. 2166).

  16. Puritans, citing Deuteronomy 22:5, regarded the adoption of female dress by boy-actors as a practice likely to lead male audiences into the “abomination” of homosexual desire (Nancy K. Hayles, “Sexual Disguise in As You Like It and Twelfth Night,Shakespeare Survey, 32 [1979], 70). Hayles draws on the earlier article of J. W. Binns, “Women or Transvestites on the Elizabethan Stage?: An Oxford Controversy,” Sixteenth Century Journal, 2 (1974), 95-120. On the cross-dressing of Renaissance heroines, see M. C. Bradbrook, “Shakespeare and the Use of Disguise in Elizabethan Drama,” Essays in Criticism, 2 (1952), 167; F. H. Mares, “Viola and Other Transvestist Heroines in Shakespeare's Comedies,” in Stratford Papers, 1965-67, ed. B. A. W. Jackson (Hamilton, Ont.: McMaster Univ. Library Press, 1969), p. 97; and Doris Feil, “The Female Page in Renaissance Drama,” Dissertation Abstracts International, 31 (1971), 6007A (Arizona State Univ.).

  17. Phoebe's attraction to Rosalind-Ganymede parallels Olivia's fall for Viola-Cesario in Twelfth Night, while the intimacy between Orlando and Ganymede is similar to the interest Guiderius and Arviragus express in Imogen-Fidele in Act III, scene vi, of Cymbeline.

  18. The Ovidian account of Zeus's ravishment of Ganymede in Book x of the Metamorphoses is a potent homosexual myth, following the story of Orpheus' homosexual metamorphosis and preceding the tale of Apollo's love for Hyacinthus. So strong was the association of Ganymede with homosexuality that the name had served in an earlier period—one likewise “addicted to classical literature”—as an “equivalent of ‘gay’” (Boswell, p. 253). And contemporary attestations show that the word signified a “catamite” (OED, Ganymede 2.), “A boy kept for unnatural purposes” (OED,Catamite).

  19. Margaret Boerner Beckman, “The Figure of Rosalind in As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly, 29 (1978), 44, 48.

  20. Rosalind begins the play's epilogue by admitting that, “It is not the fashion to see the Ladie the Epilogue”; having overturned the custom, the female character gives way to the boy-actor, who negates Rosalind's female identity: “If I were a Woman, I would kisse as many of you as had beards that pleas'd me, complexions that lik'd me, and breaths that I defi'de not …” (V.iv.221-24). See Knowles, p. 3030, n. 2791-92; Hayles, p. 67.

Alan Brissenden (essay date 1993)

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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 emotionally receptive state when Orlando arrives to wrestle with Charles, and whereas in the first part of the scene Celia has been the initiator of dialogue, it is Rosalind who takes charge of the conversation when Orlando appears. Before and throughout the wrestling match, she makes the leading comments, and, ignoring her cousin's earlier warning, or rather, helpless against it, she begins to fall in love ‘in good earnest’, finally ensnaring Orlando symbolically within the circle of a necklace. The playfulness and frankness which are among the most attractive aspects of Rosalind's love are quickly apparent; she soon begins to think of Orlando as the father of her child (1.3.11), and when Celia advises her to ‘hem’, or cough, away the irritations in her heart, like a tickle in the chest, she punningly replies, ‘I would try, if I could cry “hem” and have him’ (1.3.19). But these are words of slight intensity compared with the torrent which rushes from her when Celia brings news of Orlando's arrival in the forest (3.2.211-42); when he appears, from being comically aghast at what she can do with her doublet and hose she discovers an excellent use for them as a cover for the baiting of her unawares lover. Within half a dozen lines the sly teasing has turned into a joyous sham mockery of love, lovers, and women. Under this satirical guise, Rosalind extracts from Orlando more declarations of his love for her, in a shorter time, than if he had known who she was.

To continue this wonderfully self-gratifying situation she devises the love cure. While this is Shakespeare's invention, the dialogue introducing it has several links in thought and word with Lodge. When Rosalynde and Alinda first enter the forest and discover Montanus's verse to the disdainful Phoebe, for example, Rosalynde as Ganymede says, ‘You may see … what mad cattle you women be, whose hearts sometimes are made of adamant … and sometime of wax … they delight to be courted, and then they glory to seem coy; and when they are most desired then they freeze with disdain: and this fault is so common to the sex, that you see it painted out in the shepherd's passions, who found his mistress as froward as he was enamoured’ (15r). After claiming that love is ‘a madness’, Shakespeare's Ganymede describes how ‘he’ cured another lovesick youth:

I set him every day to woo me. At which time would I, being but a moonish youth, grieve, be effeminate, changeable, longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every passion something, and for no passion truly anything, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this colour …


Shakespeare takes the idea of a misogynist catalogue from Lodge, adds a sly reference to the fickleness of boys,1 and moves the whole idea into a further dimension by transferring it to the love cure. Lodge's Ganymede quickly reverts to being Rosalynde, saying to Alinda, ‘put me but into a petticoat, and I will stand in defiance to the uttermost that women are courteous, constant, virtuous and what not’ (15r); Shakespeare saves this change, transforming it to Rosalind's ecstatic outburst after Orlando has left following the mock marriage in 4.1. In Lodge, it is not till some time later, after Rosader has read out three love sonnets, that Ganymede says, ‘let me see how thou canst woo: I will represent Rosalynde, and thou shalt be as thou art Rosader’ (35r); there follows a three-page ‘wooing eclogue’ between the two, and the mock marriage. Lodge's heroine merely wants her man to go on confessing his love for her; Shakespeare's wants this too, but she is also testing him, challenging his wit, and, eventually, in a state of high excitement, marrying him, though he is unaware of it (4.1.112-26). Her insistence on his using the present tense—‘I will’ is not good enough: he ‘must say, “I take thee, Rosalind, for wife”’ (4.1.122-3)—indicates the steel-strong resolve beneath the bubbling disguise of the ‘saucy lackey’; but the sensitive woman in love is less completely suppressed than Rosalind thinks. When Orlando says he must leave her for two hours, her ‘Alas, dear love, I cannot lack thee two hours’ (4.1.163) has a suddenness, a brevity and a spontaneity which contrast so markedly with the rest of her speeches in the immediate context that it is clear she is taken off guard, just as later when she faints on hearing from Oliver how Orlando has been wounded by the lioness ( These chinks in her armour of disguise give a comical aspect to Rosalind's character which invites us to laugh at her, rather than laugh at what she is saying, or laugh with her at what she is doing; they are signals to us that even this most supremely self-aware of Shakespeare's comic heroines can momentarily lose her self-control.

Rosalind embodies Shakespeare's anatomy of love in the play. Falling in love at first sight may be foolish where Phoebe is concerned, but it is perfectly acceptable for the quartet of courtly lovers, and Rosalind is the first to fall. Sentimentalism is matter for mockery, but the ravings of Silvius nevertheless lead to Rosalind's contemplating the arrow in her own heart. She can scold the lovesick shepherd for being made a ‘tame snake’ by love, but she is ready enough to weep when Orlando does not come on time. She is scornful of Orlando's being late and reads him a lesson in how a lover should behave, but she herself has to learn a lesson in patience and discover, arch-manipulator though she is, that time and events, as well as her own emotions, are beyond her control. Rosalind's love also has some of the fleshly sensuality of Touchstone's, seen in her thinking of Orlando as the father of her child, and in her sexual repartee. The consummate glory of love, in Shakespeare always marriage, is Rosalind's final triumph, as, claiming magic powers, she organizes the wedding ceremony which ends the play.

To reach that end, to be a satisfying, as well as a satisfied, partner of Rosalind, Orlando needs to undergo an education—not the kind that he feels Oliver has deprived him of, for, after his unmannerly intrusion on Duke Senior and the exiled lords in 2.7, he quickly shows them he is ‘inland bred’, that he is gentle by nature as well as by birth. His education is to be, like that of Silvius, Phoebe, Touchstone, Audrey, and Rosalind herself, concerned with love. His desire to carve Rosalind's name on every tree is in fine romantic epic and pastoral style—the carving of their names by Medoro and Angelica in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso remained a well-known subject for artists for two centuries2—but his verses are ridiculed with bawdy parody by Touchstone, his romantic description of his beloved gets a lewd response from Jaques, and Ganymede makes rude puns to him about cuckoldry; he is unaware of the first, his romantic idealism is proof against the second, but he is able to respond to the third, even if he loses the wit-combat. He takes on Ganymede's offer of being cured not because he wants to be cured of his love for Rosalind, but because he ‘would be talking of her’ (4.1.82-3). His romantic attitude is tempered only a little by his banter with Ganymede; his idea of marriage is for its lasting ‘for ever and a day’, and he finds Ganymede's description of wifely behaviour unlikely to apply to Rosalind. Extreme though this description is, it contains genuine warning that reality differs from the romantic ideal. What finally brings Orlando to a realistic view, however, is the maturity he gains through his decision to save Oliver, and then Oliver's falling in love, and imminent marriage. ‘I can no longer live by thinking’, he tells the bawdily jesting Ganymede, who then drops the banter and begins the serious business of arranging the marriages, and rebecoming Rosalind.

That Rosalind and Orlando's love, full of comic complexities, lies between the pastoral extravagances of Silvius and the earthy pragmatism of Touchstone is neatly indicated in 2.4 when the besotted shepherd goes off crying ‘O Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe!’; Rosalind is reminded of her love, and Touchstone recalls, with a ribald innuendo, his love for the milkmaid Jane Smile. Silvius and Phoebe are an example of any number of pastoral lovers and disdainful mistresses, like Spenser's Colin Clout and his Rosalind, who ‘deigns not [his] good will, but doth reprove’ (Shepheardes Calender, 1, 63); the artificiality of their relationship is expressed not only through their language, but by the way in which Shakespeare distances them, making them actors in a pageant,3 and Silvius the exemplar of Jaques's lover ‘sighing like furnace’. Rosalind's realistic, rattling speech contrasts roughly with theirs, tumbling over the edge of verse into prose, her scolding a turbulent comic centre to the anguished pleas of Silvius and the balanced casuistries of Phoebe. In 5.2 Rosalind takes part in the litany by which Silvius explains his idea of love—a version still as extreme, idealistic, and romantic as at first—but sensible realism takes over and she dismisses it in annoyance as ‘like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon’ (ll. 104-5) so that she can get on with the main business, the weddings. At the last Silvius has nothing to say, only Phoebe, who surrenders her love for Ganymede in a couplet when Rosalind appears as herself. The hieratic quality which the dialogue has now taken on can accommodate such formal artificiality, but the reality beneath the artificial expression of Silvius and Phoebe during the play is characteristically defined by Jaques when in handing out his bequests at the end he leaves to Silvius ‘a long and well-deservèd bed’: Silvius's pale-faced languishings have the same essential sexual basis as Rosalind's love and Touchstone's desires. The shepherd's sighing upon a midnight pillow, his holy and perfect love, are simply at the opposite end of the same scale as Touchstone's fear of cuckoldry and the fleshly need which drives him ‘to take that that no man else will’ (5.4.58). All the lovers are brought to marriage like ‘couples … coming to the ark’ (5.4.36), as Jaques says, an image which Alexander Leggatt pertinently remarks ‘suggests both animal coupling and the working of a divine plan’.4

The suddenness of Celia and Oliver's mutual love has been felt by Swinburne and others to be disconcerting,5 and both Charles Johnson in his version of the play, Love in a Forest (1723), and George Sand in her adaptation, Comme il vous plaira (1856), deprive Oliver of happiness; instead they enlarge and transform Jaques's part and reward him with Celia. But their love at first sight is in keeping with the suddenness of Oliver's ‘instantaneous Pauline reversal’, as Marjorie Garber calls it,6 on being saved by Orlando, and, as has already been noticed, Celia is in a receptive state when he arrives. A good pair of actors can create an entirely believable and serious love situation which even Rosalind's comical fainting does not undermine.


Oliver's repentance is one of the play's later examples of change, of metamorphosis—that concept which is basic to theatre, which fascinated Shakespeare and many of his fellow-dramatists, and which especially informs the ethos of As You Like It. It is obvious in the taking on of disguise by Rosalind and Celia and the sudden conversion of Duke Frederick at the edge of the forest, for instance. But it permeates the play's texture in various ways. When Duke Senior, searching for Jaques in the forest, says, ‘I think he be transformed into a beast, / For I can nowhere find him like a man’ (2.7.1-2), he is introducing a line of imagery continued when Orlando bursts in upon the exiles and Jaques queries, ‘Of what kind should this cock come of?’ (l. 90), and when Orlando, going to find Adam, sees himself as a doe seeking her faun (l. 128). Transformation of people into beasts, plants, and other things of nature was the stuff of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which Shakespeare knew well and drew on frequently. Touchstone refers to Ovid himself in 3.3, making a pun on ‘goats’ and ‘Goths’—and all puns depend on transformation of meaning—while the transformation of humans into beasts through Pythagoras' theory of the transmigration of souls is matter for a witticism by Rosalind (3.2.171). In the wider world of the play, Arden is the place where Nature works its change on those who come there—some, like the exiled Duke and lords, Rosalind, Celia, and Orlando, seeking refuge, others, like Oliver and Duke Frederick, intent on evil.

These changes are not wrought simply by the forest's being the green world that Northrop Frye and C. L. Barber7 discuss so eloquently; Rosalind insists on the element of magic. Perhaps, as Garber ingeniously suggests,8 the magician Rosalind has conversed with since the age of three is herself, but whether that is the case or not, Hymen, god of marriage, arrives to celebrate the wedding rites, and the text does nothing to suggest that he is anything other than a god: not Amiens, or another lord, or William, or anyone else, dressed up. (If it has to be another character, then Corin would be closest to the source, as Lodge's Coridon dresses up and sings a song.) There is no reason why this should not be an early theophany, a precursor of the appearances of Jupiter in Cymbeline and Diana in Pericles. Like Paulina in The Winter's Tale, Rosalind emphasizes the lawfulness of her actions. Again like Paulina, she restores a daughter to a parent, but where Paulina's ‘magic’ is revealed as a benign deception, since Hermione's ‘statue’ which seems to come to life is in fact Hermione herself, and where even Prospero explains that the characters in his betrothal masque are ‘all spirits’ that melt ‘into air, into thin air’ (Tempest 4.1.149-50), there is no such explanation for Hymen.

The appearance of Hymen, Rosalind, and Celia, the marriage ritual with its rhymed verse, music and song—all contrast strongly with the comic realism of Touchstone's discourse on the lie which precedes them and the more formal, but still realistic, report of Jaques de Boys which follows. Hymen presides over the grand transformation of single men and women into husbands and wives. There are two transformations to come: one, Frederick's conversion, reported by Jaques de Boys, is within the narrative; the other, outside it, is the admission in the Epilogue that Rosalind has been played by a male actor, who modulates from his character by recalling her claim to have magic powers, saying he will ‘conjure’ the audience. He also uses the last ‘if’ in a play with more ‘if's than any other play by Shakespeare.9

The lines beginning ‘If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me’ uniquely draw attention to the fact that the part of Rosalind, like all female roles in the English theatre until 1660, was played by a male. This is the only time that Shakespeare focuses attention so explicitly on this fact, the only time he gives an actor playing a woman lines which proclaim the male beneath the female dress. Significantly, they occur in the Epilogue, that transitional passage which eases the audience back from the imaginary world of the play into everyday existence. Cleopatra's expression of fear that if taken captive to Rome she will see ‘Some squeaking Cleopatra boy [her] greatness / I'th' posture of a whore’ (Antony 5.2.216-17), may have a certain grim ironic humour, but it lacks the explicitness of Rosalind's words in the Epilogue, which direct attention to the whole comedy of sexual ambiguity which has gone before.

Like Julia in The Two Gentleman of Verona, Viola in Twelfth Night and Imogen in Cymbeline, Rosalind takes on male dress for protection. When Celia suggests that disguise is needed to avoid assault on their way to the forest of Arden, Rosalind's response is based on physique—the shorter Celia can stay as a woman, but Rosalind, being ‘more than common tall’, says she will have a ‘gallant curtal-axe’ upon her thigh, a boar-spear in her hand and a ‘swashing and a martial outside’, even if her heart may harbour womanish fears (1.3.113-21); that the need for male protection would possibly be supplied by Touchstone is not considered by Rosalind when she suggests that he accompany them. (In any case, his weapons would at best be words, not swords.)

There is no way of knowing the attitude of the Elizabethan audience, and particularly the men in that audience, to the boy actor playing a girl or woman, or to the more complicated situation of the female page disguise. Robert Kimbrough claims that ‘from the standpoint of legitimate theatre, to maintain that there has ever been a comic device based on the actual sex of the actors is to fly in the face of a generic essential … An actor in role is whatever sex, age, and cultural origin the playwright asserts … We do Shakespeare a disservice not to accept his women as women.’10 This may do well enough for a Portia or a Jessica, a Juliet or a Cressida. It does less well for a female character who takes on with her male disguise the name of Ganymede, ‘Jove's own page’, even when this is merely using the name in the source, in this case Rosalynde. The relationship of Jupiter and his cupbearer was well enough known for the word ‘ganymede’ to be current for a homosexual youth (OED 2), the word ‘catamite’ is closely derived, through corruption, from the name, and in the opening scene of Marlowe's Dido Queen of Carthage (c.1587), for example, Ganymede is described as ‘that female wanton boy’ (l. 51). Lorenzo's remark that the escaping Jessica will come to him in ‘the lovely garnish of a boy’ (Merchant of Venice 2.6.45) may contain a misprint for ‘lowly’, but alternatively it may be a nod in the direction of a suppressed homosexual element in Antonio's feeling for Bassanio, or even in Lorenzo's for Jessica. But when Viola remains in her boy's clothes at the end of Twelfth Night there is no indication of doubt in Orsino's mind that he wants to see her in her ‘woman's weeds’, so that she will be ‘Orsino's mistress and his fancy's queen’. With Rosalind, the extra complication, the extra layer, is the female role she adds to her male disguise; paradoxically, this is at the same time an additional mask and a reversion to her true role of woman.11 The addition had the potential in the Elizabethan theatre to draw attention not only to the Ganymede persona Rosalind takes on, but to the boy actor three layers beneath. The audience's attention could also be drawn to the boy actor when Rosalind in her description of how she cured the lovesick youth says that, in pretending to be a woman, she was ‘for every passion something, and for no passion truly anything, as boys and women are for the most part cattle of this colour’ (3.2.392-4), a linking which is given painful distortion in a different context when Lear's fool declares, ‘He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath’ (The History of King Lear, 13.14-15). Rosalind's lines are developed from a passage in Lodge, already referred to, in which Rosalynde/Ganymede says to Alinda/Aliena, ‘You may see what mad cattle you women be’, but Rosalynde makes no mention of boys. The addition is significant when it is made for a stage adaptation when female parts were played by boys. Later in the play, when Rosalind/Ganymede/Rosalind invites Orlando to woo her, and asks ‘What would you say to me now an I were your very, very Rosalind?’ and he replies ‘I would kiss before I spoke’ (4.1.63-6), if Orlando makes as if to suit action to word and kiss her, the opportunity for comedy is doubly enriched because Ganymede must dodge the kiss and the audience is reminded that beneath the sham Rosalind is a boy, Ganymede, beneath Ganymede the ‘very’ Rosalind of the play, but beneath this last, a ‘very’ boy, the actor. (This leaves aside the question of audience response to an Orlando who thinks it might be interesting to kiss a boy.)

Since the 1960s the subject of Renaissance attitudes to cross-dressing, transvestism, homosexuality, and boy actors has been given increasing attention, along with the reappraisal of historical interpretation and development of literary critical theory.12 At the same time feminist criticism has illuminated the significance of gender in Shakespeare's plays and likely attitudes of his audiences towards his heroines as women.13 The National Theatre's 1967 production discussed below … showed that a modern adult all-male interpretation of the play can be successful, provided that a homosexual element is not blatantly emphasized, as it was in the same production's much-criticized 1974 revival.


In so far as theatre can exist only when there is at the minimum an actor and an audience, even an audience of one, and that an actor is a person who assumes a role, doubleness is an essential of theatre. In As You Like It doubleness informs many aspects of the play itself. In Rosalind it is taken to an extreme with a double layer of masks. Celia's disguise as Aliena is the other most obvious example, but nothing more is made of it—it remains a simple disguise. But as an informing idea, doubleness is introduced at the play's beginning, with two brothers in conflict: Orlando bitter at the way in which his elder brother Oliver has not discharged the will of their late father Sir Rowland de Boys and given him an education fitting a gentleman, Oliver plotting to have Orlando killed, acknowledging to himself that he does not know why he hates him, while suggesting that it could be plain envy. Like other pairs in the play, Oliver and Orlando are in some respects reverse images of each other. Oliver is envious, murderous, deceitful, a brother ‘the most unnatural / That lived amongst men’ (4.3.123-4), Orlando, by Oliver's own admission, ‘gentle; never schooled, and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved’ (1.1.155-7). Where Oliver is devious and calculating, Orlando is hotheaded and passionate—it is he who lays hands on his elder brother, and who rushes in with drawn sword on the exiled Duke Senior and his lords. His sudden falling in love with Rosalind is not a particularly distinguishing characteristic in this play, as it happens to so many others: to Rosalind, to Phoebe, who self-justifyingly quotes Marlowe's ‘“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”’ (3.5.83), to Celia and to Oliver, though only after his conversion to goodness which results from Orlando's saving him from certain death.

That encounter, which occurs off-stage and is described by Oliver himself, signals the joining of the opposite images which the brothers have represented throughout the play, even though they are not on stage together between 1.1 and 5.1. For all his excellences, Orlando needs to change as well as Oliver. Coming upon his brother asleep in the forest, the impending prey of a snake which glides away at his approach and of a hungry lioness, Orlando makes a decision, as Prospero does, that ‘The rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance’ (Tempest 5.1.27-8); ‘nature, stronger than his just occasion’ (4.3.130), leads him to kill the lioness. This change in Orlando, the new ability to conquer a passion (in this case his justifiable anger at Oliver), brings about the change in Oliver which allows him to fall in love with Celia and to be deserving of her love.

These two sons of Sir Rowland de Boys are matched by the ducal brothers, the tyrannical, moody Frederick and the cordial, philosophical Duke Senior. Just as Oliver cannot easily find a reason for hating Orlando, so no reasons are given for Frederick's banishing his brother. The violence of Oliver's house, which the old servant Adam describes as ‘but a butchery’ (2.3.28), is paralleled by the physical violence of the court, where breaking of ribs is sport for ladies to watch, honour is of little account, and the Duke is given to unpredictable rages. Duke Senior's geniality, which helps inspire loyalty in his lords, is a mellower version of the gentle nobility which makes Orlando ‘of all sorts enchantingly beloved’ (1.1.156-7); his flash of anger at Jaques (2.7.64-9) is a mature, controlled expression of the same emotion that incites Orlando to attack Oliver in the first scene of the play. Duke Senior has gained (or perhaps completed) an education in the forest, where adversity has schooled him to read nature, to turn the chilly winds of winter into moral tutors, and to enjoy the lack of responsibility which forest life brings and the time it allows for contemplation and disputation. Orlando's entry into Arden signals the beginning of his education; expecting to have to use force to gain food, he learns that gentleness is sufficient; when he takes up Ganymede's offer to be cured of lovesickness, he unknowingly sets himself on an educative course which sharpens his mind, brings him self-awareness, and makes him a worthy partner for Rosalind. Orlando's journey is laid out before us for our enjoyment; Duke Senior has already made his; Oliver's education is sudden and complete, occurring off-stage, the circumstances told by Oliver himself in a context which mingles humour and seriousness; Duke Frederick's repentance is as precipitate as his earlier changes of mood, and placed at a further remove through being reported in the last scene of the play by Jaques de Boys. Johnson lamented that ‘By hastening the end of this work Shakespeare suppressed the dialogue between the usurper and the hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral lesson in which he might have found matter worthy of his pen’ (Joseph Moser helpfully made good the omission in 180914); the inclusion of such a scene, however, would have led to the play's ending being slowed, the festivity towards which, as Northrop Frye tells us, comedy moves from irrational law would have been dimmed and the graded presentation of the educative processes described above would have been lost. As well, there was probably the practical reason that Duke Frederick's part was doubled; on the modern stage it is sometimes doubled by the actor playing Duke Senior, which makes, at the very least, for a good family resemblance.

Touchstone and Jaques, two of the characters Shakespeare introduced, form another pair. Touchstone may be a courtier who has trod a measure, flattered a lady and undone three tailors, but he is anything but ‘the daintiest fool of the comedies’, as S. E. Winbolt described him in 1895.15 He is a sensualist, a master of bawdy, whose earthy sensibilities provide a contrast to the romanticism of the other lovers in the play, whom he slyly calls ‘the rest of the country copulatives’ (5.4.54-5), reducing them to the same level as the ill-favoured but honest Audrey and himself. Touchstone is a new kind of character in Shakespeare. He is not a serving-man clown, like Lance in The Two Gentlemen of Verona or Lancelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice, but a witty court jester. He is the first of Shakespeare's wise fools who are allowed to say what they like, who are intended to tell home truths, to cut people down to size, but who at the same time are liable for a whipping if they go too far. Where Lance has 222 lines to speak and Lancelot 178, Touchstone has 299—among Shakespeare's clowns only Feste in Twelfth Night has more, with 318.16 There has been strong argument that the role of Touchstone was shaped for, and perhaps by, the actor Robert Armin, who joined the Chamberlain's Men some time after their chief clown, William Kempe, left the company early in 1599. It is not, however, established fact that Armin even played Feste. The coincidence of the name ‘Touchstone’ with Armin's training as a goldsmith and the name of the clown Tutch, in his own play Two Maids of More-clack (1598?), is attractively suggestive, but it is not known precisely when he joined the company, any more than it is known precisely when As You Like It was completed.17

On his first entrance Rosalind and Celia both refer to Touchstone as a ‘natural’, that is a person of little intellect, a born fool—it is immediately clear that the opposite is true, as they well know—and he may have worn for this scene at court the long coat of the idiot. …18 In the forest he wears motley, the parti-coloured costume of the professional fool, but whether it is a long coat or a short tunic is not certain. … Touchstone is a commentator, not least on the morals of the world he inhabits; his first joke reflects on the lack of honour in Frederick's court, and his question to Le Beau a little later again shrewdly comments on court values. He mocks Silvius, Rosalind, and the very idea of romantic love with a bawdy reminiscence (2.4.43-51); he satirizes Orlando and the Petrarchan tradition with a shockingly lewd parody which insults both love poetry and Rosalind herself (who, however, disposes of him with smut wittier than his own (3.2.113-16)), and he is a conscious performer, even getting (5.4.84-5), in Vickers's felicitous phrase, ‘the only encore in Shakespeare’ (p. 219). He relishes words, and argument, though his sophistication is no true match for the simple good sense of Corin in their debate over the relative qualities of court and country life. But Touchstone is genuinely concerned with and for people; we have Celia's word that he is devoted to her, and, despite his remarks on being married by means of an improper ceremony so that he will be able more easily to leave his wife, and Jaques's smart comment that Touchstone and Audrey's marriage will last only a couple of months, it is Hymen's prophecy to which we should listen: ‘You and you are sure together / As the winter to foul weather’ (5.4.130-1). Rough though they may be, winter and foul weather are inseparable. In this, his last comment about other people, Jaques is wrong again, as so often he is, whereas Touchstone is usually right in his remarks about the world and the people in it.

Like Orlando and Oliver, Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, Touchstone and Jaques are, as it were, of the same family, but opposites. Jaques is neither a natural nor a licensed fool, but as the licensed fool mocks under the mask of the simpleton, Jaques comments satirically under the cloak (or should it be ‘the hat’?) of the melancholic. Aristotle, according to Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), considered ‘Melancholy men of all others [the] most witty’, subject to ‘a kind of enthusiasmus … which stirreth them up to be excellent philosophers, poets, prophets &c.’19 Just as Touchstone's ‘cover’ is described before we meet him, so Jaques's assumed role is depicted, and at much greater length (2.1.25-43). Amiens and the First Lord espy him stretched out beneath an oak, beside a stream, in precisely the pose of Edward, 1st Lord Herbert of Cherbury, painted by Isaac Oliver about 1610-14. … The tree in the left foreground of this picture is an oak, and the Earl's resting his head on his hand in the conventional posture of the melancholy philosopher represents his intellectual pursuits, just as the shield and his armour, being hung up in the background, indicate his knightly concerns. Roy Strong relates this to Nicholas Hilliard's miniature of the 9th Earl of Northumberland as a melancholy philosopher, painted c.1590-5, in which the Earl, dressed in black, his shirt and doublet unfastened, a book beside him and his hat and gloves cast by, reclines with his head on his hand beneath a tree.20 Northumberland, known as ‘the wizard earl’, was interested in philosophy, alchemy, and scientific experiment. The sylvan solitude sought by the melancholic is also a quality of pastoral, however, and the reclining posture is found in illustrations of pastoral prose and verse.

Jaques's weeping over the sobbing deer, which became a subject for nineteenth-century artists including Blake … and Constable, would have been regarded as eccentric; Duke Senior himself is troubled by the fact that the deer are not safe from the huntsmen's arrows in their own forest confines, but not seriously enough to interfere with hunting them for food, and the Lord's account leads him to find Jaques to get some entertainment by teasing him in disputation, a sport Jaques is familiar with, and only too anxious to avoid. Where the Duke has just been extolling the advantages to be got from the adversities of exile, Jaques has been ‘invectively’ decrying the forest life, claiming that the exiles are themselves usurpers, tyrants, and even worse, in the forest world which both he and the Duke liken to a city state.

This negativity characterizes Jaques throughout the play, but he fails to persuade anybody to his point of view. In his parody of Amiens's cheerful song he calls everyone else ‘gross fools’ without challenge, but the pessimism of his platitudinous speech on the seven ages of man is exploded by Orlando's entry with Adam in his arms. When he derides Orlando's love-carvings on trees he is dismissed with unsuspected wit by the lover, and his egotistical description of his own particular kind of melancholy is given short, patriotic shrift by Rosalind. His two positive actions both relate to Touchstone, whose marriage to Audrey by the hedge-priest Sir Oliver Martext he prevents, and whom he introduces into the exiled court, as if realizing that he himself is no longer able to act as the court wit when there is a professional fool in the forest. His delight in discovering Touchstone produces unwonted merriment in Jaques, who begs the Duke for a suit of motley to wear so that he too will be licensed to speak his mind and so ‘Cleanse the foul body of th'infected world’ (2.7.60). The Duke's burst of anger at his presuming to castigate others when he has been a sinner himself produces the standard response of the satirist: that he attacks vice in general, not particular people, that those who have done wrong will benefit from his attack, and those who have not will be unharmed. Jaques's defence rather runs out of puff, however, and Shakespeare is clearly satirizing the satiric vogue of the late 1590s which, taken up so zealously by such writers as Nashe, Hall, Jonson, and Marston, led to the bishops' bonfire in June 1599. … Attempts have been made to identify Jaques as a satiric portrait, particularly of John Marston, owing to the scatological aspect of Jaques's thought and speech, and Jonson, to whom Shakespeare was supposed to have administered a purge, but just as he satirizes the fashionable pose of melancholy, in life, literature, and art, so Shakespeare satirizes the satiric mode rather than any individual. He may, however, lay teasing invitations for the audience to make such identifications: Duke Senior's entreaty, ‘Stay, Jaques, stay’, for example, is exactly Maximilian's line (5.7.99) to the steward Melun disguised as a beggar, Jaques de Prie, in Jonson's comedy The Case is Altered, acted probably in 1598; but apart from the names, there is nothing in common between the two characters.

Hazlitt considered Jaques ‘the only purely contemplative character in Shakespeare … his only passion is thought’, he wrote.21 This is not entirely true. Jaques has ambitions to change the world, which his skewed vision sees as being full of fools and filth, to be sneered and railed at. The only person whose company he enjoys is Touchstone, who he believes confirms him in his belief, but whom he misreads. Jaques's speech on the seven ages of man, with Hamlet's ‘To be or not to be’ the most famous in Shakespeare, is a restatement in good set negative terms of a topos known to every educated person. It was wildly misinterpreted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was, for example, parodied as an afterpiece given by the actor playing Touchstone, set to music and performed as a character song, made the subject of paintings, engravings, and postcards, and even depicted on ladies' fans.22 Parts became sentimentalized beyond recognition, particularly in illustrations. The infant, for instance, rather than ‘mewling and puking in the nurse's arms’ was shown gurgling and smiling on the nurse's lap. … The play, however, sets against the cynicism of the speech not sentimentalism but practical caring love, as Orlando brings in his old servant Adam to the food and friendship of Duke Senior and his lords.

Jaques is ‘compact of jars’, discordant: his being ‘merry hearing of a song’ is extraordinary. Melancholy and harmony do not agree. Marston's play The Malcontent (c.1600) even begins with ‘a sound of loud discordant music being heard’, signalling the ruling humour of its chief character, Malevole. The melancholic is out of tune with society, and Jaques has no place in the play's concluding dance which symbolizes the concord of marriage and the continuation of the race.

Touchstone, on the other hand, is sensitive to discord; he tells the pages that he finds their singing of ‘It was a lover and his lass’ ‘very untunable’, which they perhaps deliberately mishear so that they can claim they ‘kept time’ (5.3.40-3). Touchstone's liking for harmony is just part of his general sociableness. He may have had four quarrels, but he was ever only ‘like to have fought one’, and his explanation of how the combat was avoided is not only a joke against manuals of swordplay but, in its description of the seven degrees of the lie, it glances impishly at Jaques's sardonic description of the seven ages of man.

Where Jaques avoids the Duke because he is too ‘disputable’, Touchstone enjoys debate, especially if he considers he is winning, as he thinks he is in his discussion with Corin on court and country life. And where Jaques likes to think himself cerebral, Touchstone is the self-acknowledged physical sensualist who recognizes desire as a handicap, one of the ‘dulcet diseases’. But it can be cured, although the cure is marriage. ‘Wedlock would be nibbling’, he tells Jaques (3.3.74). When asked by the Countess in All's Well That Ends Well why he wants to marry, Lavatch the clown explains, ‘My poor body, madam, requires it. I am driven on by the flesh’ (1.3.28-9). Not much more could be expected of Touchstone and Lavatch, however, for fools were not troubled with passion, they were considered to be simply lecherous, and fickle.23

Lavatch proves to be so when he goes to court and discovers beauties different from those of his Isbel at Roussillon, and Jaques draws on the same commonly held belief when he prophesies so short a life for Touchstone's marriage. Touchstone may make jokes about whores, and invent a scurrilous parody impugning Rosalind's purity, but he is properly moral when it comes to the satisfaction of his own flesh; productions of the play which depict or even suggest pre-marital copulation between Touchstone and Audrey, as John Dexter's National Theatre production of 1979 did, are in defiance of the text.

It is implied that Jaques's licentiousness had its full rein while he was on his travels, which Rosalind assumes included Venice, for Elizabethans a place as infamous for its courtesans and their lubricity as it was famous for its art, wealth, and legal institutions, which Shakespeare exploited in The Merchant of Venice. Jaques's sexual experience has been of the city, and associated with disease, according to Duke Senior; Touchstone's adventuring is of the natural countryside, associated with Jane Smile the milkmaid and Audrey the goatherd. Paradoxically, Jaques despises the court, preferring to stay in the forest rather than returning with the other exiles (who thereby confirm his cynical view: Duke Senior who praised the forest life for what it taught him, the Lord who said he would not change such a life, and the other lords, are presumably all eager enough to return to court when the opportunity arrives). Touchstone has never made a secret of his preference. A fool at court, he is ‘more fool’ still to come to Arden, and while his comparisons of court and country to Corin may seem even-handed, there can be little doubt that he finds country life, ‘in respect it is not in the court, … tedious’ (3.2.18).

While Jaques and Touchstone differ in so many ways, they are also alike. Both criticize society, both ridicule romantic love, putting themselves outside it. Jaques derides it from his assumed intellectual loftiness, Touchstone from the lower regions of the flesh. Both are related to bad smells. Idiots—natural fools—were infamous for incontinence, and lack of restraint generally; Rosalind makes Touchstone the butt of a joke about this at 1.2.98. As already noted, Jaques's name is a pun on a current word for a lavatory, but as well, the disease of melancholy was closely related to evil odours: it was believed to cause unpleasant gases to build up in the body, leading to bad breath and farting; a recommended remedy was purging of the bowels. Gerard's Herball, for instance, advises that ‘Pennyroyal … taken with honey and aloes, purgeth by stool melancholy humours.’24 A century later, Tom D'Urfey's Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719) offered a more pleasant cure, a book of songs, the title referring to the belief that music lightened the spirits of the afflicted.

The pun in Jaques's name was not unusual but it is more obvious than the puns in Touchstone's, whose name contains a sexual allusion, in so far as ‘stone’ = ‘testicle’; more speculatively, the name may also allude to a well-known tavern fool, John Stone, as well as, perhaps, to the clown Tutch in Robert Armin's Two Maids of More-clack,25 but the larger, more generally implied meaning is of ‘touchstone’ as a substance against which precious metals are tested, and this sense applies throughout the play. Orlando's verses, for example, are shown up as ridiculously extravagant when Touchstone extemporizes a bawdy parody; Jaques's pessimistic wit and his place as entertaining gall to the exiled court are diminished in the face of Touchstone's fresher humour; and the idealistic romanticism of the three other pairs of lovers is reduced to a more realistic level by Touchstone's reminder that fleshly desires are significant in the satisfaction of love.

These punning names are aspects of the play's doubleness of language, which begins with Orlando's cry, ‘I am no villein’, when Oliver calls him a ‘villain’ (1.1.52-3); the play on words is intensified in the old spelling form ‘villaine’, which is used for both words in the Folio. But much of the wordplay is bawdy, and given mainly to Touchstone, Jaques, and Rosalind. What amuses Jaques so much about Touchstone's moralizing on time, for example, is I suspect not so much the philosophic content as the bawdy implications of the language (2.7.12-43). Punning, like so much else, develops in the forest of Arden, Rosalind's page disguise liberating her into a male freedom of speech, though Shakespeare prepares the ground by making her first pun on Touchstone's smell (1.2.98), and then giving her a delightful little wordplay on ‘father’ and ‘child’ (1.3.11—of which prudery deprived her for more than a century).

The more that is learned about the meanings of words the clearer it becomes that Elizabethans found bawdy punning publicly acceptable and entertaining in a way lost by the nineteenth century but rediscovered in the twentieth.26 That there were limits even for Elizabethans, however, is indicated by a passage in Love's Labour's Lost (4.1.110-48) in which Rosaline, Boyet, Maria, and Costard exchange doubles entendres based on hunting and cuckoldry (a common coupling that turns up again in the hunting chorus in 4.2 of As You Like It), and archery and intercourse. Maria protests to Costard, ‘Come, come, you talk greasily, your lips grow foul’ (l. 136); but Costard and Boyet continue for another two lines. Similarly, the brilliant extended exchange between Romeo and Mercutio (Romeo 2.3.35-92) is not halted by Benvolio's ‘Stop there, stop there’ (l. 86), rather it leads on to further verbal dexterities. A key word in that passage is ‘wit’ in its sense of ‘sexual organ’ …, a meaning central to an exchange between Rosalind and Orlando in 4.1 (154-61), which comes after the ‘mock’ marriage, and which plays with the conventional belief in the inevitability of cuckoldry. When this fear provokes Touchstone's concern in 3.3 he decides to find ‘the forehead of a married man more honourable than the bare brow of a bachelor’ (ll. 54-5), just as Benedick declares ‘There is no staff more reverend than one tipped with horn’ (Much Ado, 5.4.122-3). The Rosalind-Orlando banter is, in small, of the same kind as the exchange between the three gentlemen of Verona, and Rosalind's punning on ‘wit’ in this way is possible probably because she is in male disguise. This is Rosalind increasing the intensity of the double role she plays, making the most of the two genders she is presenting to Orlando.

Rosalind differs from all the other cross-dressed heroines of Shakespeare in the way she uses her disguise to educate her lover, and to secure him as a husband, by pretending to be what she is, a woman. This allows her both the freedom to speak and act as a man of the period, and the privileges of speaking and acting as a woman—‘Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak,’ she says when Celia protests at her interruptions (3.2.241-2). This loquacity is matter for a witticism by Anthony Trollope in The Eustace Diamonds (1872): ‘Let a girl be upset with you in a railway train, and she will talk like a Rosalind’, and it is a characteristic which caused Peggy Ashcroft, rehearsing the part in 1957, to write to George Rylands, ‘Rosalind is a wonderful girl but I wish she didn't talk quite so much.’27

Rosalind's womanliness was the quality that in the nineteenth century particularly attracted audiences and was emphasized by English actresses between about 1840 and 1920. … The most famous, Helen Faucit, who acted the role first in 1839 and for the last time in 1879, blushed, trembled, wept, sparkled, and brought a great sense of playfulness to the part; but she had difficulty with the Epilogue, which she found ‘repugnant’ because it meant addressing the audience not as Rosalind or Ganymede, but as herself; she believed in the total submergence of the actor in the character. Like all those then playing Rosalind, she omitted passages which would have been thought offensive by the audience. Any suggestion of what was considered coarseness was usually removed or altered, sometimes by textual editors as well as by actors and directors. As early as 1714, for instance, Rowe emended Rosalind's wishful thinking about Orlando as her ‘child's father’ (1.3.11) to a self-centred thought about her ‘father's child’—a change not endorsed by Theobald but enthusiastically supported by Coleridge and many others; and an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Rosalind usually decided to wear a gallant curtal-axe upon her ‘side’, as ‘thigh’ (1.3.116) was considered indelicate. She did not make a joke about Touchstone losing his ‘old smell’ (1.2.98) and Celia hardly ever charged her with wanting to learn Orlando's whereabouts so that she could put a man in her belly (3.2.197). She sometimes bantered with Orlando about a wife taking her wit to a neighbour's bed, however, because the sexual meaning of ‘wit’ (4.1.155) had been lost and so the word did not threaten the perceived femininity of the role. The rediscovery of meanings and the reinstatement of lines in more liberally-minded times has led to further exploitation of the gender ambiguity in the role, giving it a depth and intricacy denied by, for example, W. Robertson Davies who, in Shakespeare's Boy Actors (1939), advised that the modern actress should consider a Shakespearian heroine from the boy actor's point of view; ‘it will emerge’, he wrote, ‘as a simple and direct conception … she will be spared the necessity to deal with complexities which are not inherent in the part.’28 Particularly in the case of Rosalind, complexities in fact arise especially because the part was written for a boy to act, and doubleness is redoubled.


  1. Among the classical sources for the boy as capricious object of male desire is Virgil's second Eclogue, which was the basis for Richard Barnfield's ‘The Affectionate Shepherd. Containing the Complaint of Daphnis for the Love of Ganymede’ (1594). Its eroticism apparently led to gossip about Barnfield, who protested in his second book, Cynthia (1595), ‘Some there were, that did interpret The Affectionate Shepherd, otherwise than (in truth) I meant, touching the subject thereof, to wit, the love of a shepherd to a boy; a fault, the which I will not excuse, because I never made’ (A. H. Bullen, ed., Some Longer Elizabethan Poems (1903), p. 190).

  2. See Rensselaer W. Lee, Names on Trees, Ariosto into Art (Princeton, 1977), Chs. 4-8 (passim).

  3. Peter Stein emphasized this aspect still further in his 1977 Berlin production by presenting the scene (3.5) as a play within the play (Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer company).

  4. Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (1974), p. 214.

  5. A Study of Shakespeare (1880), p. 152.

  6. ‘The Education of Orlando’, in Comedy from Shakespeare to Sheridan, eds. A. R. Braunmuller and J. C. Bulman (Newark, 1986), p. 109.

  7. Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective (1965); C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, 1959).

  8. Garber, p. 111.

  9. See Maura Slattery Kuhn, ‘Much Virtue in If’, SQ [Shakespeare Quarterly], 28 (1977), p. 44.

  10. Robert Kimbrough, ‘Androgyny Seen Through Shakespeare's Disguise’, SQ, 33 (1982), p. 17.

  11. These ambiguities of gender are explored and exploited in Théophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin, which had for a subtitle ‘A Double Love’ when it was first published in 1835. The novel culminates in a performance of As You Like It with the heroine/hero, Madeleine/Théodore playing Rosalind/Ganymede. Relationships between the novel and the play are discussed by Rosemary Lloyd, ‘Rereading Mademoiselle de Maupin’, Orbis Litterarum, 41 (1986), 19-32, and ‘Speculum Amantis, Speculum Artis: The Seduction of Mademoiselle de Maupin’, Nineteenth Century French Studies, 15 (1986-7), 77-86.

  12. See, for example, Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (1982); Steve Brown, ‘The Boyhood of Shakespeare's Heroines: Notes on Gender Ambiguity in the Sixteenth Century’, SEL [Studies in English Literature], 30 (1990), 243-63; Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations (Berkeley, 1988); Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (New York, 1973); Michael Jamieson, ‘Shakespeare's Celibate Stage’ in Papers, Mainly Shakespearian, ed. George Ian Duthie (Edinburgh, 1964), pp. 21-39; Stephen Orgel, ‘Nobody's Perfect: Or Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women?’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 88 (1989), 7-29; P. H. Parry, ‘The Boyhood of Shakespeare's Heroines’, Shakespeare Survey 42 (1990), 99-109; James M. Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance (New Haven, 1986).

  13. For example, Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford, 1982); Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (1975); Peter Erickson, Patriarchal Structures in Shakespearian Drama (Berkeley, 1985); Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters (Brighton, 1983); Madelon Sprengnether, ‘The Boy Actor and Femininity in Antony and Cleopatra’, in Norman N. Holland et al., eds., Shakespeare's Personality (Berkeley, 1989), pp. 191-205; Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz et al., eds., The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Urbana, 1980).

  14. [Samuel] Johnson, [Samuel Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. H. R. Woudhuysen (Harmondsworth, 1989)], p. 180; Joseph Moser, ‘Additional Scene to Shakespeare's As You Like It’, European Magazine, 55 (1809), 345-52.

  15. As You Like It, London [1895], p. xx.

  16. The figures are from the tables in [Marvin] Spevack, [A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, (Hildesheim, 1968-80)], vol. i.

  17. Discussion to 1976 is summarized in [Richard] Knowles, [As You Like It, A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare (New York, 1977)], pp. 373-7.

  18. Sniping at his enemy, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Nashe writes, ‘fools, ye know, always for the most part (especially if they be natural fools) are suited in long coats; whereupon I set up my rest to shape his garments of the same size, that I might be sure to sit on his skirts’ (Nashe, iii. 17) [The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow (1904-10) … With supplementary notes … by F. P. Wilson (Oxford, 1958)]. The fool's long-skirted suit and the meaning of ‘motley’, particularly in relation to a portrait of the fool Tom Skelton, are discussed by E. W. Ives in ‘Tom Skelton—A Seventeenth-Century Jester’ (Shakespeare Survey 13 (1960), pp. 90-105). Versions of the portrait are held by the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, and at Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass, Cumbria. …

  19. [Robert] Burton, i. 401 (Pt. I. Sec. 3. Mem. 1. Subs. 3) [The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Holbrook Jackson, Everyman (1932)].

  20. Roy Strong, Artists of the Tudor Court (1983), pp. 158-9, and ‘The Elizabethan Malady: Melancholy in Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture’, Apollo, 79 (1964), 264-9.

  21. Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817; repr. 1962), pp. 240-1.

  22. The parody (‘an Irregular, Poetic, Prosaic, Serio comic Paraphrase’) is on a playbill for the Theatre Royal, York, 14 May 1789 (Birmingham Shakespeare Library, Playbills, As You Like It, vol. 2, p. 157); the character song is on a playbill for 25 April 1864, and the fan illustration in an advertisement for 1 January 1796, listed in F. Madan, Catalogue of Shakespeariana (1927), pp. 218, 241 respectively (Bodleian Library, John Johnson Coll., Sh. Box F). There are numerous paintings and engravings, some comprising complete books.

  23. Burton, quoting Erasmus, says ‘they are neither troubled in conscience, nor macerated with cares’ (i. 172 (Pt. I. Sec. 1. Mem. 3. Subs. 3)). In Richard Brome's The Queen's Exchange, the fool Jeffrey expects to have ‘at least half / A score of my wholesome country lasses with child’ (Dramatic Works, 3 vols. (1873), iii. 530).

  24. Enlarged edn., 1633; repr. 1636, p. 672.

  25. [David] Wiles, [Shakespeare’s Clown (Cambridge, 1987)], p. 146.

  26. The pioneering work in this area by Eric Partridge with Shakespeare's Bawdy (1947) has been further developed by E. A. M. Colman in The Dramatic Use of Bawdy in Shakespeare (1974) and Frankie Rubinstein with A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and Their Significance (2nd edn., 1989).

  27. The Eustace Diamonds', 2 vols. ([1872]; repr. 1950), ii. 2; Michael Billington, Peggy Ashcroft (1988), p. 170.

  28. p. 199.

Maura Slattery Kuhn (essay date 1977)

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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 Celia are offstage from line 26 to line 105 (2601-80),1 at which point they re-enter with Hymen. In productions since the revival of the play after the Restoration, Rosalind has normally returned dressed as a woman. Such a costume change is expedited in modern stagings by means of zippers—as well as perhaps a free translation of doublet and hose to mean tunic and tights. In Shakespeare's time, doublet and hose were connected (as doublet and kirtle would be) by means of the interlacing and knotting of points through eyelets. Thus even for the most basic change from hose to kirtle, at least twenty knots would have had to be untied, the points unthreaded, the hose taken off, the kirtle put on, and all the points threaded and knotted again.2 Such a change into women's clothes would also have implied a change of hairstyle, makeup, and footgear. It would be wondrous indeed if the Elizabethan Rosalind could have undergone such a complicated transformation in the space of seventy-eight lines. (Celia's costume change would not have been so difficult: a change of makeup would have been sufficient.)

The second problem, one of decorum, occurs simultaneously with the first problem. Those all-too-brief seventy-eight lines contain dialogue which seems out of keeping with the tone of the scene. Earlier in the play, when it was a question of killing time, a sing-song scene has been inserted, as in IV. ii. 10-18 (“What shall he have that kill'd the deer?”) or V. iii. 14-31 (“It was a lover and his lass,” which Touchstone has pointedly dismissed, describing it as “but time lost to hear such a foolish song”). These songs have not been radical departures from the general tone: indeed they have amplified the rustic and courtship themes. Shakespeare could have supplied a song about love or even magic in V. iv to occupy everyone's attention while waiting for the entrance of Rosalind. Instead he has the talk settle into a discussion of Counterchecks Quarrelsome, Lies Direct, and Lies with Circumstance.

Surely an elaboration of love and folly would have been more thematic here than Touchstone's rhapsody on If. A review of Touchstone's other scenes merely confounds the problem raised by his conversation here. Except for his patter about mustard and pancakes apropos of nothing in his first scene, Touchstone has generally fooled with the matter at hand. If Rosalind reads Orlando's poems, Touchstone parodies them; if her spirits are weary, his legs are. In short, he has usually taken a word or occasion given him by the other characters and parodied it, or punned on it, or taken it one step further. Why, then, should he now break into quarreling by the book while he and everyone else are waiting for a wedding march?

The third problem, one of text, is contained in the last two lines of the first stanza of Hymen's song. In the First Folio the lines read: “That thou mightst ioyne his hand with his / Whose heart within his bosome is” (V. iv. 112-13; 2689-90). Since the Third Folio of 1664, however, editors have changed the first and sometimes the third “his” to “her.”3 Significantly, the Second Folio, printed nine years after the first, and in the midst of living stage tradition, had reprinted “his.” Between the Second and Third Folios, however, the continuity of stage tradition was broken by the closing of the theatres and by the appearance of women onstage. It was not until 1740, nearly a century after the closing of the theatres, that As You Like It was again performed, and Rosalind's part then was taken by a woman. The desire of eighteenth-century actresses to end the play in their finery was thus confirmed by the editors of the Third Folio. A new, different stage tradition had been initiated. From this period onward Rosalind's line in the Epilogue, “If I were a woman” (V. iv. 213), ceased to make sense.

The fourth problem concerns an omission, a rather serious one in the light of other Shakespearean plays. In The Comedy of Errors, the apparent confusions of identity are resolved by the end of the play. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona the page Julia is still dressed as a boy when recognized by Proteus. Similarly in The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing there are explicit recognition scenes in the last scenes of the plays:

Were you the doctor, and I knew you not?
Were you the clerk that is to make me cuckold?

(MV, V. i. 280-1)

And when I lived, I was your other wife.
And when you loved, you were my other husband.


D. Pedro.
The former Hero! Hero that is dead!

(Ado, V. iv. 60-61, 65)

Perhaps the most significant parallel, however, is found in Cymbeline, in which Imogen is still in boy's clothes when reunited with her father and husband. But nowhere in the text of As You Like It does Orlando realize that the boy he has been wooing is in fact his love. If Rosalind appears in a gown, she will merely look like the girl he left behind him at Frederick's court who bears “Some lively touches of [Ganymede's] favour” (V. iv. 27).

Now to step back a moment and conjecture. What if, instead of following both stage tradition and post-1664 editors (who not only emend Hymen's song but print Rowe's addition of “Rosalind in Woman's Cloths” instead of the First Folio's simple stage direction: “Enter Hymen, Rosalind, and Celia”), we have Rosalind and Celia come in very much as they went out—that is, instead of a gowned Rosalind, we have a shepherd with, perhaps, a clean face, long hair, and no hat who might walk like a girl instead of having a swashing and martial air? What if, in other words, we never pluck Rosalind's doublet and hose over her own head—the impossibility suggested by Celia?

What we would have is the Lie Direct in person. “Good Duke, receive thy daughter.” If the daughter's garb belies her sex, this is assuredly the Lie Direct. Which is unavoidable except “with an If.” Still, if Hymen says he is she, then the others must say so as well. Following Hymen's first stanza come line after line of If's:

If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.
If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.
If sight and shape be true,
Why then, my love adieu!
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.

(V. iv. 116-22)

Ganymede's promise to Orlando is fulfilled to the letter: “It is not impossible to me … to set her before your eyes to-morrow, human as she is” (V. ii. 65-67).

To allow the First and Second Folio pronouns to stand as first printed permits a re-enactment of the mock marriage between Ganymede and Orlando in which Ganymede has said: “Give me your hand, Orlando” (IV. i. 114). The final stage picture of these two boys holding hands should mirror the earlier scene.4

Such a reading as I suggest would solve not only the problems listed above but a few others as well. The backstage furor of the complicated costume change can now be obviated. Hymen's allocation of personal pronouns can stand as originally printed. Touchstone, far from being guilty of lack of decorum, can emerge as a wise fool indeed. Orlando and Rosalind can have their recognition; Orlando is not destined to think that it was Ganymede who had the benefit of his courtship. As a dividend, the Epilogue line “If I were a woman” can be spoken without threat for the woman who plays Rosalind. But actresses are not the only ones affected: a boy actor portraying a woman dressed in boy's attire saying “If I were a woman” can bring a delight that is part and parcel of the play's effect.5


The initial strain on credibility evoked by Rosalind's reappearance as a recognizable Ganymede is the final test for Duke Senior, Orlando, and the audience. All will be rewarded for their suspension of disbelief—Hymen makes it so. For this strain, blithe though it is, is intrinsic to the play as a whole. Perhaps this alone may account for the appeal of As You Like It: it looks so easy!

Actually it is a deft sleight-of-hand, sleight-of-word that pleases as it teases. Touchstone claims there is “much virtue in If.” If is like an elastic: it creates and eases the strain on logic, poetry, and truth. The happy result of the release of strain, of course, is the audience's laughter.

The two “much virtue in If” speeches hark back to the similar If business involving a knight who swore by his honor (I. ii. 59-74). This episode annoyed G. B. Shaw. “Touchstone, with his rare jests about the knight that swore by his honor they were good pancakes! Who would endure such humor from any one but Shakespeare?—an Eskimo would demand his money back if a modern author offered him such fare.”6 Notwithstanding Shaw, however, the pancakes and mustard routine is thematically intrinsic to the play: it consists of strained logic and elaborates on conditions contrary to fact. And it specifically says that “if you swear by that that is not, you are not forsworn.”

Going back even further in the play to the first lines of the first scene, we have Orlando explaining his condition to Adam—which can hardly be news to the old man. What Orlando is actually doing is offering logical reasons for the new anger and resentment. Rowland de Boys “charged [Oliver] on his blessing, to breed me well” (I. i. 3-4, emphasis added). That is, the blessing was given on condition that Orlando be educated. The condition was not kept, and there begins the play.

An untypically large number of If's appear in this play, more than in any other play by Shakespeare, both in absolute frequency and in relative frequency. To be precise, As You Like It has 138 If's (and six equivalent an's, which are always printed “and” in the First Folio), for a relative frequency of 0.647, significantly higher than the relative frequency of If in all of Shakespeare's works, 0.4256. The AYL frequency is half again as many as is average.7 In the 2796 lines of AYL in the First Folio, moreover, If averages out to about one occurrence in every nineteen lines of dialogue. Not only does If function as a conditional conjunction; it is a substantive four times—in Touchstone's exposition—reflecting the play's self-consciousness.

Touchstone has a penchant for games of logic. Sometimes they are based on If—as in his declaration of Corin's ultimate damnation for not having been at court: “Why, if thou never wast at court …” (III. ii. 39-43). At other times they depend on his “If-mentality,” and then everything from marriage to the trivium is fair game. In V. i Touchstone proceeds to demolish both William and the trivium by hopelessly confusing grammar, logic, and rhetoric:

… Art thou wise?
Ay sir, I have a pretty wit.
Why, thou say'st well. I do now remember a saying, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” The heathen philosopher, when he had a desire to eat a grape, would open his lips when he put it into his mouth; meaning thereby, that grapes were made to eat, and lips to open. You do love this maid?
I do, sir.
Give me your hand. Art thou learned?
No, sir.
Then learn this of me: to have, is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric, that drink being pour'd out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one, doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ipse is he: now, you are not ipse, for I am he.
Which he, sir?
He, sir, that must marry this woman.

(ll. 27-45)

Here Touchstone's satire touches even Socratic philosophy. Socrates is all but named in “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Moreover, Touchstone has rigged the arrangement so that William has to give him the answer he is looking for—a technique stolen from Socrates.

But Touchstone is not the only one who plays with logic and If's. Celia fairly revels in the If of unreal condition:

If my uncle, thy banished father, had banished thy uncle the Duke, my father …

By our beards, if we had them, thou art.

If I had a thunderbolt in mine eye, I can tell who should down.

(I. ii. 8, 69, 201-02)

These are conditions contrary to fact: Celia's father was not banished by Rosalind's, nor do the ladies have beards or thunderbolts. Except for William and Audrey, everyone in the play has at least one conjectural If.

If has other modes, however. There is the If of real condition, wherein the speaker assents to the truth of the premise. Thus we hear Rosalind defend herself:

If with myself I hold intelligence,
Or have acquaintance with mine own desires,
If that I do not dream, or be not frantic,—
As I do trust I am not—

(I. iii. 43-46)

Similarly, Duke Senior says to Orlando: “If that thou were the good Sir Rowland's son, / As you have whisper'd faithfully you were” (II. vii. 190-91). Also, Corin says to Ganymede and Aliena: “If you will see a pageant truly play'd / … Go hence a little, and I shall conduct you” (III. iv. 48-51). And Oliver when he greets them says: “If that an eye may profit by a tongue, / Then should I know you by description” (IV. iii. 83-84). These real conditions of If reach a climax in Hymen's second stanza:

Here's eight that must take hands
To join in Hymen's bands
                    If truth holds true contents.

(V. iv. 126-28)

That is, if truth be true—an ultimately unempirical but intrinsically plausible supposition. No longer is it “if the senses are true” or “if what you say is true,” but now only “if truth be true.” In the final analysis, logic fails. There are, after all, unprovable hypotheses. This is the essence of Hymen's verse. But it is also the root of the loves in the play. Ultimately they simply are. “To have is to have.”

On one level, the verbal level, the play deals with logic and argument, rhetoric and debate. The play's characters fleet the time till the resolution in Act V by talking, talking, talking, reasoning, and persuading. Underneath the verbal level, however, it is surprising how little logic one actually discovers. The lack of plot after Act I has been observed by critics through the centuries, recently in effective terms by Helen Gardner and Harold Jenkins.8 Similarly, the motivational logic that was in his source, Shakespeare dispensed with. In Lodge, for example, Saladyne (Oliver's equivalent) stood to enrich himself by doing away with a younger brother who had received a fatter legacy. In AYL, on the other hand, Oliver is confused by his feelings: “for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he” (I. i. 156-57). In Lodge, Duke Torismond banishes Rosalind for fear that if and when she marries, her future husband will wrest the kingdom from him; but Duke Frederick has no basis for mistrust. Lodge's Aliena falls in love with Saladyne only after he rescues her from brigands—not simply at first sight, as in Shakespeare, where Oliver has a speech telling Orlando how unlikely his story must sound (V. ii. 5-12). In various ways, then, Shakespeare makes his plot even more implausible than the plot in his source.

Shakespeare's characters have less logic than instinct. Jaques has a groundless melancholy. Touchstone can give no better reason for marrying Audrey than that “man hath his desires.” Rosalind can give no better reason for loving Orlando than that her father loved his father. Where Lodge weighted his novel with reasonable motivation, Shakespeare lightened his play by replacing the motivations with suppositions. What emerges is almost algebraic: if a = b and b = c, then a = c; and “Let a = 10. …” “Let you be in love, let me pretend to be your Rosalind. Let you come to woo me. Then I will cure you of your madness—if you are mad and I say love is madness.” The algebraic quality is most evident in If blocks such as II. iv. 25-35, II. vii. 114-18 (one per line), and V. ii. 98-111.

The suppositional, conjectural quality is taken a step further when the play moves off the page onto the stage. Then we have visual If's: this is the forest of Arden; this is a boy playing a girl playing a boy sometimes playing a girl. If their logic fails, their poetry fares no better. Orlando links the two by claiming that “neither rhyme nor reason” can express how much he is in love. In Arden, when lovers are not being “logical” they are being “poetical”—with the exception of William, who is as innocent of poetry as he is of philosophy. Orlando, Amiens, Jaques, Phebe, and Touchstone can all write verses at a moment's notice. Touchstone, Rosalind, and Phebe can even fall into rhyme in the middle of prose—often with amusing results. Rosalind rhymes “shepherd's passion” with “my fashion” (II. iv. 57-58) and “offer” with “scoffer” (III. v. 61-62). Touchstone improves on this by rhyming “Audrey” and “bawdry” (III. iii. 85-86). But both these amateurs are utterly transcended by Phebe, Arden's poet in residence, who spouts doggerel indefatigably: “The matter's in my head and in my heart: / I will be bitter with him, and passing short” (III. v. 136-37) and “If sight and shape be true, / Why then, my love adieu!” (V. iv. 118-19) and “I will not eat my word, now thou art mine; / Thy faith, my fancy to thee doth combine” (V. iv. 147-48). Her most literary performance is half-borrowed: “Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, / ‘Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?’” (III. v. 80-81).

Literary criticism is embarked on in Arden with as much gusto as is associated with rhyme or reason. Orlando's poems, lacking in scansion but loaded with bombast, are grist for Touchstone's mill. Offstage Jaques mars them still further by “reading them unfavouredly” (III. ii. 255-56)—just as Rosalind would destroy Phebe's verses onstage. Even Audrey succumbs by inquiring like a philosopher into the nature of poetry.

It is paradoxical—probably intentionally so—that a play containing so much quasi-logical dialogue should be at bottom so illogical, and that a play which talks so much of poetry should contain more prose than blank verse.

Inevitably, rhyme and reason are both inadequate. By the end of the play Orlando has decided he “can live no longer by thinking” (V. ii. 50), and Ganymede says she will weary him “no longer by idle talking.” It is important to note, however, that her talk was not all idle. Beneath the playful chatter was earnest purpose. The sport she devised was to test Orlando's fidelity, to insure that his instant love would not wither in rough weather. Having fallen many fathoms deep in love, she feigned arguing him out of love to persuade him to stay in. Sidney's wry comments on Plato's dialogues bear remembering here:

And truly even Plato whosoever well considereth shall find that in the body of his work, though the inside and strength were Philosophy, the skin as it were and beauty depended most of Poetry: for all standeth upon dialogues wherein he feigneth many honest burgesses of Athens to speak of such matters, that, if they had been set on the rack, they would never have confessed them.9

Feigning is basic to As You Like It. One of the songs maintains that “most friendship is feigning.” Ganymede in IV. iii swoons over Orlando's blood and counterfeits that she counterfeits (in passing, one might note that she stole both word and action from Phebe's “pageant” in III. v). To Charles, Oliver feigns love for his brother; to Orlando, he feigns that he will give him some part of his will (I. i. 72-77). Rosalind and Celia feign to be Ganymede and Aliena. Feigning is not exactly lying, but it is certainly close. It might be called the Lie Circumstantial.

As You Like It contains much talk of truth and lying, of the breaking and swearing of oaths and vows. Touchstone looks for ways of circumventing the truth—“if you swear by that that is not, you are not forsworn” (I. ii. 70-71)—and seeks a loophole in the marriage ceremony whereby he can eventually leave his wife, “to swear, and to forswear, according as marriage binds and blood breaks” (V. iv. 55-56). In other words, Touchstone looks for ways to break his promise. Rosalind, on the other hand, tries every means to cut through any possible feigning on Orlando's part to assure herself that he is “true in love” (III. iv). Similarly, Audrey feels compelled to cut through to the essence of poetry: “is it honest in deed and word? is it a true thing?” To which Touchstone replies: “No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign” (III. iii. 14-18). Poetry takes a further beating in Ganymede's deliberate misreading of Troilus and Cressida and Hero and Leander (IV. i. 89-97); contrary to her misinterpretation, Troilus and Leander did both indeed die for love. At the end of that speech, therefore, she declares, “But these are all lies,” meaning two things—poetry is feigning, and her interpretation is a deliberate lie.

The feigning motif is strongly resonant of Sidney's Apology for Poetry, wherein Sidney tries to reconcile poetic feigning and absolute truth:

Now for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false. … The poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writes … in truth, not labouring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore, though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true, he lieth not. … What child is there that, coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes?10

Feigning, poesy, and lying are all in league with flattery, that staple of court life and courtly love which is exposed in the play. By contrast, Duke Senior claims, the sufferings imposed by nature are not flatterers but rather counselors. Ganymede tells Silvius that it is not Phebe's mirror (which would tell her the truth) but himself who flatters her, and thus launches an attack on flattery and conventional Petrarchan attitudes to persuade Phebe that she is but “the ordinary / Of nature's salework” (III. v. 42-43).

The flatterer feigns praise of attributes that are not present; the real world demands actual accomplishments before it praises. The teacher and lover praise and encourage the potential as well as the actual; by doing so, they bring to light qualities even the possessor never knew he had. In the fairy tale the believing lover sees, then frees, the prince hidden beneath the form of a frog. In As You Like It, Rosalind's belief in Orlando supplies the education he felt so cheated of in the opening scene. Although at the beginning of the play, even his brother will admit that Orlando is “never schooled yet learned,” there are nevertheless a few rough spots. Ganymede is pleased to take him on as a pupil. He learns more than the meaning of punctuality.

In the first half of the play Orlando relies on his sword and his muscular strength to overcome opposition: he grapples with Oliver, wrestles with Charles, and is prepared singlehandedly to take on a whole band of supposed outlaws. Meanwhile, however, he is unable to summon words even to speak with Rosalind in their first interview. His tongue is his most unreliable muscle. By shadow-boxing with Ganymede, Orlando learns a lover's confidence and self-expression. How important it is, then, to allow him to discover that the boy he called Rosalind is in fact no other than his love. In IV. i Orlando has said that he would keep his promise “with no less religion than if” Ganymede were indeed his Rosalind. That If of unreal condition, as he thought, concealed the If of real condition, as we and Rosalind knew. Now all the conditions of his life have been fulfilled: he has his education, his Rosalind, his fortune, and Oliver's friendship. It has long been a puzzle why Shakespeare, having mentioned Jaques de Boys only once before in the play's opening lines, uses him as the messenger in the final scene. Perhaps by this means he intends to point out that the disparity in education between the once envious Orlando and his brother has now disappeared.

If is a springboard that propels the quester from the premise to a conclusion beyond. The forest of Arden embodies an unreal condition for the exiles. By accepting its premises, they are rewarded with conclusions transcending their expectations. Oliver's case is revealing: he surrenders so completely as to give up his inheritance for the love of a poor shepherdess—a shepherdess who will turn out to be the daughter of a Duke.

The unreal condition of the forest is contained within the larger unreal condition of the play itself. The many If's of the forest are amplified by the large If of the play. By virtue of If, a contract is drawn up between the players and the audience. If you will suspend your disbelief, you will be delighted by our play. In “Art and Nature in As You Like It,” D. J. Palmer points out a bawdy pun in the Epilogue: “between you, and the women, the play may please.”11 In a sexual encounter, there must be a mutual yielding for the love-play to please. At a stageplay the audience must yield its disbelief to be pleased. The players, for their part, yield truth of one kind to show truths of a higher kind—to show things as they should be, to use Sidney's language. The audience feigns an If. If you say so, then I say so.

As You Like It begins in one kind of seriousness, passes through a magic circle of Huizingian play, and ends in an advanced kind of seriousness. The circle of play has been constantly characterized by the conditional. If saves the game, for it defines the condition and shapes the consequence. In saving the game it makes the play. To employ a musical metaphor, As You Like It is a series of inspired improvisations in the key of If.


  1. Textual references are to the Arden edition of As You Like It, J. W. Holme, ed., 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1920). Where relevant, line references to the First Folio, using Charlton Hinman's through line numbers, follow the Arden reference.

  2. The source for these costume details is Marie Linthicum, Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1936).

  3. In 1832 Thomas Caldecott (1744-1833) published his edition of As You Like It, in which he preserved the masculine pronoun and defended an unaltered Ganymede. His reasons are most readily accessible in the Variorum As You Like It (H. H. Furness, ed. [Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1890], p. 278): “The Duke must, one would think, have at once recognised her in a female dress; and she must also have delivered the epilogue in a male habit, or she could hardly have used the expression ‘if I were a woman.’” Furness disagrees with Caldecott's reasons but defends the folio reading on the grounds of “the more difficult reading” and its reminiscence of the mock-marriage.

  4. The end of As You Like It is a variation of the end of The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which Slender narrowly escapes marrying the disguised postmaster's boy, but Dr. Caius is cozened completely!

  5. Although to “make curtsy” is now a feminine gesture, in Shakespeare's time it was an act appropriate to both sexes. The two citations contemporary to Shakespeare in the OED, in fact, apply the phrase to a minstrel and to a boy.

  6. Dramatic Opinions and Essays (London: Archibald Constable and Co., 1907), II, 118.

  7. My source for these numbers is Marvin Spevack, ed., A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, 6 vols. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1968-70). The second highest relative frequency of If is in Ado, [Much Ado About Nothing] 0.597; third is MV [Merchant of Venice] with 0.573; fourth is TN [Twelfth Night] with 0.536; fifth is MM [Measure for Measure] with 0.526; sixth is Oth. [Othello] with 0.525. The relative frequency of If is highest in the comedies, average in the tragedies, and lowest in the histories. The lowest relative frequency is found at 0.252 in R 2 [Richard II] with the If's in Mac. [Macbeth] at 0.255.

  8. Helen Gardner, “As You Like It,” More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John W. P. Garrett (New York: Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, 1959), pp. 17-32. H. Jenkins, “As You Like It,” Shakespeare Survey 8 (1955), 40-51.

  9. Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1967), p. 97.

  10. Sidney, pp. 123-24.

  11. Philological Quarterly, 49 (1970), 30.


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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.

Robert Brustein (review date 1999)

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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.

Paltrow did not disappoint my expectations, though the production did a little. Having played both Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare in Love, and having been shipwrecked on a strand at the end of that movie, presumably in preparation for playing Viola, she performed Shakespeare's other major trouser-role at Williamstown with the same authority, grace, and luminosity she displayed in the film. Paltrow's Rosalind first appears at court in a strapless red gown at the side of her friend Celia (played charmingly by Megan Dodds) who is costumed in green. Paltrow may be ravishing in a dress, but she is even more appealing in pants. Instead of bedecking her uncommon fine-boned beauty with a mustache and goatee, as she did in Shakespeare in Love, Paltrow plays the trousers part as an ungainly youth in knickers and spectacles, his peaked cap worn backward on the head, like an aw-shucks version of Huckleberry Finn or Penrod. Occasionally she gets a little shrill, as if she hasn't quite measured properly the dimensions of the theater. But when she lowers her voice to that of an adolescent boy, she finds the perfect pitch of the part.

Paltrow makes her instruction of Orlando in the arts of love an act of sheer bravado. When he offers to leave her side for two hours, she demonstrates a capacity for heartbreak. Although Paltrow has the chops to show how many fathoms deep she is in love, she is no suffering Juliet. She can modify her feeling for Orlando with a charming skepticism about the relationship between passion and survival. (“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”)

Only Mark Linn-Baker, playing Touchstone, is her equal in the cast. Dreadfully costumed as a 1940s pimp, he has the good sense to underplay his part when all around are overplaying theirs. He has a comic interlude with a model of a sheep on wheels that is sheer Chaplin, though he is required to repeat the gag at least two more times. And he is the only one in the cast capable of singing, rather than belting out, the Shakespearean songs. The others tend to treat them like nightclub showstoppers or cabaret numbers.

A jazz band sits on stage to help punch out the musical accompaniment. It's a good band, thoroughly out of place in the Forest of Arden. So is the setting, which makes this sylvan paradise look more like an overdecorated bordello. And since the good Duke, played by Byron Jennings (who plays the bad duke as well) is stylishly dressed in riding boots and jodhpurs, we get little sense that he and his court are in exile, eking out a precarious existence with limited resources.

Edelstein is badly served by his designers, and he has made some odd casting choices as well. Michael Cumpsty is an accomplished classical actor, but to play Jacques like a swashbuckling soldier is to ignore the central quality of the character, which is his jaundiced disposition. Likewise, the various female rustics perform as if they've just emerged from the dressing room of a Broadway musical or a downtown discotheque. Shaw once observed that the title of As You Like It was Shakespeare's way of admitting that he had sold out to the audience, and much of this production seems designed to confirm that insight. But Gwyneth Paltrow is the real crowd-pleaser—not because she tries to perform Shakespeare without tears, but because she has the ability to play her role with humor, imagination, and a refreshing devotion to authorial intention.

Marjorie Garber (essay date 1986)

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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 the audience might perhaps be pardoned were they to answer her, not in the “one word” she demands, but with the familiar chant of the burlesque house, “Take it off!”—either literally (if she has been provident enough to bring a change of clothing with her to Arden) or figuratively, by identifying herself to him at once as Rosalind, rather than continuing the fiction that she is a youth named Ganymede, a native of the forest. Indeed Celia makes a suggestion along these lines, when she hears Rosalind—as Ganymede—abusing the reputations of women when she talks to Orlando about the nature of love. “You have simply misus'd our sex in your love-prate,” says Celia. “We must have your doublet and hose pluck'd over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest” (4.1.201-4). There is in fact very little risk to her should she do so, except perhaps from a blast of the “winter wind” about which Amiens sings so feelingly (2.7.174). She is perfectly safe. Clearly there are no outlaws in the forest, or other predatory men; they have all been left behind at court. Moreover, she is assured of Orlando's love for her, since both she and Celia have read the poems with which he has festooned Arden's otherwise blameless trees. In short, there is apparently no reason for her to remain clad as a boy. Why then does she do so?

In other Shakespearian comedies, women dressed as men have compelling reasons for remaining in disguise. Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is trapped in her male attire because of the perfidy of her erstwhile lover, Proteus. She initially disguises herself for the same reason Rosalind gives: “for I would prevent / The loose encounters of lascivious men” (2.7.40-41), but she fully intends to reveal herself once she reaches her “loving Proteus” (7). When to her chagrin she finds him in the act of offering his love to Silvia instead, she retains her male guise, enlists herself in Proteus's service, carries his love tokens to Silvia, and only reveals her true identity in the final scene, when she fears that Valentine will make good on his extraordinary promise to give Proteus “all that was mine in Silvia” (5.4.83). At this point Julia swoons (or pretends to swoon), produces a ring given her by Proteus, and acknowledges that her “immodest raiment” is a “disguise of love” (106-7). Her costume is essential to the working out of the plot.

The same is true in Twelfth Night. Shipwrecked in Illyria, Viola initially wishes to gain employment with the Countess Olivia in her own shape as a woman, though without disclosing her name and station. “O that I serv'd that lady,” she tells the sea captain who rescues her, “And might not be delivered to the world / Till I had made mine own occasion mellow, / What my estate is” (Twelfth Night, 1.2.41-44). It is only because Olivia's mourning makes a suit to her impossible that Viola determines to “conceal me what I am” (53) and seek service with Duke Orsino in the guise of the youth Cesario. Like Julia she is then trapped in her disguise when she falls in love with the man she serves and is sent by him to plead his love to Olivia. Here the disguise is even more central to the plot than in Two Gentlemen, since it is the means by which Olivia meets and marries Sebastian, and Orsino discovers his own love for Viola.

Portia is not trapped in her role as the wise young judge Balthasar, but it is essential that she should be dressed as a man in order to free Antonio, confound Shylock, and—ultimately—teach her husband a lesson about the nature of generosity and love. And Imogen, too, is forced by circumstance to retain her male disguise. Dressed as a boy, and fleeing like Julia after her departed lover, she thinks she has found him dead and therefore enlists as “Fidele” in the service of the Roman general. Her disguise and subsequent adventures lead directly to the restoration of Cymbeline's sons, as well as to her reunion with her beloved Posthumus.

All these women must retain their disguises because of exigencies of the plot. But what is Rosalind's rationale? What if she were to step forward in act 3, scene 2, not like a “saucy lackey” (296) but like herself, and declare that she is the “Heavenly Rosalind” Orlando has been seeking? There would of course be one unfortunate repercussion, since the play would effectively come to an end in the middle of the third act (as would have occurred if Cordelia had answered at once when Lear asked her how much she loved him). But beyond that, would anything be lost? Can Shakespeare be keeping Rosalind in disguise merely to prolong his play, or is there another purpose in her decision not to unmask herself?

Many reasons have been advanced for the continued existence of Ganymede after Orlando comes on the scene. G. L. Kittredge quotes one Lady Martin, writing in Blackwood's Magazine for October, 1884, who offers the opinion that “surely it was the finest and boldest of all devices, one of which only a Shakespeare could have ventured, to put his heroine into such a position that she could, without revealing her own secret, probe the heart of her lover to the very bottom, and so assure herself that the love which possessed her own being was as completely the master of his.” In a rather ungentlemanly fashion Kittredge then goes on to demolish Lady Martin: “This amiable and eloquent observation,” he notes, “is typical of many that have been mistakenly made upon details of Shakespeare's plots. The ‘device’ is not Shakespeare's, but Lodge's.”2 Subsequent critics have been willing to recognize that Shakespeare was capable of changing what he did not wish to retain from his sources and have tended to theorize somewhat along Lady Martin's lines. C. L. Barber, for example, remarks that when disguised “Rosalind is not committed to the conventional language and attitudes of love, loaded as these inevitably are with sentimentality,”3 and Anne Barton suggests that as Ganymede “she learns a great deal about herself, about Orlando, and about love itself which she could not have done within the normal conventions of society.”4 A recent feminist critic, Clara Claiborne Park, carries the argument for Rosalind's independence and self-knowledge a step further, pointing out that “male garments immensely broaden the sphere in which female energy can manifest itself. Dressed as a man, a nubile woman can go places and do things she couldn't do otherwise, thus getting the play out of the court and the closet and into interesting places like forests or Welsh mountains. Once Rosalind is disguised as a man, she can be as saucy and self-assertive as she likes.”5 Those critics interested in the question seem in general to agree that disguise is a freeing action for Rosalind and that her double role allows her to be at once caustic and caring, tender and tough.

I do not wish to quarrel with these sensible observations, but I would like to suggest a slight change of emphasis. As the lessons she gives to Orlando immediately testify, Rosalind does not have to learn much, if anything, about love, or about the quality and depth of her own feelings. Nor, as I have already mentioned, does she really need assurance (pace Lady Martin) that Orlando loves her. What she does need, and what the play needs, is an Orlando who knows “what 'tis to love” (5.2.83). He is the one who has immersed himself in a pseudo-Petrarchan fantasy world, hanging “tongues … on every tree” (3.2.127) in unconscious fulfillment of Duke Senior's attitudinizing (“tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in every thing” [2.1.16-17]). What Barber calls the “conventional language and attitudes of love,” with their attendant “sentimentality,” are pitfalls for Orlando much more than for Rosalind.

H. B. Charlton comments that “Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, pretends to be herself in order to teach Orlando to woo.”6 This is certainly true, but it is not, I think, the whole truth. For what Rosalind is teaching is not so much technique as substance. Her disguise as Ganymede permits her to educate him about himself, about her, and about the nature of love. It is for Orlando, not for Rosalind, that the masquerade is required; indeed the play could fittingly, I believe, be subtitled “The Education of Orlando.” Whether we agree with Ms. Park that “she is twice the person he is” or not,7 it seems clear that in As You Like It, as in so many of Shakespeare's comedies, the woman is superior to her man in self-knowledge and in her knowledge of human nature. The degree to which Orlando is successfully educated, and the limits of his final understanding, can be seen by examining their various encounters in the court and in the forest and by considering what happens as a result of those encounters.

In act I, scene 2 Rosalind and Orlando meet at the wrestling match and fall in love at first sight. The following scene, which begins with Rosalind's acknowledgment of her passion to Celia, ends with her banishment, and Celia's resolution to accompany her to the Forest of Arden. The two events are psychologically related; Rosalind's advancement toward maturity by falling in love is in a sense the same act as her banishment from the palace of Duke Frederick. Banishment is a rite of passage here, a threshold moment that leads both lovers to the forest. The whole scene is beautifully modulated, as the young women's discussion of Orlando leads naturally into some playful observations on the paternal generation and the relationship between his father and theirs.

The Duke my father lov'd his father dearly.
Doth it therefore ensue that you should love his son dearly?
By this kind of chase, I should hate him, for my father hated his father dearly; yet I hate not Orlando.
No, faith, hate him not, for my sake.
Why should I not? Doth he not deserve well?
Enter Duke [Frederick] with Lords.
Let me love him for that, and do you love him because I do.
Look, here comes the Duke.
With his eyes full of anger.
DUKE Frederick:
Mistress, dispatch you with your safest haste,
And get you from our court.


The shift from prose to verse with Duke Frederick's first speech underscores the sudden change from intimacy to formality. Rosalind's act of falling in love is itself a rebellion against patriarchal domination and the filial bond. Since she is living under the foster care of her jealous and unloving uncle, her sundering from his protection is abrupt and harsh, but some such separation would have been inevitable. Her love, as much as his hatred, banishes her to Arden.

Meanwhile Orlando, who has also fallen in love, is likewise banished from home. His tyrannical older brother, Oliver, has usurped his patrimony and stands in a relationship to him that is structurally analogous to that between Duke Frederick and Rosalind. Although he is the youngest son, Orlando bears his father's name (“Rowland de Boys” translates readily as “Orlando of the forest”), and in the play's opening scene he asserts that “the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude” (1.1.22-24). Orlando's banishment, like Rosalind's, is a step toward independence and maturity. It is interesting to note that in the first scene he complains about the quality of his upbringing; Oliver, he says, “mines my gentility with my education” (21). The education he does not receive at home he will find in the forest, with “Ganymede” for his teacher. Carrying old Adam on his shoulders like Aeneas bearing his father Anchises, Orlando enters the forest (where, as he matures, the father-figure Adam disappears from the plot), and shortly begins to post his love poems on the trees.

When she learns that it is indeed Orlando who has written these poems in her praise, Rosalind asks Celia a crucial question: “But doth he know that I am in this forest and in man's apparel?” (3.2. 229-30). Deception is already in her mind. If he does not know who she is, she will not at this time reveal herself to him. Instead she declares her intention to “speak to him like a saucy lackey, and under that habit play the knave with him” (295-97).

What is her motivation for doing so? In seeking to answer this question, we should note that there are three distinct stages in Orlando's development as a lover. When he first meets Rosalind after the wrestling match he is tongue-tied, unable to speak. She has presented him with a chain, but he can find no words to acknowledge her gift: “Can I not say, ‘I thank you’? My better parts / Are all thrown down, and that which here stands up / Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block” (1.2.249-51). Rosalind abandons maidenly modesty to approach him (“Did you call, sir?” [253]), but he remains speechless, struck dumb by love: “What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue? / I cannot speak to her, yet she urged conference” (257-58). This is the first stage, that of ineffability; for the match to succeed he must somehow learn to communicate his feelings.

He does this initially through the medium of his love poems, but while the poems are an advance upon total speechlessness, they do not constitute a wholly satisfactory mode of communication. For one thing, they are one-sided, monovocal; Orlando has no reason to expect that Rosalind will ever see or hear of them. For another thing, as Touchstone drily points out, they are simply not very good poems. “The very false gallop of verses” (3.2.112) is his sardonic verdict, and even Rosalind acknowledges that they offer a “tedious homily of love” (155-56) with “more feet than the verses would bear” (165-66), and lame ones at that. Hackneyed, conventional, derivative, ineloquent, Orlando's poems announce an emotion but fail to go further than that; they do not attain the condition of discourse. One of Rosalind's tasks, therefore, will be to make him speak to her in the natural language of men and women. The method she adopts to do so—remaining in a disguise that will make him less ill at ease than he was at their first meeting—is somewhat comparable to the plot of Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, in which the bashful young Marlow is able to make love to Miss Hardcastle because he thinks she is a servant in a country inn, not the well-bred daughter of a wealthy man. Rosalind, too, stoops to conquer, by retaining her doublet and hose.

Orlando's love poems also suggest a psychological state of self-absorption that accords with Erik Erikson's description of adolescent love: “an attempt to arrive at a definition of one's identity by projecting one's diffused self-image on another and by seeing it thus reflected and gradually clarified.”8 The first time Rosalind sees him in the forest he is deep in conversation with Jaques, the play's epitome of self-love, and there are resemblances between them, despite their mutual antipathy (and perhaps contributing to it). Both are obsessed with their own feelings. Orlando successfully teases Jaques with the old joke of the fool in the brook, but there is a sense in which he himself is also a Narcissus, seeking his own reflection. His mock-Petrarchan poetry, like that of the lords in Love's Labour's Lost, indicates a lack of maturity and a failure of other-directedness. Like Phebe, he is in love with love and with the image of himself as a lover. Rosalind seems to sense this when, in the character of Ganymede, she points out that he is not dressed in the true lover's traditional disarray: “you are no such man; you are rather point-device in your accoustrements, as loving yourself, than seeming the lover of any other” (3.2.381-84). Orlando needs time—time to grow from an infatuated youth to a man who knows the real nature of love, from a boy who pins poems on trees to a man whose love token is a “bloody napkin” (4.3.138). By not revealing her true identity Rosalind gives him that time. From their first encounter in the forest she becomes his teacher.

Time is, indeed, the first subject that they touch upon in the course of that encounter—time and its relativity. Pretending she does not know who he is, Rosalind is able to mention the hypothetical presence of a “true lover in the forest” (3.2.302) and to comment upon the eagerness of “a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemniz'd” (313-15). She thus usurps and desentimentalizes the topic of love that Orlando has elaborately established as his own. Jaques had addressed him contemptously as “Signior Love,” and I think we may see his insistence on playing the part of the lover as an aspect of his adolescent posturing. He will now be required to prove his love by acts of constancy and by the quick use of his wits—very different from the self-glorifying practice of posting love poems for all to see. Dialogue and interplay have already begun to replace the sterile and stereotypical intercourse between a man and his pen. Orlando is no longer in command of the love theme—if, indeed, he ever was. The focus and the creative energy are instead to be found in “Ganymede”—or rather, in “Ganymede” as “he” will take up the part of “Rosalind.”

It is a convention of Shakespearian comedy that husbands and lovers do not recognize their ladies when those ladies are dressed in male attire. Bassanio fails to see through Portia's disguise, and Posthumus cannot recognize Imogen. But both of these men are distracted by important events taking place concurrently. Bassanio is overwhelmed with gratitude by the salvation of Antonio, and Posthumus is convinced that his wife is dead and that he has found her murderer. Orlando, by contrast has his mind wholly on Rosalind, yet he does not see her as she stands before him. “Let no face be kept in mind,” he wrote, “But the fair of Rosalind” (3.2.94-95). He is now gazing into that face and does not recognize it. This is particularly striking because of the nature of the dialogue that takes place between them. Consider some of the peculiarities of diction in the following exchange:

Where dwell you, pretty youth?
With this shepherdess, my sister; here in the skirts of the forest, like fringe upon a petticoat.
Are you native of this place?
As the cony that you see dwell where she is kindled.

(334-340; emphasis mine)

Given the dramatic situation, such a collection of sex-linked words is bound to call attention to itself. Orlando's word “pretty” probably carries the primary meaning, now obsolete, of “clever, skillful, apt” (oed II.2a), referring to the witty conversation that has just taken place. But the word pretty in Shakespeare is almost always used to describe either women or children; it is interesting to note that the only reference to a “pretty youth” in any of Shakespeare's other plays is addressed to Julia in Two Gentlemen when she is masquerading as a boy (4.2.58). Moreover, a few scenes later in As You Like It the infatuated shepherdess Phebe also uses the phrase “pretty youth” (3.5.113). She is cataloguing “Ganymede's” verbal and physical charms, and her word “pretty” could refer to either, though she will shortly speak of “a pretty redness in his lip” (120). The phrase “pretty youth” is not conclusive evidence that Orlando somehow senses the woman beneath the doublet and hose, but it is suggestive, especially in view of what follows. For Rosalind's key words in this exchange are unambiguously female: “skirts” and “petticoat”—both garments she is not wearing but should be—and the image of a female rabbit rather than a male one with whom to compare herself. “Skirts” meaning “borders” is a word in common usage, appearing both later in this play (5.4.159) and in Hamlet (1.1.97), as well as in the works of many of Shakespeare's contemporaries, but in combination with “petticoat” it is plainly mischievous, a witty and pointed literalizing of the implicit metaphor. “Petticoat” itself is often a synonym for woman, as in Rosalind's own earlier exclamation as the travelers entered the Forest of Arden: “I could find it in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel and to cry like a woman; but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat” (2.4.4-7). As to “cony,” which in the forest context means “rabbit,” in Shakespeare's time it was also a term of endearment for a woman. For Orlando as well as for the audience these words are clues to her real identity, though clues he is too dense to follow up. This part of the scene should, I think, be extremely funny on the stage—but funny at Orlando's expense.

Since the Elizabethan actor playing Rosalind would of course have been a boy, presenting the Chinese box syndrome of a boy playing a girl playing a boy playing a girl (actor-Rosalind-“Ganymede”-“Rosalind”), some periodic hints or asides would have been dramaturgically helpful in keeping the audience cognizant of what they were supposed to be seeing. As You Like It is particularly playful in this regard, ringing the changes on these changes throughout the play and especially in the epilogue. But the proliferation of such sly hints in the first conversation between Orlando and the disguised Rosalind is of considerable interest. “I thank God I am not a woman,” she remarks (347-48), and again there is a broad wink to the audience—but perhaps also a small nudge in the ribs to Orlando. Yet he is so determined to be lovesick that he does not recognize the object of his love.

Fair youth, I would I could make thee believe I love.
Me believe it? You may as soon make her that you love believe it, which I warrant she is apter to do than to confess she does: that is one of the points in the which women still give the lie to their consciences.


Here Rosalind is wrestling with the same maidenly dilemma that troubled Juliet and Cressida—what are the social risks for a woman who tells her love? But like those women, she is in a sense telling her love now—if only Orlando had the wit to listen. Yet by the end of the scene he is still addressing her as “good youth” (433). “Nay,” she replies, “you must call me Rosalind” (434).

Their fictive courtship, with its badinage, wooing lessons, and play-acted “marriage,” threatens to go on forever in the timelessness of Arden. Under the guise of Ganymede, Rosalind teaches Orlando not only the rules of love and its nature, but the uses of language—and even, to her everlasting credit, the gentle arts of irony and self-deprecation. But two events intervene to bring the fiction to an end: Orlando's rescue of his brother Oliver from a lioness, and the instant mutual passion of Oliver and Celia.

I have elsewhere discussed at length the incident of the lioness and the “bloody napkin” Orlando sends as a love token “unto the shepherd youth / That he in sport doth call his Rosalind” (4.3.155-56).9 Let me merely say briefly here that I regard this as an initiation ritual, both in martial and in sexual terms, and that I see the gift of the bloody napkin as a curiously but appropriately displaced version of the ceremonial “showing of the sheets” by which in some cultures a newly married woman demonstrates her virginity and fidelity to her husband. The napkin is thus a love token of a very different kind from the superficial love poems Orlando has earlier sent to Rosalind in testimony of his love. For the education of Orlando, however, the love match between his brother and Celia is even more germane, because it brings an end to the fictional world in which Orlando has lived with his “Rosalind.” “O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!” he exclaims (5.2.43-45), and Rosalind asks, “Why then, tomorrow I cannot serve your turn for Rosalind?” (48-49). Orlando's reply is the single most important turning point in his development: “I can live no longer by thinking” (50). In the language of education we have been using, this is both a graduation and a commencement, a change and a new beginning. Imagination and play, which have brought him to this point, are no longer enough to sustain him. And as if he has said the magic words—as indeed he has—Rosalind now promises to produce his true beloved, “to set her before your eyes to-morrow, human as she is, and without any danger” (66-68). The significant phrase here is “human as she is.” The real Rosalind is not the paper paragon of Orlando's halting sonnets but a woman of complexity, wit, and passion. This will be Orlando's final lesson.

Readers of the play are occasionally as nonplussed as Orlando by the rapidity with which Oliver and Celia fall in love.10 “Is't possible that on so little acquaintance you should like her? that but seeing, you should love her? and loving, woo? and wooing, she should grant? And will you persever to enjoy her?” (5.2.1-4). Our amazement is the more because all of this wooing takes place offstage, between acts 4 and 5. Compared with the protracted courtship of Orlando and Rosalind, which has constituted virtually the entire action of the play, this manifestation of betrothal-at-first-sight is potentially unsettling, especially because we have no particular reason to like Oliver before he appears in the forest and because we have been led by Rosalind to believe that some extended education is necessary to develop a true and enduring love. Orlando, too, liked and loved at first sight, but he is still learning “what 'tis to woo,” and is—or so he thinks—very far from having his lady grant his suit.

Oliver describes his transformation from tyrant to lover as a “conversion.” “I do not shame / To tell you what I was,” he explains to Celia, “Since my conversion / So sweetly tastes, being the thing I am” (4.3.135-37). His is the alternative path to Rosalind's gradualist mode of education, an instantaneous Pauline reversal that fills the erstwhile nay-sayer with the spirit of love. Oliver's “conversion” accords with the Christian doctrine of salvation; like the late-arriving laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16) his reward is made equal to that of his apparently more deserving brother, and the two courtships, one so lengthy and the other so swift, are, in Hymen's words, “earthly things made even” (5.4.109).

Conversion is in fact a recurrent theme in the final scene of the play. We learn that Duke Frederick, advancing on the forest with malign intent, has encountered “an old religious man” and “after some question with him, was converted / Both from his enterprise and from the world” (5.4.160-62). Like Oliver he offers to abdicate his lands and position in favor of the brother he had formerly sought to kill. At this point Jaques decides to join him, observing that “Out of these convertites / There is much matter to be heard and learn'd” (184-85). The emphasis upon instruction and discourse here is significant, offering a pertinent analogy to the love lessons Rosalind has been giving Orlando. But while Duke Frederick's conversion removes him from society, Oliver's socializes him. Learning to love his brother, he finds himself, more or less in consequence, capable of falling in love with Celia.

As we have seen, the lightning love affair of Oliver and Celia acts as a catalyst for Orlando, moving him to make the crucial transition from play acting to reality. His declaration, “I can live no longer by thinking,” makes possible Rosalind's change of roles, from teacher to “human” lover. The lessons, and the need for them, are over. But how much has Orlando really learned? Throughout the play Rosalind has offered clues to her real identity, double-edged hints that she is in fact the very woman she is pretending to be. Orlando's failure to take those hints was, for the audience as well as Rosalind, an indication that he was not yet prepared to have the truth thrust upon him. When he finally feels ready to choose the real, despite its inherent dangers, over the make-believe, we have some reason to think that he has profited from the unsentimental education he has received. Yet even after “Ganymede” promises to set Rosalind before his eyes, Orlando makes one significant error in interpretation that makes it clear he is, in one sense at least, no match for Rosalind. The issue is subtle—some might say finical—but it is also, as is Rosalind's way, instructive, for the audience in the theater if not for Orlando.

In the course of that same first conversation in the forest with which we have been so much concerned, Orlando inquiries as to whether the “youth” he addresses is native to the forest. “Your accent,” he observes, “is something finer than you could purchase in so remov'd a dwelling” (3.2.341-42). Once again he hovers on the brink of discovery. But Rosalind has a ready reply, one that touches on “Ganymede's” own education. “An old religious uncle of mine taught me to speak, who was in his youth an inland man; one that knew courtship too well, for there he fell in love” (345-47). The former courtier who finds purity and peace in the countryside is a commonplace of pastoral literature; Spenser's Melibee is only one member of a hoary and numerous tribe, who, had they all inhabited England's forests in Elizabeth's time, would have jostled one another uncomfortably for lack of room. Rosalind's invention thus has just the right degree of verisimilitude to take in Orlando, and just the right degree of triteness to amuse the listening audience. Orlando readily accepts this explanation, moving eagerly on to the more tempting topic of love, and the matter is dropped. Or so it seems.

Much later in the play, when the spectacle of Celia and Oliver in love has incited him to abjure “thinking” for action, Orlando is vouchsafed another item of information about the supposed education of “Ganymede.” “Believe then if you please,” the disguised Rosalind tells him,

that I can do strange things. I have, since I was three years old, convers'd with a magician, most profound and yet not damnable. If you do love Rosalind so near the heart as your gesture cries it out, when your brother marries Aliena, shall you marry her. I know into what straits of fortune she is driven, and it is not impossible to me, if it appear not inconvenient to you, to set her before your eyes tomorrow, human as she is, and without any danger.
Speak'st thou in sober meanings?
By my life, I do, which I tender dearly, though I say I am a magician.


Orlando accepts this windfall without question and confides his good luck to Duke Senior, who willingly agrees to give Rosalind to him in marriage. On the following day “Ganymede” approaches both Orlando and the Duke to make sure their minds are constant. Receiving the appropriate assurances, “he” exits the stage, and the Duke turns immediately to Orlando to offer one of those observations that so often herald the clearing of the skies at the close of Shakespearian comedy: “I do remember in this shepherd boy / Some lively touches of my daughter's favor” (5.3.26-27). We are very close to the truth here. Yet Orlando, characteristically, confuses rather than clarifies the matter, so sure is he that he is in possession of the facts.

My lord, the first time that I ever saw him
Methought he was a brother to your daughter.
But, my good lord, this boy is forest-born,
And hath been tutor'd in the rudiments
Of many desperate studies by his uncle,
Whom he reports to be a great magician,
Obscured in the circle of the forest.


It is Orlando himself who is obscured here, in the circle of the forest. For notice what he has done. He has conflated the two tales Rosalind told him, identifying the “old religious uncle” who ostensibly taught young Ganymede to speak, with the profound magician with whom Ganymede has conversed from the age of three. This inference makes perfect sense, but it is wrong, and wrong in an important way. “I am a magician,” she told him, plainly. And plainly the magician with whom Rosalind has conversed from the voluble age of three is no one but Rosalind herself, the only begetter of the magic that will produce Orlando's beloved before his eyes and reveal to the Duke and all the lovers her true identity, and their true partners.

Rosalind's role as a magician is emphasized in the epilogue, when she announces to the audience “My way is to conjure you” (Epilogue, 10-11). As she herself remarks, “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue” (1-2), but in this play the lady has earned her place. Hand in hand with Orlando she danced in celebration of her wedding, and then, with the other couples, departed the stage. But she returns, and she returns alone. Her reappearance underscores the degree to which she has directed events in Arden from her first encounter with Orlando to the successful performance of four marriages. “Human as she is” she has played two parts throughout the play and, in the process, transformed Orlando from a tongue-tied boy to an articulate and (relatively) self-knowledgeable husband. If he is not entirely her equal, it is hard to fault him for that. For Rosalind stands alone among Shakespeare's comic heroines as clearly as she stands alone on the stage for the Epilogue. Like Prospero, whom in many ways she prefigures, she tempers her magic with humanity, and were she to divest herself of her doublet and hose, she might justifiably address them as Prospero addresses his “magic garment”: “Lie there, my art” (Tempest, 1.2.24).


  1. References are to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et. al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

  2. As You Like It, ed. George Lyman Kittredge (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1939), pp. 149-50.

  3. C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 233.

  4. Anne Barton, Introduction to As You Like It, in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. Evans, p. 366.

  5. Clara Claiborne Park, “As We Like It: How a Girl Can Be Smart and Still Popular,” in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), p. 108.

  6. Shakespearian Comedy (1938: reprint, London: Methuen, 1973), p. 282.

  7. Ibid., p. 109.

  8. Erik Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), p. 132.

  9. Marjorie Garber, Coming of Age in Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 145-48.

  10. I say “readers” because audiences in the theater tend to be so swept up by the energies of the plot that they do not stop to analyze the improbability here. My students, however, have occasionally been perturbed by it.

Camille Wells Slights (essay date 1993)

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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 is native born. Rather than having to resist seduction and domination by socially and politically superior outsiders, the protagonists must confront conflicts generated within their own social groups. In both plays, erosion of social cohesion is well under way when the dramatic action begins. Reminders of death in the early scenes introduce societies that have suffered crucial losses and have been unable to contain the centrifugal forces that weaken social bonds. While the plots of The Merry Wives and Much Ado develop intrigues that threaten or protect social stability, the dramatic action of As You Like It and of Twelfth Night primarily consists of the process of rebuilding a society that has disintegrated.

In As You Like It, the tyrannies of Oliver and Duke Frederick are the direct causes of the first movement of the action, the breakup of society that disperses the major characters into the forest of Arden. The double villainy of Frederick and Oliver suggests that some flaw in society itself has allowed or even facilitated their greed and malice. From the perspective of sixteenth-century England, the social structure portrayed is archaic. Duke Frederick is sovereign within his domain. No central government restrains his usurpation of his brother's place or forces Oliver to provide his brother with the legacy and education stipulated in their father's will. The illegality of these actions, however, receives little emphasis in the dialogue. And Frederick's ability to manipulate the law in order to seize Oliver's property certainly does not suggest that an undeveloped government bureaucracy is the core of the problem. Instead, the dramatic focus is on the death of Sir Rowland de Boys and the exile of Duke Senior as the crucial events that have destabilized conditions in the two initial locales, the country estate and the court. Both losses are old news, events that occurred in some unspecified past, presumably more recent than the unremembered deaths of Orlando's and Rosalind's mothers, but long enough ago that, as the play opens, the children are not feeling acute personal grief so much as a sense of loss and displacement.

For Orlando, his father's death means primarily loss of social rank. His older brother Oliver has deprived him of the manners and means to qualify as a gentleman. Orlando does not covet his brother's wealth and power. Although he is not greatly impressed by the ‘poor a thousand crowns’ (i.i.2-3) left him in his father's will, his complaint is not the inadequacy of his inheritance but being denied what he sees as his birthright, his status as a gentleman.1 Orlando believes that gentility is his by nature: ‘the gentle condition of blood’ (i.i.44-5) is his biological inheritance. But although he feels within himself ‘the spirit of [his] father’ (i.i.22, 70), even direct descent from Sir Rowland de Boys is not enough to make him a gentleman. What bothers Orlando most is that his brother ‘mines [his] gentility with [his] education’ (i.i.21), denying him ‘gentlemanlike qualities’ and training him instead ‘like a peasant’ (i.i.68-70). Birth is the basis of his claim, but natural gentility must be developed through education. And it must be acknowledged. In addition to appropriate manners and accomplishments, Orlando needs confirmation of his status by others. What ‘nature gave me,’ he complains, Oliver's ‘coutenance seems to take from me’ (i.i.18-19).

The brothers' quarrel in the opening scene is about Orlando's place in the social hierarchy. Oliver's peremptory challenges to Orlando—‘Know you where you are, sir? … Know you before whom, sir?’ (i.i.40-2)—insist on his superior position. Orlando professes willingness to defer to his older brother but demands for himself acceptance as a gentleman, ‘the place of a brother’ (i.i.19-20) which must be conferred by Oliver. If Orlando feels out of place among the peasants on his brother's estate, he feels equally disoriented in Oliver's presence. In a hierarchical society where political and economic status as well as personal allegiances are based on kinship, Orlando has no recognized place.

Rosalind has suffered less severe loss than Orlando. Her father is alive and well, living in the forest of Arden. She has been brought up with Duke's Frederick's daughter and has received an education appropriate to her birth. Still, she too is conscious of her poverty and sad, thinking about ‘the condition of [her] estate’ (i.ii.15). But Rosalind responds differently to the loss of social rank. While Orlando vents his frustration and anger at Oliver, Rosalind more diplomatically and more generally attributes life's inequities to Fortune, whose ‘benefits are mightily misplac'd’ (i.ii.34-5). Orlando looks to the past; Rosalind's thoughts tend towards the future. When Celia urges her to be merry, love is the topic Rosalind proposes for discussion. When Celia suggests mocking ‘the good huswife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestow'd equally,’ Rosalind wryly notes that ‘the bountiful blind woman doth most mistake in her gifts to women’ (i.ii.31-3, 35-6). The direction of her thoughts suggests that what distresses Rosalind most about the condition of her estate is the uncertain marriage prospect of a young woman in her anomalous position. And, finally, while Orlando assumes that kinship should determine one's place in the social order, Rosalind insists that individual merit supersedes blood ties. When Duke Frederick banishes her because she is her ‘father's daughter’ (i.iii.58), she replies sharply, ‘Treason is not inherited, my lord’ (i.iii.61). Orlando wants above all to be recognized as his father's son; Rosalind demands to be judged independently and thinks less about her father than her ‘child's father’ (i.iii.11).

Of course, these contrasts are not absolute. Orlando sees his brother's selfishness as an instance of ‘the fashion of these times’ (ii.iii.59), and Rosalind is acutely aware of her usurping uncle's personal responsibility for her plight. Orlando does not rely wholly on pride in being Sir Rowland de Boys' son. He goes to court to win from the Duke, through his own merit, the honor denied him by his brother. Rosalind feels family loyalty. She indignantly defends her father's honor from the implication of treason, and she falls in love with Orlando at least partly because her father loved his father. The differences between Orlando's and Rosalind's responses to their analogous situations, then, do not initiate a clear contest between competing views of human society. The play clouds the issue of social power even while raising it.

By carefully selecting evidence it would be possible to find in the play an attack on the aggressive acquisitiveness of an increasingly individualistic social ethos. The discrepancy between gentle birth and economic impotence suffered by Orlando and Rosalind and Orlando's complaint that in the present ‘none will sweat but for promotion’ in contrast with the ‘constant service of the antique world’ (ii.iii.60, 57) hint at the transition from a society of inherited rights and loyalties to a system based on wealth. In this reading, Frederick's and Oliver's violations of family bonds would constitute a critique of an emergent pattern of social classes derived from individual ability and ambition.

But seeing Duke Frederick and Oliver as the vanguard of an emergent meritocracy is hardly a promising approach to the play's social dynamics. The social structure dominated by Duke Frederick is essentially feudal, a system of estates in which the individual's place is determined by birth. The system of primogeniture, which makes Oliver his brother's better, is explicitly associated with tradition, not innovation. Frederick's usurping of his brother's place is a family affair, a struggle for power among competing nobles. While he violates traditional rights, he also ignores individual merit and initiative. Not only does he banish Rosalind because she is her father's daughter, he refuses to reward Orlando because he is his father's son. Similarly, Oliver is guilty both of repudiating the bond of blood linking him to Orlando and of denying his brother the means to make his own way in the world.

A more cogent case can be made for reversing the terms of the argument. From this perspective, the French setting allows the play to condemn the injustices of a hierarchy of inherited power without directly attacking contemporary English social order. In contrast with the nascent capitalism of The Merchant of Venice, where conflict erupts between economic and political power, in the feudal world of As You Like It, social rank defines political and economic power. The villainies of Frederick and Oliver, then, expose not the acquisitiveness of an emergent social order but the abuses invited by a traditional order based on kinship. This approach, however, obviously cannot produce a total reading of the play either. While Oliver's and Frederick's tyrannies certainly demonstrate inherent social injustices, the happiness promised in the last scene relies as heavily on inherited privilege as do the cruelties of the opening scenes.

Undoubtedly theater audiences and readers in various times and places have associated the play's representations of injustice with actual social phenomena and will continue to do so. But the ways in which we make these connections are shaped more by our own presuppositions than by whatever political agendas shaped the texts. Shakespeare's comedies, like most early modern political discourse, assume the necessity of social and political hierarchies, but their explorations of forms and operations of hierarchical power are at least potentially subversive. The ideas about social justice articulated within As You Like It do not constitute a case for or against particular institutions or practices, but they uncover inconsistencies and contradictions and suggest that the possible ways of structuring society are varied, susceptible to discussion, and dependent on human choice. By foregrounding the claims of kinship and of individual merit, the play registers the ambivalences of a culture that was imbued with an ideology of inherited privilege yet worked increasingly on the basis of individual behavior.2 Similarly, the quarrel between Orlando and Oliver points to contemporary anxieties about primogeniture.

While protecting the integrity of family property was generally respected, so too were the desire and obligation to provide for all one's children. Ralph Houlbrooke recounts a fifteenth-century case which demonstrates that Orlando's concern with loss of social rank as well as Oliver's repudiation of their father's wishes was grounded in historical reality: ‘Lying on his death bed in 1444, William Paston concluded, somewhat late in the day, that the meagre provision he had made for his younger sons would force them to “hold the plowe be the tayle.” He resolved to give them certain manors. He would not, he told his eldest son John, give so much to one that the rest should not have enough to live on. But after his father's death John ruthlessly prevented the implementation of these oral provisions.3 The conflicts among the descendants of William Paston and of Sir Rowland de Boys reveal the tensions generated by a system of inheritance that perpetuated the blood tie it regulated and denied the family bond it preserved. Primogeniture was widespread, particularly among the aristocracy, but its use was by no means uniform, inheritance practices varying geographically as well as by class. Indeed, according to Francis Bacon, in 1600 the rules and customs governing the distribution of property were so chaotic that inheritances were tossed upon a sea of legal uncertainty.4 Thus Orlando's plight comments on unstable social conditions, and his complaints, as Louis Montrose has fully documented, contribute to a body of literature bitterly protesting the inequities and abuses of primogeniture.5

Nevertheless, the play does not condemn primogeniture unequivocally. Orlando's resentment is directed at Oliver's abuse of the system rather than at Sir Rowland's decision to leave the bulk of his property to his oldest son. More important than Orlando's articulation of the suffering of the younger son or Duke Senior's claim to the rights of the elder son is the conjunction of their contrasting perspectives. Significant too is the play's demystifying language. While justifications of primogeniture often invoked scripture and nature, in As You Like It primogeniture has been established by the ‘courtesy of nations’ and ‘tradition’ (i.i.46, 47). Orlando may assume that the link between birth and social entitlement is self-evident, but his language reminds us that, while biological inheritance is undeniable, its social significance is humanly constructed. Furthermore, the setting in feudal France implies that such conventions are geographically and historically contingent. Thus, in spite of the characters' tendency to attribute their troubles to forces beyond human control, their problems obviously result from expectations and pressures exerted by social power. When Rosalind regrets that she is ‘out of suits with Fortune’ (i.ii.246) or when Amiens refers to the ‘stubbornness of fortune’ (ii.i.19), they express a sense of impotence but do not obscure the human agency responsible for the political and economic circumstances beyond their personal control.

As You Like It presents no blueprint for a perfect society. The play as a whole endorses neither Le Beau's image of a ‘better world’ where merit is rewarded nor Celia's ideal world where the gifts of fortune are distributed equally. But the play does present society as disintegrating because it fails to satisfy certain needs. Much of the present unease is experienced as an abrupt break with the past. The distress both Rosalind and Orlando feel about their fathers arises primarily from the repudiation of the past by the present. Orlando must struggle to remember the past because Oliver has ignored his father's will and abandoned his father's values. So too Rosalind feels pressure from Celia to forget her banished father in present pleasure. And if the instability of present society is a measure of its lack of continuity with the past, it is also an expression of the lack of any clear expectations about the shape of the future. In most of the comedies, we first meet the young protagonists as they are planning their futures. There are worlds of difference, of course, between Kate's anxiety about dancing barefoot at Bianca's wedding and Portia's about a loveless marriage, between Petruchio's intention to marry wealthily and the King of Navarre's vow of celibacy, and none of these expectations is fulfilled as imagined. Still, the rule is expectation which subsequent action realizes, frustrates, or transforms. The first appearances of Rosalind and Orlando are striking not merely because they are engaged in the process of remembering, but because neither seems able to imagine a future either to dread or to hope for.

A corollary to the repudiation of the past and the absence of future vision is the lack of both security and freedom. All the characters—old Adam, Charles the wrestler, Oliver, and Frederick as well as Orlando and Rosalind—are threatened. They cannot live safely in the situations in which we find them as the play opens, and they all feel constrained by the power of others. Even Duke Frederick, ostensibly the most powerful among them, not only feels threatened by Rosalind and Orlando, but demonstrably is frustrated in every action he initiates.

Finally and most strikingly, the social order fails to provide a workable balance of individual and communal identity. Orlando is the clearest instance. Without recognition by others, he is confused about his own identity. Deprived of participation in established cultural practices, ‘such exercises as may become a gentleman’ (i.i.72), he feels unable to develop his individual talents. Without a confident sense of himself, he is unable to establish relations with others, standing ‘a mere liveless block’ (i.ii.251) to Rosalind's overture. Rosalind is less undone by her situation than Orlando, but she too is involved in this vicious circle. Alienated by her father's banishment, she responds to Celia's offer of love and friendship with a pointed reminder of the condition of her own estate and the protest that she can rejoice in Celia's fortune only by forgetting her own.

In terms of plot, then, the most significant consequence of Oliver's replacement of his father and Frederick's of his brother is that Orlando and Rosalind are left without clearly defined social roles. They are dissatisfied with their marginalized positions, and they constitute threats to Oliver and Frederick. This rigidly hierarchical social structure cannot tolerate displaced people. Even before Adam warns Orlando that ‘This is no place, this house is but a butchery’ (ii.iii.27), it has become clear that there is no place for Orlando with his brother and no place for Rosalind at court. But at the same time that this society is marked by destabilizing estrangement and isolation, it also demonstrates the interdependence of its members. A direct consequence of Frederick's theft of his brother's place has been to alter the positions of everyone else. Rosalind and Celia have also changed places: Celia is now the Duke's daughter and Rosalind his niece. Orlando has become the object of suspicion as the son of the Duke's enemy instead of a potential recipient of patronage as the son of a worthy father. Rosalind's banishment is also Celia's banishment and Touchstone's. The political insecurities that deny Orlando favor at court combine with Oliver's jealousy to drive Orlando into exile. Celia's decision to go with her cousin sends Oliver after Orlando. Thus, the personal and political ties among characters are so intertwined that Duke Frederick's usurpation of his brother's place eventually impels all the major characters to follow Duke Senior into exile.

Because Rosalind is an unusually articulate and enterprising heroine who reflects on the nature of love and engineers an extended albeit fictionalized courtship for herself, life in the forest of Arden usually is discussed as a period of moral and emotional growth.6 Less attention has focused on the explicitly social and political concerns of the forest scenes. A political action and its consequences transfer the dramatic action to the forest. Once in Arden, the refugees are as much engaged in the re-establishment of a social order as in self-reflection or flirtation.

For these characters who have escaped from oppression and violence, the forest of Arden offers the possibility of a better world, not because it is closer to nature, but simply because it provides an opportunity to start again. Physical nature demands their attention but exerts no moral authority. That Duke Senior can find tongues in trees and sermons in stones is more to his credit than to nature's. And while the description of the wounded deer abandoned by its kind is not an especially horrifying picture of nature red in tooth and claw, it does point to compassion as a human value not inherent in impersonal nature. The allegorical detail of Jaques' reported moralizing of the spectacle, moreover, keeps our attention on the human parallels and on the act of interpretation.

                                                                                ‘Ay,’ quoth Jaques,
‘Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens,
'Tis just the fashion. Wherefore do you look
Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there?’
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 to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place.


Jaques extends the play's anatomizing of social ills to include city life as well as the court and country. Even in the process of condemning anthropocentrism, he appropriates nature for his own purposes. Like the Duke's uneasiness about shooting the ‘native burghers of this desert city’ (ii.i.23), Jaques' sentimental moralizing demonstrates the human disposition to anthropomorphize nature. Conversely, Jaques' boast that he can ‘suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs’ (ii.v.13), Orlando's description of his care of Adam as ‘like a doe’ nurturing her fawn (ii.vii.128), and Rosalind's threat to be more jealous ‘than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen’ (iv.i.150-1) naturalize human conduct. But in spite of the impulse to humanize nature and to naturalize humanity, the recurrent figures linking men and women with animals and plants function as comparisons between unlikes rather than as identifications of the human and the natural. In A Midsummer Night's Dream human and non-human nature imperceptibly merge, but in As You Like It the natural and the human are always distinct.

Nature in the forest of Arden is first of all a source of physical suffering. The winter wind may be less cutting than the perfidy of flattering courtiers, but it still bites and makes the body shrink with cold. Nature unsoftened by human intervention is painful for all the exiles, but for an old man such as Adam, it is life-threatening. In the form of a ‘suck'd and hungry lioness’ (iv.iii.126) it would have killed Oliver except for Orlando's intervention. In so far as the forest is a world of nature, then, it establishes human cooperation as necessary for survival. Nature is not wholly dangerous and destructive, of course. A primary function of cooperative human effort is to utilize nature: the deer and sheep of Arden supply food and clothing, a cave offers protection, and trees afford shade and a convenient place to display love poems. But the forest is not an imitable model for human behavior. Nature imposes limitations on human enterprise, but within those limitations it is manipulated for human ends.

As I argued earlier in chapter 8, The Merry Wives of Windsor participates in the pastoral tradition by dramatizing a conflict between the values of court and country and by preferring the innocence of rural simplicity to courtly sophistication. Although As You Like It is often regarded as a version of pastoral and exemplifies the movement from corrupt society to an innocent rural setting that is typical of pastoral romances,7 it rejects the pastoral assumption that value resides in the natural world. There is little textual justification for the wide critical consensus that the visitors are regenerated by achieving harmony with nature during their stay in the forest. Those who spend time in the forest give no evidence of needing regeneration, and those who need it, Oliver and Frederick, repent before they can experience the rhythm of forest life. They are converted from their evil ways, moreover, by the exemplary human virtue of Orlando and ‘an old religious man’ (v.iv.160). In fact, As You Like It invokes such pastoral motifs as the oppositions between court and country and between action and contemplation in order to subvert them. The shepherd Corin is ‘a true laborer’ (iii.ii.73) with greasy hands who shows little inclination for piping delightful melodies. It is not the natives but the courtly refugees who seem to ‘fleet the time carelessly’ (i.i.118) and who idealize their forest sojourn as a life of pastoral otium. They actually live, however, not by watching flocks graze but by the anti-pastoral activity of hunting in order to survive.8 What emerges when Touchstone and Corin debate the relative merits of the country and the court is not only that the question is irresolvable but that the lives of shepherds and courtiers alike are governed by social conventions: ‘Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court’ (iii.ii.45-8). In spite of Touchstone's accusation to Corin, ‘thou art raw’ (iii.ii,72), Corin is obviously no less civilized than Touchstone, but the product of another culture with different norms of behavior, language, and thought.

The exiles who gather in the forest of Arden leave their homes because they are compelled to, not because they are disillusioned with human depravity and long for solitude. Celia and Rosalind set off to find Rosalind's father, and Orlando's announced goal, ‘some settled low content’ (ii.iii.68), indicates that he too is looking for a niche in human society that will give him security and freedom. Although newcomers to the forest call it ‘uncouth’ and ‘wild’ (; v.iv.159), the forest of Arden is not the mysterious wilderness that the exiles from Athens wander through in A Midsummer Night's Dream. With its areas for hunting and grazing, it is already nature methodized before the exiles arrive. Indeed, as Richard Marienstras has pointed out, ‘forest’ is as much a legal as a geographical label, designating a valuable property where common law is replaced by special laws that protect the forest and reserve its pleasures for the privileged.9 ‘Hunting in Forests, Chases, and such like priviledged places of pleasure,’ declared John Manwood, ‘is only for Kings, Princes, and great worthy personnages, and not for mean men of mean calling or condition.’10 Much of the important action, moreover, takes place not in the wooded area where the Duke and his worthy followers hunt, but in the cleared land bordering the forest. Here in the purlieus of the forest is the house and the ‘sheep-cote fenc'd about with olive-trees’ (iv.iii.77) where Aliena and Ganymede become the nexus of a network of relationships that creates a new social order.

The nucleus of the emergent society is a relationship produced by nurture, not nature. In growing up together Celia and Rosalind have formed ties ‘dearer than the natural bond of sisters’ (i.ii.276). Their artificial sisterhood is stronger than the blood relationship of Celia to her father and stronger than the natural brotherhoods of Orlando and Oliver and of Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Similarly, bonds of personal love and loyalty unite Touchstone with Celia, Adam with Orlando, and Duke Senior with his men. These relationships function most prominently not by satisfying private emotional needs but by providing a means of achieving social identities.

For example, when Celia offers her cousin support in banishment, Rosalind's replies are brief and listless until Celia proposes assuming a recognizable social position by dressing in ‘poor and mean attire’ (i.iii.111). Inferior social rank apparently is less paralyzing for Rosalind than no rank at all, and she immediately plans her own role as Ganymede, for the first time taking the initiative in dialogue with Celia. Orlando develops a similar concentration of purpose through interaction with Adam. Like Rosalind, Orlando is initially confused and directionless when told he must flee. ‘Why, whither, Adam, wouldst thou have me go?’ he asks, complaining that the only alternative to being murdered by his brother is to become a beggar or thief:

This I must do, or know not what to do;
Yet this I will not do, do how I can.

(ii.iii.29, 34-5)11

More important in reviving Orlando's spirits than Adam's offer of his five hundred crowns of savings is his request to ‘let me be your servant’ (ii.iii.46). Adam's proposal to follow allows Orlando to lead.

Celia and Adam give Rosalind and Orlando purpose and direction by enabling them to form recognizable social identities. Significantly, they assume dominant roles as man and master, but equally important, they are not inspired by dreams of regaining their lost social status. Orlando hopes for ‘some settled low content,’ and Rosalind happily settles into a simple rural life. They continue to think in terms of social hierarchy and are contented with humble rank. What makes action possible for both is a useful function to serve. Orlando becomes Adam's protector, and Rosalind empowers herself by ‘comfort[ing] the weaker vessel’ (ii.iv.6).

Like the other residents of Arden, Rosalind and Orlando are not concerned with getting back to nature but with asserting their humanness in the face of impersonal nature. They solve the basic problem of physical survival by joining forces with others of their kind, Rosalind and Celia by finding a place in the local agricultural economy and Orlando and Adam by joining Duke Senior's band of hunters. Simultaneously with its representation of society as controlling nature for human ends, the play presents civilization as the regulation of natural human appetites for mutual benefit. The exhausted newcomers to the forest are dependent on the compassion and generosity as well as the skill and industry of others. Duke Senior's admonishment to Orlando, ‘Your gentleness shall force, / More than your force move us to gentleness’ (ii.vii.102-3), articulates personally the principles embodied in the ritualized hunt, the control of aggression and the submergence of individual needs in collective ones. And while rituals of hunting and hospitality regulate appetites for food, rituals of courtship and marriage regulate sexual appetites. Just as Duke Senior reprimands Orlando's apparent lack of civility, Jaques counsels Touchstone: ‘Get you to church, and have a good priest that can tell you what marriage is’ (iii.iii.84-6). Indeed, the recurrent metaphoric identification of women with deer and of the horns of the hunter with those of the married man suggest that the two pursuits are closely related, different aspects of aggression.

In the process of creating human order in the forest, the exiles consciously rectify the deficiencies of the society they have left. Although in one sense this endeavor involves breaking with their past, in another sense the forest society is a deliberate extension of civilized tradition. Amiens' song implies that the oppression they have escaped was due to such failures of memory as ‘ingratitude,’ ‘benefits forgot,’ and ‘friend rememb'red not’ (ii.vii.174-90). Orlando's entrance with old Adam on his shoulders recalls Aeneas bearing Anchises from the ruins of old Troy to the founding of new Troy and emblemizes the fidelity of the new community in the forest to the values of the old. Thus Orlando's meeting with Duke Senior involves a ritualistic recital of a common past:

If ever you have look'd on better days,
If ever been where bells have knoll'd to church,
If ever sate at any good man's feast,
If ever from your eyelids wip'd a tear,
And know what 'tis to pity, and be pitied,
Let gentleness my strong enforcement be
True is it that we have seen better days,
And have with holy bell been knoll'd to church,
And sat at good men's feasts, and wip'd our eyes
Of drops that sacred pity hath engend'red;
And therefore sit you down in gentleness.

(ii.vii.113-18, 120-4)

In addition to providing a standard of shared values, a remembered past guarantees continuity of personal identity. Duke Senior recognizes ‘effigies’ of Sir Rowland ‘limn'd and living’ in Orlando's face and announces, ‘I am the Duke / That lov'd your father’ (ii.vii.193-6).

The society that takes shape in the forest of Arden satisfies and controls human appetites and honors traditions of friendship, religion, hospitality, and compassion. It also perpetuates specific forms of conduct. After finally receiving recognition as his father's son, Orlando sets about acquiring civilized manners. In his first scene, Orlando assaults his brother. In his next appearance on stage, he defeats Charles the wrestler. Soon he blunders into Duke Senior's gracious settlement brandishing a sword. But Orlando is no ‘rude despiser of good manners’ (ii.vii.92) and proves an apt student of civility.12 What Orlando gains from his sojourn in the forest is not self-understanding or access to nature but a place in a supportive community and the language and manners of a gentleman. While the education of the gentlemen of Verona involves painful lessons in the value and limitations of civilized conventions, Orlando makes no false steps. As soon as distress no longer drives him to violence, he turns to developing the verbal facility he so conspicuously lacked when Rosalind stunned him into silence. The poetry he is soon strewing about the forest shows he has absorbed the values and manners of the sylvan court and become an enthusiastic, if somewhat literal-minded, participant in the enterprise of imposing human civilization on the natural world:

Why should this a desert be?
          For it is unpeopled? No!
Tongues I'll hang on every tree,
          That shall civil sayings show.


The influence of Amiens and Jaques is clearly evident in the ‘civil sayings’ with which he plans to cover the forest, but while his reflections on man's ‘erring pilgrimage’ (iii.ii.130) and on ‘violated vows’ between friends (iii.ii.133) show Orlando modeling himself on the Duke's philosophical courtiers, the role he adopts primarily is not Monsieur Melancholy but Signior Love, who praises Rosalind's ‘many parts’ and vows ‘to live and die her slave’ (iii.ii.149, 154). In this too Orlando is shaping his experience to a conventional model. As Jaques points out, a young man is expected to be a lover, ‘Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow’ (ii.vii.148-9). To Ganymede/Rosalind's scrutinizing eye, Orlando lacks some of the signs of the lover—‘A lean cheek … a blue eye … an unquestionable spirit … then your hose should be ungarter'd, your bonnet unbanded, your sleeve unbutton'd, your shoe untied, and every thing about you demonstrating a careless desolation’ (iii.ii.373-81). But for all his ‘rather point-device’ dress (iii.ii.382), Orlando's sentiments are conventional enough. Like Claudio in Much Ado and indeed like all courtly lovers, Orlando guards his discourse with fragments of traditional love language.

By gaining acceptance as a gentleman, Orlando is able to turn his attention to the codes and conventions of aristocratic culture. By establishing himself as the son of Sir Rowland, he becomes ready to take on the role of lover. Rosalind, in contrast, delays returning to her role as Duke Senior's daughter and continues to play Ganymede. What is she waiting for? One answer to this central critical question is that she enjoys the privileges of masculinity. By assuming ‘a swashing and a martial outside’ (i.iii.120) and the manners of a ‘saucy lackey’ (iii.ii.296), she enjoys a freedom impossible in her anomalous position in Frederick's court, where she was known for her ‘silence’ and ‘patience’ (i.iii.78). Nevertheless, after she finds Orlando, her boy's disguise gives her more discomfort than delight. One frequent answer to the question of what Rosalind is up to—that she uses the liminal experience in the forest as a period of self-discovery—also seems inadequate. Although her disguise lets her find out how Orlando talks about her in her absence and how her love survives his presence, it does not facilitate any deep probing of her psyche.

Another common explanation for Rosalind's prolonged masquerade is that it allows her to teach Orlando about love. More specifically, critical commentary often describes Rosalind as intent on correcting the stereotyped sentimentality of Orlando's derivative Petrarchism. Some male critics seem delighted by Rosalind precisely because they believe that she expresses full womanly devotion herself—‘O coz … that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love! But it cannot be sounded’ (iv.i.205-7)—without desiring any silly romanticism from her lover—‘men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love’ (iv.i.106-8). What Rosalind does, however, is to devise a strategy for hearing as much as possible of Orlando's conventional love talk. She certainly is aware of his limitations as a prosodist and knows a hyperbole when she hears one; nevertheless, her criticism is designed not to correct Orlando's idealistic ardor but to ascertain that it can withstand such commonsensical scoffing.

When Rosalind overhears Orlando's conversation with Jaques, she obviously appreciates his nimble wit, just as Sylvia in The Two Gentlemen is pleased when her lover proves his adroitness as a courtier in ‘a fine volley of words … quickly shot off’ (TGV, ii.iv.33-4). Speaking to Orlando as Ganymede, Rosalind maneuvers the conversation to the topic of love and arranges the scenario in which he courts her as she plays Rosalind. Despite Ganymede's announced intention of curing Orlando's love, Rosalind clearly is giving him a chance to practice wooing and herself a chance to hear him. It is Phebe, not Rosalind, who devastatingly rejects the extravagances of love, taunting Corin:

Now I do frown on thee with all my heart,
And if mine eyes can wound, now let them kill thee.
Now counterfeit to swound; why, now fall down,
Or if thou canst not, O, for shame, for shame,
Lie not, to say mine eyes are murtherers!


Phebe's scorn for Petrarchan hyperbole is construed as pride and punished with humiliation and coercion.13 Rosalind invariably follows ridicule of romantic clichés with requests for more. When Orlando reacts to her revisionist readings of legends of tragic love by declaring, ‘I would not have my right Rosalind of this mind, for I protest her frown might kill me’ (iv.i.109-10), she relents: ‘By this hand, it will not kill a fly. But come, now I will be your Rosalind in a more coming-on disposition; and ask me what you will, I will grant it’ (iv.i.111-14).

Rosalind works on the assumption that Orlando does not need to gain detachment from fashionable linguistic codes but to learn them. She urges Orlando to speak as a lover, and she does not make his wooing easy. The ‘Rosalind’ she presents to him is, as she promises, ‘changeable, longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles’ (iii.ii.411-12). This mercurial persona allows her to accomplish several things. First, she helps to prepare Orlando for the courtly world he aspires to. Jaques' cynicism about love is, after all, as much a part of courtly discourse as is Petrarchan devotion. At the same time, she encourages Orlando to imagine himself as an accepted lover. Silvius' wooing of Phebe and Phebe's infatuation with Ganymede's contemptuous disdain have shown Rosalind the perverse attraction of the unobtainable. By alternating sarcastic skepticism with eager compliance, she prepares Orlando for the move from unrequited to reciprocal love. Orlando has added the role of love to the role of son. Rosalind directs him to the next step, that of married man, a role conspicuously absent from Jaques' summary of the parts a man plays in his time. Instead of playing disdainful mistress, Ganymede's Rosalind hurries Orlando to the altar and then lectures him on the perils of married life. Her mocking predictions of marital infidelity and jealousy are less apt as explorations of their personal emotions than as strategies for redirecting Orlando's attention from the linguistic conventions of love to the social discourse about marriage.

Like Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Orlando will find a secure place in society through marriage, but the civilizing process he needs is very different. Kate's rebelliousness masks a profound subjection to societal conventions so that she needs to learn the detachment that allows her to control them. Orlando's case is simpler. Although he is eager to claim that he has known ‘some nurture’ (ii.vii.97), he also complains that his breeding has not differed from ‘the stalling of an ox’ (i.i.10-11). Whereas Kate must learn the exhilaration of imaginatively substituting her own time scheme for the conventional one, Orlando must learn that coming ‘within an hour of my promise’ (iv.i.42-3) does not satisfy society's demand for punctuality. So too, if he is to become a good husband for Rosalind, he must be able to articulate his love and also able to cope with the social conventions which, though they glamorize an unrequited lover, demeaningly stereotype wives as jealous, moody, unfaithful, and devious.

Rosalind, then, uses her disguise not so much to explore her own emotions or to shape Orlando's emotional and moral growth as to experiment with social roles. But the clearest indications of what she is waiting for before she returns to being Rosalind publicly are given by Oliver's arrival, the event that precipitates the end of her masquerade. Partly, of course, Rosalind's self-revelation provides the climax to the rhythm of personal emotion. Orlando's injury, his courage and magnanimity in saving his wicked brother's life, and his declaration that he ‘can live no longer by thinking’ (v.ii.50) move Rosalind to transform her mock marriage into a real one. More important, Oliver's arrival and his conversion make the marriage of Rosalind and Orlando an economic and social possibility. Rosalind shows her consciousness of the economic obstacle to marriage with Orlando when, as Ganymede, she teases that she would as soon marry a snail: ‘he carries his house on his head; a better jointure I think than you make a woman’ (iv.i.55-6). Whether or not she overhears Oliver's gift to Orlando of all Sir Rowland's estate as she enters in Act v, Oliver's change of heart makes clear that Orlando will no longer be penniless and that return to the old society is possible.

Although I have argued throughout this chapter that the exiles are engaged in rebuilding society during their time in the forest, it is also true that the band of courtly and philosophical hunters is too small and specialized to provide a satisfactory social context. It is understandable that Rosalind should conceal her identity from her father if for no other reason than that a male hunting camp in the forest is no place for young women like Rosalind and Celia. The cottage ‘in the skirts of the forest, like fringe upon a petticoat’ (iii.ii.335-7) is more comfortable for them, even though it requires Rosalind to retain her role as male head of household. From this position, she and Touchstone interact with both the displaced courtiers and the natives of Arden and so forge a rudimentary society consisting of ‘divers orders & estates … agreeing equally togither.’14 The courtly and native sub-groups are too homogeneous alone and too disparate together either to resolve their problems or to constitute a dramatically credible representation of human society. Silvius, Phebe, William, and even Corin are too absorbed in immediate personal concerns to initiate a communal life. Duke Senior, for all his praise of rural simplicity, remains aristocratically exclusive. His welcome to Orlando is significantly contingent: ‘If that you were the good Sir Rowland's son … Be truly welcome hither’ (ii.vii.191-5; italics added).

But Rosalind sees multiple connections between herself and others in various social ranks. She recognizes the familial bond with her father, confides intimately in her childhood friend, commits herself emotionally to Orlando, argues with Jaques, and empathizes with Silvius, intervening actively to help him. In his own way Touchstone also serves a cohesive function both by wooing Audrey and by affirming the universal corporeality which is the ultimate basis for common human experiences. Even Touchstone's insistence on his courtly superiority to the country people is integrative rather than divisive. His contentiousness, like Jaques', produces engagement rather than isolation between people with different experiences and values.

In the comic denouement, the heterogeneous residents of the forest join together at least temporarily to form a community with shared values and purposes. The antiphonal responses to Silvius' definition of ‘what 'tis to love’ (v.ii.83) enact the common experience linking men and women, courtiers and shepherds. Rosalind achieves a similar effect as she arranges the dramatic anagnorisis: ‘I will marry you … I will satisfy you … I will content you … As you love … meet. As you love … meet. And as I love … I'll meet’ (v.ii.113-20); and as she stipulates the conditions making social harmony possible: ‘Keep you your word, O Duke … You, yours, Orlando … Keep your word, Phebe … Keep your word, Silvius’ (v.iv.19-23). Rosalind, Orlando, and Phebe exemplify their unanimity by endorsing Silvius' expression of love. Rosalind's incantatory repetitions encompass Duke Senior as well as the lovers and commit the participants to responsible action. The enactment of community and continuity culminates in Hymen's reuniting of father and daughter and blessing of all four couples in a civil ritual:

'Tis Hymen peoples every town,
          High wedlock then be honored.
Honor, high honor, and renown
          To Hymen, god of every town!


Since the play dramatizes the rebuilding of a fragmented society, not the survival of a threatened one, its festive conclusion forgives penitents rather than exposing and punishing violations of social norms. Although the renewed society is based on newly formed personal relationships, it selectively perpetuates that part of the past fostering social cohesion. Living in the forest has no visible effect on the exiles' sense of social order. Touchstone's assertions of superiority to Corin, Audrey, and William parodically foreground Orlando's desire to establish his rank and Jaques' assumption of the privileges of social superiority in relation to Touchstone and Rosalind's in relation to Phebe and Silvius. The political, social, and familial structures displayed in the opening scenes are endorsed by the eagerness with which characters seek subordinate positions within them. Orlando's pursuit of the role of son, Adam's of servant, and Rosalind's of wife affirm the benignity of traditional hierarchies.

The re-establishment of legitimacy and the reaffirmation of kinship are necessary though not sufficient requirements for social harmony. As Peter Erickson points out, it is the restored Duke Senior who authorizes festive closure.15 In Much Ado, where communal harmony requires the marginalization of political power, authority is contested until the last line. After the confusions in Messina have been brought to a conclusion and the pairs of lovers are united, Benedick decides that the situation calls for dancing: ‘Let's have a dance ere we are married, that we may lighten our own hearts and our wives' heels’ (ma, v.iv.117-19). Leonato tries to exert authority to control festivity: ‘We'll have dancing afterward’ (v.iv.120). But the irrepressibly irreverent Benedick is defiant: ‘First, of my word; therefore play, music’ (v.iv.121). And Benedick has the last word: ‘Strike up, pipers’ (v.iv.128-9). In contrast, Duke Senior is unchallenged as he assumes authority to direct the form of communal celebration:

Play, music, and you brides and bridegrooms all,
With measure heap'd in joy, to th'measures fall.


These affirmations of patriarchal hierarchy constitute a politically conservative image of social harmony, as several critics have argued.16 But the play also questions the social order that the characters endorse. The disequilibrium in the early scenes comes largely from the displacement of Rosalind and Orlando, and the security in the closing scenes rests on the recognition of kinship and the restoration of inherited rank. But the acknowledgment of kinship is necessary primarily in order to validate new relationships. The reconciliation of Oliver and Orlando and the reunion of Rosalind and Duke Senior function most significantly as means for effecting the unions of Celia and Oliver and of Rosalind and Orlando. Although literary pastoral often suggests that social structures are rooted in nature itself, As You Like It discovers the grounds of society in cooperative human efforts to control nature and to define roles that validate individuals for socially useful functions. Instead of presenting particular social and political systems as sanctified by nature, it detaches social from natural order. The presiding deity is the civic Hymen rather than bounteous Ceres of The Tempest. The closing rituals contain individual desires within communal bounds, but the verbal form that promises stability is so insistently conditional that it simultaneously makes such unanimity contingent on fallible individual perception:

If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.
If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.
If sight and shape be true,
Why then my love adieu!
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.


As Touchstone observes, ‘much virtue in If’ (v.iv.103). As You Like It imagines a peaceful and fruitful society unified through codes and structures that are not immutable and irresistible but contingent and flexible.

The ritualistic language of the last act, which subsumes individual voices within the expression of communal solidarity, simultaneously emphasizes individual differences. When Silvius explains what it is to love, he speaks for Phebe, Orlando, and Rosalind as well as himself. And when Phebe responds, ‘If this be so, why blame you me to love you?’ (v.ii.103), Silvius echoes her puzzled helplessness. But when Orlando asks the same question of no one, as though he were mesmerized by the patterned repetition, the universal language of love suddenly dissolves into unintelligible noise—‘the howling of Irish wolves against the moon’ (v.ii.109-10). Rosalind's riddling promises mean different things to different people, and the parallelism of Hymen's and of Jaques' blessings on the four pairs of lovers foregrounds the variety of relationships included within marriage. Throughout the play, rituals of wooing and wedding display diversity while creating unity. Similarly, the traditional discourses of love, pastoralism, and philosophical debate exert a centripetal force by incorporating individual voices within unitary languages—and in doing so work centrifugally by displaying individual accents. The language each character speaks, like Jaques' melancholy, is ‘compounded of many simples’ (iv.i.16), and each voice is distinctive. The festive conclusion is not so much a harmonic blending as a contrapuntal fugue in which individual voices contribute to the whole by moving separately.

The play achieves closure by providing each character with a socially sanctioned place and role to play. Phebe's manipulated acceptance of Silvius (‘Thy faith my fancy to thee doth combine’ [V.iv.150]) has aroused little skepticism among critics and audiences because it satisfies the expectations of inclusion generated by the comic form. But if social recognition is necessary, so too is flexibility. Inherited roles may disappear through external events or prove inadequate. Roles are determined by age, circumstances, relations with other people, and individual temperament as well as by kinship. Jaques is surely right when he says that one man ‘plays many parts’ (ii.vii.142). And while in Act II he limits the parts to seven sequential roles, in Act IV he proposes a different group of seven including scholar, musician, courtier, lawyer, and lady as well as lover and soldier. The roles men and women play are multiple and always provisional. All major characters change roles during the course of the action. And if Duke Frederick's past usurpation of his brother's role proves destructive, the characters' adaptability in discovering new roles rebuilds society. Rosalind, of course, is particularly resourceful in experimenting with parts ranging from saucy lackey and shrew to submissive daughter and wife and in coaching others in new, empowering roles.

Critics often are suspicious of a sense of identity based on social role. Lawrence Danson, for example, distinguishes between contingent social selves and stable psychological selves and argues that As You Like It achieves closure through Rosalind's ‘discovery’ of herself, which constitutes both the completion of the plot and the perfection of a stable psychological self.17 I am arguing instead that the play denies the distinction between social and psychological selves. Against Jacob Burckhardt's description of the Renaissance discovery of the self as the process of distinguishing the individual from social groups, Natalie Davis has argued that in sixteenth-century France ‘embeddedness did not preclude self-discovery, but rather prompted it.’18 Davis describes strategies by which women achieved self-expression and some autonomy through rather than in opposition to the patriarchal family and suggests that ‘a thread of female autonomy may have been built precisely around [the] sense of being given away, that women sometimes turned the cultural formulation around and gave themselves away.’19As You Like It, I think, presents a similar version of social life in which people achieve a sense of self through participation in socially defined groups. By affirming their family bond Oliver and Orlando renegotiate the power relations established by primogeniture and achieve their distinctive desires. Similarly Rosalind reconceptualizes patriarchal marriage by giving herself away. By telling her father and Orlando ‘To you I give myself, for I am yours’ (v.iv.116-18), she enacts simultaneously her power to achieve her own heart's desires and her place within a community. Her marriage integrates her into a patriarchal society, but the course of the comic action indicates that the quiet part she plays after giving herself to Orlando is as provisional as her other roles. Her parodic rehearsal as Ganymede/Rosalind promises that as wife she will be just as resourceful as Mistress Page and Mistress Ford in finding ways to be merry in a theoretically subordinate position.

The ending is exhilarating and liberating because it redeems the past through repentance and reconciliation and because it promises a future of unknown possibilities. Concomitantly, social cohesion is created through re-establishing recognized structures and through expanding social perimeters. Significantly, neither of Jaques' taxonomies of the parts people play includes the role of contemplative he announces in his last speech. The social unity in the last scene is only temporary and depends as much on tolerating differences as sharing values. William, Corin, Phebe, and Silvius will remain in Arden when the exiles leave. Duke Senior's family is able to return to court because Frederick has adopted a new role as convertite and chosen values other than courtly ones. Jaques will join Frederick at least temporarily. The future plans of Celia and Oliver are unclear. Although Duke Senior and Jaques assume that Oliver will return to his ‘land … and great allies’ (v.iv.189), Oliver has told Orlando that he intends to remain in Arden and to ‘live and die a shepherd’ (v.ii.12). Perhaps the newlyweds will spend six months in each place. At any rate, the group on stage soon will disperse: the festivities are as much a farewell as a reunion.

Thus unlike Much Ado and Merry Wives, where solidarity within a local community is the source of strength, As You Like It finds stability through diversity and diffusion. While Much Ado and Merry Wives develop through intrigue plots which expose wrong-doers, As You Like It develops through dispersal and inconclusive discussion. Debates about the relative merits of court and country, action and contemplation, and marriage and celibacy, and conflicts between idealization and satiric deflation, are unresolved and unresolvable, existing not to recommend an ideal balance but to indicate areas of continuing tension. Most Shakespearean comedies implicitly suggest that what is good for one is good for all—marriage, say, for Kate as well as Bianca or wealth for Bassanio as well as Antonio. As You Like It suggests that a peaceful society is possible because some people like to dance and others are for ‘other than dancing measures.’ It portrays a comic commonwealth like the spiritual community Milton describes as the only kind possible ‘in this world’: ‘it cannot be united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous … neither can every piece of the building be of one form; nay rather the perfection consists in this, that out of many moderate varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes … arises the goodly and graceful symmetry that commends the whole pile and structure.’20


  1. See Louis Montrose, ‘“The Place of a Brother” in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form,’ Shakespeare Quarterly, 32 (1981), 28-54.

  2. According to Ralph Houlbrooke, ‘For a growing proportion of the population … individual resilience, strength and skill were assets more significant than inherited possessions.’ The English Family, 1450-1700 (New York: Longman, 1984), 228. My discussion of inheritance practices in this and the following paragraphs is indebted to Houlbrooke, 228-52. See also Susan Amussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 86-91; Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1984), 111-12.

  3. Houlbrooke, 233.

  4. Houlbrooke, 230.

  5. ‘The Place of a Brother,’ especially 31.

  6. Among the influential essays emphasizing growth and self-discovery are Harold Jenkins, ‘As You Like It,’ Shakespeare Survey, 8 (1955), 40-51; Helen Gardner, ‘As You Like It’ in More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John Garrett (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1959), reprinted in Modern Shakespearean Criticism, ed. Alvin B. Kernan (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), 190-203; and Albert R. Cirillo, ‘As You Like It: Pastoralism Gone Awry,’ ELH, 38 (1971), 19-39.

  7. Many critics have discussed As You Like It as pastoral. The best of them, such as David Young, recognize that ‘there was something fundamentally equivocal in pastoral which … tended to undermine and invert its familiar antitheses.’ David Young, The Heart's Forest (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 34.

  8. ‘Venatical attitudes,’ Renato Poggioli observes, ‘consistently oppose the pastoral: on the one side they resemble too closely martial exploits; on the other, they are connected with Diana, the goddess of chastity, whom shepherds … neglect in favor of Venus.’ The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), 7.

  9. New Perspectives on the Shakespearean World, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 11-39.

  10. A Treatise and Discourse of the Lawes of the Forrest (1592) as quoted in Marienstras, 30.

  11. Orlando's rhetorical question resembles that of George Herbert's vocationless gallant who asks ‘whether he shall mend shoes, or what he shall do.’ Orlando's predicament illustrates Herbert's judgment that the failure to prepare younger brothers for some profession is ‘a shamefull wrong both to the Common-wealth, and their own House.’ A Priest to the Temple or, The Country Parson in The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), 275, 277.

  12. In an important essay, Madeleine Doran traces Orlando's claim of being ‘inland bred’ (ii.vii.96) to the opposition between the civil and the rude or uncivil in Shakespeare's plays and in Elizabethan thought. ‘“Yet am I inland bred,”’ Shakespeare Quarterly, 15 (1964), 99-114.

  13. The figure of Phebe makes As You Like It more disturbing from a feminist perspective than The Taming of the Shrew because, while Kate and Bianca are empowered in the course of the dramatic action, Phebe is denied the right to reject a suitor appropriate in terms of class.

  14. Pierre de La Primaudaye, The French Academie, trans. T[homas] B[owes] (London, 1586), 743. …

  15. Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 33.

  16. Judy Z. Kronenfeld argues that, rather than mystifying social relations in the interests of a dominant social class, As You Like It uses pastoralism to reaffirm the virtues of charity, humility, and nobility that should control relations between social ranks. ‘Social Rank and the Pastoral Ideals of As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly, 29 (1978), 333-48. According to Louis Montrose in ‘“The Place of a Brother”,’ As You Like It reconciles social inequality with spiritual brotherhood through ‘acts of theatrical prestidigitation’ (31). Peter Erickson concludes in Patriarchal Structures that the play achieves and endorses patriarchal power by containing and subordinating female power. In ‘Conservative Fools in James's Court and Shakespeare's Plays,’ Shakespeare Studies, 19 (1987), 219-37, Theodore B. Leinwand argues that As You Like It ‘resists Elizabethan pastoral's typical social mystification’ (227) in order to insist on hierarchical distinctions.

  17. Lawrence Danson, ‘Jonsonian Comedy and the Discovery of the Social Self,’ PMLA [Publications of the Modern Language Association], 99 (1984), 185.

  18. Natalie Zemon Davis, ‘Boundaries and the Sense of Self in Sixteenth-Century France’ in Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellbery (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986), 63.

  19. Davis, 61.

  20. Areopagitica in John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1957), 744.

Mark Bracher (essay date 1984)

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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 essence of comedy”2 derives from the essential comic action, which, “whatever the story may be, … takes the form of a temporary triumph over the surrounding world.”3 The experience of comedy is thus an experience “of human vitality holding its own in the world,”4 an experience of “organic unity, growth, and self-preservation.”5 Life can triumph over the otherness of the world, however, in basically two ways, as Langer herself notes in passing:6 it can either negate this obstacle of otherness, excluding it from the world of the organism, or it can accommodate itself to this otherness, changing its own identity so as to include the other as other.

Now, if comic action consists in a triumph of life over the world, and if this triumph of life can occur in two fundamentally different ways, we might expect that there would be two fundamentally different types of comedy corresponding to the two modes of triumph.7 Such is in fact the case, as Northrop Frye has observed. Noting in his Anatomy of Criticism that “comedy blends into irony and satire at one end and into romance at the other,”8 Frye declares that “there are two ways of developing the form of comedy: one is to throw the main emphasis on the blocking characters; the other is to throw it forward on the scenes of discovery and reconciliation. One is the general tendency of comic irony, satire, realism, and studies of manners; the other is the tendency of Shakespearean and other types of romantic comedy.”9 We can identify ironic or satiric comedy, which emphasizes the blocking agent, with triumph through exclusion; and we can detect a similar kinship between Shakespearean or romantic comedy and fulfillment through inclusion of otherness. For while the denouement of satiric comedy consists in the exclusion, through defeat (and in the purest form of this comedy, through expulsion as well) of the blocking agent, the denouement of Shakespeare's romantic comedy tends more toward the inclusion of this agent.

In thus portraying fulfillment in such fundamentally different ways, these two basic modes of comedy embody two fundamentally different perspectives on the nature of life itself: while satiric comedy focuses on life or the self as exclusive of otherness, Shakespearean comedy emphasizes that one's being is inclusive of otherness. The former evokes the “immediate sense of life” through opposition to and the defeat of otherness, while the latter produces this “sense of general exhilaration” through relation to and acceptance of otherness.

But in thus evoking different experiences of life itself, these two types of comedy, one could argue, may well predispose their audiences to two fundamentally different strategies of existence: for if we are made to apprehend the self as primarily exclusive, we will be more likely to seek fulfillment by being exclusive, whereas if we are made to grasp the self as for the most part inclusive, we will tend to seek fulfillment through inclusion—through relation and participation with others.

Such, at least, are the assumptions which seem to inform As You Like It. For in this play Shakespeare presents us with two groups of characters embodying opposite types of self—one exclusive and the other inclusive. These actual selves, moreover, can be seen to result from the characters' tacit and largely unconscious assumptions about the fundamental nature of the self—about what constitutes one's identity. Thus one group of characters tacitly assumes that human selves are primarily closed entities opposed to other selves, and this largely unconscious assumption is manifested by the envious, antagonistic, and even violent behavior of those who hold it. The other group of characters experiences the self as intrinsically open to and inclusive of other selves, a perspective which results in actions of love and sacrifice for others.

Through the action of As You Like It, Shakespeare demonstrates the validity of both perspectives on the self, but accords a certain priority or privilege to the perspective of inclusiveness. Because of this perspective, and because Shakespeare, in addition, accords only subordinate or provisional status to the central attitudes and modes of being that characterize satiric comedy, the play works to lead the audience, both theoretically and affectively, away from the exclusive self and into an experience of identity as inclusive rather than exclusive of others. This inclusive self, moreover, is shown to be constituted by a plurality of perspectives or personalities—since one person can be open and loving to another only if he or she meets the other with a perspective or mode of being that is tailored to the uniqueness of the other.10


The view of the self as a monolith opposed to other monadic selves can be seen to underlie the major conflicts of the play. The play begins, in fact, with just such a conflict, with Oliver attempting to stymie Orlando. The fact that Oliver apparently has no good reason for opposing Orlando has puzzled critics, especially since the motivation of Lodge's Saladyne, Shakespeare's source for Oliver, is quite clear (Saladyne is covetous of the ploughlands bequeathed Rosader by their father). Sylvan Barnet notes that “Shakespeare might have followed Lodge in having the eldest son envious of his younger brother's ample possessions, but instead Shakespeare makes Oliver's conspiracy against Orlando less intelligible by giving Orlando only ‘a poor thousand crowns’ (I.i.2-3),11 a ‘poor allotery’ (I.i.71-72) that does not seem to interest Oliver.”12 Although the elimination of any tangible basis for animosity could simply reflect Oliver's minor stature in the play, the effect of the elimination is to force us to focus on the soul, the inner self, of Oliver,13 and when we do so, his behavior can be seen to derive from his unconscious assumption of what constitutes his identity or being. This assumption is especially evident at the end of the scene, where Oliver soliloquizes on Orlando:

I hope I shall see an end of him; for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he. Yet he's gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved; and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprized.


The final clause reveals that Oliver's hatred derives from the tacit assumption that individual selves are fundamentally opposed to one another,14 and that consequently the enhancement of one self entails a diminution of the other. Identity is a function of exclusiveness, in Oliver's view: each self is essentially an isolated entity, and as with Touchstone's cup and glass, “filling the one doth empty the other” (V.i.45-46).

This assumption about the nature of identity and fulfillment is even more apparent in the behavior of Duke Frederick. When Charles tells Oliver that young gentlemen are flocking to Duke Senior every day, there is an intimation that a jealousy similar to Oliver's,15 based on an identical view of the self, might be one cause of Frederick's usurpation and his banishment (exclusion) of his brother. This inference is confirmed in the following scene when Frederick says to Orlando, “The world esteemed thy father honorable, / But I did find him still mine enemy” (I.i.221-22). Duke Frederick portrays the relation of these clauses as one of contrast (“but”), but it is evident that the relation is actually one of cause and effect: the world esteemed Orlando's father honorable, therefore Frederick saw him as an enemy. In the character of Frederick, Shakespeare is thus once again portraying a self that is constituted by opposition to other selves—by exclusiveness—and thus feels threatened by the success of another. And once again Shakespeare has diverged from his source in order to present such a portrait: Frederick's reaction is the opposite of the inclusive response of the king in Lodge, where we find that “when they knew him to be the youngest Sonne of Sir John of Bourdeaux, the King rose from his seate and imbraced him, and the Péeres intreated him with al favourable courtesie.”16

The exclusive view of the self is also the cause of Frederick's behavior toward Rosalind, which, Le Beau informs us, is “Grounded upon no other argument / But that the people praise her for her virtues” and pity her for the sake of her father (I.ii.274-75). As with Oliver's antagonism toward Orlando, Shakespeare has removed the motivation which is found in Lodge. Torismond, Frederick's counterpart in Lodge, banishes Rosalynd because he fears that a nobleman might marry her and then “in his wifes right attempt the kingdom.”17 In Shakespeare's version, however, there is no such obvious motive for the duke's action, and the only overt explanation we receive is Le Beau's remark, “The duke is humorous” (I.ii.262). This absence of a clear motive forces us once again to examine the soul of the agent. When we do so, we find once again the notion that identity is a function of exclusiveness, a notion which Frederick himself makes explicit in the following scene. When Celia protests the banishment of Rosalind, he tells her: “Thou art a fool. She robs thee of thy name, / And thou wilt show more bright and seem more virtuous / When she is gone” (I.iii.79-81). For Frederick, as for Oliver, selves are seen as ontologically competitive with each other, and the enhancement of one self means the diminution of another's being.

The actions of the villains of the play can thus be seen to arise from a vision of identity as exclusive. In contrast, the actions of the hero and heroines of the play seem to derive from an opposite perspective, which experiences identity as a matter of inclusion and relatedness—a notion which is expressed first by Celia, in direct contradiction of her father. While for Duke Frederick, Rosalind's presence means a diminution of Celia's being, for Celia it means the exact opposite: an enhancement of her existence. “I cannot live out of her company,” she says (I.iii.85), indicating that her very being includes that of Rosalind. “Thou and I am one,” she says to Rosalind. “Shall we be sund'red, shall we part sweet girl? / No, let my father seek another heir” (I.iii.97-98). In rejecting her father for Rosalind, Celia is showing that her identity, her true self, is not a product of her lineage but is rather constituted by her relatedness to and inclusion of another self. Celia's attitude embodies the realization that, to alter Touchstone's dictum, filling the one doth fill the other also.

The view of self embraced by Celia and Rosalind, then, is directly opposed to that of Oliver and Duke Frederick. Shakespeare has pointed up this contrast by juxtaposing the two attitudes in the first two scenes of the play: immediately following Oliver's soliloquy on his hatred of Orlando, the scene changes and Rosalind and Celia appear and speak of their love for each other. While Oliver is envious of Orlando's status, Rosalind tells Celia, “I will forget the condition of my estate to rejoice in yours” (I.ii.14-15). Celia replies, “What [my father] hath taken away from thy father perforce, I will render thee again in affection” (I.ii.18-20), thus contrasting her own attitude of love and inclusion with her father's action of envy and exclusion (usurpation).

The two perspectives on identity are contrasted again later in the scene, when Duke Frederick is speaking to Orlando. Frederick's lines—“The world esteemed thy father honorable, / But I did find him still mine enemy”—are echoed by Rosalind's declaration eight lines later of the exactly opposite attitude: “My father loved Sir Roland as his soul, / And all the world was of my father's mind” (I.ii.231-32, my emphasis). While Frederick sets himself in opposition to the world and in enmity with Roland, Duke Senior is presented as virtually consubstantial with Roland, and with “the world.” His identity, like that of Rosalind and Celia, is constituted by relationship with and participation in the being of another, as he himself later implies when he defines his identity in terms of relationship, declaring to Orlando: “I am the Duke / That loved your father” (I.vii.194-95).

The most important juxtaposition of these opposing attitudes is found in the wrestling match. A number of the play's commentators have realized the symbolic importance of this event as a prefiguration to the rest of the play.18 Charles, as Thomas Kelly notes,19 is an agent of Oliver and is also aligned with the court of Duke Frederick; he thus functions as the champion of the exclusive, monadic self which Oliver and Frederick have embraced. Indeed, Charles's own words reveal that he, too, has this perspective on the self. When he tells Oliver, “I wrestle for my credit” (I.i.124), he indicates, as Kelly observes, that “he regards his footing atop Fortune's wheel as a precarious station … which cannot be shared.20 His being is enhanced, in his view, only by diminution of other selves.

Orlando seems to embody the contrary view, and Shakespeare points to this contrast by having both Charles and Orlando refer to the wrestler as a “foil” to the youth. Charles says to Oliver, “For your love, I would be loath to foil him, as I must for my own honor if he come in” (I.i.127-28). “Foil” here, of course, means to defeat or stymie, but the other meaning is present to the audience as well. Orlando uses the word in the same way as Charles, when he says to Rosalind and Celia, “Let your fair eyes and gentle wishes go with me to my trial; wherein if I be foil'd, there is but one sham'd that was never gracious” (I.ii.180-83). But unlike Charles, and indeed unlike Lodge's Rosader at the identical moment, Orlando appears relatively unconcerned about self—about either losing “honor” or gaining “shame.” For Charles, in contrast, fights for honor and station, and so does Rosader, whose victory is immediately preceded by his “calling to minde … the fame of his Fathers honours, and the disgrace that should fall to his house by his misfortune.”21 Again Shakespeare's alteration serves to focus attention on apparent lack of motivation and thus to direct our view toward the nature of the self—here toward Orlando's relative lack of self-interest.

Orlando's attitude is further revealed by the fact that Celia's appeal to his self-interest—“We pray you for your own sake to embrace your own safety and give over this attempt” (I.ii.173-74)—falls on deaf ears. Orlando's lack of egoism and self-interest even in the act of fighting—that action which we might normally consider to epitomize egoistic self-assertion—contrasts sharply with the heroic self-assertion of Charles, who indulges in the typical boasting of the martial champion. Orlando's victory over Charles thus represents the triumph of unself-centeredness, or openness and inclusiveness.

That Orlando's victory is a triumph of the forces of love, or inclusion, over those of self-love, or exclusion, is further emphasized22 by the events immediately following the match. Here we see that Orlando's overthrow of the exclusive, heroic ego23 embodied by Charles also overthrows what there is of his own heroic ego and that of Rosalind, and makes love victorious: Orlando's conduct has evoked Rosalind's love, and her ensuing gift to him (the chain from her neck) elicits his love. The thematic equivalence of their love with the defeat of the heroic ego, or exclusive self, is indicated by the fact that their love is referred to in terms of Charles's (the heroic ego's) defeat. “My better parts / Are all thrown down,” Orlando says after receiving Rosalind's gift. Rosalind responds, “Sir, you have wrestled well, and overthrown / More than your enemies” (I.ii.245-46, 250-51; my emphasis), and a few lines later Orlando exclaims to himself: “O poor Orlando, thou art overthrown! / Or Charles or something weaker masters thee” (I.ii.255-56, my emphasis). Thus the literal battle constitutes a conflict between the exclusive and inclusive notions of identity, and serves as a figure for what happens within the souls of Orlando and Rosalind, and, as we shall see, the rest of the characters as well.


The two perspectives on identity which Shakespeare contrasts in the opening scenes may be seen to correspond, as we noted earlier, to two types of comedy: the romantic and the satiric. As Nevill Coghill has pointed out, while Jonson's satiric comedy preaches “a morality that fundamentally presupposes … a world of discordant self-interest,” Shakespeare's romantic comedy is based on the view that life is a union in love, not a battle of self-interest.”24 The conflict between the two notions of identity thus also manifests itself as a debate between romantic and satiric comedy. A primary means by which Shakespeare prosecutes this debate in As You Like It is to transform the various exclusive elements typical of satiric comedy into agents or ancillaries of inclusiveness.

One of the most obvious satiric elements is Touchstone. His wit is typical of satiric comedy, and most importantly, “he has a natural tendency,” as Alexander Leggatt notes, “to react against the person he is speaking with,”25 manifesting that fundamental contentiousness which is the prevalent mode of being in satiric comedy. In Shakespeare's hands, however, the wit and opposition of Touchstone function not as ends in themselves but as means to a greater relatedness among selves. For as a self of relatedness, the inclusive self necessarily embraces, as we noted earlier, a certain pluralism and incohesiveness: if the self is fundamentally an openness, a relatedness to what is other, it will necessarily exist in a plurality of modes, for in its relation to one thing, it will be significantly different than it is in relation to another thing. The inclusive self, that is, alters itself to accommodate the uniqueness of everything it encounters, while the exclusive self, in contrast, attempts to assimilate or subordinate everything to one single mode of a monistic ego. And since a truly inclusive self necessarily embraces a plurality of perspectives, it also necessarily embodies a fundamental incohesion.

But if inclusive selves are thus by nature incohesive in a certain sense, then it follows that a major means of promoting an inclusive, loving self would be to draw it out of a limited mode of being or a single perspective and into the inclusiveness and plurality of incohesion. Leading other characters, and also the audience, into such incohesion is a primary function of the fool Touchstone, a “motley minded gentleman” (to use Jaques's words, V.iv.41), whose motley coat serves as an apt emblem of the fundamental incohesion, or plurality of perspectives, which is a prerequisite for an inclusive self.

The fool functions in several ways to produce plurality in those he encounters. The most obvious way is through direct contradiction of whatever view he meets. We have already noted Touchstone's tendency to oppose his interlocutors, and critics have long realized that the fool's use of wit, irony, and satire serves to pave the way to love by producing humility. But although humility is necessary for love, it is not totally sufficient, for in order to love, one must not only reduce one's own self-interest, but must actually embrace the self-interest of the other. In love, one adopts the perspective of the other: when the other is injured, one hurts; when the other is happy, one is joyful. Thus, in addition to engendering humility through verbal abuse, Shakespeare's fool elicits an alteration of perspective by employing particular types of verbal structures: it is significant, after all, that the fool is not merely insulting, but also witty.26

Hence the fool's use of paradoxes and puns, which, in order to be comprehended, must be perceived simultaneously from two mutually exclusive perspectives. When Corin asks, “And how like you this shepherd's life, Master Touchstone?” the fool replies, “Truly shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught” (III.ii.11-15). Touchstone is apparently saying that his life is a good life, but that it is also worth nothing—an assertion which seems self-contradictory. In order to understand Touchstone's statement, we must see him simultaneously as a shepherd and not a shepherd: insofar as he is playing the role of shepherd in Arden, he has the good life of a shepherd, but inasmuch as he is not really a shepherd at all, but a fool, his life as a shepherd is nothing.

Puns elicit a similar plurality of perspectives. When Celia declares to Rosalind, “I pray you, bear with me; I cannot go no further,” Touchstone announces, “For my part I had rather bear with you than bear you. Yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you, for I think you have no money in your purse” (II.iv.9-13). This complex pun causes us to see “bear” in a plurality of contexts, meaning simultaneously to put up with, to endure, to carry, and perhaps to give birth to. In addition, we are forced out of our original perspective on “cross” as engine of execution to a view of “cross” as coin.

The function of the wit in Shakespeare is thus not simply to exhibit in the verbal sphere the pervasive will to dominate others characteristic of exclusive selves, but, rather, to break up the absolutist perspective of the exclusive self, creating that incohesion which is a prerequisite for inclusiveness and love. Wit is used to open and enlighten others—to create a “new tolerance” and a “more inclusive consciousness”27 in other characters and in the audience—and not to consolidate one's own position by injuring or destroying the other. The fool should be a Touchstone who causes the true self to appear, not a Jaques who rails against imperfection. Jaques's statement—“I will through and through / Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world, / If they wil patiently receive my medicine” (II.vii.59-61)—sounds like the manifesto of a satiric playwright and issues from the very self of exclusion which it is the fool's role in Shakespeare to open: Jaques the satirist is able to view human action only from the single perspective of absolute righteousness, and Duke Senior speaks for the Shakespearean vision, and against the satiric perspective, when he chastises Jaques: “Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin” (II.vii.64). Relativism, or the achievement of a plurality of perspectives, leads, in the Shakespearean vision, not to skepticism and cynicism, but to love.

The satiric vision is thus contrary to Shakespeare's not only in that it denies the ultimate value of love,28 but also because it encourages and reinforces the attitude of the exclusive self, which is always attempting a put-down or expulsion of the other, be it physical, social, or verbal. In satiric comedy, the breaking apart of an exclusive self is done in order to destroy that self and thus increase the cohesion and power of another exclusive self. This is the ultimate goal not only of the antagonists but also of the protagonists, and even of the playwright himself, a fact which is manifested by the observation that the triumph of the protagonist is embodied as an overthrow rather than a conversion and inclusion of the antagonist. In Shakespearean comedy, on the other hand, the main purpose in attacking an exclusive self is to open it up and allow it to achieve the fullness of its being in relatedness with other selves, a goal which finds expression in a denouement of conversion and inclusion rather than dominance.

The greater inclusiveness promoted by As You Like It is enhanced not only by the jarring of the fool but also by the disguise or role-playing the characters engage in. Like puns and wit, disguise in Shakespeare's comedy fosters greater inclusiveness in the audience as well as in the characters. While in satiric comedy we the audience gain pleasure primarily at the expense of the victim of disguise or as a result of the abandonment of the disguise—both of which play to the self of exclusion—in Shakespearean comedy a greater measure of our delight in disguise derives from the energy produced by the plurality of perspectives which disguise inaugurates. A consummate instance of such an experience occurs when Rosalind disguised as Ganymede plays Rosalind, while Orlando plays himself. The multiple perspectives constellated by this encounter force us to see every word uttered by the characters in several ways at once, and as a result, we are unable to rest for long in the inertia of any single attitude or emotion.

This experience of greater inclusiveness which disguise inaugurates in the audience is mirrored and reinforced by the greater inclusiveness which the characters themselves achieve through disguise. In satiric comedy disguise is used to deceive and triumph over someone. Although this motive is not altogether absent in Shakespeare, the end result of disguise is here not the intensified exclusiveness of self but rather a greater inclusiveness. This result is apparent when Rosalind appears in disguise with Celia and Touchstone. She complains of weariness and would like to cry, but because of the role she is playing, she is able to take another perspective on her situation and resist the inertia of her immediate emotion: “I could find in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel and to cry like a woman,” she declares, “but I must comfort the weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat. Therefore, courage, good Aliena!” (II.iv.4-8). By embracing her role as Ganymede, Rosalind is thus able to get outside her monistic, habitual self and achieve a more inclusive, incohesive self that realizes the folly of romantic ideals even while loving Orlando. As a result, her love becomes more authentic, for in the end she self-consciously and deliberately gives herself to love instead of being overthrown by it as she was at first.

Orlando goes through a similar exercise in achieving a more inclusive self. It might appear that in his encounters with Ganymede's Rosalind, Orlando is simply being himself. In actuality, however, he is playing Orlando, and there is an important difference in the two perspectives. In playing himself, Orlando, at the same time that he is himself, is forced to step outside himself and view this self as a mere role he is playing rather than as his absolute identity. His role-playing, like Rosalind's, thus works to lead him to new perspectives and hence creates of him a self of greater inclusiveness, a self more willing to accommodate the other. Orlando must move beyond that self which, in the words of Kent Talbot van den Berg, “first desires his beloved as a physical object, and subsequently … re-creates her as a mental image.”29 He must attain that inclusiveness which views the other “as another subject who transcends both the object and the image …, [so that] the beloved's existence as a person independent of the lover's will is no longer threatened by the unmastered importunity of desire or ignored in the solipsism of fancy, but is cherished by a respectful love.”30 A truly inclusive self, a self of love, is a self of multiple perspectives that recognizes the profound truth beneath Orlando's conceit that “Rosalind of many parts / By heavenly synod was devised; / Of many faces, eyes, and hearts” (III.ii.149-51). That the multiplicity of the self “by heavenly synod was devised” would indicate that the essence, the ultimate nature of the self, is a plurality and not a monistic unity. If a self exists as a closed monadic unit, it lives in perversion of its true nature, for such a mode of being is not what heaven has devised.31 Here once again Shakespeare has taken a common motif of satiric comedy—disguise—and transformed it so that it supports a vision of human being that is contradictory to that of satiric comedy.


In addition to appropriating elements of satiric comedy and transforming them into ancillaries of inclusiveness, As You Like It also promotes the self of inclusion by portraying its victory over the self of exclusion. The greatest triumph of the inclusive self occurs at the end of Act IV, with the rescue and conversion of Oliver. Knowles observes that “Orlando's deed symbolizes his victory over the savage egotism and jealousy that his brother embodies in the play and with which he himself is tempted.”32 Knowles also sees this action as “a victory over Satan” for both men,33 and René Fortin declares that in his rescue of Oliver, Orlando is like Christ.34 Whether or not one reads the rescue scene symbolically (or allegorically)—and there are justifications for such a reading35—the religious dimensions of the event are significant, and serve to connect the inclusive self with the self of Christian love. The utterly selfless act of Orlando shatters the closed self of Oliver and transforms him into an inclusive self, a transformation of identity indicated by Oliver's declaration, “'Twas I. But 'tis not I” (IV.iii.136). Oliver is no longer the same person he was when, as an exclusive self, he declared, “I never loved my brother in my life” (III.i.14). This exclusive self of envy and hatred has been converted into an inclusive self of love and fellowship, which, Oliver now realizes, constitutes the true, natural identity of a person: his former self of envy and hatred he now sees as “unnatural” (line 123), a perversion of his true being.

By having Oliver, the primary exponent of self-interest, transformed into a proponent of love, Shakespeare undercuts the satiric view of human being. However, in the spirit of inclusiveness, Shakespeare does not simply dismiss the cynical satiric view as error. Rather, he presents incontrovertible evidence that this view of the self has a certain validity. In the confrontation of Touchstone and William in the opening scene of Act V, we are shown that from a certain perspective, the self is indeed constituted through exclusion of and opposition to other selves. The enhancement of one self often does, in fact, entail the diminution of another: Touchstone gets Audrey by taking her away from William. Thus, as Touchstone tells William, “To have is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other. For all your writers do consent that ipse is he. Now, you are not ipse, for I am he” (V.i.43-47). Ipseity, or personal identity, is by definition the consequence of difference or distinction from others: “ipse is he,” and as Touchstone rightly notes, you cannot be ipse if I am he. For Touchstone, moreover, the being which one identity contains is like drink (ipse, the Latin pronoun meaning himself, is also a slang name for a kind of ale36): it cannot be included in another identity. The ensuing action demonstrates this exclusiveness of identity, for Touchstone gets Audrey, while William loses her: Touchstone the glass (to adopt the fool's “figure in rhetoric”) is filled through emptying William the cup.

But the fact that persons often—or even usually—exist in exclusion of and opposition to one another does not prove that such opposition constitutes the self, as the satiric view tacitly assumes. Hence the triumph of the closed, exclusive self is not ultimate in the play. In the final scene the fool's wit is seen to be an ancillary to love, and the satiric vision, in the figures of Jaques and Touchstone, is partially dismissed and partially absorbed into the Shakespearean comedy of love.

In this scene the fool Touchstone assumes an inclusive identity, pressing in “amongst the rest of the country copulatives” (V.iv.56-57) and giving the assembly instructions (V.iv.69-103) on how to live as an inclusive self. All disagreements, Touchstone counsels, should be pursued with tentative, conditional assertions, never with a direct attack against another person. Such relativism allows differing opinions, multiple perspectives, to exist side by side. Thus if, as Touchstone says, he disliked the cut of a certain courtier's beard and said so, the courtier would reply not with the Lie Direct but with the Retort Courteous, merely stating that he was of the opinion that his beard was well cut. Such a response avoids the absolutist stance of the heroic ego, which views any difference of opinion as a threat to the self. The Retort Courteous is not cowardly; it rather embodies a respect for the other and a recognition of the other's intrinsic right to be other than oneself. Thus the courtier will accommodate all degrees of opposing points of view, right up to the Lie Direct. And even the Lie Direct need not result in a quarrel, if both parties realize that all opinions are ultimately relative, and allow themselves to differ, permitting each other to remain other. Differences need not be resolved. Arguments can end in a manner other than the victory of one party and the defeat of the other: they can end with both parties acknowledging that they disagree. Even Jaques shares this realization at the end, when, instead of railing at the dancers, he simply declares, “I am for other than for dancing measures” (V.iv.193) and withdraws. The final word should not be: I say this, and you are wrong to say that; but rather, as one of the adversaries realizes: If you say that, then I say this, and that's how we stand. Let's shake hands and be brothers (lines 96-102).

Touchstone here modifies his earlier dictum on the nature of the self. He does not retract his assertion that “ipse is he: [and] you are not ipse, for I am he”—that individual selves are inherently distinct and thus in certain ways opposed. But he does deny that this opposition must of necessity dominate human existence. Mutuality and friendship can supersede opposition and difference if individuals will but acknowledge and accept that very opposition and difference. The recognition that every perspective is relative, and the willingness to admit the conditionality of one's own position, is the basis of peace, as Touchstone realizes: “Your If is the only peacemaker. Much virtue in If” (V.iv.102-103).37

The significance of Touchstone's disquisition is immediately attested to by Duke Senior, who remarks, “He uses his folly like a stalking horse and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit” (V.iv.106-107). The value of Touchstone's insight and its relation to the theme of love is further indicated by Hymen, who appears and sanctifies—almost in response to Touchstone, it seems—the notion of inclusiveness: “Then is there mirth in heaven / When earthly things made even / Atone together” (V.iv.108-110). Inclusiveness, or atonement, is seen to accord with the ultimate nature of things: it produces mirth in heaven. And the simple juxtaposition of Touchstone's speech with the appearance of Hymen indicates once again that a fundamental relativism is a prerequisite to love. Before one can love, one must be open to the loved one's otherness and allow the loved one to be different.

The company seem to have realized this fact and have taken Touchstone's words to heart, for they respond to Hymen's song with a litany of If's (V.iv.118-24). Having renounced the absolute in favor of the relative, the exclusive self in favor of the inclusive, the lovers are prepared for marriage, the ultimate instance of the inclusiveness of identities. Hymen pairs off the couples and sings a paean to “High Wedlock” (V.iv.146) which reminds us that “'Tis Hymen peoples every town”—that without the “blessed bond of board and bed” (V.iv.142-143), this union of inclusive selves (united also at the biological level), we would not exist. The play's final scene thus argues for the necessary priority of the inclusive self, without which there would be no society, and ultimately, no continuation of life. This argument is recapitulated at the end by the final dispensation of the antagonists, which reiterates—and, moreover, embodies—the inclusiveness of the play's guiding spirit.

As the play ends, the news arrives that Duke Frederick, the play's highest ranking embodiment of the closed self of hatred, has been converted (rather than killed, as in Lodge), and Jaques, the play's chief exponent of the satiric vision of human being, realizes that “out of these convertites / There is much matter to be heard and learned” (V.iv.184-85) and gracefully retires. Thus in Touchstone's speech and marriage, Frederick's conversion, and Jaques's humble withdrawal, as well as in Oliver's conversion, the play's exclusive and satiric elements submit to the more inclusive and magnanimous agents of Shakespeare's romantic comedy; and we the audience participate in a perspective from which life—our very being—is experienced as a process which, although in certain ways exclusive, is fundamentally a matter of openness and inclusion.


  1. Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953), p. 348.

  2. Ibid., p. 331.

  3. Ibid., p. 348.

  4. Ibid., p. 331.

  5. Ibid., p. 350.

  6. Ibid., p. 328.

  7. Langer notes that this triumph can occur in various different ways—“by wit, luck, personal power, or even humorous, or ironical, or philosophical acceptance of mischance” (p. 331), but she does not connect these different modes of triumph in comedy with the two basic modes by which life itself triumphs.

  8. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), p. 177.

  9. Ibid., pp. 166-67.

  10. The fact that the inclusive self is a self of multiple perspectives provides the connection which critics have been unable to find between the two main themes of the play: multiple perspectives and love. Concerning the plurality of perspectives, C. L. Barber, for example, in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959), p. 234, speaks of “the constant shifting of attitude and point of view” in the play, while Harold Jenkins, in “As You Like It,ShS [Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearean Study and Production] 8 (1955):49, 45, notes “the play's principle of countering one view with another.” Other critics speak of the “gap between awarenesses” in the play (Bertrand Evans, Shakespeare's Comedies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 87), the play's “multiple planes of reality” (S. L. Bethell, Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1944), p. 38), and the “several modes of experience” embodied in the play (Thomas Kelly, “Shakespeare's Romantic Heroes: Orlando Reconsidered,” SQ [Shakespeare Quarterly] 24 (Winter 1973):22.

    Regarding the centrality of love in the play, see Barber, p. 233; John Russell Brown, Shakespeare and His Comedies (London: Methuen, 1957), p. 141; and Robert B. Bennett, “The Reform of a Malcontent: Jaques and the Meaning of As You Like It,ShStud. [Shakespeare Studies] 9(1976):188. Several other critics have also noted the larger, religious dimension of the love portrayed in the play. See, for example, Michael Taylor, “As You Like it: the Penalty of Adam,” CritQ [Critical Quarterly] 15 (Spring 1973):79; René E. Fortin, “‘Tongues in Trees’: Symbolic Patterns in As You Like It,TSLL [Texas Studies in Literature and Language] 14 (Winter 1973):577; and Richard Knowles, “Myth and Type in As You Like It,ELH 33 (March 1966):1-22, passim.

    Regarding the connection of the two themes, it is recognized, of course, that the multiplicity of perspectives produces a clearer vision of love, and that the role-playing and disguise somehow seem to bring the lovers together—partly by revealing their folly to them—but an understanding of the precise manner in which these devices promote love is lacking. Some critics even marvel that the ideal of love remains at all after the parody and irony. This failure to integrate the two primary thematic concerns of the play has kept us from appreciating their full significance. Thus Knowles, for example, is forced to conclude that despite the play's numerous religious references and Christian patterns, it cannot sustain an interpretation based upon this aspect, because the religious element is “entirely unrelated to several of the story lines or subplots” (p. 19).

  11. All references are to The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, general ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).

  12. Sylvan Barnet, “‘Strange Events’: Improbability in As You Like It,ShStud 4 (1969):122.

  13. Alexander Leggatt, in Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 187, observes that the “arbitrary actions [of Oliver and Frederick] spring from irrational, insecure personalities.”

  14. Ralph Berry, in Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), p. 178, 185, declares that “Oliver hates Orlando because he seems an inferior version of his golden brother … ; the other parallels self, and therefore subtly threatens self.”

  15. Shakespeare invites parallels between the two relationships by making the two dukes brothers: Lodge's Gerismond and Torismond are unrelated.

  16. Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde, in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols., 2: The Comedies, 1597-1603 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958), p. 172.

  17. See Barnet, p. 124.

  18. See, for example, Thomas Kelly, p. 15. John Doebler, in “Orlando: Athlete of Virtue,” ShS 26 (1972):115, believes that “we should at least consider the possibility of Shakespeare wanting to place a special emphasis upon the wrestling match, making it a thematic introduction to the role he had outlined for Orlando.”

  19. Kelly, p. 15.

  20. Ibid. My emphasis.

  21. Bullough, p. 171.

  22. The symbolic significance of the event is also emphasized by parallels with Hercules' fight with Anteus. Shakespeare deliberately evokes a parallel between Orlando and Hercules, it seems, by having Rosalind say to Orlando, “Now Hercules be thy speed, young man!” (I.ii.205). In Lodge the parallel is between Charles and Hercules. Knowles notes several additional allusions to the Hercules myth and observes that “Renaissance mythographers … moralized the wrestling match [between Hercules and Anteus] as the victory of the rational soul over earthly or sensual appetite” (p. 4)—of the true self over the perverted self. In Shakespeare's treatment of the match, the opposition of true self and perverted self is expressed not in terms of rationality versus appetite, but rather as inclusiveness and love versus exclusiveness and envy.

  23. The term “heroic ego,” as I am using it here, is taken from James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), who sees the true self as a multiplicity of personalities rather than a monistic “heroic ego,” as he terms it.

  24. Nevill Coghill, “The Basis of Shakespearean Comedy: A Study in Medieval Affinities,” E&S [Essays and Studies] 3 (1950):27, 13. My emphasis.

  25. P. 196.

  26. Leggatt notes that in As You Like It “wit is not simply an aggressive weapon … but a liberation of the mind,” p. 195.

  27. The phrases are from David Young, The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1976), p. 71, and Barber, p. 239.

  28. See Peter G. Phialas. “Comic Truth in Shakespeare and Jonson,” SAQ [South Atlantic Quarterly] 62 (Winter 1963):78-91, for a discussion of Jonson's treatment of love.

  29. Kent Talbot van den Berg, “Theatrical Fiction and the Reality of Love in As You Like It,PMLA [Publications of the Modern Language Association] 90 (October 1975):891.

  30. Ibid.

  31. This plurality of the inclusive self, which is a means of accommodating the other, is to be sharply distinguished from that opportunistic self which adopts a multitude of facades simply in order to prey on other selves.

  32. Knowles, p. 6.

  33. Ibid., p. 13.

  34. Fortin, p. 580.

  35. See Fortin, pp. 572-79, and Knowles. pp. 5-6.

  36. OED, Compact edn., 2 vols., 1:1482.

  37. Maura Slattery Kuhn, in “Much Virtue in ‘If,’” SQ 28 (Winter 1977):40-50, points to another indication of the play's relativism with her observation that “an untypically large number of If's appear in this play, more than in any other play by Shakespeare, both in absolute frequency and in relative frequency,” p. 44.

Patrick Carnegy (review date 2000)

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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, if not always better bodies, to show off their collections, but it's all up with the stage when it's leased out as a cat-walk.

That I should find myself having to talk first about Kaffe Fassett's costumes and accoutrements for the RSC's new As You Like It is already a sign that something is awry. Gregory Doran is its director and his stagings of The Winter's Tale,Oroonoko,Timon of Athens and Macbeth over the past year have all been outstanding. But take away Fassett's coat of many colours and the production stands lost in a threadbare shift. Ever resourceful in mining humour from tragedy, Doran seems at a loss to fathom the deeper currents in this pastoral comedy. In truth, As You Like It is one of the toughest of Shakespeare's comedies to stage because its improbabilities and exuberant artifice are no more than pretexts for the verbal magic of its disparate loving couples, the highborn Rosalind and Orlando, set against the rather less spiritual coupling of Touchstone and Audrey.

Alexandra Gilbreath's Rosalind begins well enough with a troubled, care-worn look that is true to her situation—mourning her father's banishment, her life at the usurping Duke's court bearable only because of Celia's friendship. Until, that is, she catches sight of Orlando and her father is quite forgot. This infatuation is followed all too swiftly by her own banishment to the Forest of Arden and the charade she devises to make proof of Orlando's love once he's followed her there. Like all Rosalinds of quality, Gilbreath has fun with this, but her stable-laddish ‘Ganymede’ is too busily putting on the style to feel the Mozartean pain-in-joy that must be there if the character is to move as well as entertain. Certainly she has good moments, especially when she finds herself perilously caught out between playing ‘Ganymede’ and being Rosalind, but not enough to restore the androgynous allure thrown away by swaggering around with her thumbs in the pockets of her knee-breeches and veiling her voice with a breathy, sometimes almost panting style of delivery. No wonder Nancy Carroll's winsome Celia buries her head in her book.

It doesn't help that Anthony Howell, making his RSC debut with Orlando, has so little of the character's impulsive sexuality—this being the very reason why Rosalind has to invent Ganymede's love-cure so she can nurture it to their mutual advantage. Maybe this is only another way of saying that the essential sexual chemistry between the two actors was never really there—as it so memorably was with Victoria Hamilton and Ben Daniels in Michael Grandage's Sheffield production which I recently caught at the Lyric Hammersmith. Here, the sense of joie de vivre played out in the thickets of adversity could scarcely have been more winning, if at the price of casting too much of the text to the winds in rapid-fire delivery.

Not so at Stratford, where Adrian Schiller almost rescued the show by having you listen to Touchstone's every word and making uncommon sense of them into the bargain. It was a real treat to see him working himself up into a dastardly frenzy against the peasant William (Gavin Abbott) only to swoon in terror as the harmless giant clears his throat before attempting a response. This was pure gain, but it remains incomprehensible why Declan Conlon should have made Jaques such a flat and lifeless figure. In his defence it can be said that he couldn't have sucked even the least drop of melancholy from the abysmally insensitive music provided by Django Bates and tunelessly belted out on the stage. (At the Lyric the a cappella singing had been quite perfect.) The only pleasure to be found in this Jaques is that in his floor-length dark coat he was the sole figure to escape being knitted-out in camp Kaffe.

The backdrop when the play begins is an unassertive tapestry and you are charmed to see Rosalind and Celia in exquisitely pretty black-and-white dresses. An enriching denial of obvious expectation, perhaps promising a gradual infiltration of colour as the drama, in its upward path from winter chill to the light and life of spring, unfolds. But no, once we're in the forest there isn't (apart from Jaques) a courtier or peasant without some multi-coloured textile twined about his person, to say nothing of a veritable catalogue of monster cushions and carpet-bags—a sort of Arden-for-sale promotion at Liberty's. I freely confess to being the proud owner of a masterpiece of a hand-knit Kaffe sweater. But you'll have to be fanatical about Fassett to go along with the warp and woof of his fantasia on the Stratford stage. And not worry too much about the play.

Amelia Marriette (essay date 2000)

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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 director's independent working conditions, her tight budget (£800,000), limited filming period (only five weeks) and art-house distribution suggested that her film would be artisanal in nature.1 Refusing to sit easily alongside other major Shakespearean cinematic productions, Edzard's As You Like It, in fact, reveals greater affinities with the avant-garde genre, a ‘personal mode … made by individuals or very small groups of collaborators’ and unmarked by ‘commercial imperatives, corporate hierarchies and a high degree of specialization and division of labour’.2 Viewed in such terms, As You Like It emerges as experimental and challenging, a work by a relatively emancipated filmmaker which dispenses with convention and tradition to create a unique Shakespearean utterance. Concentrating on its distinctive relocations, its utopian aspirations and its doubling arrangements, and using insights gained from a specially commissioned interview with the director herself, this essay argues that the film can only be fully appreciated when assessed in its own avant-garde terms as a postmodern experiment attendant upon, and sensitive to, a fin-de-siècle moment.


Edzard's best known work prior to As You Like It was a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit (1987). The similarities between this six-hour epic and Edzard's film are telling. Both highlight the city as a metaphor; both consider the complexities of viewing circumstances from double perspectives; and both centre upon observing societies at work. In approaching Shakespeare's play, Edzard drew directly on her experience of adapting Dickens' novel. As she explained in interview:

in the case of Dickens, the truth of the character is in the nineteenth century, and the truth does not materialize until you start putting in all the detail. The issue with As You Like It is completely different. First of all, I don't believe that you can reach the sixteenth century in that sort of way. It's too remote: it would become an archaeological dig. The nineteenth century has a closeness to us in reproduction terms. The intention of the play is that it is a play and that it is meant to be rethought every time you do it. A film has to be as tightly rooted to its origins as is feasible, and it has to carry the message that the past has changed to us.3

Because Edzard's As You Like It relocates the play to a contemporary, urban environment of the 1990s, it might be suggested, then, that the director's agenda is to update seemingly remote Shakespearean preoccupations. Thus the court becomes a corporate business emporium and the forest a wasteland. This urban relocation is given a further twist in that both imagined worlds are envisaged as urban dystopias: the corporate world, though architecturally grand, is corrupt and shallow, while the wasteland is shabby, containing no permanent buildings. Such is the visual logic of Edzard's film, moreover, that a frisson of meaning is created between the 1590s and the 1990s: the contemporary London of modernity is connected to its early modern predecessor through a transcendent vision of national blight. As the historian Asa Briggs notes, ‘the difference between relative and absolute poverty continues to shape all discussions on social stratification’. Today's ‘buskers, beggars, sleepers-out and squatters generate conflicting reactions that would have been familiar at the end of the pre-industrial sixteenth century’.4 By directing attention to economic parallels which recur at salient historical junctures, Edzard establishes a recognizable world which is not too distant from a modern audience's experience.

Elaborating this link is the use of contemporary dress: As You Like It is the first modern dress Shakespeare film of recent times. Costume supplies the characters with a background, an identity and a past. For example, the film follows the banishment of Rosalind (Emma Croft) with a contrived scene, which places her and Celia (Celia Bannerman) in a large closet. Celia hectically rummages through her clothes while arguing that she and Rosalind should seek Duke Senior in the Forest. Discarding evening-dresses and gorgeous robes, Celia finally selects sensible, walking shoes and a headscarf—the characteristic garb of a middle-class urbanite planning a trip to the country. In contrast, Rosalind chooses jeans, a stocking cap, boots and an oversized jacket—a choice which visually differentiates her from Celia. The contemporary unisex nature of the costume makes Rosalind a convincingly androgynous figure. The historical transference staged by the film, and made immediately apparent through costume, is further heightened by the urban context.

Despite the modern setting, Edzard retains the play's original language and, indeed, includes much more than either the 1936 Paul Czinner or the 1979 Basil Coleman Time Life/BBC versions.5 When her As You Like It is placed alongside these two earlier filmic interpretations, Edzard's decisions take on a positively inspirational aspect. Neither Czinner nor Coleman appreciate that the ‘past has changed to us’. Both faithfully adhere to the conventions and restrictions of the pastoral in directorial emphases which have been criticized as artificial, irrelevant and lacking in imagination. Critics especially took exception to Czinner's fabricated forest, which took up 300 feet and filled two stages. A contemporary review stated that the ‘camera’ had brought no new advantages to the interpretation of the play, highlighting the ‘settings’ as the worst features: ‘The exterior of Duke Frederick's palace looks as if it had been designed by Gunter; the interior resembles the foyer and corridors of a Super Cinema De Luxe. The Forest scenes are less vulgar but more insipid.’6 If this 1936 version proved unpopular, so, too, did the later BBC film. In Jack Jorgens' words, its ‘actors seem reluctant to move for fear of tripping over a branch or disappearing from the shot … The blocking and framing are often awkward, the compositions ungainly and the cutting poorly timed’.7 Against such uniformly adverse views, the distinctiveness of Edzard's film takes on a particular cultural resonance.

Instead of avoiding the complexities of the conditions of history which inform it, Edzard's As You Like It celebrates a sense of its own time. It is therefore unfortunate not only that the film was poorly received on release but that, contrary to judgements on earlier cinematic realizations of the play, Edzard should have been criticized for avoiding forest scenes, for her rejection of the pastoral. H. R. Coursen's response is typical. Commenting on the film's use of ‘modern dress’ and the ‘placement of “Arden” on the concrete of a construction site’, he finds ‘disquieting’ the references to ‘trees and a forest’ and the ‘allusions to curtal axes and a doublet and hose’.8 Attacking the disjunction between setting and language, Coursen fails to appreciate that Edzard, running counter to her filmic predecessors, delights in calling into question the whole notion of verisimilitude. Following Coursen, Russell Jackson sounds a similar note. His objection is that the ‘film is a poor representative of the vigour that “modern dress” can bring’. ‘In the wasteland’, he writes, ‘the references to trees, streams and deer are allowed to stand, and the contemporary social focus is hopelessly vague … The play's mixture of pastoral vagueness and social precision is lost, to be replaced with modern pieties rather than analysis and argument.’ While Jackson appreciates Edzard's purposefully worked linguistic and contextual discrepancies, he rejects the film for falling between ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘modern’ interpretative structures.9 As I go on to argue, however, Edzard's film can, in fact, be seen as a forerunner of the more effectively radical Shakespearean films of the late 1990s, such as Loncraine's Richard III and even Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's ‘Romeo + Juliet’.

The director's recognition that, as a Renaissance literary trope, the pastoral is unfamiliar to a modern (even an art-house) audience, allows the film to refract fin-de-siècle fears in a century marked by a determined will to mechanize and urbanize. In inner cities, particularly, scrappy, barren pieces of land have already become the only ‘green’ stretches of ground that afford any notion of ‘pastoral’ escape. As has recently been noted, ‘urban sprawl has swallowed up almost two million acres of countryside since 1945’.10 In Edzard's film, then, the references to trees, streams and deer, when juxtaposed with the obvious lack of such properties, concentrate the mind on the possibility that the countryside is in imminent danger of complete engulfment. The film's unsettling implication is that this absence has become normative. Characters do not even appear to notice that there are few bucolic retreats remaining. Indeed, in one scene, Celia gathers flowers from among the wasteland's weeds. Here the camera directs a viewer to the poignant ignorance underlining Celia's action: she seems perfectly content, as if she were gathering wild flowers from a lush meadow. Part of the success of As You Like It is that it evokes a sense of contemporary crisis, a historical moment at which ‘nature’ has been distorted and compromised and hope in a better future has been eroded.

Viewed from a purist's perspective, Edzard's As You Like It seems perverse: in obstinately avoiding the pastoral, the film is diametrically opposed to Shakespeare's comedy. However, although a world apart in terms of verdancy, Edzard's urban scenario and Shakespeare's ‘green world’ do share a common point—like the pastoral scene of Shakespeare's play, the wasteland is a place of potential enlightenment. This barren site provides the only forum for reflection and reasoned debate in a world which has lost its ability to relate to the bucolic. Within it, homeless characters experience a vacuum of opportunity and are forced to face their fears, not retreat from them: ‘like the toad, ugly and venomous’, the wasteland ‘Wears yet a precious jewel in his head’.11 If the wasteland makes an important thematic point, the corporate city is no less suggestive. Edzard's dichotomous metropolis ultimately shows two sides of the same coin, with the city as a whole becoming ‘a metaphor—a dynamic configuration of the conflicting hopes and fears of the twentieth century’.12 The two locations signify a contradictory construction of the contemporary urban world, which displays a confident exterior but conceals a marginalized and abandoned material underside. Such a concern with the disjunction between surface appearances and inner substance chimes with Jean Baudrillard's claim that the current age has no firmly established sense of ‘reality’. Edzard's As You Like It may be seen as a moderate response to what Baudrillard calls ‘the emancipation of the sign: released from any “archaic” obligation it might have to designate something, the sign is at last free for a structural or combinatory play that succeeds the previous role of determinate equivalence’.13 In Edzard's film, the lack of a fixed relationship to Shakespeare's pastoral liberates the play from any ‘archaic’ indebtedness.

Despite entertaining scope for enlightenment, Edzard's wasteland still harbours incorrigible reprobates. As Edzard herself stated in interview, Arden comes across as ‘bloody cold, harsh and dangerous’:

going out there isn't just a joke, which it tends to be when you show a pastoral theme or a woody glade. Today we are so yearning for pastoral bliss, many of us are particularly deprived of nature, and therefore nature seems much more attractive than I think in the text it's meant to be. I don't think that for a public of today a leafy glade would read as savage, or at least it would be very, very difficult.14

In order to underline a potential for savagery in the world that she constructs as Arden, Edzard dramatizes the lioness and snake episode of the play as a robbery. Thieves physically assault the sleeping Oliver (Andrew Tiernan), the latter's account of the event working as a voiceover. Through such scenic adaptation, Edzard provides an audience, unused to antique rhetoric, with a visual motif that might be readily appreciated. In this case, the visualization aids a traditional understanding of the episode, and an audience is able to recognize that, in Richard Knowles' words, ‘Oliver's conversion from sinfulness is brought about by Orlando's sacrifice.’15 Such contemporary translations assist Edzard's conception of the play and are certainly no more radical than those that theatre directors have been mobilizing for decades. Where Edzard is criticized for turning Arden into a ‘concrete construction site’, Peter Brook is eternally idolized for placing his Athenian wood in a white box.16 More obscurely, the Canadian director Robert Lepage presented his A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the same year as Edzard, on a mud-strewn stage in a production which has been described as ‘an extraordinary theatrical experience, often visually astonishing, sometimes hauntingly beautiful’.17 Like Brook and Lepage, Edzard engages with a late twentieth-century unmooring of philosophical certainties to question stereotypical notions of her play's ‘realities’; her filmic relocation, however, has yet to attract the praise that has been lavished on her theatrical counterparts.


In recent years, scholars have begun to turn their attention to the growing untenability of a utopian ideal at the end of the twentieth century. Escalating urbanization, periodic economic crises and global warfare have dealt a heavy blow to Utopian schemes, making their institutional possibility increasingly remote. As Robert Hughes states: ‘we have got so used to accepting the failure of Utopia that we find it hard to understand our cultural grandparents, many of whom believed … that its historical destiny was to succeed.’18 Such a sceptical attitude towards the utopian construction might be exacerbated when another century is just around the corner, for, to cite Asa Briggs, ‘in many quarters the arrival of a new millennium is awaited less with eager expectation than with a sense of resigned and even fatalistic inevitability … Some observers … have talked of eventual devastation on an undreamed-of scale by such neo-Malthusian forces as AIDS, by global warming or by nuclear annihilation.’19 These and similar fin-de-siècle anxieties, this section suggests, impact upon Edzard's mise-en-scène in As You Like It. Not only does Edzard purposefully omit a utopian investment in the pastoral; she also takes account of the fact that, for a late twentieth-century sensibility, there can be no reliance upon traditional notions of a rustic retreat.

By playing up the less palatable dimensions of As You Like It, Edzard follows in the footsteps of those critics who have identified in the play a harsher economic landscape that sits ill with its bucolic tendencies. Thus John Wilders notices that Arden is an essentially featureless locale described as ‘a “desert”: the banished Duke calls it “a desert city”, and Orlando a “desert inaccessible”. It is, simply, a deserted place’.20 Similarly, Marilyn French reads As You Like It as concerned with ‘the underside of society, made up of women, exiles, outcasts, the poor, the eccentric, and the low in status’.21 The devotion given to the ‘underside’ in Edzard's film version of the play reveals that she, too, is engaging with a more general fin-de-siècle imperative to see Shakespeare's comedies as resonant and suggestive in modern terms.

In particular, Edzard stages her debate not so much in the country as its late twentieth-century equivalent, the city, preferring to use the Shakespearean text to investigate the dynamics of a modern, technologically dominated civilization. This more radical option avoids the incumbent problems of trying to create parallels with a now eclipsed agrarian environment. Furthermore, Edzard's refusal of stereotypical references (there are no shots of Big Ben, Westminster or Buckingham Palace) means that her setting takes on the qualities of a generic metropolis. The city is both nowhere and everywhere.

In this connection, Edzard's As You Like It may usefully be linked to other modern urban and dystopian films, such as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985) and, especially, Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987). Both As You Like It and Wall Street unfold in a modern metropolis, utilizing the world of corporate finance to pass social comment. Edzard's corporate city, in fact, may be equated with Wall Street itself—‘a place where honour is traded for power and peace of mind for a piece of the action’.22 The position of Duke Senior (Don Henderson)—he enjoys absolute rule, but must unexpectedly suffer the tribulations of exile—is represented as similar to that of a stockbroker, who deals in millions of dollars one day, but may be bankrupt and unemployed the next. Most illuminating, perhaps, is the implied connection between Gordon Gekko, Wall Street's individualistic, amoral anti-hero, and Oliver. Both appear visually similar, with Edzard giving Oliver the clearly identifiable stockbroker ‘uniform’ of a bold striped shirt, double-breasted suit and slick-backed hair. In their obsession with increase, and lack of regard for emotion, both Stone's Gekko and Edzard's Oliver draw from, and feed into, the stereotype ‘yuppie’, a phrase coined in the 1980s to denote a particular breed of reprehensible capitalist, created and fostered by the politics of, respectively, Reagan and Thatcher. Gekko's philosophy states: ‘You're a player or you're nothing. Everybody starts from the same place. It's not luck or circumstance—you screw the other guy before he screws you.’ In As You Like It, Oliver's decision to impugn his brother's name (encouraging Charles, the wrestler, to break his neck) stems from his fear of the ‘enchantingly beloved’ (I.i.151) Orlando, whose naturally gentle humour causes the stockbroker to be ‘altogether misprised’ (I.i.155). With no compunction, Oliver and Gekko rid themselves of apparent enemies, and, although their methods differ, their irrational behaviour is in many ways comparable. By placing Oliver within the context of a business institution, Edzard underscores both the immense power invested in the hierarchical structures of large conglomerates and the multiplicity of methods for ‘screwing the other guy’. Her filmic representation suggests that the brutal treatment meted out by Oliver towards Orlando may be seen as simultaneously literal and figurative.

Like Scott, Gilliam and Stone, Edzard exploits to the full the city's metaphorical valency. But Edzard also extends the metaphor, using binary opposition to depict not a one-dimensional city, but a dynamic urban construct in which two separate universes compete for prominence. To be more precise, the director explores through her urban landscape ‘the ideological border’, as Johannes Birringer terms it, ‘between the capitalist world and the socialist world’.23 Adapting this distinction, the corporate city might be seen as the ‘capitalist’ hub (a plutocratic palace, presided over by a tyrannous managing director, connoting banks, the stock market and insurance) within which the inner city or wasteland is allowed to declare its ‘socialist’ credo. In the context of the early 1990s, such a mode of cinematic presentation carries with it an implicit ‘post-Thatcherite commentary’.24 Edzard's As You Like It is thus able to attack, if not negate, Thatcher's invidious comment that ‘there is no such thing as society’.25 For, in the wasteland, an audience experiences a move beyond individualism, encountering a place where a sense of communal feeling is generated—a new postmodern ‘aesthetic paradigm’ in which masses of people come together in temporary emotional groupings.26

What might be seen as a more communal manifesto emerges early in the film. When Orlando first disturbs the wasteland stockbrokers, they are gathered around a camp-fire made from a converted dustbin, and Jaques is reciting his ‘seven ages of man’ speech. As Helen Schaffer Snow states, the scene's sense of serene quiescence is established by the actor: ‘James Fox's Jaques smiles through this speech, and his measured, calm delivery is comforting and wise. This Jaques is an ageing aristocrat, offering philosophical guidance through a topsy-turvy world.’27 Once Orlando disturbs the moment by running in with his knife drawn, however, it becomes obvious that he has misread the situation, and he immediately casts his weapon aside. Orlando's initial perception of the emigrés as threatening is shown to be based on appearance (they are dressed as ‘down-and-outs’), and a welcoming, generous air quickly reveals his judgement as erroneous. Edzard's staging at this point capitalizes on Orlando's first response, and in so doing invites spectators to question their own preconceptions. For, in its construction of social distinctions, the film suggests that, by eschewing material demands and artifice, the stockbrokers/courtiers can concentrate on the value of human interactions. Although the virtues of such interaction are displayed most eloquently in the representation of the Orlando/Rosalind relationship, they are no less in evidence in the film's evocation of the experience of the Duke's court in exile.

In his recent study of Utopias, Robert Hughes has pointed out that, in the twentieth century, ‘the home of the Utopian impulse is architecture’.28 Similarly, in Edzard's As You Like It, the deployment of distinctive architectural landscapes is instrumental in making Utopian (or, rather, dsytopian) points. In particular, Edzard seems to construct her corporate city to mimic the over-confident univalence of modernism, and the wasteland to connote the disillusioned multivalence characteristic of postmodernism, echoing Mike Featherstone's observation that the ‘modernist … city's spatial form is dominated by the grid-iron layout and high-rise … architecture—[this] gives way to the postmodern city within the confines of a “no-space place” in which traditional senses of culture are decontextualized, reduplicated and continually renewed and restyled.’29 True to Featherstone's dialectic, the corporate city in Edzard's film is strictly vertical and claustrophobic, and we have views only of its interior. Close-up shots are used to oppress individuals: the city is literally too small. Characters are constantly being dwarfed and swamped by the architecture. Rosalind appears to be constricted by architectural weight, and she is robbed of her customary dynamism. First seen standing beside a huge door, she rests her head lightly against its frame: her manner is morose, and she plays an insignificant role in the proceedings. Likewise, when an audience first sees Orlando, he is waiting for his brother, Oliver, and he leans awkwardly on a huge column. He then crouches on the floor as he tells Adam of his miseries, the posture of his body indicating a mood of heavy resignation. Also unshaven and dressed in an old, scruffy cardigan, Adam (Cyril Cusack) sits beside a revolving door which periodically turns of its own accord. The door suggests possibilities of escape to new opportunities. But at this stage both Orlando, cramped by his lack of educational vantage, and Adam, represented as a worthless outcast, seem trapped, caught in the foyer of Oliver's world and therefore restricted to its outskirts. The foyer might be regarded as an eternal waiting-room—one of the many ironic visual puns which the film exploits.

Conversely, the wasteland constitutes an open locale which assumes the pictorial value of a landscape painted on a huge canvas. Edzard provides us with a ‘modern’ city wasteland, ‘stripped of all [its] signs, with walls bare like a guiltless conscience’, which is redolent of Baudrillard's views on postmodernity.30 With its huge vistas and distant industrial skyline, the wasteland, a horizontal space, has none of the court's claustrophobia. Filmed in the winter months, the sky has a pale hue and seems imbued with untested potentials. These constrictions and possibilities are captured in the film's camerawork: tracking and wide-angled shots indicate freedom and movement; conversely, static shots suggest confinement or stalemate. When Rosalind finds her tree poems, which have become graffiti sprayed in glorious technicolour on the wasteland walls, she is first shown in close-up. As she runs forward to read the words more easily, reciting as she moves, we see her in long shot. Touchstone (Griff Rhys Jones) proceeds to mock Orlando's verses, dancing around Rosalind as the camera tracks his progress. Rosalind, however, remains stationary, confused and unaware of who has penned the encomiums. At the end of the scene, she strikes Touchstone playfully, he begins to run away and she chases him: tracking camera shots now take over. In this scene, Edzard uses a mixture of close-up, medium and long shot, interspersed with tracking shots. The camerawork thus mimics the characters' fluctuating ascendancy (tracking camera shots) and descendancy (static camera shots), as, by turns, they subject each other to mockery.

Movement and space are not factors in the representation of the relationship between Phebe (Valerie Gogan) and Silvius (Ewen Bremner), so it is fitting that Edzard films the couple against a wall. Phebe is portrayed as a bored girlfriend who nonchalantly eats chips while Silvius pours his heart out to her. Significantly, Silvius perches uneasily beside blocks of discarded concrete. The camera is immobile, silently witnessing their futile courtship. In a comparable fashion, the scene between Corin (Roger Hammond), his one sheep and Touchstone is shot mainly with a static camera in front of the men as they sit.31 Here, Touchstone and Corin deliver separate monologues on the corresponding advantages or disadvantages of ‘city’ over ‘country’. They do not exchange views, and the camera highlights their deadlock.


The filmic decision to divide the city into two dystopian parts is complemented by the doubling of nearly all of the main characters. This directorial emphasis betrays that fascination with the arbitrariness of identity so evident in much of Edzard's other work.32 Of course, directors and critics have long been sensitive to the comedies' doubling potential. For example, Alan Brissenden approves of the idea of doubling Oliver and Orlando, remarking that the two ‘are in some respects reverse images of each other. Oliver is envious, murderous, deceitful … devious and calculating, Orlando is hot-headed and passionate.’33 However, Edzard's use of doubling in As You Like It is far more extensive, and sets her film apart from any other major film or stage production. As she stated in interview:

Some parts are often doubled, and I thought it would give it more meat as well. It was absolutely a deliberate decision. But I don't think it would necessarily have worked with any actor, and it certainly was quite a challenge [for the actors concerned].34

Progressing beyond usual theatrical convention, Edzard also doubles the parts of Duke Senior, Duke Frederick (played by Don Henderson), Le Beau and Corin (played by Roger Hammond).35 Multiple doubling grants the characters an added dimension, but, more intriguingly, it gives the impression that they lead parallel lives. Rather than simply deserting the corporate city to enter the wasteland, the courtiers/stockbrokers are fortunate in being able to experience both locations simultaneously: they are constructed as enjoying an unimpeded opportunity to populate two worlds. In this way, the film assumes a surreal tone, a fitting cinematic equivalent for a play in which familiar points of reference are continually dissolving.

Modern dress provides further opportunities to create visual links between the play's protagonists. This is particularly striking in the case of Rosalind and Orlando. The androgynous jeans-and-jacket outfit of Rosalind makes her a persuasive Ganymede, and, when she first meets Orlando, she finds her own situation echoed in his physical appearance. Usually, Rosalind as Ganymede is only able to represent a variation on the male and female mirror, but, in Edzard's film, it is Rosalind and Orlando who become mirror images of one another. Further illuminating the attention to doubling, Touchstone and Jaques are dressed alike in dark overcoats. The physical resemblance draws the two together and suggests that, following the view of Thomas McFarland, ‘Touchstone is a mirror that not only reflects, but lightens, the malcontent of Jaques.’36 Doubled courtiers work well, too: at the end of the film, in the corporate city, each meets his alter ego. Confused, the courtiers wave to one another. The felicity of this device is that the corporate world can now be seen to accommodate both Dukes, both brothers and both dimensions of a single individual. A corporate emporium is abandoned temporarily by the very same personalities who then return to find that it is not location that is important but perspectives on experience.

Not only does Edzard double characters; she also enlists mirrors and reflective surfaces to exploit the tension between surface and substance. The opulence of the corporate city's mirrored rooms, and the bleakness of the wasteland's watery appearance, are deployed metaphorically. As Ilona Halberstadt states:

The opposition of court/City to forest/inner-city wasteland, of ruthlessness, ambition, greed, fear and dissatisfaction to flexibility, acceptance, generosity and sharing, is embedded in the very textures and gestures of the film. Glass chandeliers, glass doors and mirrors in the court interior fade into the pools of rain-water in the free space of Arden.37

Other material and physical properties are instrumental in drawing an audience's attention to questions of mimesis. During the conversation between Oliver and Charles (the wrestler), we see Oliver reflected in the highly polished surface of his office table. This not only echoes the motif of doubling but also underscores his environment's transparency and insubstantiality. There is no privacy here: characters are always reflected in a mirror or a table top, or they can be regarded through large panes of glass.

Through the translation of further shiny reflective surfaces into the ‘Arden’ wasteland, Edzard provides additional links to the corporate metropolis. Although Duke Senior instructs an attendant lord to ‘kill … venison’ (II.i.21), he proceeds to open a vacuum sealed package of meat. The shiny cellophane in which the meat is wrapped provides a visual connection to the rest of the film, wittily recalling the city's glass perspectives. Nor is this visual logic neglected in the central scenes, for the mirrored rooms of the city give way to plastic tents in the Forest of Arden. At the end of the film, these elements are fused. In the final stages, the recollection of polythene tents fades into the image of court curtains and the transparencies of the brides' dresses, thus providing a concluding spectacle of the film's visual motifs.38 The opening credits of the film appear on a static background of mirrored doors and painted wall hangings (significantly depicting stylized pastoral scenes). These dissolve into another, similar background, as Jaques, wandering through the corporate city, recites his ‘seven ages of man’ speech. It is only when Jaques begins to move that we realize we have been viewing him in a mirror, and we are reminded of the camera's ability to deceive. Edzard moves seamlessly from meta-theatre to meta-cinema, as Samuel Crowl observes: ‘Edzard's camera captures [Jaques] through windows, in reflection, and standing in portals to emphasize his liminal relationship to the society he both shuns and seeks.’39 Even in these preliminary sequences, therefore, the visual tricks, guiding perspectives and shaping angles that inform the film as a whole are apparent.


As You Like It represents an unsentimental rendering of Shakespeare's play, which rejects artifice and aestheticism. Edzard does not, to adopt Scott Wilson's words, ‘search for poetic or aesthetic truth, an activity that would be at best useless if it were not ideological’.40 Instead, she investigates, probes and redefines. In working to bridge the gap between what is pejoratively called ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, Edzard strives to establish a new genre. Her version of Shakespeare's play preserves Elizabethan language but refuses to figure England's national past through the haze of the doublet-and-hose heritage film.41 Because of this, the film apparently appeals to no one group: it is not trendy or zany enough to be bracketed alongside Kaufman's Tromeo and Juliet. It does not have the star appeal of Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's ‘Romeo + Juliet’. It does not attempt to appease or reaffirm the status quo, as does Kenneth Branagh's highly successful Much Ado About Nothing.

In short, Edzard has created a provocative work, but the director's resistance to lifting the film's mood and enticing the viewer makes it somewhat incompatible with a comedic core. Even in the final moments, the film settles into no tidy interpretative arrangement. The characters are gathered in the corporate city for the marriages of Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver. All is now bathed in a golden light. Yet the golden light may be an ironic vision of a ‘golden’ dusk or the breaking of a new dawn. Edzard seems acutely aware that Shakespearean marriages mark not only new beginnings but also finalities. The ending also allows us to consider the possibility that the film marks the dusk of a century fast concluding, which may just as easily create new horizons or a wasteland for society's less privileged members.

The film's commercial failure is perhaps due to its relentless desire to remind us that our civilizations are in danger of becoming ‘soul-less’. But its insistence on portraying fin-de-siècle societies as dystopian might also seem overly morose. Having said that, however, the film's refusal to provide something which even utopian schemes cannot supply may one day be seen as artistic integrity.


  1. Interview with Christine Edzard, at Sands Films, Rotherhithe Studios, London, 31 July 1996. Most of the money came from Richard Goodwin's successes as a producer on such major British films as Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and David Lean's A Passage to India (1983). (Goodwin and Edzard are married and work together on smaller, avant-garde projects.) Some money for As You Like It was received from investors in Switzerland, Germany and the United States—namely, the Disney Corporation, who now hold the rights to the film but have ‘deleted’ it. The film has never been shown in the United States, but has been seen in Paris on at least two occasions, most recently in Spring 1998.

  2. John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson, The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 395.

  3. Interview with Christine Edzard, at Sands Films, Rotherhithe Studios, London, 31 July 1996.

  4. Asa Briggs, ‘The 1990s: The Final Chapter’, in Asa Briggs and Daniel Snowman (eds), Fins de Siècle: How Centuries End, 1400-2000 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 226.

  5. Edzard cuts IV.ii and V.i, and passages from III.v and IV.iii. The epilogue is also cut because, as Edzard explained in interview, she was concerned ‘about there being too many false endings’. Neither does Edzard show the wrestling match, preferring instead to focus on the reactions of the courtiers.

  6. Raymond Mortimer, The New Statesman and Nation, 12 September 1936.

  7. Jack Jorgens, ‘The BBC-TV Shakespeare Series’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 30 (1979), p. 412.

  8. H. R. Coursen, Shakespeare in Production: Whose History? (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1996), pp. 98-9.

  9. Russell Jackson, ‘Shakespeare's Comedies on Film’, in Anthony Davies and Stanley Wells (eds), Shakespeare and the Moving Image: The Plays on Film and Television (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 101.

  10. Briggs, ‘The 1990s’, p. 226.

  11. William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, with John Jowett and William Montgomery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), II.i.13-14. All further references appear in the text.

  12. Edward Timms, ‘Theme and Variations’, in Edward Timms and David Kelley (eds), Unreal City: Urban Experience in Modern European Literature and Art (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), p. 4.

  13. Jean Baudrillard, ‘Symbolic Exchange and Death’, in Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Oxford: Polity, 1988), p. 125.

  14. Interview with Christine Edzard, at Sands Films, Rotherhithe Studios, London, 31 July 1996.

  15. Richard Knowles, ‘Myth and Type in As You Like It’, English Literary History, 33 (1966), p. 13.

  16. Peter Brook, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (1970).

  17. Robert Lepage, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Royal National Theatre, London (1992-3); Robert Smallwood, ‘Directors' Shakespeare’, in Jonathan Bate and Russell Jackson (eds), Shakespeare: An Illustrated Stage History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 186.

  18. Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991), p. 164.

  19. Briggs, ‘Introduction’, in Briggs and Snowman (eds), Fins de Siècle, p. 1.

  20. John Wilders, The BBC TV Shakespeare: ‘As You Like It’ (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1978), p. 12.

  21. Marilyn French, Shakespeare's Division of Experience (London: Cape, 1982), p. 111.

  22. Video Sleeve to Oliver Stone's Wall Street (London: Twentieth-Century Fox, 1987).

  23. Johannes Birringer, Theatre, Theory, Postmodernism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 2.

  24. Mike Davies, Film Review, November (1992), p. 24.

  25. Margaret Thatcher, Woman's Own, 31 October 1987.

  26. Mike Featherstone, Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (London: Sage, 1996), p. 101.

  27. Helen Schaffer Snow, ‘As You Like It’, in Keith Parsons and Pamela Mason (eds), Shakespeare in Performance (London: Salamander, 1995), p. 47.

  28. Hughes, The Shock of the New, p. 163.

  29. Featherstone, Consumer Culture, p. 99.

  30. Baudrillard, ‘Garap’, in Selected Writings, p. 10.

  31. Edzard's comments on the sheep are of general interest here: ‘It didn't seem that there was any logic in using an urban wasteland and then having a flock of sheep. Roger [Hammond] said, though, that he was very keen to have at least a pet sheep. The sheep actually came from an urban farm next door, which was apt.’ Interview with Christine Edzard, at Sands Films, Rotherhithe Studios, London, 31 July 1996.

  32. Both Little Dorrit (1987) and The Fool (1990) trade in fragmented lives and doubled personalities.

  33. Alan Brissenden (ed.), As You Like It (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 24.

  34. Interview with Christine Edzard, at Sands Films, Rotherhithe Studios, London, 31 July 1996.

  35. It is has become quite customary for the Dukes to be doubled. Of the many recent productions in Britain, Adrian Noble's 1985 production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, used doubling extensively. Edzard doubles the parts of Orlando and Oliver, obviously an impossibility on stage.

  36. Thomas McFarland, Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972), p. 107.

  37. Ilona Halberstadt, ‘As You Like It’, Sight and Sound, 61, October (1992), p. 45.

  38. For further discussion of these issues, see Halberstadt, ‘As You Like It’, p. 45.

  39. Samuel Crowl, ‘As You Like It’, Shakespeare Bulletin, 11:3 (1993), p. 41.

  40. Scott Wilson, Cultural Materialism: Theory and Practice (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), p. 16.

  41. For further discussion of these issues, see Andrew Higson, ‘Re-presenting the National Past: Nostalgia and Pastiche in the Heritage Film’, in Lester Friedman (ed.), British Cinema and Thatcherism (London: UCL Press, 1993), pp. 109-29.

Arthur Stuart Daley (essay date 1988)

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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 confrontations, with emblematic actions, the dominance of cruel and disruptive evil in the life of the family and the state, analogically picturing the aristocratic society (or first estate) of a nameless sovereign duchy. There injustice prevails unchecked by law or conscience: the innocent and weak are victimized, unnaturalness divides brothers, the wicked expel the good, threatening to inherit the earth, and treason and usurpation subvert order in the state. Thus Act I opens with Orlando's recital of his shocking mistreatment by his avaricious and envious eldest brother and it closes with the flight of two youthful princesses from the brutality of a tyrannical father and uncle to the harsh ‘liberty’ of banishment.

The persuasive corruption of this world receives continuing emphasis through the first three scenes of Act II as well. In the third, Adam sums up the evil, so inimical to the beautiful and good, and laments, O, what a world is this, when what is comely / Envenoms him that bears it (II.3.14-15).1 As a matter of fact, the enactment of injustice by fraud and force occupies nearly one third of the comedy! To this conspicuous feature, D. H. Parker gives perceptive recognition: “As You Like It has in it more evil in event and character than any comedy before Measure for Measure.2 Only with the arrival of the fugitive princesses in the Arden pastures does this long opening movement of six consecutive scenes depicting evil and evil men and their victims pause and leave its menace in suspension.

The antagonists in these sombre events are a tyrant duke and a tyrant brother (I.2.288). In this troubled commonwealth the members suffer infection from the head. For its Elizabethan audience the play plausibly assumes, in the words of William Baldwin, For if the magistrates be good, the people cannot be ill. Thus the goodnes or badnes of any realme lieth in the goodnes or badnes of the rulers … for in dede the wealth and quiet of euery common weale, the disorder also and miseries of the same, come specially through them.3Qualis rex, Talis grex was a venerable adage.4

Of the two antagonists, my subject here is the usurper duke-uncle seen in terms of a character conceived and manipulated, particularly in the play's second scene, as a traditional tyrant figure. For both the playwright and his audience it was not only a favorite literary type of long standing but also one of the principal political concerns of their century. By 1600 Shakespeare had created three brilliant portraits of the type in Richard II, Richard III, and Julius Cæsar, as well as sketches of the tyrannical character in other plays and Lucrece. The subject still attracted him and, no doubt, his audiences; Hamlet's usurper uncle-king and ‘untitled’ Macbeth were yet to come. The odd circumstance, then, is not that Shakespeare created the Frederick of As You Like It, but that he should turn loose in a comedy a stage type more native to history or tragedy. For Sir Philip Sidney it was a valuable moral function of tragedy that it maketh Kinges feare to be Tyrants, and Tyrants manifest their tirannical humors.5

Before taking up the tyrannical humors, perhaps I should point out that philosophers, jurists, and theologians commonly treated tyrants under two categories. The tyrant by usurpation, tyrannus sine titulo, was one who traitorously seized the throne from the legitimate prince, or heir, in defiance of the constitution of the realm. Otherwise, any sovereign ruler, whether reigning de jure or de facto, could be or become a tyrannus exercitio by unjust and self-serving acts offensive to the laws and customs of the realm and detrimental to the well-being of the governed. Both types appear in Shakespeare's plays. There were also likenesses of the despotic governor in the tyrannical father or other kind of head of the family and the tyrant mistress of the romance and the sonnet, a role played well enough by Phebe to merit Rosalind's mark how the tyrant writes (4.3.39).

The tyrant had become a stock character and one evidently as popular with the general audience as thought-provoking for the gentry. My chief humor is for a tyrant, Bottom assures us (Midsummer Night's Dream, I.2.28). An article by W. A. Armstrong provides a comprehensive survey of the Elizabethan treatment of the type from which we can abstract some characteristic traits seen in the behavior of Frederick.6 According to the conventions, the tyrant is motivated by the seven deadly sins, especially pride (which includes ambition), envy, and avarice, the sins of the world and the devil. His over-weening ambition and self-interest make him a ruler not only indifferent to the common welfare but also one quick to over-ride the law in order to take the shortest way to reach his ends and protect his position. In the English setting this includes the denial to the accused of due process by substitution of the dictator's will for the law.

The motive of envy results in the tyrant's hatred of virtue and the virtuous, a distinctive and instinctive antipathy of evil men. This antipathy feeds the characteristic malice that makes perilous the envious court (cf. II.1.4). Hence Spenser's malicious envie, who rides on the ravenous wolf, hateth all good workes and vertuous deeds (Faerie Queene, I.4.30.1 and 32.1). A classic statement of this doctrine appears to have been St Augustine's explanation of Cain's motive for killing his brother, Abel: The brothers Cain and Abel [unlike Remus and Romulous] were not moved by the same desire for earthly things; nor did envy arise in the one who slew the other because his power would be restricted if both held it, for Abel did not want power in the city that was being founded by his brother. Cain's envy was rather of that diabolical sort that the wicked feel for the good just because they are good, not wicked like themselves.7 This natural malice of the wicked man is the cause of treason and injustice. In As You Like It it is the source of Elder Brother's8 hatred of Orlando, and the worldly enemy of virtue that Adam inveighs against in 2.3.

These Elizabethan ideas about tyrants and usurpers arouse audience expectations and progressively define and dramatize the villainy that dominates the first Act of As You Like It. They also explain the expository use of the memory of Sir Rowland de Boys in scene 2, where it is invoked four times and in a way there and elsewhere that has no parallel in Shakespeare's narrative source, Thomas Lodge's romance, Rosalynde. The spirit in the play of aristocratic ideals, Orlando's father serves for a benchmark from which the moral ebb of the dukedom can be gauged and judged. In that connection also, the response of different characters to his memory exposes their moral quality. Sir Rowland de Boys constitutes the criterion or touchstone of the aristocratic ideal in the play. Another feature of As You Like It supplies a conventional counterpart to the detailed portrait of the tyrant, that is a sketch of his antithesis, the good prince, well represented here by Duke Senior. By the one you shall know the other better. On this topic Armstrong states that a favorite author was Pierre de la Primaudaye, “whose lengthy compendium The French Academie was published in English in 1586 and again in 1589. True to the literary convention of the specula, La Primaudaye sets the godly prince in contrast to the lawless and passion-driven tyrant.” Armstrong finds further that “The contrast epitomized by La Primaudaye occurs in almost every serious form of Tudor literature.”9 Such a contrast gives this play its initial momentum. Its dynamic oppositions of virtue and vice, the rational and the irrational, and the natural and the unnatural generate fruitful collision.

We first learn about the new duke in scene 1 from Charles, his personal wrestler, whose ‘news’ succinctly defines the duke as both tyrannus sine titulo and tyrannus exercitio. Charles informs us that the old duke is banish'd by his younger brother the new duke, and three or four loving lords have put themselves into voluntary exile with him, whose lands and revenues enrich the new duke (I.1.99-103). He has, then, wrested the crown from the legitimate ruler. Without information to the contrary, it can be assumed that he usurped power by means of a palace coup d'état. In orthodox thinking, as stated by Richard Hooker, impossible it is that any should have complet lawfull power, but by consent of men, or immediat appointment of God.10 Ipso facto, this usurper lacks the divine right, and from the reports of public opinion provided in scenes 2 and 3 we know that he also lacks the consent of the governed. Their reported sympathies attach exclusively to his victims and his enemies. (See I.2.131-2, 225, 236, 280-1; Le Beau's criticism, and I.3.77-9). Actually, this is an effective expository use of the concept of vox populi to condemn the new duke as a tyrannus sine titulo, a usurper.

Moreover, he comes under the heading of tyrannus exercitio for he uses his confiscatory power not for the good of the commonwealth but, quite nakedly to ‘enrich’ himself. Since avarice typically motivates despots, this will be alleged three more times in the play (i.e., I.2.247, I.3.65, and III.1.9-10).11 In short, like Richard III, he is King in fact onely but tyrant both in title and regiment. It is important also that the new duke should be a usurper. “To the Elizabethan mind”, writes Armstrong, “usurpation is a sin, and it is a major factor in the moral system which underlies the chronicle play and the historical tragedy. Shakespeare provides abundant and consistent illustration of this fact, which is, indeed, fundamental to his interpretation of history”. Further on Armstrong says, “It is noteworthy that the worst stage tyrants are always presented as usurpers and that the legitimate princes who invariably defeat or supersede them possess the moral virtues of model kings.”12 The prospects for the dukedom look ominous in Act I. The longer the Tyrant lives, the more the Tyrannical humour increases in him, sayes Plato, like those Beasts that grow more curst as they grow old. New occasions daily happen, that necessitate them to new mischiefs, and he must defend one Villany with another.13 Two such mischiefs will enliven by turn the next two scenes and will initiate the flight into exile of more of the good and the loving, the best and the brightest. The exodus continues until the reversal of fortunes at the end.

The first mischief is the murderous wrestling bout. In anticipation Celia and Rosalind are given two related topics, the devisal of sports and the opposition between Fortune and Nature's gifts. The girls, of course, speak better than they know for they are on the verge of momentous disports and fortunes. More immediately, the mention of Nature gives a cue to the entry of one of its naturals, a clown named Touchstone.

The jibes occasioned by his pretense to honor (I.2.60) launch his elaborate joke about the knight who swore by the honor that he did not have that the pancakes were good but the mustard naught. In marked contrast to commentators on the play, Celia takes this recital very seriously indeed, enough to warn him that he trespasses on dangerous ground when he connects the knight with her father. (In this she foreshadows Le Beau's caution to Orlando near the scene's end.) But generally Touchstone's story is dismissed as trite jesting, an irrelevant padding. It has been guessed that the impertinency of old Frederick upsets Celia (or Rosalind).14 I disagree because I read Touchstone's fable as veiling a cogent point. His wisecrack about honor can hardly be fortuitous since the oath has been repeated meaningfully in the dialogue already. Charles has sworn by his gamester's honor to commit mayhem, at least (I.1.130), Celia has just engaged her honor as a friend to restore her cousin's stolen estate (I.2.29-30), Touchstone now invokes a clown's version, and the usurper will soon pledge what passes for his to kill his niece (I.3.88).

Hence the clown's jibe and its connection with the tyrant duke is a hit too palpable to ignore. This is because in a tyranny honor quickly becomes a debased currency; they leave few or none there, that have either honour or conscience.15 Furthermore, without ideal honor friendship cannot exist, and As You Like It follows the political philosophers in making friendship an indispensable means for obtaining a better world. Celia's pledge to redress Rosalind's wrongs by mine honor announces that theme at the scene's beginning. Before the scene ends, Le Beau will in friendship counsel Orlando about the dangers of the place.

The fool's anecdote exposes the lack of principle in the friendship of a tyrant, a relationship which in itself really is a contradiction in terms. A standard topic with the ancients, this idea finds expression in the chronicle and history plays. An excellent text on the subject may be quoted from the Discours of Étienne de la Boétie, himself an exemplary Renaissance friend: The fact is that the tyrant is never truly loved, nor does he love. Friendship is a sacred work, a holy thing; it is never developed except between persons of character, and never takes root except through mutual respect; it flourishes not so much by kindness as by sincerity. What makes one friend sure of another is the knowledge of his integrity: as guarantees he has his friend's fine nature, his honor [emphasis added], and his constancy. There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is disloyalty, where there is injustice.16

Duke Senior, the good prince who loved as his soul the honorable Sir Rowland simply cannot have loved the knight of the pancakes-and-mustard (=Shrove Tuesday Fool?) who had no honor, or had sworn it away. It is not Rosalind but Celia, the daughter of the tyrant, who warns Touchstone of his danger. His jest comes too near home. Truly, a ruling prince is, as Celia implies, the fountain of honor in the state, but honor's pure silver drops do not flow from this fountain. The ancients taught that by definition men of virtue, ‘aristocrats’, govern in an aristocracy. Both honor and friendship make known their virtue. Shakespeare grounds As You Like It upon the aristocratic ethos represented in Act I by Sir Rowland and Orlando's calling, and it follows that the clown's joke has organic meaning in the scene as well as implications for the play.

But what is the sport? Touchstone asks Le Beau (I.2.135). In the narrative source of the play, Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, the killing of two wrestlers by the champion surprises and disgusts the audience: At this vnlookt for massacre, the people murmured, and were all in a deepe passion of pittie.17 To this, the playwright adds a third victim and generally darkens the atmosphere of despotism. He seems to have adapted an old tale, one which Celia instantly recognizes (I.2.120). He substitutes Orlando for the old tale's youngest brother, who insists on taking his turn against the brutal wrestler who has just killed both of his brothers. He avenges them, of course, by slaying the monster. (In the romance, Rosader likewise kills the Norman, but Orlando only stuns Charles.) As in the tale, but not in the romance or Gamelyn, its source, Charles has been challenged by three proper young men. The prizer has thrown the eldest and broken three of his ribs, that there is little hope of life in him. So he serv'd the second, and so the third (I.2.101-29).18 In another departure from Rosalynde, the beholders weep for the pitiful dole of the poor old man, their father, sharing their pity, Rosalynd cries, Alas! The clown then raises the pertinent question, But what is the the sport, monsieur, that the ladies have lost? (I.2.135).

The English held wrestling in esteem as a fine sport both for the participants and the spectators, a sport wherein English men were wont to excell as Milton writes in Of Education (1644). Like Elyot, Ascham, Castiglione, and others before him, Milton recommends the exercise for his hopeful youth.19 Clearly the risk of injury must have been acceptably minimized by the rules of play. Indeed the distinction among the English schools of wrestling would in itself have necessitated their different rules or “law”.20 Gladiatorial contests with vnlookt for massacre were not tolerated; even the extra-legal duel, as Touchstone makes humorously clear, was hedged by punctilio.21 Brutality is not emphasized by Stow of London, Carew of Cornwall, or Hentzner of Germany in their accounts of the sport. In 1598, Hentzner saw the annual open wrestling tournament held in London on St Bartholomew's Day and he describes it as a civic event presided over by the Lord Mayor and other city dignitaries.22 In the play, however, the pastime becomes a vehicle for murder; Celia correctly objects that Charles makes a cruel proof of his strength.

With the device of the wrestling bout, Shakespeare sets up a surprising number of effects and applications. Of these, we are particularly interested in how the bout imaginatively expresses the tyranny. On the mundane level, we recognize in the wrestler an old symbol of wrath and worldly strife that Fortune arbitrates. The wrastling for this world axeth a fall Chaucer observes in Truth. This symbolism and recalling what has been said about Fortune, that bountiful blind woman, make it plausible that Orlando can win. Realistically, too, Sir Thomas Elyot approvingly points out that, the weaker person by the sleyght of wrestlynge hath overthrown the stronger. Of the famous Cornish pastime, Richard Carew writes, Many sleights and tricks appertain hereunto, in which a skilful, weak man will soon get the overhand of one that is strong and ignorant.23 Such a sleight was the trip, and according to Celia it was by a trip that Orlando won. Also, the moves and exertions of wrestling can be excitingly feigned on the stage.

Thus too can be re-enacted the popular motif of David against Goliath, or more exactly the struggle of brains against brawn classically celebrated in Book XXIII of the Iliad, where burly Ajax and wily Odysseus strive for the prize. More narrowly, on the spiritual level, the circumstances of the contest between Charles and Orlando could easily recall the athletic analogy of St Paul, Ephesians VI.12, For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, and against the worldlie gouernours, the princes of the darknes of this worlde, against spirituel wickednesses, which are in hie places. The verse, in slightly different wording, was read in church in the Epistle for the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity.24 Memory of the passage may account for the curious plural in Rosalind's admiring Sir, you have wrestled well, and overthrown / More than your enemies (I.2.254-5).

In addition to dramatizing the themes, Shakespeare uses the bout to advance both plot and characterization. These aims converge at or very near the midpoint of Act I when Duke Frederick orders, Speak to him, ladies, see if you can move him and steps aside, thus setting up a properly decorous meeting and the occasion for love at first sight. Here, however, we have particular concern for the characterization of the duke as a tyrant by his behavior in his public role. The brutality of the bout must mirror the inevitable disintegration of moral standards under a usurper. Disinterested sportsmanship gives way to strong-arm tactics intended to protect the champion's monopoly of prizes and ‘credit’. Similarly, a little later, Jaques charges that in killing deer for food the forest exiles are mere usurpers, tyrants and what's worse (II.1.61-2 and cf. 27-8). Like master, like man: for Charles, the end justifies the lawless means. In short order, the despotic duke will repeat the cruel proof of lawless strength when he banishes his niece, the heir apparent to the crown, because, like Orlando, the people admire her virtues and she is her father's child.

By protocol, the conduct of the wrestling match depends entirely upon the tyrant's pleasure, and the stock tyrant's pleasure countenances mayhem and manslaughter. His order restricting Charles' bout with Orlando to one fall amply illustrates his rejection of the expected alternative, to play the match by the rules. The new duke speaks hypocritically therefore when he protests that, In pity of the challenger's youth I would fain dissuade him, but he will not be entreated (I.2.159-61).25 This is, incidentally, the second of fourteen uses in the play of pity and its forms; the ‘pastoralism’ of As You Like It partakes strongly of the spiritual kind, i.e. that associated with pastoral care. It follows that pity and the responding virtue, charity, receive both mention and dramatic exemplification. Frederick's ‘pity’ has as little substance as his characteristic claim to be the better part made mercy (III.1.2), a pretense which—if it were true—would pair him with Orlando in respect of renouncing revenge.

In the public role of presiding at a trial of athletic skill like this contest, a prince should observe the customary obligations which he owes to his office and his people. He must uphold order and propriety according to the accepted rules, and he must, as at a titling match or other sporting competition, reward the winner impartially and generously. By these standards, the wrestling match tests the duke's integrity. He fails the test. Duke Frederick has his apologists in the criticism, but in the drama itself none exculpates him. There his condemnation is unanimous. Frederick ignominiously denies to Orlando the praise and largesse he owes such a young and gallant athlete. Like Plato's tyrant, his soul is full of meaness and vulgarity—the best elements in him are enslaved (The Republic, IX). Even while conceding Orlando to be a gallant youth, Frederick dismisses him with a fare thee well. His excuse identifies him as a typical tyrant: I would thou hadst been son to some man else: / The world esteem'd thy father honorable, / But I did find him still mine enemy (I.2.224-6). With a nice irony, his statement echoes closely Plato's dictum that the tyrant must seek occasion to purge the state of the valiant, the high-minded, the wise, and the wealthy (The Republic, VIII).26

Le Beau speaks not only for himself but also for Rosalind and Celia and presumably those beholders mentioned above when he assures Orlando, you have deserv'd / High commendation, true applause and love (I.2.262-3). The judgment on Frederick's churlish conduct comes appropriately from the mouth of his daughter, who is not his daughter if we judge by manners (I.2.271). As Frederick exits, she disassociates herself from his churlishness. Were I my father, coz, would I do this? (231) she asks Rosalind, and then, addressing Orlando too, Celia says indignantly, if sadly, My father's rough and envious disposition / Strikes me at heart. Sir, you have well deserv'd (241-2). Sir Francis Bacon indicates in Of Great Place the force of ‘rough’ where he writes, The vices of authority are chiefly four: delays, corruption, roughness and facility … For roughness, it is a needless cause of discontent; severity breedeth fear, but roughness breedeth hate.

What Celia means here by envious may be suggested by James III.14 and 16: But if ye haue bitter enuying and strife in your hearts, reioyce not, nether be liers against the trueth. 16. For where enuying and strife is, there is sedition, and all maner of euil workes. This new court is, in the old duke's judgment, an envious court (II.1.4) and a perilous one.

The audience now has enough information to appreciate in detail Le Beau's counsel (I.2.261-7, 271-85). The situation neatly replays that in scene 1 when the eldest de Boys asks Charles the Wrestler for the new news in the new court; here the courtier who was introduced as full of news brings the youngest de Boys brother up-to-date on the perilous court. The contrast is striking. Of the two observers, the courtier turns out to be the astute insider. Regrettably, interpretations of Le Beau in criticism and productions trivialize his role into that of an affected ninny thereby not heeding Celia's observation that the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show. Here comes Monsieur [Le] Beau (I.2.89-91). To make too great a show of this wise man's little foolery illustrates instead Hamlet's complaint that, there be of them that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary question of the play be then to be consider'd (Hamlet, III.2140-4).

The necessary question here concerns the tyrant's character and the threat it poses not only to the youth but also to the heir apparent herself. The diagnosis exploits two word clusters with irreconcilable meanings. Under condition and manners, the cluster misconsters-humorous-usurping-malice counters the cluster friendship-love (thrice repeated)—virtue-pity. In fact, to a surprising extent these terms gloss the moral issues in the play.

Apart from setting up a malicious consequence of the evil pervasive in the new court, the speech has three dramatic objectives. It corrects the gossipy hearsay (they say … they say) spread earlier by Charles as no news … but the old news, and incidentally cautions us against uncritical acceptance of the gamester's rumours.27 Second, Le Beau clinically diagnoses the tyrant's condition. Finally, Le Beau declares unequivocally the active presence in As You Like It of the noble friendship which guarantees justice in the state and strengthens the virtuous individual against adversity.

The opening words of Le Beau's speech contradict the caricature of him as a character whose heart is overlaid with self-love and expediency.28 On the contrary, they signal a courageous intervention by a bystander in circumstances fraught with personal and deadly danger. Good sir, I do in friendship counsel you / To leave this place are dramatically resonant words. Friendship and counsel are words of grave import, and the fact that they each gave Bacon the topic and the title for an essay gives a sufficient idea of their weight here.29 It might have been that these opening words and others further along stimulated in an Elizabethan audience an empathetic frisson. They appealed to meanings now archaic and they breathed a peril which, outside of a police state, few auditors would perceive today.

Actually, only a genuine friendship, even if suddenly inspired, can account for the profitless risk that Le Beau runs, and clearly knows he runs in saying what he does about his humorous duke. His altruism can only be, therefore, the product of virtues of his own that are kindled by an affinity with those of the boy. Thus, by his good office to Orlando, Le Beau makes in himself a transition from the loving lords of scene 1 to the devoted princesses of scene 3. Moreover, he shows his familiarity with the doctrine of friendship when he defines the ‘loves’ of Celia and Rosalind for one another as dearer than the natural bond of sisters (276; emphasis added). The deliberate contrast needs elucidation, which it has not been vouchsafed. For over half a century a misreading of the relationship of the cousins has been preserved in the New Cambridge Shakespeare (1926), apparently without challenge. There, on p. xv, a sentimental editor improves on the playwright by imagining that, “In the faithful love of Celia for Rosalind (we think) it has not been noted, or not sufficiently noted, that Shakespeare had for his age [!], a curiously deep understanding of sisterly love and loyalty to troth”, and so on.

Le Beau, however, speaking in his character of an Elizabethan courtly gentleman, states flatly and exactly that their loves are not sisterly! He makes a crucial distinction because their attachment is the very different one of that special kind of friendship which, in the next scene, becomes a topic of discourse and dramatic motivation. That is to say, both he and the cousins use the term in its historic and now archaic meaning of an altruistically selfless devotion between two gentle persons of the same sex. This bond is different from and superior to the natural bond of blood. Within the family hierarchy, natural law binds and obligates the members to one another in various degrees of superiority and subordination. Expressing an ancient view, Cicero writes that, The bonds of common blood hold men fast through good will and affection. But, as the play has already amply demonstrated, kinsmen can prove unnatural and flout that bond. Thus, in pursuing the subject, Cicero rates the friendship of equals based upon goodness as nobler than the bond of kinship. The reason is that friendship results from a free and conscious act of choice and commitment grounded in the recognition of mutually shared moral qualities, and the result is, Cicero concludes, as Pythagoras requires of ideal friendship, that several are united in one.30 In the next scene, Celia professes this ideal as the love / Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one. The natural bond is common and disparate, but the virtue-based bond is rare and equivalent. The distinction put here in Le Beau's mouth subtly affirms the superiority of the virtuous over the natural, a premise of As You Like It.

Touchstone has learned that belittling a crony of the new duke can earn a whipping for a fool, and Le Beau knows that talk about the new duke's condition needs not to be ‘misconstered’ to make it treason. Such talk is dangerous, and risks the hangman. The duke is humorous—what he is indeed / More suits you to conceive than I to speak of (I.2.226-7) he warns the boy. Under such circumstances, even thoughts can be suspect, and Rosalind will soon feel impelled to plead, Never so much as in a thought unborn / Did I offend your Highness (I.3.51-2).

To the spectacle of Frederick's rough and envious manners just beheld, Le Beau now adds a prescient commentary on the duke's condition of late, i.e. the progress and outlook of his disease, the tyrannical humor.31 A major and dramatic symptom is the increasing distrust of others which ‘misconsters’ their actions and motives. Related to this character disorder is the tyrant's increasing irrationality, revealed by his suddenly (283) acting on, in this case, a recent displeasure 'gainst his gentle niece, / Grounded upon no other argument / But that the people praise her for her virtues, / And pity her for her good father's sake (I.2.278-81). Such mental and moral deterioration follows the accepted doctrine: The longer the Tyrant lives, the more the Tyrannical humor increases in him, says Plato (The Republic, IX), like those Beasts that grow more curst as they grow old.

Essentially, the ground for the duke's displeasure is none other than Cain's ‘argument’ for killing Abel, his instinctive hatred of his brother's virtue. Likewise, Frederick's displeasure finds its roots in that envious malice with which evil men resent virtue in others and, indeed, all manifestations of good. Speaking as one who knows the type, Le Beau shrewdly foresees that the malice of the usurping uncle will suddenly break forth, as it does in the next scene. The present state of affairs has become so dangerous and unpredictable that Le Beau, in taking leave of Orlando, can only promise that, Hereafter, in a better world than this, / I shall desire more love and knowledge of you. Such an eventuality seems to be implied, perhaps an inevitable outcome of the duke's condition, and the recovery of a better world becomes the set aim of As You Like It.

Orlando, of course, fully conceives of the nature of his present world, and the scene closes with his realization of his predicament, summing up the thrust of the first two scenes: Thus must I from the smoke into the smother, / From tyrant Duke unto a tyrant brother. Smoke and smother are familiar features of a hellish landscape as well as stages marking a progression from bad to worse. The closing three words, But heavenly Rosalind!, serve to confirm Orlando's hope-sustaining devotion and remind us of the next victim of the duke's unspeakable humor.

One concludes that the key to the evil state of affairs in the opening movement of As You Like It, and the motivations behind its venom, is provided by the familiar Elizabethan character of the tyrant and its doctrine of tyranny as expressed in its expected stage behavior. Once we recognize his type, therefore, we possess, as did the intended audience, the explanation for Duke Frederick's rebuff of the gallant and deserving victor, and, for the same reason, why Le Beau can confidently, on my life, forecast that the usurper's malice 'gainst the lady / Will suddenly break forth (I.2.282-3). The same logic of the convention reveals the cogency of the clown's quip about honor, or the symbolic fitness of the wrestling bout as the keystone action of Act I, or, among other features, the dramatic function of Le Beau. In this play, the initial dominance of fortune and despotic force and fraud works to trigger the response of, and confrontation with, their traditional remedial virtues, patience, honor, pity, and noble friendship.


  1. My citations of Shakespeare are to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, 1974).

  2. M. D. H. Parker, The Slave of Life: A Study of Shakespeare and the Idea of Justice, Chatto & Windus (London, 1955), 64. Alfred Harbage, William Shakespeare: A Reader's Guide, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, 1963), 223, says of the play's first twenty-two lines, “This is a sombre opening for a play with so beckoning a title”, but does not pursue the insight.

  3. The Mirror for Magistrates, ed. Lily B. Campbell, Barnes & Noble (New York, 1938, rpt; 1960), 83.

  4. Marcellus Palingenius, The Zodiake of Life, tr. Barnabe Googe, intro. Rosemond Tuve, Scholar's Facsimiles & Reprints (New York, 1947), 167, asserts the maxim, Qualis rex, talis grex, Lyke king like people. A commonplace since ancient times.

  5. Cited by W. A. Armstrong, “The Elizabethan Conception of the Tyrant”, The Review of English Studies, 22 (1946), 162.

  6. The literature on the good and bad prince was extensive, starting in the fourth century B.C. Lester K. Born gives resumes of the classical and medieval treatises in his translation of Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince, W. W. Norton (New York, 1936, rpt. 1968). Robert S. Miola provides helpful references in his “Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate”, Renaissance Quarterly, 38:2 (Summer 1985), 271-89. Armstrong, cited above, defines and illustrates distinctive elements in the characterization of the tyrant on the Elizabethan stage. J. D. Burnley, Chaucer's Language and the Philosopher's Tradition, D. S. Brewer (Cambridge, 1974) devotes two chapters to “The Tyrant” and “The Image of the Tyrant” in fourteenth-century literature. Essentially, he is represented as a type of churl, hence lacking the aristocrat's capability for pity, a judgment discernible in the play.

  7. The City of God, tr. Philip Levine, The Loeb Classical Library, vol. IV, Harvard UP (Cambridge, MA., 1966), Bk IV.5 (429). Discussing the characterization of Cain in the “Plays of the Fall”, Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, 1972), 374, n. 64, remarks, “Cain's hatred of Abel's virtue was first stressed by Ambrose, De Cain et Abel, ‘forman speciemque virtutis expressam ferre non potuit’.” This and other interesting points are made by J. E. Bernbrock, ‘Notes on the Towneley Cycle Slaying of Abel’, J.E.G.Ph. [Journal of English and Germanic Philology] lxii (1963), 317-22. Hints of the Cain and Abel story appear in As You Like It as they had in Henry IV and would in Hamlet.

  8. By convention, critical usage nominates the eldest brother ‘Oliver’, but the only Oliver in the dialogue is the vicar of the village (III.3). The dialogue simply identifies the eldest de Boys as Orlando's brother. The generic name of Eldest Brother accords with the dialogue and emphasizes the role of a well-known Elizabethan social type.

  9. “The Elizabethan Conception of the Tyrant”, 168-9.

  10. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, ed. Georges Edelen, Harvard UP (Cambridge, MA., 1977), 1, 99, i.e. Bk I, ch. 10.4. Junius Brutus (? Philippe de Mornay, commonly Duplessis-Mornay), A Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants: A Translation of ‘Vindiciae contra tyrannos’, tr. Harold J. Laski, Peter Smith (Gloucester, MA., 1924, rpt. 1963), 182, defines the two kinds of tyrants, “all of which may very well occur in one and the same person. The first is commonly called a tyrant without title: the second a tyrant by practice.” See Miola, 274-5 and 279, and “Tyrannicide”, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912 edition.

  11. The good prince must avoid avarice, teaches John of Salisbury, among others; see Born, 111 and 112. Armstrong, 168-9, finds that “English and French writers came to regard [the tyrant] as an embodiment of most of the seven deadly sins. He is pre-eminently proud, wrathful, lecherous, and avaricious.” Malcolm and Macduff discuss avarice, Macbeth, IV.3.58, 78, 84. Miola calls attention to “the avarice described in 1Sam. VIII.14, a passage that portrayed the typical tyrant for many, including Erasmus, Poent, and Goodman” (282).

  12. Armstrong.

  13. I quote Edward Sexby (William Allen), Killing No Murder (1657), in A Miscellany of Tracts and Pamphlets, ed. A. C. Ward, Oxford UP (Oxford, 1927), 298. Sexby's zeal to prove Cromwell a tyrant within the justification of tyrannicide results in a compendium of Old Testament and classical commonplaces on the matter: I shall not give you any [Characters] of my own Stamping, but such as I find in Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus, and his highness own Evangelist, Machiaveli (272). Hence I can quote him for his pungency without the risk of anachronism.

  14. When not ignored, the joke has passed for incidental patter, but John Russell Brown, Shakespeare and His Comedies, Methuen (London, 1957, rpt. 1964), 143, rightly detects in it the “lack of true honour and wisdom” in the usurper's court, and Alfred Harbage (see n. 2 above), 225, observes that “aspersions are slyly cast upon the usurper” in “the routine clowning”.

  15. Sexby, 274, paraphrasing Aristotle, Politics, V.11.1315a.

  16. Étienne de la Boétie, Anti-Dictator: the Discours sur la servitude volontaire, tr. Harry Kurz, Columbia UP (New York, 1942), 48. Between 1574 and 1578 the work appeared anonymously five times in print after circulating in manuscript. La Boétie and Montaigne shared an ideal friendship. The authories generally taught that tyrants were incapable of friendship, e.g. the only friends of Richard III and Macbeth are friends for fear. Socrates maintains in Gorgias that tyrants never taste of friendship, and Aristotle teaches that little or no friendship can exist in a despotism (The Nichomachean Ethics, VIII.11.1161a). Thus “old Frederick” is not the mistake on Shakespeare's part that Dover Wilson insisted on (New Cambridge Shakespeare [1926], 99).

  17. Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde. Euphues golden legacie, reprinted in A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: As You Like It, ed. Richard Knowles, the Modern Language Association of America (New York, 1977), 395. The romance was reissued in 1598, not long before the play.

  18. No doubt the complications caused by a displaced rib were beyond medical remedy. In Letters Written by John Chamberlain during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, ed. Sarah Williams, Camden Society 1: 79, Johnson Reprint (1861; rpt. New York, 1968), we find, 164, under date of London, November 19, 1602, This morning Robert Knolles had a great mischaunce in riding a horse … that came over him, and hath sore brused or, as some say, broken two of his ribbes, others his bulke [sic], but all generally agree that he is in great daunger, and will hardly scape. Broken ribs would hardly cripple a hero, however. When Gogmagog, the chief giant, broke three of Corineus's ribs with his hug, the founder of Cornwall simply tossed Gogmagog over a rock into the sea.

  19. Sir Thomas Elyot, The Book named the Governor, ed. S. E. Lehmberg, Dent (London, 1962), opens section XVII of Book I, on exercises, Wrestling is a very good exercise in the beginning of youth if certain precautions are observed (60). Robert Ascham, The Scholemaster, (1570), Edward Arber, ed., rpt. Constable (London, 1935), 64, includes wrestling among the pastimes that be fitte for Courtlie Ientlemen. Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, tr. Sir Thomas Hoby (1561; rpt. J.M. Dent & Sons, London, 1974) mentions the sport on 40, 44, 45, 97, 98, 100, and 188. Spenser's knight of courtesy, Sir Calidore, is an able wrestler.

  20. Walter Armstrong, Wrestling, in The Badminton Library: Fencing, Boxing, Wrestling, Longmans, Green (London, 1889) describes the “Four widely separate schools of wrestling [that] have been known from time immemorial” in England, each arguing the superiority of its rules (179 and following). According to Walter Armstrong, 182, Orlando “resembled his prototypes Apollo and Theseus, rather than Hercules”, but he does not explain. He takes Charles's brutality as perhaps indicating that Shakespeare intended a rough Continental style not used in England, but it is, I think, more plausible artistically that the roughness corresponds to the ‘roughness’ of the usurper and his despotism. Armstrong's statement that in the German style of wrestling “almost all the refinements of the art are lost” (187), suggests that the 1539 and 1674 German texts recommended in Shakespeare's England, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1917), 2, 483, should be used with caution.

  21. Legal and penal liabilities for a fatal accident in a sporting competition in England appear to be indicated by John Chamberlain's report of the death of a fencer in a great prise and challenge performed at the Swan on February [7], 1603: the case is and wilbe much argued by lawyers whether it will prove chaunce medley, manslaughter, or murder, by reason of malice, and many challenges past betweene them before. The play makes evident the malicious intent of Charles.

  22. See John Stow, The Survey of London, J. M. Dent & Sons (London, 1912), 95; Richard Carew, The Survey of Cornwall (1602), ed. F. E. Halliday, rpt. Andrew Melrose (London, 1953), 44, 150-1, avers that Wrestling is as full of manliness, more delightful, and less dangerous [than hurling]. It is a favourite pastime with the boys of Devon and Cornwall. Drayton, The Works of Michael Drayton, vol. IV: Poly-Olbion, ed. J. William Hebel (1933; rpt. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1961), 7, Song I.243-7, celebrating the prowess of Cornish wrestlers, speaks of a spacious ring … made, / According to the law (246-7). For Paul Hentzner's experience, see William Brenchley Rye, tr., England as Seen by Foreigners in the days of Elizabeth and James the First, John Russell Smith (London, 1865), 107-08; the conquerors receive rewards from the Mayor. In Anthony Munday, The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington (1601), Malone Society Reprint, Oxford UP (Oxford, 1964 [1965]), gilt wreaths were the prizes at Mansfield on a wrestling day (ll. 1296-1301).

  23. Elyot, 60; Carew, 150.

  24. Biblical texts are quoted from The Geneva Bible, A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition, intro. Lloyd E. Berry, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI., 1969). For the Epistle, see The Book of Common Prayer 1559, ed. John E. Booty, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA., 1976), 207.

  25. No-one in Rosalynde condescends to ‘entreat’ the youth. In the play the word serves the purpose of justifying Orlando's important speech (I.2.183-93) whereby his qualities of humility, unpretentious courage, and his understandable sense of isolation may be confided in a manner conducive to sympathetic reception by the audience.

  26. In his impressive demonstration of the consummate art of this scene, James Russell Brown, Shakespeare's Dramatic Style, Heinemann (London, 1970), 74, finds inexplicable Duke Frederick's rejection of the son of his enemy. He complains that “Shakespeare could have given Frederick words with which to reveal or suggest the basis of his hatred”, which otherwise remains “enigmatic” (75). I hope that this paper shows that for the audience of 1600 there was neither enigma nor lack of art here: Frederick manifests the hatred called for by a usurper-tyrant in the given circumstances.

  27. Inspired by the gamester's gossip, one long-standing and popular reading makes the play an escape into an idyllic life of careless ease with a program for singles of wooing games, hunting games, and talk games. The gamester view largely evades the opinion of the fugitives from the tyranny. Their reactions to tribulation and challenge in the desert inaccessible of Arden are canvassed in my article, “The Dispraise of the Country in As You Like It”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 36:3 (Autumn, 1985), 300-14.

  28. On the assumed “self-love and selfish expediency” of Le Beau see the extract from Oliphant Smeaton's characterization, A New Variorum (1977), 626-7. Harbage brushes aside as unfounded “the effeminacy that is often projected ad nauseam in modern productions; a slightly vapid timidity should do” (226). John Russell Brown, 80, notices the danger: “nothing that this smooth courtier has said or done prepares for the risk he takes.” As I have explained, however, Le Beau prepares us when he says, I do in friendship counsel you.

  29. On counsel, Elyot (238) quotes Ecclesiasticus, Of fools take thou no counsel, for they can love nothing but that pleaseth themselves. Treatises on friendship and governance (and King Lear) stress the need for the kind of frank and courageous counsellor exemplified here by Le Beau, to whom Orlando rest[s] much bounden (I.2.286). By contrast, Orlando desires that he and Jaques may be better strangers (III.2.258). Jaques lacks the virtue for friendship.

  30. Cicero De officiis, tr. Walter Miller, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard UP (Cambridge, MA., 1913), 58/59. Also, Cicero De senectute, De amicitia, De divinatione, tr. William Armistead Flaconer, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard UP (Cambridge, MA., 1953), 128/129-30/131, the conclusion of ch. 5. For details of this classical ideal and its use by Tudor and Stuart authors see Laurens J. Mills, One Soul in Bodies Twain: Friendship in Tudor Literature and Stuart Drama (1937; rpt. University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI. and London, 1980). A late expression of the superiority of friendship to kinship appears in Beaumont and Fletcher, The Maid's Tragedy, III.1.44-5: to me the name / Of Brother is too distant: we are friends, / And that is nearer. Also of interest, Eugene M. Waith, “Shakespeare and Fletcher on Love and Friendship”, Shakespeare Studies 18 (1986), 235-50.

  31. It is ominous that the duke is humorous, though it has often been glossed as a relatively harmless eccentricity. A New Variorum (1977), 30, reports such glosses as capricious, wayward, moody. Among others, Kittredge gives “capricious, notional, full of whims and impulses” (like Cleopatra?), and New Arden (1975) “temperamental, is not to be relied on.” Such interpretations may explain why, for example, Michael Jamieson, Shakespeare: As You Like It, Edward Arnold (London, 1965), 29-30, can think that “the usurping duke's condition is temporary” and that evil in the play “turns out to be an aberration merely.” The tyrannical humor, however, grows progressively more malicious and cruel. Bacon warns in Of Ambition that, like choler, unchecked ambition becomes malign and venomous. The general principle was that if its head be sick, the body politic is in grave peril.

A. Stuart Daley (essay date 1985)

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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 restorative greenwood, where men live in the simplicity of nature in harmony and innocence?

“Freedom, of course, is in the hospitable air of Arden,” generalizes Harold Jenkins, “where convenient caves stand ready to receive outlaws, alfresco meals are abundantly provided, with a concert of birds and running brooks, and there is no worse hardship than a salubrious winter wind. This is ‘the golden world’ to which, with the beginning of his second act, Shakespeare at once transports us, such a world as has been the dream of poets since at least the time of Virgil when, wearied with the toilings and wranglings of society, they yearn for the simplicity and innocence of what they choose to think man's natural state.”1

Critics have long etherealized the Forest as a fantasy world or fairyland or pastoral retreat apart from time. In this vein, Albert Gilman tells us “It is a remote Golden Age of harmony and innocence. The modern time and the corrupt court are its antithesis.”2 Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch offers a similar opinion: “Arden having room for all fancy beneath its oaks,” As You Like It cannot be taken seriously. “It is all charming make-believe in the play, with Jaques and Touchstone as correctives or sedatives. To philosophize it is as absurd as to sit down and count out its impossibilities of time, ‘duration of action,’ geography, fauna.”3

The critical premises that concern us here are nicely summarized in an excellent analysis and evaluation, faithful to received opinion, by Michael Jamieson: As You Like It “is a comedy in which Shakespeare has created the dual worlds of Court and Forest, representing Everday and Holiday—a comedy whose structural simplicity and stylization recall folk- or fairy-tales. … Many of the qualities we have already noted in As You Like It, especially the sense of a created ‘golden’ world and the constant antithesis between Court and Country, derive their origin and appeal from the literary-theatrical convention of pastoral.”4

What I wish to show in this article is that the text of As You Like It rules out a scheme of “dual worlds.” I aim to demonstrate that the world of As You Like It has the thematic unity a work of art should have and that an antithesis between Court and Country has no relevance to the meaning of that work of art.


To begin with, it will help to correct two misreadings attributable to stock responses to the idea of forest. Long after Shakespeare wrote As You Like It, the word forest lost its primary meaning of a mostly untilled tract used mainly for grazing, propagating and preserving game, and, usually, growing some timber (hence a diversified landscape) and in popular usage came to suggest a large extent of fairly densely wooded country. Later readers and players mistakenly thought of the drama as taking place in dappled sunlight and sombre shadow under a leafy canopy. This largely imaginary landscape spawned further misinterpretation.5 For example, a common stock response to “forest” evokes birdsong, which traditionally identifies, along with brooks, flowers, and salubrious breezes, the locus amoenus or ideal literary landscape. Not surprisingly, Hartley Coleridge, followed by Quiller-Couch and others, invented the birdsong reported by Harold Jenkins as a “concert of birds.”6 The fact is that no bird sings anywhere in the play, partly because it would be unseasonable, but largely, I think, because a concert of birds and a salubrious breeze would be false to the mood of the setting.

Despite his romantic view of As You Like It, Sir Walter Raleigh conceded that “We hear only of the biting cold and the wintry wind.” The wind that bites and blows on Duke Senior is pastoral in the religious sense only; it makes him “shrink with cold” (II.i.9), thereby “feelingly” teaching him to know himself.7 When Adam collapses in Arden, Orlando carries him to a spot sheltered from “the bleak air” ( This is no locus amoenus, but the real-world suffering that resulted from Adam's Fall. Happily, not every commentator imagines an idyllic woodland where, in Raleigh's enthusiastic words, the outlaws “fleet the time carelessly in a paradise of gaiety and indolence, and there is summer in their hearts,”8 but most do.

The visitors to the Forest of Arden contemplate it without enthusiasm; upon the Duke's restoration they will return to the court with obvious satisfaction. The truth about the Forest, what it stands for in the value-system of the play, is “translated” for us by Duke Senior in a great speech (II.i.1-17) that, echoing Augustine, Boethius, St. Gregory, and, in general, the orthodox Christian tradition, represents the woods as the wilderness of the world wherein one's virtues, one's faith, and one's friends are tested and challenged to endure shrewd days and nights (V.iv.173) of spiritual purgation.9 A type of the good prince, the old Duke would have treated with contempt the modern hedonistic argument that he had escaped from reality into a paradise of gaiety and indolent leisure, basely surrendering to “Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas, / Ease after warre …,” as Despaire recommends to Redcrosse Knight (The Faerie Queene, I.x.40).

George Lyman Kittredge erred in saying that “The Forest of Arden is not the world,” for in fact it represents an important part of the world of the play, a world based on customary analogies between rulers and states and fathers and families, a favorite dramatic scheme with Shakespeare.10 In many details this world reflects contemporary circumstances; it is further universalized by the use, almost thirty times, of the word world in its common meanings. One of them, significantly, registers on at least three occasions the concept of Vox populi, vox Dei—that is, a normative consensus on moral judgment by the people (I.i.169, ii.225, 236). Otherwise, the “people” themselves voice four verdicts upholding virtue and pity (I.i.170, ii.280, iii.79-80; II.iii.5).

Mainly, however, the use of world confirms society's need of a moral regeneration. The working-day world is full of briers (I.iii.12), a penalty of Adam. A world that envenoms the comely because others envy their comeliness (II.iii.14-15), it debases the ideals of the “antique world” (II.iii.57-62), and its foul body is miserable and infected (II.vii.13-60) as it now wags (l. 23). This world is full of ill-favor'd children (III.v.53), including of course an unnatural brother (IV.iii.122, 124), and fools enough. And it is, as ever, the arena of blind Fortune, for “Fortune reigns in gifts of the world” (I.ii.41). Consequently, Jaques proposes to Orlando that “we two will rail against our mistress the world and all our misery” (III.ii.278-79), and this in the Forest of Arden. Railing is, however, mere mummery. For as Orlando insinuates, reform must begin with each individual amending his own faults. The point is consistently made in the play. Out of the moral decay dramatized in Act I rise the issues to be resolved in As You Like It. Toward the end of the second scene, Le Beau focuses our attention on the central problem when he assures Orlando that “Hereafter in a better world than this, / I shall desire more love and knowledge of you” (I.ii.284-85). The dramatic and philosophical subject of the play, in other words, is how to recover a better world.

The Forest of Arden in itself cannot be the better world, then, though it may of course become a part of it. It is certainly not the world Le Beau hopes for, still less that of the deposed prince, or Orlando, or the great ladies for whom the court must be their setting. With the restoration at the end of the play, providently arranged through the ministry of an old religious man, all the major characters return to their divinely appointed places and callings from what has been an unnatural banishment.


The first audience surely recognized intimations of their own world in this stage-play world. When Rosalind, who in her aspect as Temperance feels very conscious of time, reminds her pupil Orlando that “The poor world is almost six thousand years old” (IV.i.94-95), she would have confirmed the audience's expectations. Rosalind reckons from the Creation, and we today can determine her “almost” date by consulting “A Perfite Svppvtation of the Yeres and Times from Adam” in the back of the Geneva Bible. Here we read that “this present yere of our Lord God 1560 [is] iust 5534, 6 moneths, and the said odde ten dayes” (sig. LLI.iiiv). If Rosalind (and her creator) had 1599 in mind, the age of the world comes out to 5573 years, 6 months, and 10 days, which is “almost” six thousand right enough.11 The concept of the progressive decay of nature, one both ancient and widespread, could be a sobering thought, especially in the twilight of Elizabeth's reign. Of its meaning Sir Walter Raleigh would write in The History of the World (1614), “and as the Devil our most industrious enemy was ever most diligent: so is he now more laborious than ever: the long day of mankind drawing fast towards an evening, and the world's tragedy and time near at an end.” Taking a somewhat different tack, John Donne comforted his congregation with the thought that “The Sun is not weary with sixe thousand yeares shining; God cannot be weary of doing good.” But even so, he reminded the readers of An Anatomy of the World, The First Anniversarie (1611) that

So did the world from the first hour decay
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the Springs and Sommers which we see
Like sonnes of women after fifty bee. …

(ll. 201-4)

Rosalind's dating points not to a golden age but to the Elizabethan age and “a miserable world!” (II.vii.13), quite literally “the poor world.”12

Being nameless and distanced somewhere in France, the dukedom in As You Like It functions as a neutral model of a commonwealth. Its inhabitants share this generic quality. Thus, for one example, Adam represents the Christian exemplar of faith, hope, and charity and foreshadows the intervention of Providence (cf. II.iii.38-55 and its Scriptural basis). The Forest's inhabitants also represent the classical three estates of the commonwealth, thereby allowing for the play's stress on the individual's obligation to his calling or vocation, which was then esteemed to be indispensable to a person's harmonious life in society and to achievement of the common good. In that connection, it is the vocation of the true laborer that Corin eloquently summarizes for Touchstone and not, as some have taught us, the joys of country life. The Forest's settings also combine the general and the particular to present a landscape both symbolic and natural, a landscape similar to that to be found in Renaissance paintings. They do not contrast the country with the court as exclusive moral entities. Act I introduces two settings, first the country seat of the eminent family of the de Boys (I.i and again in II.iii) and then the placeless and formless court of the tyrant duke (I.ii, iii; II.ii; and III.iii).

The remaining sixteen scenes are located in a large rural parish in the Forest of Arden, a parish of scattered sheep cotes and therefore mostly pasture land, but including a wood or two—features duplicated in historical fact by a number of parishes in Elizabethan Warwickshire. Being thinly populated (III.ii.125-26) with scattered, “so remov'd” (l. 342) dwellings, the district has been provided the customary chapel of ease with a vicar, here a type of the contemporary notorious “mar-text” (III.iii). John Manwood's then new (1598) book on the forest law opens with this definition: “A Forrest is a certen Territorie of wooddy grounds & fruitfull pastures.” The two settings are distinguished in the play, though relatively little is seen of the “wooddy grounds.” Shakespeare allows only four scenes to the “restorative greenwood” much extolled by critics, and three of them are quite brief.13

In contrast, not a single scene pictures city life; no one even mentions a street, window, inn, or town square. The hoary analogy in II.i of the beast city aims at picturing the universal human condition; that is, in “the city, court, and country” (l. 59). Later, in the tradition of medieval preaching, Jaques singles out the city woman's costly apparel (II.vii.74-75) to exemplify ostentatious pride and dressing above one's station in defiance of social decorum. A familiar complaint in three-estate literature, the topic also connects with the play's interest in vocation, of which dress was an outward sign. Dress had been a Tudor social issue, leading to attempts to revive the enforcement of sumptuary regulations.14 We can only conclude that city life has no relevance to the drama.

On the other hand, the dialogue in the country scenes devotes abundant imagery to the perils and hardships experienced there. Caroline F. E. Spurgeon has shown that the images of sickness, disease, and medicine in As You Like It are equaled or exceeded in number only by those in 2 Henry IV,Hamlet,Troilus and Cressida, and Coriolanus.15 My study of the imagery reveals also a web of repetitive allusions to cold, hunger, eating and sharing food, hunting and wounds, and the corollary flight and pursuit. Such imagery may even be visualized, as in and the subsequent succoring of Adam in scene vii. It should not be overlooked that the repeated images of sickness, hunger, hunting, and wounding coalesce and mostly end in the account of Orlando's climactic rescue of his brother, in IV.iii, from the snake and “the suck'd and hungry lioness.” There, for the most part, they are exorcised with the sins they indicate. The last food metaphor condemns the Fool's marriage: “for thy loving voyage / Is but for two months victuall'd” (V.iv.190-91).

Such imagery does not paint a picture of Arcadia. The atmospheric and thematic implications of this kind of imagery make it impossible to pretend that all is charming make-believe in As You Like It. Such imagery expresses the viewpoint of speakers who find the world of the Forest—where, in effect, they have fallen from Fortune's wheel—an unhappy and woeful scene, speakers who will welcome their providential release from it as “the good of our returned fortune” (V.iv.174). Pending their delivery, they can console themselves with the Duke's Boethian observation on the spectacle of the latest fugitives, Orlando and Adam: “Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy: / This wide and universal theatre / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in” (II.vii.136-39).


The characters who express an opinion about the Forest of Arden utter mostly dispraise. William proves the exception. “Wast born i' the forest here?” Touchstone inquires. “Ay, sir, I thank God,” replies William with sturdy local patriotism (V.i.24). William has reason, for he represents the young, upwardly mobile peasant landholding class in Elizabethan Arden. Boeotian William complacently admits to being so-so rich by the ripe age of five-and-twenty!16 On the other hand, his erstwhile girlfriend, Audrey, would rather “be a woman of the world” (V.iii.4-5).17

The courtiers in exile agree that Arden leaves much to be desired. It is true that, like Duke Senior, Celia makes a virtue of necessity. Having prudently taken gold into exile, like the Israelite women (Exodus iii.21-22), she has bought a good sheep property where she can willingly waste her time (II.iv.95) with profit on the investment.18 With the zeal of a reformed sinner, Celia's fiancé resolves to renounce the image of the rich husbandman, Cain, and “live and die a shepherd” (V.ii.12); but his aristocratic calling obviously forbids the abandonment of his lands and great allies to the detriment of the commonweal. As for Orlando and Adam, instead of their lighting “upon some settled low content” (II.iii.68), Fortune brings them to Duke Senior's sylvan camp and royal favor, leading to “A land itself at large, a potent dukedom” (V.iv.169). Arden has no place for a young gentleman fit to become a governor, let alone a prince.

On the whole, Arden appears to the courtiers to be a “desert” literally and figuratively. In deference to the Fool's critical reputation for sound judgment, I shall begin with his opinions. Upon his arrival, Touchstone bluntly says, “Ay, now I am in Arden, the more fool I! / When I was at home I was in a better place” (II.iv.16-17). In his opinion, Arden is not Le Beau's wished-for better world; no, rather, Touchstone's viewpoint anticipates the sentiment reflected in a modern infantry cadence song, “You had a good home and you left it, left it. …” The Fool remains impervious to the magic that commentators credit to the woods of Arden. An upstart courtier, he greets the natives as clods and clowns. When Corin asks him, “And how like you this shepherd's life, Master Touchstone?” he declares it a very vile and tedious life that reduces the shepherd to a parlous state of manners and morals (III.ii.13-19, 35-44). By this point, the place has already inspired in him the thought that from hour to hour we rot and rot (II.vii.27), a sentiment sympathetically reflected in Jaques' Seven Ages diatribe.

Later the Clown punningly compares himself to Ovid among the “Goths” (III.iii.7-9); Ovid was the classic victim of cultural deprivation among a rude people. Meanwhile, we are shown that the local women are vain and foul, the clergyman is an ignorant mar-text, and the backwoods dialect is lacking in grace and beauty. Dialect has been brought in earlier when the princesses have mocked Le Beau's affected suppression of the sound of r, saying “spo't” for “sport.” Ladies and gentlemen should speak clean English. Touchstone returns to the subject with his condescending translations into the vulgar for the benefit of William (V.i.47 ff.). Likewise, Orlando recognizes the speech distinctions that denote class and education. The upper-class accents of the shepherd boy's speech puzzle him, but Ganymede resourcefully credits it to an invented uncle, “who was in his youth an inland man” (III.ii.345), in contrast, that is, to her outlandish neighbors.

In apologizing to the disguised courtiers, Orlando avers, “Yet am I inland bred / And know some nurture” (II.vii.96-97). And, indeed, Orlando displays ample evidence of careful nurturing, probably up to about the time when he would have entered “school,” i.e., a university or an inn of court. His proficiency might have reminded the Queen of her father's when he was sixteen or seventeen.19 In any case, Orlando has enough nurture to know that the opposite of inland is outland or upland, meaning a region sufficiently remote from centers of civility to have outlandish speech and manners. The forest parish is what Orlando describes it to be, a desert inaccessible, the back of beyond, and he speaks of it in this fashion more than once. In his initial experience of it, Orlando's companion faints with extreme hunger and fatigue. In the next scene, “under the shade of melancholy boughs” where one can “Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time” (II.vii.111-12), Orlando asks Duke Senior, “If ever you have look'd on better days,” and the Duke replies unequivocally, “True is it that we have seen better days” (l. 120). The truth is visibly (and ironically) underscored by the outlaw's costume the Duke is wearing. The Fool, the youngster, and the prince all agree.

High esteem for civility was one of the features of traditional political thinking. Expounding the significance of the Dreamer's flight in John Gower's Vox Clamantis (ca. 1385), John Fisher remarks, “He abandons the city, the symbol of humanity and civilization, and flees to the woods and caves where he lives like a hunted animal (VC, I.1360).” Fisher goes on to note that “Man's relation to nature and his fellow men here is the very opposite to that of the Golden Age. Since sin had destroyed nature's beneficence, man's only hope of security lies in social organization, in reason, order, law, and the king.”20 The forest or wilderness had long been a metaphor for the condition of life in the fallen world.

Apart from forest or wood, Arden is six times called a “desert.” Some notion of the connotations of desert for an Elizabethan may be gathered from these extracts from the extended definition in the popular encyclopedia compiled by Stephen Batman, Batman uppon Bartholome (1582), Chapter 52, under the heading “Of Desart”: Desart is a space of land, and is called Desart: for it is forsaken of manye men to dwell therein, … as Isidore saith: and that happeneth sometime, for the lande is barren, or for the ayre is not temporate. … And so desart is not laboured, & is full of thornes and pricking bushes, and is place of creeping wormes and venimous beasts, and of wilde beasts, and it is the lodges of banished men and of theeues, … lande of misgoing and of erring. For in desarte wayes bee vnknowen, for the downes and pathes be not worne, nor trodden, but they be growen and full of Broome, … and of other lettes that greeue trauailing men. And bee called Desarts, for they be not sowen, as Isidore sayeth. And so places of woodes and mountaines, that bee not sowen be called Desarts. …21


We can turn now to Duke Senior's translation of stubborn fortune in his role as the ideal king setting the example for the many exiles in As You Like It. The deposed Duke treats “these woods” in the orthodox way as symbolizing the wilderness of man's life thrashed by the gales of ingratitude and cold adversity.22 He uses traditional images and themes; and as I have noted, the conclusions he reaches and thereby recommends to his followers summarize long-standing teachings of the Church that would have been perfectly familiar to his auditors. In doing so, he defines the moral power by means of which the exiles will stay the course until Providence delivers them. The old Duke both advocates and personifies two great princely virtues, fortitude and patience—the spiritual weapons that arm a good Christian against life's sea of troubles. With these virtues, the prince and his retinue can and will submit to adversity as an expression of the will of God and see it as a providential means of preparing and correcting them. What is required is to endure (I.i.24, 71; III.v.96; V.iv.173) one's tribulation (here also a nation's) with love and faith, seeking to benefit from the sweet uses of adversity, the precious jewel in the head of that ugly and venomous toad (cf. ll. 10-14).

Lord Amiens not only publicly assents as the spokesman of the loving lords but also recognizes in the Duke's speech the happy man who is the philosopher prince emancipated from bondage to Fortune. The deposed Duke does include himself among his unhappy band of brothers, but in fact until Act V he appears to be the only person deserving of Lord Amiens' accolade.23 There the Duke commends them as “this happy number” (V.iv.172). Lord Amiens here makes a solemn commitment which has, in my opinion, been illogically and grievously misinterpreted. His “I would not change it” (II.i.18) does not mean “I am determined to renounce my proper station in life and continue until I die hiding in these woods, living off the land, and shrinking in the winter's cold.” How could he? The self-same virtues and noble vocation that brought him to the unhappy woods to his prince's side would dictate his return if it became possible. The “it” that he promises not to change is loyal and Christian endurance of fate with his prince. He will not defect. When the time comes, he and his co-mates will return with alacrity to their people and their duties. Meanwhile, their experience has feelingly persuaded them what they are (cf. II.i.11); that is, it has given them the precious gift of self-knowledge, a gift especially necessary for a magistrate.24

That As You Like It celebrates the triumph of such patience over evil even Jaques comes to understand by play's end. At this point, on the verge of his own spiritual retreat, Jaques tells the Duke, “You to your former honor I bequeath / Your patience and your virtues well deserves it” (V.iv.186-87). This contrasts markedly with the Jaques of Act II, the saturnine Italianate libertine who maintains that any man would “turn ass” to come to the Forest of Arden, “Leaving his wealth and ease” in order to please a stubborn devotion to his prince or to his principles (II.v.46-53). So much for Adam, loving lords, and Celia when self-indulgence and expediency dictate standards and replace constancy.


While to a degree the Duke and his entourage passively endure the Forest of Arden, the emigree princesses deal forthrightly with the social problems they find there. Touching this, it is Rosalind rather than the Forest who provides the beneficial magic—“I say I am a magician”—in Arden. Quite simply, Rosalind possesses that magic of nobility conceded by Shakespeare to the children of royal stock.

Immediately upon their arrival in Arden the two girls are confronted with token cases of two contemporary social issues not found in Rosalynde. Facing their need for relief, Corin reports to the refugees his churlish master's disregard of the moral and social obligation to provide hospitality. Throughout the Tudor period and well after, the “decay of hospitality” excited condemnation. Even in the next reign a moralist could write, “And now may I complain at the decay of hospitality in our land, whereby many poor souls are deprived of that relief which they have had heretofore.” In addition, the circumstance in the play offers a timely topical allusion to the national distress caused by the bitter cold and crop failures of 1596-1598, which affected all parishes in some degree. Undoubtedly, there were members of Shakespeare's audience who had had to cope with refugees suffering like Celia, who is “with travel much oppressed, / And prays for succor” (II.iv.74-75).25 Celia's plight inspires the only eschatological remark in a play built upon religious prescriptions; the reference (ll. 81-82) to Matthew xxv.31 ff. could well have been enhanced by the Biblical associations linking the Stranger, Aliena, with the law of hospitality. Further, while God requires almsgiving of all people of substance, liberality and pity especially distinguish the aristocrat from the churl.

Only a passing remark reveals a related problem, that of regulating the wages of laborers. Arranging to buy the sheep farm, Celia off-handedly promises Corin, “And we will mend thy wages” (II.iv.94). Corin's churlish master represented to the first audience a social type whose venialities were familiar. We should note, of course, that these injustices in the Forest are corrected by the ladies from the court.

In contrast to these allusions, the dramatic possibilities of another social problem earn it two lively episodes, III.v and IV.iii.6-74. The estranged relationship between the fatuous shepherd lover and the “proud disdainful shepherdess” (III.iv.50) provides the occasion. In As You Like It marriage sanctions love, and in Renaissance theory the proper kind of marriage upholds the state.26 A soundly based marriage contributes both to the personal benefit of the spouses and to the social stability of the hierarchy. But Silvius and Phebe have picked up foolish notions from their betters (or possibly Marlowe), with the result that both have succumbed to disabling self-delusions that breed sloth and pride. The vicar being incompetent to tell them what marriage is (III.iii.85-86), Rosalind, characteristically observant of the three almsdeeds, accepts the challenge and duty of correcting these misdoers.27

That there is fool's gold in the “golden world” we need not doubt, but for our purposes the main significance of the systematic disparagement of rustic Phebe in contrast with the royal princess is that it offers yet another striking instance of the play's consistent dispraise of the country. To summarize a complex literary exercise, it may suffice to say that Rosalind, the sweet Rose, has been firmly delineated by III.v as a type of the Neoplatonic and Christian gentlewoman embodying temperance and wisdom (“The best thing in him / Is his complexion” [III.v.115-16]), the virtues effective for healing the love-sick, including those, like Phebe, who are sick of self-love. Assuredly, “Hymen from heaven brought her” (V.iv.112). The conventional imagery of light and white identifies such a figure, as it does Rosalind. The opposite symbolism of darkness and black identifies the moral antitype: “What fellowship hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians vi.14). In order to use this economical opposition, Shakespeare deliberately turned Lodge's Phoebe from a blonde maiden as beautiful as Helen of Troy into (in the words of Sonnet 144) “the worser spirit a woman color'd ill,” making the Arden shepherdess both black and foul.28

This should not come as any surprise, however, because the very opening scene of the play rules out any pretense about the moral superiority of the countryside. It opens with Adam, named at once, in the orchard of the country estate where Orlando's evil brother Oliver keeps him rustically at home (I.i.7). This setting harbors such depravity that when we are returned to it in II.i Adam warns the boy that “This is no place, this house is but a butchery,” and urges him to “Abhor it, fear it, do not enter it” (ll. 27-28). These two country scenes make it clear that the usurper's court holds no monopoly on evil.


Obviously, then, the development of a traditional contrast between court and country is not intended. Instead, the opening scene develops a dramatic contrast between the old duke and the new duke and their respective courts. So the question that needs to be answered is Ancient Pistol's “Under which king, Besonian?” For the political thesis of As You Like It lies in the traditional antithesis of the tyrant—here the worst kind, being a usurping brother—and the good prince, here deposed yet retaining his people's love. Followers gathered around each represent the system of values, or vices, of their monarch. Consequently, the question in As You Like It is whether the old order of the old duke or the new order of the tyrannical new duke will triumph, and how.

Shakespeare consistently and sometimes subtly belittles the new court. He denies it setting, titled officers, and ceremony. Among the courtiers the usurper's favorite is the knight of the mustard, who swears by the honor that he does not have (I.ii.63 ff.). The same sins of the world and the devil motivate the de Boys manor and the de facto court, and accordingly the two tyrants (I.ii.288), Duke Frederick and Oliver, complement each other in villainy, the one inflicting injustice in the state by force, the other injustice in the family by fraud. Both are linked dramatically through their champion and emblematic alter ego, Charles the bonny prizer. An emblem of brute force applied with guile, the wrestler exemplifies the two tyrants and their evil genius. More generally, however, he can personify the forces of pride, wrath, and blind Fortune with which the heroic Christian must struggle. “For we wrestle not against blood and flesh, but against rule, against power, against worldly rulers, even governors of the darkness of this world, against spiritual craftiness in heavenly things.”29 In praise of Orlando's victory over Charles, Rosalind justly uses a figurative plural, saying that he overcame his enemies (I.ii.225). For the rest, the usurper's court consists of faceless, obsequious time-servers. This in truth is a wicked court. But there is another, legitimate court that will triumph by the sheer force of virtue. And the antithesis between the two is what gives the play its mainspring.

By line 101 Shakespeare reveals in the reference to three or four loving lords the broad concept behind As You Like It. It was for the purpose of illustrating this concept that he ennobled the “bold Yeomen” who attend the exiled monarch in Lodge's Rosalynde. The loving lords in As You Like It suggest ideals associated with the classic and feudal tripartite society that was united by Empedoclean love, a love cementing families, estates, and kingdoms in mutual harmony and justice.30 In terms of this concept, which invites examination of the various aspects of love, the loving lords present a substantial court establishment of pages, huntsmen, gentlemen, and lords, temporarily residing in a forest precinct where the duke's cave serves as Privy Chamber. Attendant gentlemen make music or wait upon the Duke at dinner, a courtly duty which justifies Orlando's separation from Ganymede during the crucial two hours of As You Like It. In II.vii this court assembles with its prince, who, magisterially seated under a tree, dispenses Works of Mercy. Here we behold, ironically garbed as outlaws, the legitimate maison du duc to which the moral magnetism of an ideal prince irresistibly draws the young, the merry, the worthy, the loving, and the enduring—in a word, the true aristocracy.

From them it is necessary to differentiate two characters who are spiritually apart, Touchstone and Jaques. Like the old Vice, they function to disparage and subvert the values honored by the loving lords and royal princesses. They also come under our present subject because of the natural and rural imagery which links them with the countryside. The vicar thinks of them as “fantastical knave[s]” (III.iii.106). Only Touchstone is ever called a courtier, a dubious compliment uttered by Jaques (II.vii.36, V.iv.42). Morally both have more in common with the new court than with the old, for which reason Shakespeare identifies them with brutish appetite (Jaques is the “brutish sting itself” [II.vii.66]) by means of interchangeable fool and beast imagery such as one finds in such lines as “very strange beasts, which in all tongues are call'd fools” (V.iv.37-38). Jaques says this about the Clown and Audrey, while of Jaques the Duke protests, “I think he be transform'd into a beast, / For I can no where find him like a man” (II.vii.1-2). Both knaves see themselves and others, moreover, as beasts. The material fool's wisdom wears a muzzle. Meanwhile, the naturalism of Jaques is vomitus (II.vii.64-69), and his name suggests malodorous and excretory-cloacal images that become explicit in the Clown's allusion to a close-stool cover: Touchstone begs “good Master What-ye-call't” to “pray be cover'd” (III.iii.73, 76-77).

Shakespeare stresses the similarity with Frederick by sequestering Jaques with his humorous counterpart, now a convertite, at the play's end. The beast imagery connects both the Clown and Jaques to man's base natural condition. Far from idealizing, then, such imagery once more dispraises the country and implies the inadequacy of nature as a school of virtue.

All the major dramatic elements agree in denying moral superiority to the countryside. It follows, therefore, that the play cannot be understood in terms of an antithesis between court and country. Taking such an approach disintegrates the action into a series of inconclusive encounters. It runs counter to thematic coherence and relation. If, as the pastoral convention would lead us to expect, Arden is an Eden-world of holiday, why is it, as Dame Helen Gardner asks, “a place which all the exiles, except one, are all too ready to leave at the close”? Anne Barton finds the explanation for their leaving “a better world” in the dictates of a mechanical plot design: “We have learned to notice,” she writes, “as typically Shakespearian the way characters move between two contrasted locales—one of them heightened and more spacious than the other—and we regard that ‘new society’ which makes its way back to the normal world at the end of the play as subtler and more consequential than older critics did.”31

Here one must amend Barton's reference to a “new society,” because it is the old society that returns from Arden. The denouement follows on the providential overthrow of the new duke and his new court (I.i.97, 100) by the old religious man (V.iv.160-65), thereby restoring the better world of the old duke and his old order. This is Orlando's antique world, the world of old Adam and his old master, Sir Rowland, the paragon who was the enemy of the new duke.32

As You Like It addresses the ideals and concerns of an aristocratic and knowledgeable audience, the titular “You.” It is Shakespeare's book of the governor, and it is pervaded with religious precepts and practices common to the genre. Its so-called encounters, amplified with iconographic and stage imagery, illustrate steps in its program of tutelage. I doubt that the Elizabethans considered any of the outcomes it depicts—especially the conversions—as implausible. I find it impossible to imagine, for example, that the Duke's reversal of fortune would have seemed implausible to a Queen whose own delivery from an envious court after notable adversities she had ascribed impromptu to God's providence, quoting the Psalm, “A Domino factum est istud, & est mirabile in oculis nostris.”33


  1. As You Like It,Shakespeare Survey, 8 (1968), 43. This passage is quoted in Richard Knowles, ed., As You Like It, A New Variorum Edition (New York: MLA, 1977), pp. 519-20, hereafter cited as MLA. The Variorum's “Survey of Criticism” by Evelyn Joseph Mattern, ihm, provides a useful guide to the theme of country versus court, pp. 511-27 and passim.

  2. Introduction to As You Like It, in The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, gen. ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), p. 841.

  3. As You Like It, New Cambridge Shakespeare, J. Dover Wilson and Arthur T. Quiller-Couch, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1926), pp. xvii, xviii.

  4. Shakespeare: As You Like It, Studies in English Literature, No. 25 (London: Edward Arnold, 1965), pp. 16, 17-18. Another scene-by-scene commentary on action and details in As You Like It is in Alfred Harbage, William Shakespeare: A Reader's Guide (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1963). Rather like Quiller-Couch, Harbage finds the play mostly fragmented, impromptu, and extemporal (p. 238), with patterns apparently accidental (p. 245). He concludes, “What appears to be a medley, a structure of spontaneous improvisation, cannot be evaluated by objective standards, and … [is] but a pretty play” (p. 245).

  5. The settings are distinguished in my “Where Are the Woods in As You Like It?” Shakespeare Quarterly, 34 (1983), 172-80, and related to landscapes of contemporary Warwickshire Arden; I examine specific ecological features in “Observations on the Natural Settings and Flora of the Ardens of Lodge and Shakespeare,” English Language Notes, 22 (1985), 20-29. For another study of the play's basis in reality, see the major article by Louis Adrian Montrose, “‘The Place of a Brother’ in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form,” SQ [Shakespeare Quarterly], 32 (1981), 28-54, which argues that “as the actions within the play are dialectically related to each other, so the world of Shakespeare's characters is dialectically related to the world of his audience” (p. 54).

  6. Hartley Coleridge, MLA, p. 556. For details of the locus amoenus or pleasance setting, see Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask, Bollinger Series xxxvi (1953; rpt. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), 195-202.

  7. Citations are to The Riverside Shakespeare, gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans, et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). Duke Senior has recalled Adam's penalty (II.i.5). Joshua Sylvester, trans., Bartas, His Devine Weekes and Workes (1605; rpt. Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1965), p. 276, conventionally describes prelapsarian Eden as a setting so balmy “That boisterus Adams body did not shrinke / For Northern winds. …” The Arden winds make the Duke's body “shrink with cold” (II.i.9). Cf. Spenser's use of the verb, describing Redcrosse after his ordeal: “all his flesh shronk vp like withered flowres” (Faerie Queene, I.viii.41.9). Raleigh, MLA, p. 557.

  8. Raleigh, MLA, p. 557. Critics who think Arden something less than idyllic include H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Comedy (London: Methuen, 1938), pp. 278-79, quoted in MLA, p. 558; Helen Gardner, “As You Like It,” 1959, rpt. in Laurence Lerner, Shakespeare's Comedies (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967), pp. 253-56; and John Russell Brown, Shakespeare and His Comedies, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1962). On page 149 Brown observes that “Arden is not necessarily or unequivocally the ‘golden world’ of the people's imagination” (the reference is to Charles's gossip); cf. pp. 144-45. A paradaisical climate is deliberately ruled out by “the penalty of Adam, / The seasons' difference” (II.i.5-6). A place of exile and the mutability of April-come-December calls for a postlapsarian landscape; see Derek Pearsall and Elizabeth Salter, Landscapes and Seasons of the Medieval World (London: Paul Elek, 1973), pp. 122-29, 132-34, 197-99, and passim.

  9. “The use of a wilderness to describe this world is widespread and ultimately goes back to the Alexandrian interpretation of the Old Testament,” observes Morton W. Bloomfield in The Seven Deadly Sins (1952; rpt. East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1967), p. 151; see George Williams, Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962). In a medieval manuscript quoted by A. Caiger-Smith, English Medieval Mural Paintings (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 43, all, like Duke Senior's co-mates, are brothers in exile. “For hit is so that all mankynde in this warld nis but in exile and wildernesse out of his kyndely contre”—a familiar Boethian idea. This familiar metaphor for man's life was often extended to the commonwealth and was represented by a tree, a garden, or a wilderness in plays and pageants. See David M. Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry 1558-1642 (Columbia Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1971), p. 234, for London itself in 1638; also see pp. 296-97. The forest or desert offers an apt arena for the trials and tribulations of human life, and trust in the sweet uses of adversity was a commonplace of Christian belief.

  10. The political importance of the family and its correspondence to political themes of the state are discussed by Robert B. Pierce in Shakespeare's History Plays: The Family and the State (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1971). MLA, p. 542, quotes Kittredge.

  11. Theodore Spencer, Shakespeare and the Nature of Man (1942; rpt. New York: Macmillan, 1961), p. 9, takes up the age of the world and, in note 21, the allusion to it in Love's Labor's Lost, V.ii.11. Cf. The Taming of the Shrew, Ind. ii.63, “in this waning age.” By his source, Spencer gives the age of the world at Shakespeare's birth as 5282, which differs from the Geneva Bible's chronology. Thomas Nashe makes it “now 5596”; see Have With You to Saffron Walden (1596), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow (London: Bullen, 1910), iii, 28. For Nashe it was no golden age. MLA is silent on Rosalind's age of the world and its implications.

  12. Raleigh is quoted by F. P. Wilson in Elizabethan and Jacobean (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945), p. 13. For John Donne, see Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels, ed. Evelyn M. Simpson (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1974), p. 184, and The Epithalamions, Anniversaries, and Epicedes, ed. W. Milgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 26-27, and the line notes for 202-4 on pp. 139-40. Cf. Faerie Queene, IV.viii.31.6-9.

  13. A Treatise and discourse of the lawes of the forrest (London: T. Wight and B. Norton, 1598), fol. 1. On the four woodland scenes see p. 179 of my “Where Are the Woods in As You Like It?” Years ago, George P. Baker, ed. As You Like It, The Renaissance Shakespeare (1907), p. xxv (quoted, MLA, p. 557) commented, “But really for the Elizabethans, as for the reader today, the effect [of the play's atmosphere of the woods and outdoor life] is produced by four scenes only.” Apparently the play distinguishes between the virtue of human beings and the physical phenomena of Arden. In Church doctrine the latter partakes of good; presumably it lacks the malice of fallen human nature. Hence the winter's wind is not so unkind as man's ingratitude (II.vii.176), though, of course, it may suitably symbolize it, as explained, for example, in The Boke of Wysdome, trans. J[ohn] Larke (London: Thomas Colwell, 1565), folio 26: “the sinne of ingratitude is lyke the wynde, whyche dryeth vp the water of the fountaines of pytie [cf. II.vii.117, 123], the dewe and water of grace, and goodnesse of mercye.” This passage is quoted in the notes on p. 164, Christine de Pisan, The Epistle of Othea, trans. Stephen Scrope, ed. Curt F. Bühler, eets No. 264 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970).

  14. The evils of extravagant dress were a popular subject taken up by such Tudor authors as Roger Ascham, William Camden, William Harrison, Philip Stubbes, and Thomas Nashe. On the frequent Tudor proclamations forbidding “excess of apparel” see Karl J. Holzknecht, The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's Plays (New York: American Book Co., 1950), pp. 43-45. There had been such a proclamation as recently as 6 July 1597. On the decorum of dress see Sir Thomas Elyot, The Book named The Governor, ed. S. E. Lehmberg (London: Dent, 1962), pp. 102-3.

  15. Shakespeare's Imagery (1935; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1965), Chart vii.

  16. For details on the increasing wealth of the landed peasantry in five parishes in Arden above Stratford in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, see Victor H. T. Skipp, Crisis and Development: An Ecological Case Study of the Forest of Arden (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1978), pp. 68-79 and passim; he concludes, p. 70, “From the point of view of the peasant, all this simply meant miraculously rising living standards.” MLA is silent on the probable topical allusion here.

  17. Audrey wrongly hopes that “it is no dishonest desire to desire to be a woman of the world” (V.iii.4-5), for she is by calling a goat-girl and should know herself accordingly. Audrey's desire to be a worldly woman (an evil desire) would be held dishonest and ludicrous. The answer is that she should do her duty in that state of life unto which it pleased God to call her: see The Book of Common Prayer 1559, ed. John E. Booty (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1976), pp. viii, 286, 315. In this respect foul Audrey's ambition contrasts with Corin's content in his calling. The play in general reflects the social and religious doctrine of vocation. Orlando's problem, for example, is how to prepare himself to follow his father's calling, to which he is born. This topic is not recognized in MLA, but it inheres in the play's classical-Christian model of society. The same concept lies behind Jaques' speech on the idea of “All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.” See Don Cameron Allen, Image and Meaning (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1968), pp. 144-46. On the doctrine, see Ruth Mohl, The Three Estates in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1933), Chap. vii, Sect. 12, “The Folly of Changing One's Estate,” pp. 332 ff.

  18. In “Social Rank and the Pastoral Ideals of As You Like It,SQ, 29 (1978), 339, Judy Z. Kronenfeld belittles Celia for taking into exile gifts of the world, “our jewels and our wealth” (I.iii.134), complaining that “Putting jewels in one's purse contrasts strongly with giving up one's purse, which, of course, is what the servant Adam does before departing for Arden.” But Celia and Adam share identical intentions, and Celia herself is the true treasure (II.ii.7). Celia's foresight here proves her prudence, a virtue associated with older heads but conspicuously lacking in fools, such as—and this is the actual dramatic contrast—her father, Touchstone, and Jaques. Kronenfeld's thesis forces her to classify Celia's friendship as a pastoral virtue, ignoring the Book of Ruth, Aristotle's Ethics, the Romance of the Rose, and not a little courtly literature. As on other points in the play, Sir Thomas Elyot's The Governor provides excellent commentary; he treats the aristocratic ideal of friendship in Book ii, Sections 11 and 12. The proper setting for Celia's aristocratic gesture is a court, not a pasture.

  19. Henry had achieved prowess as a shooter, a jouster, and a wrestler in his teens. Like Orlando, he was never schooled and yet was learned and, of course, enchantingly beloved. Cf. A. F. Pollard, Henry VIII (1902; rpt. London: Longmans, Green, 1951), pp. 15-20, 30-33. Orlando clearly has the breeding he asserts, including acquaintance with metrics, with the courtesy of nations, with classical myths, and with the “civil sayings” (III.ii.128) that prompt Jaques' jibe, “You are full of pretty answers.” Orlando can handle the sword and bow, and has had excellent coaching in wrestling. Training in these martial arts was begun early; Orlando's education appears to have been suspended when he was about fifteen or sixteen.

  20. John Gower (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1964), p. 174. W. Gordon Zeeveld discusses the concept of civility in The Temper of Shakespeare's Thought (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 186-91.

  21. Batman vppon Bartholome, his booke De Proprietatibus Rerum (London: Thomas East, 1582), folio 211. The dangers of travel in “deserts” or forests were well known in Shakespeare's Warwickshire; see Zeeveld, p. 201. The precautions taken by Celia and Rosalind, and Orlando's reaction to happening on a band of outlaws, would have seemed entirely sensible. Orlando's allusion to younger sons being driven to make a living by highway robbery (II.iii.31-35), like Robin Hood, touches on a well-known problem and connects directly to the need to educate young gentlemen in a calling. A post-facto case is that of young Robert Throckmorton, from near Stratford, who turned to highway robbery and was executed in 1608; see Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, Shakespeare's Warwickshire Contemporaries, new ed. (Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1907), p. 148. The play rejects the Robin Hood model. A book was published about the affair in 1608 (stc 24035, another issue, 24053.5).

  22. Wind traditionally symbolized, with Biblical equations, adversity, death, the Devil, the storms of life, and the winds of fortune. “What though the tempest of an [a]dverse winde / Hath blowne thy fortune downe, ruind thy state?” writes R. C., Gent., The Times' Whistle, ed. J. M. Cowper, (London: N. Trübner, 1871), p. 101.3202-3. Spenser uses the north wind as the agent of evil, especially pride (e.g., Faerie Queene, III.i.9-12). This is close to As You Like It's comparison of the winter's wind with man's ingratitude, an expression of pride. Cf. Elyot, p. 152. Donne reminds us that “stormes and tempests … are not onely in Gods Armories, but they are in his treasuries,” and explains why (Sermons, p. 61).

  23. Amiens speaks with authority. The ancients and the medievalists largely agree that virtue and happiness are reciprocal, and the Duke's speech amply demonstrates his possession of both. At the end even Jaques recognizes and attests to the triumph of the Duke's patience and virtues. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Plutarch, and others teach that virtue is the cause of happiness, and that the proof of virtue is one's superiority to adversity. Thomas Lodge sums up this notion in the foreword to his translation of Seneca, saying “that to be truely virtuous is to be happy, to subdue passion is to be truly a man, to foresee and unmaske miseries is to lessen them, to love well is to be vertuous.” Quoted by Hiram Haydn in The Counter-Renaissance (1950; rpt. New York: Grove Press, 1960), p. 490. And cf. the great exemplar, Job v.17 (Geneva), “Beholde, blessed is the man whome God correcteth.”

  24. Elyot, Book III, Chapter 3, on the topic of justice, argues that the magistrate must know himself to be capable of it. For Erasmus, self-knowledge was the means to the attainment of virtue. It was an old and pervasive idea; see E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (London: Chatto and Windus, 1948), p. 66. Rolf Soellner, Shakespeare's Patterns of Self-knowledge (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1972), p. xiv, mentions only one instance in As You Like It. Rosalind says to Phebe, “But, mistress know yourself” (III.v.57). But a character's self-knowledge or lack thereof is germane to perhaps a dozen situations in the play.

  25. Quotation from L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (London: Chatto and Windus, 1957), p. 114, in a passage on the decay of hospitality, where Knights cites Green, Dekker, and Barnabe Rich; see also pp. 152-54. Uncharitableness connects with the extravagance of such as Jaques' city-woman (II.vii.75-76). A Proclamation Against Inordinate Apparal, 6 July 1597, asserts that “In the present time of difficulty the decay and lack of hospitality appears in the better part of all counties.” The plight of the princesses here has striking topicality, since the poor of Warwickshire had suffered grievously in early 1597 and again a year later “for the extreame want and scarsity of graine in that countie, and specially at Stratford uppon Avon, Alcester and other places thereaboutes”; see Acts of the Privy Council of England, ns Vol. xxviii (a.d. 1597-98), ed. John Roche Dasent (London: hmso, 1904), 315. During this “Great Famine” refugees may have sought relief in the Forest of Arden; cf. Skipp, pp. 18-19, 33-37, 53, 93, and passim.

  26. Accepted doctrine held that the family is the foundation, and microcosm, of the state; see Pierce for documentation. Sir Philip Sidney elegantly states the idea in The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia), ed. Jean Robertson (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), p. 383: “marriage being the most holy conjunction that falls to mankind, out of which all families, and so consequently all societies, do proceed, which not only by community of goods but community of children is to knit the minds in a most perfect union which whoso breaks dissolves all humanity. …”

  27. Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, The Book of Husbandry, edn. of 1534, ed. Walter W. Skeat (1882; rpt. Vaduz: Kraus Reprint, 1965), instructs his readers about the almsdeeds, pp. 118-23, of which the “fyrste maner” is the relief of the needy, the second manner (p. 120) is to forgive them that have trespassed, and the third (p. 121) is to “To correcke a misdoer, and to bring hym into the waye of ryghte.” The play enacts all three as contributing to a better world; but the third, as here, motivates the liveliest encounters. Of the several issues of Fitzherbert, one appeared in 1598. Rosalind judges the offenses of Silvius to be so serious that “He deserves no pity” (IV.iii.66); briefly, Silvius has violated decorum and fallen into lover's sloth.

  28. See Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde, in Geoffrey Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. II (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958), where, pp. 227-28, “Phoebe sate, (the fairest Shepheardesse in all Arden) … and to shrowde her from the Sunne, [wore] a chaplet of roses: from under which appeared a face full of Nature's excellence, and two such eyes as might have amated a greater man than Montanus” (more than one market there!). A beautiful Phoebe, pp. 231-33, her charms dazzle the King, pp. 251, 252.

  29. The Book of Common Prayer 1559, p. 207, The Epistle [Eph. vi].

  30. Mohl, pp. 370 ff., treats the doctrine of love as a social factor, citing contemporary writing including the sixteenth-century literature of estates, pp. 373 ff. In a broad sense, the wished-for better world, “When earthly things made even / Atone together” (V.iv.109-10), is effected by that love eulogized by Philosophy at the end of Book ii of Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy, between the discourses on adversity and happiness. The stability of the realm rests on the love of the king for his people and of his people for him. “For the beneuolente mynde of a gouernour,” writes Elyot, “not onely byndeth the hartes of the people unto hym with the chayne of loue, more stronger than any material bondes, but also gardeth more saufely his persone than any toure or garison” (p. 127). On this principle, Elyot, like Erasmus, concurs with Isocrates, Xenophon, Pliny, and others, classical and medieval; see Introduction, Desiderius Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince, trans. Lester K. Born (1936; rpt. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), passim.

  31. “As You Like It,” Laurence Lerner, ed., Shakespeare's Comedies (1959; rpt. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967), pp. 256-57, and Anne Barton, “‘As You Like It’ and ‘Twelfth Night,’” in Stratford-upon-Avon Studies 14: Shakespearian Comedy (London: Edward Arnold, 1972), p. 161. Both try to explain the play as showing the superiority of the country life to the court.

  32. The memory of Sir Rowland de Boys, repeatedly cited and invoked, gives As You Like It its moral touchstone, because the nobles are quickly distinguished as virtuous or vicious according to their favorable or unfavorable response to the chivalric ideals that that memory signifies. Sir Rowland represents the beau ideal of the aristocratic spirit and calling that is treated in the play; but he also poses related questions, such as the aristocrat's inheritance of virtue in the blood. The name had connections with Warwickshire. Incidentally, Shakespeare himself had recently (1596) been recognized as a gentleman of that county. The very different functions of Sir Rowland and Sir John of Bordeaux in Rosalynde illuminate the differences between the romance and the play.

  33. Sir Robert Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia (1641; rpt. London: Edward Arber, 1870), p. 16, adds “which [verse] we find to this day on the stamp of her gold [coins].” See the plates illustrating gold coins in Shakespeare's England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1917), facing p. 326 and p. 338. The Queen would have been an ideal spectator for As You Like It in several ways. When Princess and, like Rosalind, more than common tall, notably her father's daughter, and loved by the people, Elizabeth had been in grave peril for suspicion of treason. At times Woodstock and Hatfield were her refuges from the envious court. Like Duke Senior, she perfectly understood the uses of adversity and the answering patience, for, as Naunton says, “her destiny had decreed to set her an Apprentice in the School of Affliction” so that, by her twenty-sixth year (and accession), she was “grown ripe, and seasoned with adversity, and in the exercise of her Vertue” (pp. 14-15).

Dale G. Priest (essay date 1988)

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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 various voices and strategies, a pattern that helps define two important polarities in the play. First we note the voices of accommodation—such characters as Corin, Orlando, and Duke Senior, who represent a spirit of inclusiveness in the play, and who function generally to promote integration and community. Other voices in the forest appear to be pitted against that spirit—chiefly those of Jaques, Touchstone, and Rosalind, among the persons who have significant dealings in Arden. These characters are manipulative by nature, and they project, or pretend to project, exclusive identities that seem to ridicule or reject the communal ideal. The polarities thereby established in the drama correspond roughly, and respectively, to the romantic and satiric modes of comic design.1 This essay focuses on the decidedly different aims and methods of the manipulative personae in As You Like It—especially those of Touchstone and Rosalind—to show how and why Shakespeare gives us, in Rosalind, an eiron who uses the strategies of satire in the service of romance. In so doing, the playwright bestows upon her and her negotiative powers an implicit endorsement denied Touchstone and his rhetorical skills.

Of the three manipulators, Jaques receives the feeblest endorsement. That is, his vision is least compatible with the telos of the play—its direction, spirit, and outcome. It is Rosalind who is largely responsible for that outcome, and Jaques will be left out. His scornful aloofness from the world is so practiced and extreme that it becomes an actual identity or fixity. His posturing is so iron-clad that it not only defines but confines him, separates him from the pastime. In the end he is invited to stay, and he does bestow his blessing—if with a touch of cynicism—on the magical pairings. But he cannot abide the community; he prefers the cave. In the effect of his withdrawal from the comic resolution, he shares with Malvolio a kinship of extremes. Malvolio, in Twelfth Night, proves petty and vindictive to the end and is almost totally without detachment. Jaques is irreversibly detached. Both will flee from the community as pharmakos figures, cast out so that the comic spirit may make conclusion. In leaving, they cast some doubt over that conclusion by suggesting its arbitrariness and artifice. Conversely, the festivity and play-making at the end undercut the seriousness of the threat represented by the outsiders.

Critics have often noted that Jaques and Duke Senior do not get along very well.2 Only Jaques darkens the scene perceived through the Duke's rosy lenses. This is partly because Jaques's performance—his contrived, or manipulated version of the world—is a discomforting, inverted parody of the Duke's world-view. Jaques's persistent brooding on the “infected world” clashes with the Duke's optimism, to be sure; beyond that, the Duke is threatened by Jaques's posturing. The Duke wants people to be “sincere,” as he believes himself to be. He is most pleased at the report of Jaques's “crying” over the wounded deer (II.i.25-70),3 not realizing that Jaques's practiced melancholy is a far cry from sincerity. The Duke will then seek Jaques out and “cope” him when he is “full of matter.” But when Jaques, admiring Touchstone, says he wants to become a satirist and heal the sick world with his detached, caustic commentary, the Duke is at odds with him again. Jaques has misjudged Touchstone's wry criticism of the passing world (II.vii.12-34), just as the Duke has misjudged Jaques's response to the wounded stag. We shall see that Touchstone, as fool and rhetorician, has the penetrating vision to see through pretense and the wit to express his critical perceptions. He is not, however, a satirist of the kind Jaques appears to admire—a misanthrope who delights in dragging man's dirtiest laundry out into full view.

Jaques, then, is clearly a manipulator of the exclusive and satiric kind. The temptation is great, in fact, to equate Jaques with Ben Jonson.4 Jaques is original with Shakespeare, as is Touchstone; they have no parallel in Lodge's Rosalynde. Whether or not the playwright had Jonson in mind when he created Jaques, it is clear that Jaques does not represent the vision recommended by the play. Certainly the Duke does not let Jaques's views go unchallenged:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin:
For thou thyself hast been a libertine,
As sensual as the brutish sting itself,
And all th' embossed sores, and headed evils,
That thou with license of free foot hast caught,
Wouldst thou disgorge into the general world.


The Duke is upset not only by Jaques's pessimism and his implicit threat to dump garbage, as it were, into the Duke's idyllic world, but also by his hypocrisy. The Duke alerts us to the vulnerability of the chronic unmasker, the cynic who views all conventions as social disguises which must be exposed. Wolfgang Iser notes that Jaques is himself forever alert to “double meaning,” or hypocrisy, but that the double meaning Jaques purports to have seen through “might well rebound on him, for the code he keeps unmasking would also apply to himself. Excepting oneself from an otherwise universal law is indicative of … blindness.”5 Ultimately, Jaques's view leads to nothing, as Rosalind later reminds him (IV.i.1-38).

One important difference between Touchstone and Rosalind can be seen during the amusing and touching exchanges immediately after Orlando has been reported in the forest. When Celia tells her cousin that she found Orlando under a tree, “like a dropped acorn,” Rosalind sighs, “It may well be called Jove's tree when it drops forth such fruit” (III.ii.236). Only a few lines earlier, when told that Orlando's poem had been found on a tree, Touchstone quips, “Truly, the tree yields bad fruit” (III.ii.116). The “fruit” in both cases is Orlando, or his poetry (in effect, the two are indistinguishable). The uses of the metaphor, however, are radically different. The contrast is not to be found in any great difference in wit or intelligence. Both Rosalind and Touchstone are very much alike in their powers of discrimination. But Touchstone's remark is pure wit; it is founded in thought only. Rosalind then takes the figure and infuses it with life. Her remark is spoken with thought and feeling reunited. She had earlier made it clear that Orlando's verse is truly “bad fruit” (III.ii.164-77), but she can use such a metaphor to express emotion as well—the fruit of genuine affection. Certainly Touchstone is not without feeling. There is clearly an authentic loyalty between him and the girls: “He'll go along o'er the wide world with me” Celia says just as they prepare to leave the court (I.iii.132). At the end of the play, he will press in among the “country copulatives” and marry Audrey, the country wench.6 He has some reservations and an obvious measure of detachment about this (III.iii.90-94); still, he refers to his bride as “an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own” (V.iv.58). Nevertheless, Touchstone's profession, and his primary function in the play, is that of the wise fool; his livelihood is essentially the detachment of his wit. He is the leveler, the designated critic who goes about puncturing pretense and testing this golden world for “fool's gold.” He can parody Silvius's romantic agony with the story of his own passion for Jane Smile and how he would kiss the “cow's dugs that her pretty chopt hands had milked” (II.iv.46-56). He can also ridicule Orlando's stylized love poetry as “the very false gallop of verses” and compose his own priceless piece in response (III.ii.100-12).

Touchstone is a master of the ancient art of oratio—the purposeful use of mannered prose—and so illustrates a pervasive Renaissance interest in this use of a manipulative rhetoric employed to disarm or otherwise persuade an audience. The use of such discourse has its roots in Cicero,7 and Socrates before him, and finds its Renaissance culmination in the Encomium Moriae (1509). Erasmus creates a persona who uses oratio masterfully to transvalue the meaning of the word “folly,” who herself is folly transvalued as a source of wisdom, and who manipulates her audience with irony and word-play. Such is the folly and rhetorical skill Touchstone inherits in As You Like It8—even if, for the most part, he uses oratio for its own sake and without the sense of purpose which animates Rosalind. Still, Shakespeare has created in Touchstone a “master stylist and wit [whose] verbal adaptability gives him his astonishing range” (Young, p. 52). He confronts old Corin, for instance, with rhetorical proof that Corin and all his pastoral kind are damned for never having used good, courtly manners (III.ii.32-85). Later, he browbeats the poor bumpkin William with “figures in rhetoric” to show that William's wit is not as “pretty” as he thinks it is—showing him up, in effect, in front of Audrey (V.i.10-57). Then comes Touchstone's pièce de resistance, the extended discourse on the “degrees of the lie” (V.iv.43-103). Here he holds forth on the rules that govern quarreling about alleged lies and concludes that all malice can finally be avoided by a judicious use of the subjunctive: “Your If is the only peacemaker; much virtue in If” (V.iv.103). Shakespeare's comedies often recommend the use of manipulative, hypothetical modes as the best way to deal with real experience. But Touchstone's discourse as instructive model is weakened by the detachment of the oratio and by the removal of the performance from the world of actual human experience.9 Rosalind will provide us a better model; her manipulative skills are generated by passion and directed by human needs. So the fool emerges as a somewhat distorted image of Rosalind.10 He shares her powers of discrimination, but not her balanced personality. He is heavy on thought and light on feeling. Still I must think that Shakespeare took great delight in bringing Touchstone to life.

Rosalind is the negotiator in As You Like It, and that goes beyond the familiar definition denoting someone who deals with others in order to get things done or arrive at agreement. Rosalind does that, too. Like any effective negotiator, she has a goal, an awareness of conflicting claims on her attention, and a gift for tentativeness in policy and action. But the term is especially appropriate for Rosalind because of the etymology. The root of “negotiate” is otium, a classical term that variously denotes the pastoral ideal: leisure, contentment, the good life, and so on.11 It also includes—especially for the Renaissance—the ideal of fulfilled, romantic love. Otium is advertised in the Duke's translation of Arden into a “golden world”; it is explicit in Amiens's music—especially the famous song about life under the greenwood tree (II.v.1-8, 38-45). Negotium, conversely, is “non-leisure” or business, a Ciceronian ideal antithetical to the Horatian otium.12 In regard to Rosalind's aggressive business in Arden, the term is obviously appropriate to her. It also fits because her public business in Arden is to appear to be opposed to, or critical of, the very values she pursues—those associated with otium and the pastoral ideal. The true enemies of otium are ambition (shunned by the pastoral poet) and the aspiring mind. The enemies of the pastoral ideal in As You Like It are Oliver and Duke Frederick—overreachers of sorts, whose will to power and lordship over others provides the tension, the opposition that activates the drama. Their attitudes and activities are real and assertive; their imperative drive recalls the metaphysics of the tragic mode. If otium is the opposite of willful ambition, it is no less real in As You Like It. If not imperative, it is still engaging. As the goal that directs and impels dramatic activity, or as an actual state variously realized in the play, otium provides a core of reality, an ideal in relation to which the negotiator may act or proceed in various ways.

To illustrate we may recall Petruchio's “peace, love, and quiet life”—an ideal to lend meaning and direction to the supposings of that arch-negotiator of The Taming of the Shrew (V.ii.108). Such an ideal or goal clearly animates Rosalind as well, and it is more serious and perceivable than Petruchio's; we see it in her “fathoms-deep” love for Orlando. In As You Like It, the most specific representation of otium, in the literary sense, is Corin. Corin is a shepherd in a pastoral play, and to that extent he is a prop in a conventional mode. Still, he is older and wiser than the stylized Silvius, and there is an authenticity in his perception of himself and his place in the world: “Sir, I am a true laborer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” (III.ii.73-77). This is an engaging statement—the simple profession of a man in whom the pastoral ideal is alive and well. Corin is not a character with much dimension, but he is honest and gracious. When Rosalind and her party arrive hungry and weary in Arden, Corin will do what he can to help them (II.iv.75-100). So, Touchstone has no actual quarrel with him; he acknowledges that the old shepherd is a “natural philosopher.” Yet precisely because Touchstone recognizes in Corin an ideal—an unpretentious exemplar—he cannot resist exercising on the rustic his highly-developed skills as negotiator. I have suggested that the ensuing exercise is purely rhetorical; Touchstone's professionalism at this sort of thing is a key, again, to the difference between him and Rosalind. The fool's negotiations (certainly until he meets Audrey) are pure skill; they lack the motive and cue that move his mistress. Jaques also has potential as a negotiator, as he shows in his “ducdame” version of Amiens's song about pastoral idealism (II.v.50-57). The equivocal vision is wasted, however, because of Jaques's self-involvement and his excessive commitment to his own performance.

The balanced vision of Rosalind recommends her as the true negotiator of As You Like It. She acts “as if” to conceal purpose and feeling for tactical reasons; she also acts “as if” in order to infuse humanity into a world stifled by convention and to a great extent devoid of real life. The most obvious and most delightful instance of Rosalind's negotiations in Arden is her practice on Orlando (III.ii.315-456; IV.i.38-204). The scenario is familiar enough. Rosalind, as Ganymede, will help Orlando cure his lovesickness for Rosalind by pretending that she is Rosalind and by having him woo her. She will then portray the fickleness of woman so convincingly that he will see his folly and wish to have nothing more to do with the madness called love. Now this play-within-a-play business is mostly subterfuge. Almost everything about it is manipulated, contrary-to-fact. Rosalind is not really Ganymede, nor is Ganymede really Rosalind in the scenario. It is likewise clear that the real Rosalind does not wish to scoff at love or to purge Orlando's love for her, nor does Orlando really want his sanity restored: “I would not be cur'd, youth” (III.ii.425), he says when Rosalind promises guaranteed medicine. All is hypothetical.

At the same time, an audience is in touch with an underlying tissue of reality in Rosalind's genuine affection. The emotional component of the scenario is disguised, inaccessible to Orlando. But for us, the disguise actually serves to highlight the emotion through dramatic irony: our understanding of Rosalind runs deeper than Orlando's. We have already witnessed a private confession of Rosalind's feelings (III.ii.236), and we hear another one after Orlando departs following his second session with his “counselor”: “My affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal” (IV.i.207). In the playlet itself we are alert to hidden confessions that draw us in. When Orlando wishes he could make Ganymede believe how much he loves his Rosalind, we have a telling response. Ganymede answers, but the real Rosalind speaks through the mask: “Me believe it? You may as soon make her that you love believe it, which I warrant she is apter to do than to confess she does” (III.ii.387-89). Poised in its response to this interplay of the real and the hypothetical, an audience is encouraged to infer meaning.

What is the meaning or value of Rosalind's negotiation here? I believe that Rosalind is using these manipulative tactics for three reasons. First, she simply finds it gratifying to do so. Framing her feelings in a theatrical mode gives her the double joy of both primary and vicarious experience. In another context, she calls this “feeding her love” (III.iv.58). In the company of Orlando, she can stand outside herself, as it were, and savor his professions of love with the satisfaction one can only get from overhearing someone say nice things about him to another person. The device prolongs and intensifies her pleasure in the same way that anticipation enhances a long-awaited, happy event. Second, the negotiation is designed to educate Orlando. He can be a sensible enough fellow, as he demonstrates in fending off Jaques's barbs when Monsieur Melancholy tries to belittle him and his love songs (III.ii.253-94). With regard to his feelings for Rosalind, however, Orlando's good sense is replaced by convention and stylized behavior. He lacks the element of detachment that gives Rosalind a happier and more clear-eyed understanding of her own emotions. Rosalind tries to teach him a bit of detachment by forcing him to dramatize himself in the playlet she construes. The attempt is similar to Petruchio's efforts to educate Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, in that both mentors use manipulative “supposes” to enlighten a subject who is mired in unreflecting behavior: Kate is excessively “real” and Orlando is too artificial. Rosalind's efforts are less “noisy” than Petruchio's, and the results are less dramatic. Four times Orlando forgets that he is supposed to be playing a part (III.ii.433; IV.i.110, 157, 197); and his response to Rosalind's lesson that “Men have died … but not for love” shows he has a bit more to learn: “I would not have my right Rosalind of this mind, for I protest her frown might kill me” (IV.i.109-10).13 But the third and most important reason for Rosalind's use of a manipulative, hypothetical mode here is that it gives her power and control over her own feelings; it allows Rosalind to direct her experience as a playwright would his script. Rosalind's real goal is a happy integration of her real experience—marriage with Orlando. In her play world as well we see her directing the hypothetical activity in a way that culminates in the mock wedding between Orlando and his “Rosalind.” There, at one of the most delightful moments in the play, we catch a glimpse of the happy girl behind the contrived role. Anticipating the formal question from the “priest” (Celia), Rosalind impulsively says, “I might ask you for your commission, but I do take thee, Orlando, for my husband. There's a girl goes before the priest, and certainly a woman's thought runs before her actions” (IV.i.138-41). Dramatizing herself as the impulsive girl allows her to be the impulsive girl and still remain in control of the scenario.

Probably the most interesting and most misunderstood of Rosalind's negotiations is her intervention in the Silvius-Phebe affair (III.v.1-80). Having overheard Phebe's icy rejection of Silvius's protestations of love, Rosalind jumps in to act her part (as Ganymede) in the scenario. Ralph Berry sees Rosalind's intrusion as an example of her will to master or to dominate certain others whom she finds disturbing in the play. Seeing herself in Phebe's antiromantic attitude, Rosalind is subtly threatened, the interpretation goes, and she is compelled to browbeat the shepherdess with one-upmanship.14 Most of the evidence, however, seems to point to Rosalind's sense of purposeful play. When Corin, at the end of the preceding scene, invites her and Celia to come witness the encounter between the “lovers,” Rosalind makes a telling remark:

          O, come, let us remove,
The sight of lovers feedeth those in love.
Bring us to this sight and you shall say
I'll prove a busy actor in their play.


The lines are a fine instance of Shakespeare's simultaneous effects. Rosalind's confession of her own love is “real,” while her allusion to theatrics reminds us that her action will be of a hypothetical nature. We are signaled that Rosalind will use a contrary-to-fact pose both to conceal and assert her own reality in a negotiation with another aspect of Arden.

Rosalind's lecture to Silvius and Phebe, then, is not real in the sense of the overbearing assertion of Rosalynde in Lodge's story. Shakespeare's Rosalind says,

You foolish shepherd, wherefore do you follow her
Like foggy south, puffing with wind and rain?
You are a thousand times a properer man
Than she a woman. 'Tis such fools as you
That makes the world full of ill-favored children.
'Tis not her glass, but you, that flatters her,
And out of you she sees herself more proper
Than any of her lineaments can show her.
But, mistress, know yourself, down on your knees,
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love;
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can, you are not for all markets.
Cry the man mercy, love him, take his offer.


Rosalind's simultaneous detachment and involvement in this affair is another departure from his source made by Shakespeare, in keeping with his heroine's manipulative tactics. In Lodge, Rosalynde is “incensed,” unable “to brook the cruelty of Phebe.”15 In Shakespeare's play, Rosalind is a player, incorporating both artifice and feeling in her negotiative art. Her objective is to infuse both sense and sensibility into the affair of Silvius and Phebe; in short, she will try to educate them while feeding her own love through theatrical participation in the love game. Rosalind seeks to impose a sense of balance upon the extremes of convention and hard reality represented in this scene, and she does this by reminding both parties of the relativity of time and beauty.

Silvius is a cardboard cut-out of the pastoral lover who fancies that the one “good life” lies somewhere behind Phebe's scornful eyes. Still he reminds Rosalind of her own affection for Orlando, as she had confessed in her earlier response to the slighted shepherd: “Alas, poor shepherd, searching of thy wound, / I have by hard adventure found mine own” (II.iv.44-45). She can “feed” her own love by helping Silvius see things more clearly, which is what she wants to do for Orlando as well. This educational process requires detachment, as well as empathy, in both cases. It requires the kind of manipulative power Feste uses on Orsino when the clown adapts his songs both to accommodate and to satirize the Duke in Twelfth Night. All three of the gentlemen—Orsino, Silvius, and Orlando—are essentially narrative. That is to say their identities are stories, stylized presentations fashioned from Ovid, Petrarch, pastoral complaint, and the manuals of courtly love. In As You Like It Rosalind not only knows this about Silvius and Orlando, but she understands them on an emotional level as well. This advantage gives her power, which she chooses to use apparently at their expense, but ultimately on their behalf. She will improvise upon their narratives with a narrative of her own.16 Hers will take the form of stern counsel which, for Silvius, is designed to help him confront his own mindless behavior and to help him see the source and relative nature of female beauty.

Phebe represents a different extreme, but her single-minded antiromanticism is equally vain and without life. Rosalynde's rebuke of Phebe in Lodge's story is noteworthy in this regard: “Take heed, fair nymph, that in despising love you be not overreach'd with love, and in shaking off all, shape yourself to your own shadow, and so with Narcissus prove passionate yet unpitied” (p. 781). For Shakespeare, too, Phebe is a negative “overreacher,” an enemy of otium in her willfulness. Her literalist response to Silvius's complaint that she kills him with her eyes would appear similar to Rosalind's own answer, as Ganymede, to Orlando's protest that he will die if Rosalind rejects him (IV.i.106-107). Phebe says sharply, “Lie not, to say mine eyes are murtherers! / Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee / … I am sure there is no force in eyes / That can do hurt” (III.v.19-27). The harshness of Phebe's rebuff of Silvius sets her apart from the conventional coy mistress. She is not leading him on by pretending to be disinterested; she is trying to get rid of him. Rosalind's response to Orlando, that men do not die for love, is a tactic—part of her enterprise to cure him by counsel. The “truth” of her argument does not reflect her real concerns. The ostensibly cold fact about death for love belies her actual interest in keeping Orlando's love for her very much alive. Phebe, however, is serious in a straightforward way. She is engrossed in a rigid attitude that leaves room for no love but narcissism. Phebe also needs curing. The affliction is the opposite of Orlando's, but the medicine is fundamentally the same—a good dose of relativism. Single-mindedness is the enemy of contentment. Here, as elsewhere in Shakespearean comedy, the message is reinforced by the audience's awareness of the relative nature of role and identity. Phebe has a firmer identity than Rosalind, but Phebe is the unhappy one. Rosalind uses her role as access to joy.

Rosalind's real feelings, then, are not the whole issue in the scene, since she is negotiating from behind the Ganymede mask. Her conclusion—“Down on your knees, / And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love”—is neither angry assertion nor sincere advice. For Rosalind to advise abject submission would not square with her own experience. The statement, rather, is an optative conclusion, the logical upshot of her argument. It is a tactic designed to jolt Phebe into alternate ways of seeing, to allow for the possibility of real affection. I am reminded, in Ganymede's advice, of Kate's lecture to the women at the end of The Shrew. I have compared Rosalind to Petruchio; Kate, after her conversion, likewise becomes an aggressive negotiator like them. Rosalind's motives are not Kate's; the former is “feeding her love,” while the latter is winning a bet. But the manipulative postures are similar, and Rosalind can no more be held precisely accountable for her advice than can Katherina. Both speak “as if” they mean what they say. The result of the negotiations, in Rosalind's case, turns out to be an instance of comic irony. Phebe both misses the point and takes Ganymede's advice too literally. She surrenders to love surely enough, but she falls for Ganymede, not Silvius. Here is another of those reversals by which Shakespeare calls our attention to the fluidity of theatrical experience. Phebe, suddenly in love with Ganymede, has been cured of her intransigence; she is not really an enemy of love after all. Nor, an audience feels sure, will she “really” be in love with Ganymede for long, for it is clear that Rosalind is in firm control of this play world.

Rosalind's steadfast affection, together with her magical powers as playwright-negotiator, will result, finally, in all “earthly things made even.” The magic word in this transformation—as in the play as a whole—is “if,” the great peacemaker. Using the hypothetical to forge real happiness for all concerned, Rosalind asks Phebe, “You say you'll marry me, if I be willing? … But if you do refuse to marry me, / You'll give yourself to this most faithful shepherd?” Phebe agrees. And then to Silvius, “You say that you'll have Phebe, if she will?” Silvius agrees with enthusiasm (V.iv.11-17). The union of Phebe and Silvius, and the happiness of Orlando and Rosalind herself, await only the magic moment when Rosalind's “as if” identity becomes her real one. As she leaves to prepare herself for her bridegroom, Rosalind summarizes the conditional promises: “[To Phebe]: I will marry you, if ever I marry woman, and I'll be married tomorrow. [To Orlando]: I will satisfy you if ever I satisfied man, and you shall be married tomorrow. [To Silvius]: I will content you, if what please you contents you, and you shall be married tomorrow” (V.ii.113-18). Here is a set of assertions which the audience recognizes as true and not true at the same time. The promises both will and will not be fulfilled, depending upon the level of reality we choose as a reference point—whom we choose to identify with the first person voice of the promises. Ultimately, the voice is Shakespeare's, promising a magic we can believe in. The ending of As You Like It is both contrary-to-fact and alive with joy by virtue of Shakespeare's art. Rosalind, the playwright's “conjurer,” uses her power to crystallize genuine emotion out of a highly contrived scenario. After she reveals herself to the company, there follows a remarkable exchange orchestrated around “if” (V.iv.118-24). Six times in seven lines, “if” becomes real happiness for Duke Senior and the lovers. Then Hymen enters to “make conclusion / of these most strange events,” to join eight pairs of hands “if truth holds true contents.” It does in As You Like It, because here, as elsewhere in Shakespeare's comedy, “if” and “truth” are one. And in the end, all are content, thanks largely to a heroine whose benign manipulations clearly have Shakespeare's blessing.


  1. This useful generalization about comedy emerges out of Northrop Frye's comments on myth and archetype in Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), p. 177. For a discussion of the function of inclusive and exclusive personalities in romantic and satiric comedy, see Mark Bracher, “Contrary Notions of Identity in As You Like It,SEL [Studies in English Literature] 24 (1984):225-27.

  2. See, for instance, A. D. Nuttall, “Two Unassimilable Men,” in M. Bradbury and D. Palmer, eds., Shakespearean Comedy, Stratford-upon-Avon Studies 14 (1972):210.

  3. All quotations of Shakespeare's plays are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton, 1974).

  4. John Dover Wilson finds, for him, a more likely caricature of Jonson in Nym of Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. See Shakespeare's Happy Comedies (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1962), p. 153.

  5. Wolfgang Iser, “The Dramatization of Double Meaning in Shakespeare's As You Like It,Theatre Journal 35 (1983):314.

  6. Some critics choose to stress this aspect of Touchstone's personality and function. Harold Jenkins calls our attention to the fool's role as burlesque parodist by stressing the “material fool” in Touchstone—the realist, the “timekeeper,” and even the “lusty, animal man.” See “As You Like It,”ShS [Shakespeare Survey] 8 (1955):48-49.

  7. This is the definition I will use in my argument. There are numerous meanings and connotations associated with this versatile word. See P. G. W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 1262-63. On the power of oratio, Cicero says, “But so potent is that Eloquence (oratio) rightly styled by an excellent maker, … that she can not only support the sinking and bend the upstanding, but, like a good and brave commander, can even make prisoner a resisting antagonist.” From De Oratore II.44.187 ff., in Loeb Classical Library, trans. E. W. Sutton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1959), p. 333. This “making prisoner” is essentially what Touchstone does with his “antagonists” in Arden. David Young notes that in writing Touchstone into the play, “Shakespeare was inspired by his success with Falstaff and by his new clown, Robert Armin.” See The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1972), p. 52.

  8. On the “wise fool” motif as it appears in classical literature, in Erasmus, and in Shakespeare, see Robert H. Goldsmith, Wise Fools in Shakespeare (East Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1963), pp. 11-14. On Touchstone as wise fool, see pp. 47-51.

  9. According to C. L. Barber, Touchstone's verbal forays against Corin and William are not the work of a satirist mocking the real world, but a mocking of pastoral innocence. “Shakespeare's point of view,” he says, “was not medieval. But his clown and fool comedy is a response, a counter-movement, to artistic idealization, as medieval burlesque was a response to the ingrained idealism of the culture.” See Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959), p. 229.

  10. Critical views of Touchstone vary considerably. On the more positive side, Bracher argues that Touchstone's folly “leads to a greater relatedness among selves”; his irony produces humility, which opens the door to tolerance and love (pp. 233-34). Chris Hassel, arguing from an even more sharply defined theological perspective, has a different view. He admits that Touchstone frequently alludes to Erasmian statements concerning the wisdom of folly, but he contends that Touchstone is naive, lacking in humility. Therefore he is not the wise fool that Feste is in Twelfth Night. See Faith and Folly in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1980), p. 110.

  11. Hallett Smith, Elizabethan Poetry: A Study in Convention, Meaning, and Expression (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1952), p. 2.

  12. The tension between these two classical standards is felt throughout the literature of the Renaissance and especially in humanistic thought. See Isabel Rivers, Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry: A Student's Guide (London and Boston: G. Allen and Unwin, 1979), pp. 137-38.

  13. Rosalind does make some headway with Orlando, however. The contrived love game frustrates him and, if nothing else, tires him of artifice. “I can live no longer by thinking,” he at last confesses. In Rosalind's reply, we sense that make-believe is about to become an image of real love: “I will weary you then no longer with idle talking” (V.ii.50-51). Kent van den Berg notes, “If Rosalind's deception of Orlando acts out his own self-deception, it also helps him to overcome it. The activity of pretending that Ganymede is Rosalind encourages in Orlando an awareness that the actual Rosalind is more real than the rarefied mistress of his Petrarchan fantasies.” See “Theatrical Fiction and the Reality of Love in As You Like It,PMLA [Publications of the Modern Language Association] 90 (1975):891.

  14. Ralph Berry, Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 183-85.

  15. Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde. Euphues' golden legacie, in H. E. Rollins and H. B. Baker, eds., The Renaissance in England: Nondramatic Prose and Verse of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Heath, 1954), p. 781.

  16. I owe this observation to Stephen Greenblatt's analysis of Iago's improvisation of power in Othello. Iago sees Othello for what he is, a story which the story-teller takes seriously and believes is his own or his true self. “But Iago knows that an identity that has been fashioned as a story can be unfashioned, refashioned, inscribed anew in a different narrative.” See Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 238. This kind of awareness and just such a strategy might be said to describe Rosalind as well, but with some differences. Rosalind has motive, whereas Iago has only strategy perforce. Iago's strategy is entirely self-serving, whereas Rosalind's serves others as well.

Russell Jackson (review date 2001)

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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 some modification). The actors' performances seemed by contrast to have been reduced to a display of energy and broad effect in order to compete with the vibrant colors and oversized greenery. For more than one observer the set's garishness and the scale of its central tree conjured up the Christmas pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. The play began well enough, with Oliver's garden and the court located in front of a monochrome panel of Elizabethan embroidery reaching up to the flies. The court costumes were elaborately Elizabethan in cut, and the fabrics (predominantly black and white except for Touchstone's) were gorgeously embroidered and patterned. In this oppressively monochrome world, Rosalind was discovered in 1.3 watched over by court ladies but embroidering a needlepoint in vivid colors that prefigured her escape to the forest. In Arden, however, the colors brightened as the play wore on, with huge floor cushions, a tree, and hanging foliage like giant versions of embroidery motifs. An array of jazzy pullovers replaced the stiff rectitude of the court costumes, though Phebe seemed to have escaped from a particularly camp production of The Bartered Bride, and Audrey, dressed as the Village Slut, lounged and leered accordingly. (As often, once the wintry phase had been passed, actors went barefoot in Arden as a sign of natural, untrammeled behavior.) But this overpowering artificial environment, together with Django Bates's music played by a band at the side of the stage—with amplification used for the songs—banished the sense of (relative) truth that distinguishes lively romance from frenetic nonsense. Running around seemed to take the place of genuine energy; subtlety was banished from such areas as the William-Audrey-Touchstone triangle and the courtship of Silvius and Phebe. Adrian Schiller was witty and acidulous as Touchstone, and Nancy Carroll made the most of Celia, listening acutely and supportively when the play demands it. Meanwhile Alexandra Gilbreath, perhaps compensating for a stolid Orlando, was too desperately charming as Rosalind and spent too much time doing laps around the stage. Ian Hogg doubled the two dukes, giving a broadly pathological usurper and an exuberant (but not always comprehensible) exile. It should be noted that on its transfer to London, this production was stripped of its scenery and performed in the Pit, the Barbican's studio theater—a very unusual step for a show from Stratford's main stage. By all accounts, it has improved wonderfully.

Michael Gelven (essay date 2000)

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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 a lover
As ever sighed upon a midnight pillow:
But if thy love were ever like to mine,—
As sure I think did never man love so,—
How many actions most ridiculous
Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy?
Into a thousand that I have forgotten.
O, thou didst then ne'er love so heartily:
If thou remember'st not the slightest folly
That ever love did make thee run into,
Thou hast not loved: …

There are our words: ridiculous, folly, sighing on a midnight pillow. We know he is stricken. More remarkable is his recognition that he is foolish and ridiculous; he bears these ascriptions as if they were honorable wounds, or awarded medals serving as badges in the office of lover. And for whom does he pine? A most unworthy Phebe, whom Rosalind warns: “Sell when you can: you are not for all markets” (III, 4). In the same passage, addressing Silvius, she asks

You foolish shepherd, wherefore do you follow her,
Like foggy south, puffing with wind and rain?
You are a thousand times a properer man
Than she a woman. 'Tis such fools as you
That make the world full of ill-favour'd children:
'Tis not her glass, but you that flatters her.

Silvius makes no attempt to correct this harsh appraisal, knowing it is true; he senses that Phebe is already falling in love with the supposed boy, Ganymede, and can do nothing about it save howl in hopeless anguish, yet willing even then to serve his beloved by helping her woo his putative rival. This base fawning seems almost perverse, as if he were taking joy in being treated as a slave. Yet it is to him that even the courtiers turn to learn what it means to love. Compare the noble Orlando's silly rhymes to Rosalind with the painful, wrenching truth in Silvius's account of love when his beloved bids him: “Good shepherd, tell this youth what 'tis to love.” He responds immediately: “It is to be all made of sighs and tears. … It is to be all made of faith and service;— … It is to be all made of wishes; / All adoration, duty and obedience, / all humbleness, all patience and impatience, / All purity, all trial, all observance;—And so am I for Phebe.”

In this we hear no expectation of success, no eager hope for requited passion, no ecstasy of rapture; rather, we hear only the simple facts of his sad, doting, submission. Yet, its effect on the audience is irresistible. Silvius and Phebe are the only pair entirely native to Arden; Audrey is from the forest but is wooed by the courtier's fool, Touchstone; all the other lovers are from the court. Perhaps this suggests that the simple eloquence of the locals is less entangled with art, deceit, and cunning, and therefore all the more direct. This befits Silvius's unexpected, final success: Phebe is never won over by his pitiful wooing; she yields to him solely as the result of a tricky bargain woven by the artful Rosalind. Such is the simple way country bumpkins are married, tricked into contracts they cannot escape.

What has this to do with comedy? Even if Silvius is the purest lover, he is not the central figure or even the central wooer; Orlando and Rosalind are the dramatically dominant pair; and their love is mutual; and interestingly it had been ignited prior to the shift of scenes to Arden. Silvius is not as funny as Touchstone; if we laugh as Silvius at all it is only because of his lover's plight. Indeed, his eloquence distracts from our readiness to laugh; the profundity of his love-folly is too denuding; the boy is simply too wounded to evoke much mirth. The bawdy Touchstone, feeling less, is far more available as a touchstone to laughter. Yet, without Silvius the forest would not be as magical, nor the play as we like it, nor love so revealed, nor the comedy so comic. What makes comedy comic, if Silvius can be an essential figure in this comic play? Some answers to this question are palpable and have already been noted: the purity of his devotion stands out, as does his simple eloquence. But there are other answers that are not so obvious and need the drama as a whole to be revealed. It is the play that shows Silvius, as lover, to be a truly comic hero.

It escapes no thoughtful reader that the most successful comedies are romantic. In art, love and laughter seem to belong together. From Aristophanes to Mozart's operas to the froth of Broadway, we laugh at lovers' folly. But not all attempts to wed the comic to the erotic are successful, and few, if any, reach the pinnacle of Shakespeare's; but even within his, the five great ones stand out: Midsummer Night's Dream,Much Ado about Nothing,Twelfth Night,The Tempest, and this one; and this one stands out even among the great five. Midsummer is probably the funniest, Much Ado the wittiest, Twelfth Night the most artful, Tempest the most magical; but this one, of all, seems to fuse love with comedy almost to perfection. One obvious point stands out: in the other four the linkage between the comic and the erotic is emphasized by the decisive separation of the clowns from the lovers. The Dogberry constabulary is distinct from Beatrice and Bendick; Bottom and his crew are set apart from the lovers in the forest near Athens; Trinculo and Stefano are quite distinct from Miranda and Ferdinand; the roguish knights Andrew and Toby are on a difference plane than Orsino and Viola. This is not to say the lovers themselves are not funny on their own; they are. But the contrast between the nonloving clowns and the loving couples obviously enhances these plays. In As You Like It, however, this technique is not used; and its non-use has a remarkable affect. For if the clowns and lovers are not distinct, the tendency to synthesize lover as clown and clown as lover waxes until it becomes a palpable pathos.

How do we identify this pathos? Consider these fragments as clues. We note how kindly the old man, Adam, seems, and how dearly Orlando treats him; or how gentle the old shepherd, Colin, is, even in his contests of wit with Touchstone; above all, we note how noble the exiled duke appears, making adversity sweet. When Orlando rudely interrupts his dinner of fruit and game, the Duke scolds him, perhaps already sensing the true bearing of the brash youth. The term that comes to mind is gracious. Silvius is surrounded by gracious characters, and this grace reveals and echoes that inherent in the shepherd's prostrate loving. The depth of this grace needs reflection. Adam's loyalty is remarkable: his entire life savings is readily handed over to the beloved son of his departed master, asking only that he be allowed to continue his service to the youth. His great fear is that he would die his master's debtor. This is not mere generosity wedded to loyalty—which would be rare enough: it is a bestowal based on an unselfish love; Adam's purity of devotion adumbrates Silvius's; his lonely, little soliloquy, after giving Orlando his gold, is one of the very few rhymed fragments in the whole play, setting it off as if it were a precious thing, as indeed it is. Precious as it is, though, it is matched by an equal loyalty and tenderness on Orlando's part; for the care and solicitude the boy pours out on his old servant, weakened with fatigue, hunger, and despair, are radiant. Thus, from the courtier's group seeking safety in Arden we find already in abundance the almost saint-like and generous sacrificing that bubbles up gladly from the inner depths of the soul making the characters gracious. For in each of these cases the bestowal is warmly given, rooted in a glad heart, both young and old, forest born or courtly. In no other play are so many of the characters possessed of this spiritual beauty. To understand this play one must grasp the care Shakespeare has taken in filling the stage with those possessed of grace; once we understand the centrality of the gracious we then can grasp the unique and pivotal role that Silvius has. His aching, loving, unselfish folly is the paradigm of grace, for like Adam, he gives solely from the joy of giving, “… and not for mead.”

The duke manifests this grace in a manner befitting noble blood. It is not only his envied spirit in greeting adversity sweetly—though that too is echoed in Silvius's devotion—but in his magnificent greeting of Orlando. It is splendid because it reveals that the gracious is not merely passive, but ennobles by mentoring. When Orlando enters with a drawn sword, the duke remonstrates: “Art thou thus boldened, man, by thy distress: / or else a rude despiser of good manners, / That in civility thou seems't so empty” (II, 7). When Orlando blushes at the truth of this, the duke presses on: “What would you have? Your gentleness shall force / More than your force move us to gentleness.” He then welcomes the youth to share his dinner, causing Orlando to reply: “Speak you so gently? Pardon me, I pray you: / I thought that all things had been savage here; …” He then speaks famously of the pathos of gentility, ending: “Let gentleness my strong enforcement be: / In the which hope I blush and hide my sword.” Such scenes as this add a singular quality to the play found in no other; it gives Arden a magical ambiance, and ennobles the work far beyond what one might expect from a comedy. How can such grace and nobility be joined with the necessary ingredients for comedy: the foolish and the ridiculous? Even the villains in this piece are redeemed by the sacramentality of the forest. If Orlando is gracious to Adam, he is near-divinely noble in his forgiveness of his brother. Yet, we are not entirely surprised by the brothers' reunion; the play has prepared us for it. If Silvius can continue to endure his cruel enslavement, Orlando can forgive Oliver.

In the comedies, however, it is always the women and not the men who are central. Rosalind, even more than Orlando, is the commanding officer of this dramatic regiment. Yet her character, fittingly, is far more complex, even disturbing. That Silvius should see in her a rival is ironically the worst and the finest anguish for him. Were she, as Ganymede, to respond to Phebe's offering of herself, Silvius would suffer ultimate defeat, for he is no match for her. Indeed, no one in the whole play is a match for her. Yet, of all the embarrassing follies, few are as denuding as confusing the gender of one's perceived rival in love. To be defeated not by another man, but by a woman, in his suit of the unlovely Phebe, seems to mark the shepherd as inept beyond all self-acceptance. The two who love Rosalind, Phebe and Orlando, are also beguiled, but that is part of love's confusion, and hence forgivable; to be tricked in such a fundamental way by one's rival is unendurable. But nothing is unendurable to Silvius: that is his greatest folly and his greatest strength. That Rosalind turns out to be his finest benefactor, tricking Phebe into marrying him, is comic irony at its highest.

But what of Rosalind herself? If there can be a tragic flaw there can also be a comic flaw. She is dangerous. When Celia bids her to be merry (I, 2), she responds by asking: “what think you of falling in love?” Celia is quick to warn: “Marry, I pr'ythee, do, to make sport withal: but love no man in good earnest …” It is the most dangerous and most foolish thing suggested: we should never play with love, nor make sport with a power so awesome it can destroy us. But Rosalind is playful, perilously playful; it is part of her feminine essence. How are we to understand the great mystery of her deceit of Orlando? She is accoutered as a boy for safety's sake; but once she meets her beloved in the forest, she could have revealed herself to him; instead she continues to play at playing herself. Why? To tease Orlando? To test his love? Or is it a bit of caution in the midst of her risky playing? Or is it just pure, unadulterated fun, a singularly feminine kind of fun at Orlando's expense, conjoining danger, caution, teasing, playing, wooing, deception for its own sake, mastery of the woman over the man, folly, and no little self-deceit? Or is it her version of Orlando's confusion: “what passion hangs these weights upon my tongue?” If Phebe's direct rejection of Silvius is cruel, is not this dangerous playing with true love also cruel? Yet, in sequestration with Celia she confesses the same comic anguish over her being in love that we see in Silvius. No matter how dubious we may be about her conduct, however, she still glows, and it is this glow that seems irrepressible, wonderful, seductive, and magical. It seems, then, a more likely reading to judge the ground of her antics as a reflection of her own love-confusion than mere cunning. It fits the warmth of the play. But more importantly, it also fits its irony; for she, as the great conniver and strategist, somehow reveals herself as the most vulnerable. Her swooning at the bloody napkin is not merely another event; it reminds us of how risky and unstable her position is. We begin to realize it is not the characters in the play that make the comedy; it is comedy that enables the characters to be who they are.

The nature of this revealing itself is mirrored in Rosalind's disguise. Here is a girl pretending to be a boy, who, when she finds Orlando, pretends to be the girl she really is. If we bear in mind that in Shakespeare's day, young boys played the roles of the women, we have a boy playing a girl playing a boy playing a girl. The real, in this antic, is made available by the deceit; and that is the essence of playing: it is not, as Hamlet says, holding the mirror up to nature but holding nature up to the mirror. It is only in playful deception that we learn the truth. But to say this without the twin realization that playing is dangerous is to demote a profound truth to a banal rubric. Rosalind, as Ganymede pretending to be Rosalind, becomes a deceit that undeceives, a truthful lie, the playful as serious, the real as appearance and the appearance as real. It is only because of the all-pervading grace of the play that deception can be a means to truth. We say: Rosalind as Ganymede pretends to be herself; but in saying this we hurry past it without letting its truth matter. We must ask this profoundly: how can we pretend to be ourselves? We can pretend to be ourselves only if we are already in the mode of deceptive pretense. In pretending to be ourselves, is the self untrue? Certainly pretending to be oneself is not the same as being oneself. Does this mean that in playing who we are we distort our reality? Or is it the other way around: only by being able to pretend we are who we are can we discover what it means to be who we are? If this sounds ominous in its mendacity, a guileful trickery with words, let us first let the suggestion breathe, like fine wine poured in a glass. Suppose only by pretending to be who we are can we be who we are. If this is true, we must further presuppose that our very nature is to be self-deceiving; and the only way to escape from self-deceiving would be a counter-deceiving that ironically turns us back to our newly emerging reality. Rosalind, as Ganymede pretending to be Rosalind, alone can learn and disclose herself to herself.

Is this a mere formula: lying about lying is to tell the truth? The suggestion is that such formulaic reading is itself distortive: only if love—indeed love in a world of grace—is at the basis can Rosalind pretend to be Rosalind in a way that lets us (and her) see who Rosalind is in truth. And this is why Silvius is so important: for his pure, uncunning, unplaying, and direct devotion, lurking in the background, reminds us, always: the love in the forest is true love. But it is also why the sheer graciousness of most of the cast creates a spirit of such warm endorsement that we allow ourselves to learn fundamental truth by falsely pretending to be truthfully ourselves.

The little interior dramas that Rosalind and Orlando play, pretending that she is really who she is, are treasures. She “pretends” to shift her moods, being at one time coquettish, another yielding, another aloof, noting in her male guise that such is the fickle nature of women. It is only when they “pretend” to marry that both lovers begin to feel uneasy; this cuts too near the truth. What are we to make of this? Is it all mere “sport”? Or is she learning of her own feminine guile? Or is there any pretense at all? Perhaps her pretended moods are her real moods? Is she not, at the very least, mocking her own love? If so, the irony is, the more she mocks her loving, the more she loves. Silvius knowingly marks his love as both foolish and ridiculous, and in doing so loves absolutely; Rosalind mocks herself, and loves Orlando more. Is love, then, shameless? Or is it a triumph over mockery, even self-mockery; contrasting these lovers with the Russian who beat his horse: he became a victim of mockery, they celebrate it. And what of Orlando? He protests, “I would not be cured youth,” when given the therapeutic reason for their gaming; yet, he participates in the very cure that advances rather than retards the disease. He later admits to the Duke that Ganymede reminds him of Rosalind; are we to take this as a hint that he already suspects, however vaguely, what may be the almost impossible secret? These questions tease us as we watch the play, and being teased we enjoy it all the more. In this we imitate Orlando: we allow Shakespeare to tease us as he allows her to tease him. It is “play.” But just as lying about lying here reveals truth, so playing about playing reveals the serious. This may be the most serious of all serious things: learning to accept joyfully, warmfully, graciously, the dark, tearful abandonment in the harsh, cold, bitter city of folly.

If it is joy, though, we must ask if it is not a cruel deceit. If As You Like It, as an artwork, makes us briefly believe in joy again, then is it not an evil distraction? What right do we, denizens of the vast parking lot, have, to find joy in an illusory forest? Is it escapism? A narcotic against the clanging madness of the now-urban reality? A bit of Pollyanna to soothe our nerves? There is an escapist in the play, who rejects the merriment of the final act and seeks refuge in a monastery: Jacques. His mockery is genuine, not playful. Few scenes in all drama equal the irony of his final age of man, “sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything,” providing the cue for Orlando to enter fondly carrying the old Adam. It is a simple, subtle counterpoint that is irresistible: old age on the strong back of the loving youth, contrasted by old age as mocked by scornful cynicism. Jacques has a melancholy of his own, yet even he is embraced by the warm grace of the play; he too is a comic necessity; but he provides the alternative: perhaps the entire scene of all this nuptial grace can be denounced. Rosalind's epilogue shows us we need not, and that is enough.

Reflection on this particular play as the paradigm of comedy suggests that love itself is folly, and folly is what makes us laugh. But folly itself can be warmly endorsed if it is rooted in an atmosphere of grace; and it is this graciousness that allows us to laugh at ourselves. Playing is revealed as serious: like Rosalind we can play at being ourselves, and this alone allows us to laugh with the comic lovers, not at them; and in laughing with the gentle we laugh at our own folly. There is danger here, which heightens our delight, but the risk is worth it. Indeed, not to risk is an even greater danger. As these truths deepen, however, we realize that overt laughter itself actually begins to fade as the necessary condition, for we may not laugh that much in seeing this play; it is not simply foolishness, but being foolish nobly and graciously that evokes the curious comic response, which is more akin to a rich, warm, intimate glow that comes from being able to embrace our folly; perhaps it is a smile that lasts much longer than the loud guffaws provoked by raw clowns. Or perhaps it is a species of internal laughter, all the more potent for being unexpressed. The actual label is less important than the truth revealed in the phenomenon. The comic revelation of our own truth is shown here, however, as a species of asking rather than answering. Are we foolish because we love; or are we lovers because we first are fools? If playing is always a deceit, how can deceit provide us with truth? Above all, we now must ask: what is folly? It certainly seems to have taken on a loftier status than simply doing something stupid or making a mistake because of mere ignorance. Yet, even to suggest that folly is loftier than stupidity or ignorance seems genuinely wicked and counterintuitive: to elevate folly is to cheat us of the very reason we must seek to avoid it. Is not the opposite of folly wisdom? Have we come to this outrage: it is wise to be foolish? Is it even wise to be fond of the foolish? At the very least there is a serious paradox here that cannot be dismissed merely by saying we enjoy comedies. Glib inversions of meaning are pernicious: property is theft; we must destroy in order to save; hate is really love; truth is untruth, decency is weakness. These slogans terrify because they are wanton; they are traps that ensnare the unwary, and must accordingly be exposed as dangerously wrong. To say it may be wise to be foolish must remain highly suspect; we cannot endorse it simply because it mocks our reason, or offends common sense. Yet, it remains a paradox and not a self-refuting contradiction. There is truth in affirming that the wise are foolish; but only if great care is taken to understand it. The playful has become serious indeed.

One obvious way to defuse the seeming misology in saying the wise are foolish is to reflect on our curious suspension. We are, in fact, finite both in the extent of our comprehension and in the duration of our lives. It would be foolish and not wise to deny this. Accordingly we say that essential for human wisdom is the realization that we do not know everything, and realizing it we must come to grips with it. It does no good simply to moan and complain because we are so limited; nor does it do any good to deceive ourselves into pretending we really do know all that is important and worth knowing, or that technology and science will eventually answer all questions. Thus, we say, it is wise to admit we are unwise. This account seems banal on its surface: indeed, as stated it is banal. However, when we seriously reflect on our suspension between knowing everything and knowing nothing, a curious thing may happen. The truth of that suspension itself becomes unexpectedly rich in its meaning. We seem to exult in this self-discovery, realizing that being in the middle is somehow wondrous or thrilling. Such realization need not happen, of course; some may find our suspension a cause of anger, self-despising, or even blatant misology. But these negative reactions seem somehow noncompelling, perhaps even misguided. Can we, should we, exult in our finitude? The play As You Like It shows us we can; and in showing us we can exult, we learn the new kind of wisdom that endorses our folly. This is no longer a mere abstract reflection on the impoverishment of our epistemic exchequer; it is a concrete, palpable realization of what it means to be able to be foolish without disdaining or hating the folly within us. This realization is the key. How do we, in confronting our imperfection, avoid self-hatred and self-mockery? The laughter at the hapless Russian beating his horse disdains our folly; the response to Shakespeare's play endorses it. If human wisdom be the goal of philosophy, the understanding of how comedy saves us from the misology of hating our finitude must emerge as one of our most compelling tasks. What may at first seem a small subdivision of the least respectable of all philosophical endeavors, aesthetics, becomes instead a critical, ontological necessity. We must learn how it is wise to be foolish; and only great comedy provides the erudition. We no longer ask simply how, why, or what it means to laugh; we now realize that we ask about our reality as foolish and wise; and if Shakespeare's comedies are a resource, we find being wise and foolish at once is enabled only by lovers being fools.

We cannot forget that these discoveries are accomplished by reflecting on an actual, performed play. If the drama enables us to think about our suspension, the very craft of the playwright must be noted. The success of this play has been identified provisionally as grace. If it is the gracious that gives to this particular comedy the envied status of a paradigm, the question then becomes: is grace necessary for comedy, at least for comedy as a resource for truth? Most of Shakespeare's comedies possess the gracious to some extent. This may be due to the dramatist's own gentle nature, attested to by his contemporaries; or it may be due to the profound influence of Christianity's emerging emphasis on forgiveness; it may be due as well to the rising spirit of the Renaissance, or to Elizabeth's charismatic rule. It may also be due to the simple maturing of the art form itself. The possible influences are almost endless; perhaps they all play a role. Regardless of the social causes, there is a spirit in all of Shakespeare's comedies that is easily identified as gracious. But, if grace is part of the craft by which this particular wright accomplishes success, is it not false generality to suggest grace may be essential for comedy? Furthermore, one might argue it is not love as enabling grace that is central, but lust. Perhaps what is foolish is simply the silly things one gender does to mate with the opposite gender. If this is the case, it is not grace-enabling love that makes the comedy, but the silliness of putatively rational beings yielding to their carnality. Shakespeare's addition of kindly grace to the play would, if this were true, make it more charming, “nicer” perhaps, but not a paradigm of the comic.

To test whether grace and love may be nonessential, replaced perhaps by lust, it is perhaps fitting to change the venue of the search.

Paul J. Willis (essay date 1988)

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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 in every thing.


These “tongues in trees, books in … brooks,” and “sermons in stones” all presumably do their part—with “the chiding of the winter's wind” (7)—in persuading the Duke what he is. But these lines also seem to initiate a playful test of the received idea of the book of nature.

As I shall argue, characters “read” the Forest of Arden in radically different ways: the Duke sees good, Jaques evil, Touchstone both, Corin neither. And Orlando perverts the book of nature by making it deify Rosalind. Like Orlando, all who comment on the setting seem to impose their own text on the divine text of the forest. Obviously, these self-reflexive readings are a helpful aid to characterization. But they also question the very existence of natural revelation. Finally, I think, As You Like It does not so much debunk this piece of orthodoxy as delight in its limitations.

Before proceeding to the play itself, it will be good to review the background of this doctrine and its currency in the Renaissance. Nature as book is a metaphor found everywhere in the sixteenth century. According to Ernst R. Curtius, the concept of the book of nature “originated in pulpit eloquence, was then adopted by medieval mystico-philosophical speculation, and finally passed into common usage,” where it was “frequently secularized” (321). Roland Frye shows, however, that the book of nature remained important in sixteenth-century Protestant theology (215-16). Apparently it remains important in the fossilized sermons of Shakespeare's Duke. Since nature is book by analogy to the scriptures—usually considered the primary book of divine revelation—we shall first recall some biblical texts that pave the way for sermons in stones. It is from these texts that later writers—including Shakespeare—take their cue.

In Genesis 1, of course, what God creates he labels good, providing, as it were, “good in every thing.” Psalm 19 asserts on this basis that nature reflects the good which is God: the heavens in fact proclaim his glory. Curiously, this is a silent proclamation, with and without words and speech. The Psalmist thus so much as admits that the speech of the elements is metaphoric, but for all that, no less real. Shakespeare, incidentally, seems to have known both Genesis and the Psalms quite well (Noble 42-43).

Jesus himself threatens sermons in stones in Luke's account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When the Pharisees wish to rebuke the crowds for praising God “with a loude voice,” Jesus replies that “if these shulde holde their peace, the stones wolde crye” (19.37, 40).1 The picture we get is of nature poised on the verge of praise. Shakespeare echoes this passage in describing Bullingbrook's own “triumphal entry” into London: “You would have thought the very windows spake, / … and that all the walls / … had said at once, / ‘Jesu preserve thee! Welcome, Bullingbrook!’” (R2 [Richard II] 5.2.12-17).

Paul of course argues from nature's book in the opening paragraphs of his Epistle to the Romans. The witness of creation is so strong and so clear, in Paul's view, that all who behold it have no excuse for worshiping anything other than God:

Forasmuche as that, which may be knowen of God, is manifest in them: for God hathe shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him, that is, his eternal power and Godhead, are sene by the creation of the worlde, being considered in (his) workes, to the intent that they shulde be without excuse.


But Paul's reliance upon this evidence may seem at odds with his equal insistence—in the same epistle—that nature is utterly fallen. The creation, he says, “is subject to vanitie,” in need of deliverance “from the bondage of corruption.” For “everie creature groneth with us also, and travaileth in paine together unto this present” (8.20-22). Can such a creation, thus fallen, still declare the glory of God? Paul never stops to address this difficulty. Apparently, we are still “without excuse.”

Medieval churchmen by and large emphasize this fallenness of creation (Tayler 73). But some of them pay special attention to a residue of created good in nature. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, for example, writes: “Believe me who have experience, you will find much more labouring amongst the woods than you ever will amongst books. Woods and stones will teach you what you can never hear from any master” (Letter 107). Bernard's comments seem rather impulsive, for much of the letter in which they appear is devoted to praising the Gospel texts. But his enthusiasm, however overstated, cannot be denied.

St. Bonaventure writes more cautiously: “The universe is like a book reflecting, representing, and describing its Maker.” Even so, he continues, nature reflects just a “trace” of the Divine, much less than the “image” in persons and the “likeness” in saints (2.12). Bonaventure is careful to recognize the librum scripturae as well: it is God's will that he be known in both books (2.5).

Thomas A. Kempis, unlike Paul, demands a right sort of reader for the book of nature: “If thy heart be straight with God, then every creature shall be to thee a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine” (2.4). But Raymond of Sabunde is more like Paul in insisting that the librum naturae cannot be misread. Sabunde even claims that the Bible itself is more easily given to willful misinterpretation.2

Sabunde's work, titled Natural Theology, is a piece of late scholasticism. By a quirk of fate it was translated by Montaigne, who apparently undertook the task in order to please his dying father. Once finished, Montaigne proceeded in his Essays to attack the idea that man can read the book of nature. In his view, our knowledge of nature is superimposed on what we see. Whether Montaigne believed that a book of nature existed at all is hard to say. But what cannot be read is not much of a book (Spencer 33-40).

Sixteenth-century Protestant theologians did not share Montaigne's skepticism. For them the book of nature was most readable, though limited in content. Luther calls nature the “mask of God” (qtd. in Santmire 26). And Calvin insists that “upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory” (1.5.1). Even so, Calvin says—as Bonaventure does—that we gain but “a slight taste of the divine from contemplation of the universe” (1.5.15). Thus “it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator” (1.6.1). He goes on to note that Psalm 19 begins by describing the witness of creation but ends by praising the witness of the Word (1.6.4). Hooker concurs that the book of nature is not a sufficient guide to salvation (1.12.3, 1.14.1).

Calvin identifies two limitations of the book of nature: one in the readers, who are fallen; the other in the book itself, which shares our curse. As for the readers, Calvin says, “Althugh the Lord represents both himself and his everlasting Kingdom in the mirror of his works with very great clarity, such is our stupidity that we grow increasingly dull toward so manifest testimonies, and they flow away without profiting us” (1.5.11). And as for the book, “After man's rebellion, our eyes—wherever they turn—encounter God's curse. This curse, while it seizes and envelops innocent creatures through our fault, must overwhelm our souls with despair. For even if God wills to manifest his fatherly favor to us in many ways, yet we cannot by contemplating the universe infer that he is Father” (2.6.1). Most writers and preachers of the sixteenth century emphasized this fallenness of creation (Thomas 64).3

Thomas Browne, however, holds up the book of nature with no misgivings: “Thus there are two bookes from whence I collect my Divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant Nature, that universall and publik Manuscript, that lies expans'd unto the eyes of all.” In fact, Browne alters Paul's argument by scolding Christians for not reading the book of nature as well as pagans have: “Surely the Heathens knew better how to joyne and reade these mystical letters, than wee Christians, who cast a more careless eye on these common Hieroglyphicks, and disdain to suck Divinity from the flowers of nature” (1.16).4 I cite Browne to demonstrate that the concept of the book of nature, far from being a medieval anachronism, very much retained its force through Shakespeare's time and beyond.

From this short survey, we see that the concept of nature as book, although a somewhat tired commonplace, is at the same time charged with continuing interest and new debate—of which Shakespeare may have been well aware. In As You Like It 2.1, the trees are telling the glory of God—a pleasant doctrine, mellifluously spoken. But what does it come to mean in the play? How is the book of nature read in the course of our visit to Arden? And when readings differ—as they do—what is implied about this doctrine of natural revelation?

As Touchstone suggests, we shall “let the forest judge” (3.2.122). The Duke no sooner has his say than his lords inform him of Jaques' response to the sobbing deer. They tell how they found him “as he lay along / Under an oak, whose antique root peeps out / Upon the brook that brawls along the wood” (2.1.30-32). Thus we have a tree and a brook—key loci for our theme—as part of a setting that provides Jaques with a melancholy sermon. In the third of his “thousand similes,” Jaques sees the cruelty of the world in the herd which abandons the wounded stag. Then he proceeds to heap invective on

… this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse,
To fright the animals and to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling place.


For the Duke, it is “this our life” which finds good in the forest; for Jaques, it is “this our life” which brings evil to the forest. He reads this evil, emblem-like, in the sobbing deer. It is true that the Duke also regrets the harm done to the beasts in the woods. But that which merely “irks” the Duke reduces Jaques to tears. For the Duke, then, the “good in every thing” yet remains; for Jaques, that good is utterly marred.

Thus side by side in the same scene are two different “readings” of the Forest of Arden, one quite hopeful, another pessimistic. What can we make of this? To begin with Jaques, it is easy to see that he reads himself into the landscape. Jaques is moved by his own perceived situation, flattering himself he is “left and abandoned of his velvet [i.e. courtier] friends” (2.1.50). But he is the one who abandons them, proudly setting himself apart as superior in his melancholy (Kronenfeld 458). A hart by a brook—the subject of Jaques' meditation—is an emblem for the soul that longs for God in the manner of Psalm 42.1 (Schleiner 175). But Jaques ignores this traditional reading. As Judy Kronenfeld puts it, he goes to the woods “not to contemplate God, but to contemplate and glorify his own ego as reflected by an environment empty of everything but his own emotions” (453). Thus, the weeping stag and the weeping man are joined in the mirror of the brook. Orlando hits on Jaques' method when he tells Jaques that the fool which he seeks “is drown'd in the brook; look but in, and you shall see him” (3.2.287-88).

But what of the Duke? Does he also read the forest in a self-reflexive way? On reflection, it seems quite likely. I would not agree with Bernard Shaw that the Duke's first speech is mere “pious twaddle” (qtd. in Latham 1xxxviii). At the same time, it is hard to escape the impression that the Duke discovers good in the forest mainly because he seeks it; he seizes a positive frame of mind to soften his exile, and the forest gives it back to him on a platter. Jaques may be able to suck melancholy from a song as a weasel sucks eggs, but the Duke is able to suck contentment from even a winter wind. In short, we above all sense his determination to locate good in the forest—we are less sure of its actual presence. For the Duke as well as for Jaques, perhaps, nature may be more mirror than lamp.

Touchstone seems to suggest as much when he plays their perspectives one against the other. Lord Amiens celebrates Duke Senior's preference for forest life in his two woodland songs, “Under the greenwood tree” (2.5) and “Blow, blow thou winter wind” (2.7), and Jaques shows his contempt for Arden in his parody of the first. But Touchstone's opinion of life in the forest is a comic riot of equivocation:

… in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught. 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 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.


Touchstone, as his name implies, in part exists to reveal the nature of others in the play—he in himself is a sort of mirror (Palmer 35). So when asked to judge exactly that which others disagree upon, he crystallizes their disagreement. His double reading of the Forest of Arden serves to make both Jaques and the Duke look just a little silly. In addition, Touchstone's reading points up his own equivocal nature: we know him for a chameleon. “Ay,” he says upon entering the forest, “now am I in Arden, the more fool I” (2.4.16). He is more of a fool, more of an equivocator, in what seems to be an equivocal setting. The forest mirrors Touchstone too.

We may note also the episode in which Touchstone tells Audrey, by way of apology, that “here we have no temple but the wood” (3.3.49-50). It is the sort of thing the Duke might say in earnest. But here the context is quite ironic—Touchstone is merely hastening a patched-up marriage with the object of his lust. In Jaques' predictably jaundiced view, Touchstone is more like to “be married under a bush like a beggar” (3.3.84). Touchstone's tongues in trees are merely tongue in cheek.

Thus far we are reminded of Spenser's shepherd, Melibee, who says, “It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill” (FQ [Faerie Queen] The mind of Shakespeare's shepherd, Corin, however, seems determined to make neither good nor ill of its environs. “Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?” asks Touchstone. Corin replies, “No more but that … the property of rain is to wet and fire to burn; that good pasture makes fat sheep; and that a great cause of the night is lack of the sun” (3.2.21-28). Corin sees what is physically there—rain and fire and grass and night—and makes nothing of them. The sermons in his stones are dumb. Let others speak of tongues, if they will, but trees are trees. And in being no more, they aptly mirror the practical bent of Corin's mind. Though he does not treat the forest as an emblem, the forest remains an emblem of himself.

To sum up, thus far we have encountered four different readings of the Forest of Arden: the Duke sees good, Jaques sees evil, Touchstone sees both, and Corin sees neither. It is not what the forest says, then, but what the characters hear, which seems to propel the drama. And what the characters hear are echoes of themselves: the trees are not tongues, they are sounding boards. The only natural revelation is the revelation of self.

We now turn to Orlando's part in the pattern. He flees to Arden from his murderous brother and arrives distraught. Accordingly, he labels the place “this uncouth forest,” likely to “yield anything savage” (2.6.6). The Duke and his men soon change his mind about the forest inhabitants, and Orlando pardons himself by saying, “I thought all things had been savage here” (2.7.107). But he still regards the forest itself as a “desert inaccessible,” whose inhabitants live “under the shade of melancholy boughs” (2.7.110-11). Thus far he takes Jaques' view: the word “melancholy” assures this identification. To a man like Orlando down on his luck, the forest is no good place. Once established in Arden, however, Orlando abandons himself to his infatuation with Rosalind. Tellingly, the erstwhile “melancholy boughs” he now deems as “fairest boughs” (3.2.133). In his new mood he would readily agree that there is “good in every thing.” Like Touchstone, then, Orlando equivocates.

But Orlando does not merely talk about the forest—he makes it literally bear his tidings:

O Rosalind! these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I'll character,
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witnessed everywhere.
Run, run, Orlando, carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, the unexpressive she.


In this business of writing love poems on trees, Shakespeare is following Lodge in particular and the conventions of pastoral romance in general (Latham xxxi-xxxii).5 Shakespeare goes beyond pastoral convention, however, by verbally linking Orlando's plans with the Duke's exact recipe for natural revelation. “These trees shall be my books,” says Orlando. And later, “Tongues I'll hang on every tree” (3.2.124). With knife and pen, Orlando makes obvious what others in the play have done all along: he imposes his own text on the supposedly divine text of the forest. He presumes to write the book of nature.

Orlando surpasses the others, however, in perverting the function of natural revelation. Creation is supposed to be a mute witness to the glory of God. But Orlando would have every tree witness the “virtue” of Rosalind, “the unexpressive she.” In Petrarch and Sannazaro, to take two examples, the pastoral lover often detects his beloved in the landscape. Shakespeare allows this pastoral tradition to collide head-on with traditional theology. As Rosalind puts it, “There is a man haunts the forest that abuses our young plants with carving ‘Rosalind’ on their barks, … deifying the name Rosalind” (3.2.350-54). Theologically, this deification is an abuse, the exact sort that Paul condemns in his discussion of natural revelation in Romans 1. “Mar no more trees,” says Jaques to Orlando (3.2.255), and the next scene presents us with a village vicar by the name of Mar-Text—a name that might more aptly apply to Orlando himself. In marring the trees he mars their text by imposing one of his own. Compared to the Duke's “sermons in stones,” his are a “tedious homily” (3.2.152).

In the end, what do all of these wildly variant and sometimes willfully perverse readings of the book of nature amount to? It is not enough merely to say that the woods vary according to the characters within them (e.g. Brown 149; Draper 11; Young 50). In the forests of Titus Andronicus,Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest, perception of setting exposes character. While the Forest of Arden likewise provides a helpful aid to characterization, Shakespeare reminds us it also may have a theological function.

Montaigne, we recall, is skeptical of our human ability to read the book of nature at all. For him, in effect, there is no book; the divine text is missing. Is wisdom at this entrance quite shut out in As You Like It as well? I think not. The genial atmosphere of the play seems to suggest that Shakespeare is more in the mood to love what he chastises. As C. L. Barber reminds us:

When the forms for serious meaning are inevitable, received from accepted tradition, the comic reapplication of them need not be threatening. People so situated can afford to turn sanctities upside-down; since they will surely come back rightside-up.


It does not seem likely that Shakespeare invites us to deny the doctrine altogether. Rather, I think he invites us to doubt our ability to perceive clearly the exact tidings of the book of nature. He presents us with an array of characters so self-preoccupied that they only see themselves. And, similar creatures that we are, none of us can hope to do much better. It is as if Shakespeare tests the Pauline doctrine of natural revelation and finds it wanting for very Pauline reasons: the fallenness—at least the self-interestedness—of humanity. The divine text may be willing, but the human readers are weak. This, we recall, is Calvin's opinion: “… such is our stupidity that we grow increasingly dull toward so manifest testimonies, and they flow away without profiting us.”

A similar situation obtains in The Merchant of Venice on that starry night when Jessica and Lorenzo are admiring the heavens. It seems to them they can almost detect the music of the spheres, but because of their own “bondage of corruption,” they are barred from truly hearing: “Such harmony is in immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it” (5.1.63-65). Anne Barton aptly comments that “while the music of the spheres … exists and may even be sensed on clear nights as an influence, it remains fundamentally inaudible” (253). The same might be said of tongues in trees, unheard in part because our hearing is impaired.

But what of the other part—the nature of the book itself? What, in short, of the fallenness of creation? For Calvin, this is another reason that the book of nature is hard to read. Shakespeare, I think, takes the curse into account.

Consider, for example, Orlando's rescue of Oliver from the lioness. The scene is set

Under an old oak, whose boughs were moss'd with age
And high top bald with dry antiquity:
A wretched ragged man, o'ergrown with hair,
Lay sleeping on his back; about his neck
A green and gilded snake had wreath'd itself,
Who with her head nimble in threats approach'd
The opening of his mouth.


Tree and man and snake comprise an obvious allusion to the fall. And insofar as Oliver's oak is a tree from the garden, it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—a mysteriously equivocal title in itself (Roberts 121; Scoufos 223).6 Such a tree can only speak with forked tongue. It is the emblem of a fallen forest.

Throughout the play are other reminders of a fallen creation. Although the Duke claims not to feel “the penalty of Adam,” he still knows the painful cold of “the season's difference” (2.1.5, 6). The loss of perpetual Edenic spring was portrayed by many—Milton included—as a result of the fall (PL [Paradise Lost] 10.651ff). Touchstone invokes the world's decay in his reminder that “from hour to hour, we rot, and rot” (2.7.165-66). And this is the state of the “dead shepherd,” Christopher Marlowe, who hovers behind the Forest of Arden (3.5.81).7

Even Jaques' sobbing deer, that “wretched animal” that “heav'd forth such groans” (2.1.36), may serve to remind us, in Paul's words, “that everie creature groneth with us.” Certainly Jaques is much like Calvin in lamenting a curse that “seizes and envelops innocent creatures through our fault.” Likewise, he at least affects to believe with Calvin that this “must overwhelm our souls with despair.” Jaques is not all humbug. And neither, of course, is the Duke. For there is good in everything. But, there is evil in everything too. Nature is the good creation, but nature partakes of the fall. This in itself may justify a strange variety in the book of nature.

This dualism in the natural world receives classic expression in Romeo and Juliet, written as little as three years prior to As You Like It. It is Friar Lawrence—the Franciscan Friar Lawrence—who addresses the issue in his first soliloquy:

O mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities;
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.


As Roland Frye observes, “It is difficult to find a more succinct, accurate, and memorable summary of the Christian theology of nature” (219).

To put my conclusions into perspective, we may note the often recurring comment that As You Like It mocks at pastoral without losing its pastoral quality, just as Rosalind mocks at love without losing her status as a lover (e.g. Young 70). In the same way, I think, Shakespeare mocks at the lofty ideal of the book of nature without tossing it aside. Rather, he exposes the complexity beneath the cliché. From the same flower in the Friar's garden come poison and medicine. From the same trees in the Forest of Arden come good and evil. The divine text is marred, and we are faulty readers to boot. The result in this rich comedy is the book of nature as you like it, a forest that exposes both God and man.


  1. All New Testament quotations are from the Geneva Bible, New Testament Octapla.

  2. “Scripturas sacras facile impia interpretatione subruere potest, sed nemo est tam execrandi dogmatis hereticus, qui naturae librum falsificare possit” (qtd. in Curtius 320).

  3. A possible exception may be one eccentric London curate in the reign of Edward VI: he forsook his pulpit in St. Katherine Cree to preach his sermons from an elm tree in the churchyard—providing a most graphic instance of “tongues in trees” (Thomas 215).

  4. In the same passage, Browne outdoes the Duke by refusing to regard a toad as misshapen: “I cannot tell by what Logick we call a Toad, a Beare, or an Elephant ugly.”

  5. E.g. Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, and Lyly's Love's Metamorphosis. Curtius notes classical precedents in Callimachus and Propertius (337).

  6. Orlando alludes to this tree at the Duke's banquet: “He dies that touches any of this fruit” (2.7.98). Scoufos notes that a similarly tall, dry, sere oak appears in the post-lapsarian Eden atop the Mount of Purgatory in Dante, where it is plainly identified as the Tree of Knowledge (216). For a discussion of oaks in classical and biblical context, see Fortin 574-77.

  7. Harry Morris sees Touchstone's “Ay, now am I in Arden” (2.4.16) as an echo of “Et in Arcadia ego,” the tombstone inscription of the dead shepherd in Guercino's later painting. He speculates that the emblem was current in Shakespeare's day as a memento-mori icon (270).

Works Cited

Á Kempis, Thomas. The Imitation of Christ. Trans. Richard Whitford (1556). Ed. Wilfrid Raynal. Mt. Vernon: Peter Pauper, 1872.

Barber, C. L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959.

Barton, Anne. “The Merchant of Venice.The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton, 1974. 250-53.

Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint. The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Trans. Bruno Scott James. Chicago: Regnery, 1953.

Bonaventure, Saint. The Breviloquium. Vol. 2 of The Works of Bonaventure. Trans. Jose De Vinck. 5 vols. Paterson: St. Anthony Guild, 1960-70.

Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare and His Comedies. London: Methuen, 1957.

Browne, Sir Thomas. Religio Medici. Ed. L. C. Martin. Oxford: Clarendon, 1964.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. Ed. John T. McNeill. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960. Vol. 1.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and The Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. London: Routledge, 1953.

Draper, R. P. “Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy.” Etudes Anglaises 11 (1958): 1-17.

Fortin, Rene E. “‘Tongues in Trees’: Symbolic Patterns in As You Like It.Texas Studies in Literature and Language 14 (1973): 569-82.

Frye, Roland Mushat. Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963.

Hooker, Richard. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. 2 vols. London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1907. Vol. 1.

Kronenfeld, Judy Z. “Shakespeare's Jaques and the Pastoral Cult of Solitude.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 18 (1976): 451-73.

Latham, Agnes, ed. As You Like It. London: Methuen, 1975.

Morris, Harry. “As You Like It: Et in Arcadia Ego.Shakespeare Quarterly 26 (1975): 269-75.

The New Testament Octapla: Eight English Versions of the New Testament in the Tyndale-King James Tradition. Ed. Luther A. Weigle. New York: Nelson, [1980?].

Noble, Richmond. Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge. London: MacMillan, 1935.

Palmer, D. J. “Art and Nature in As You Like It.Philological Quarterly 49 (1970): 30-40.

Roberts, Jeanne Addison. “Shakespeare's Forests and Trees.” Southern Humanities Review 11 (1977): 108-25.

Santmire, H. Paul. “Reflections on the Alleged Ecological Bankruptcy of Western Theology.” Ethics for Environment: Three Religious Strategies. Ed. Dave Steffenson, Walter J. Herrscher, and Robert S. Cook. Green Bay: UWGB Ecumenical Center, 1973. 23-44.

Schleiner, Winfried. “Jaques and the Melancholy Stag.” English Language Notes 17 (1980): 175-79.

Scoufos, Alice Lyle. “The Paradiso Terrestre and the Testing of Love in As You Like It.Shakespeare Studies 14 (1981): 215-27.

Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton, 1974.

Spencer, Theodore. Shakespeare and the Nature of Man. New York: Macmillan, 1942.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1978.

Tayler, William Edward. Nature and Art in Renaissance Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 1964.

Thomas, Keith. Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility. New York: Pantheon, 1983.

Young, David. The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays. New Haven: Yale UP, 1972.

Further Reading

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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 62, no. 2 (spring 1986): 147-70.

Interprets the iconographic and metaphorical significance of the First Lord's speech in Act II, scene i of As You Like It, observing its attention to the possibility of a providential restoration of a better and more virtuous world.

Elam, Keir. “‘As They Did in the Golden World’: Romantic Rapture and Semantic Rupture in As You Like It.Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 18, nos. 2-3 (June-September 1991): 217-32.

Observes Shakespeare's playful and ironic recasting of the pastoral romantic mode in As You Like It.

Fitter, Chris. “The Slain Deer and Political Imperium: As You Like It and Andrew Marvell's “Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 98, no. 2 (April 1999): 193-218.

Suggests an analogical link between the aristocratic pastime of deer-hunting and political tyranny in the metaphors of As You Like It and Marvell's poem “The Nymph.”

Hutchings, W. “‘Exits and Entrances’: Ways In and Out of Arden.” Critical Quarterly 21, no. 3 (1979): 3-13.

Stresses the conventionality of As You Like It as an artificial, pastoral comedy, while observing the lurking seriousness of the drama.

Rothwell, Kenneth S. “Shakespeare Goes Digital.” Cineaste 25, no. 3 (June 2000): 50-5.

Includes a brief review of the digitally mastered 1936 film adaptation of As You Like It, directed by Paul Czinner and starring Laurence Olivier and Elisabeth Bergner, in which Rothwell admires the “bubbly” performance of Bergner in the role of Rosalind.

Schleiner, Louise. “Voice, Ideology, and Gendered Subjects: The Case of As You Like It and Two Gentleman.Shakespeare Quarterly 50, no. 3 (fall 1999): 285-309.

Applies an array of modern theoretical approaches—psychoanalytic, cultural-materialist, deconstructive, and gender—to an understanding of the ideological tensions in As You Like It and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Shapiro, Michael. “Layers of Disguise: As You Like It.” In Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages, pp. 119-42. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Notes the patterns of power derived by Rosalind from her gendered disguise in As You Like It, and compares this dramatic technique with that of a number of contemporary theatrical works.

Soule, Lesley Anne. “Subverting Rosalind: Cocky Ros in the Forest of Arden.” New Theatre Quarterly 7, no. 26 (May 1991): 126-36.

Considers the subversion of received ideas relating to masculinity, femininity, and love in As You Like It when one observes that the character of Rosalind was originally portrayed by an adolescent boy.

Stirm, Jan. “‘For solace a twinne-like sister’: Teaching Themes of Sisterhood in As You Like It and Beyond.” Shakespeare Quarterly 47, no. 4 (winter 1996): 374-86.

Offers a feminist, anthropological, and pedagogical approach to As You Like It as an early modern text that employs the trope of sisterhood.

Strout, Nathaniel. “As You Like It, Rosalynde, and Mutuality.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 41, no. 2 (spring 2001): 277-95.

Contrasts the male-centeredness of Shakespeare's source-text, Thomas Lodge's 1590 romance Rosalynde, with the gender mutuality of As You Like It.

Tvordi, Jessica. “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night.” In Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women's Alliances in Early Modern England, edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, pp. 114-30. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Contends that the erotic attachments between Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It and Maria and Olivia in Twelfth Night challenge the “heterosexual imperatives” of these texts.

Waddington, Raymond B. “Moralizing the Spectacle: Dramatic Emblems in As You Like It.Shakespeare Quarterly 33, no. 2 (summer 1982): 155-63.

Traces the emblematic features of As You Like It, linking them to the drama's theme of romantic love culminating in marriage.

Whall, Helen M. “As You Like It: The Play of Analogy.” Huntington Library Quarterly 47, no. 1 (winter 1984): 33-46.

Views As You Like It as a highly complex drama in which Shakespeare invites observers to make comparisons and draw analogies as he reworks the conventions of pastoral romance.

Wilson, Richard. “‘Like the Old Robin Hood’: As You Like It and the Enclosure Riots.” Shakespeare Quarterly 43, no. 1 (spring 1992): 1-19.

Topical evaluation of As You Like It that relates the drama to the disruptive social period of 1590s England in its thematic response to disorder.

Maurice Hunt (essay date 1991)

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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 between the time consciousness of the court and the regenerative timelessness of the forest of Arden and a previous generation's gracious way of life. Taking issue with Halio, Rawdon Wilson has argued that the dialectic of As You Like It concerns not time consciousness and timelessness but the objective process of either public or natural time and the subjective, private time sense of characters such as Rosalind and Orlando. For Wilson, the comedy reveals a “constant play between the objectivity of time (as the correlative of motion) and its relativity (as the correlative of a knowing mind).” Wilson, writes Donn Taylor, “holds that the chief characters' perception of the objective, threatening time of Frederick's court undergoes gradual change to ‘a sense of interior time which becomes possible in Arden’ and which ‘can exist, as a particular reflection of consciousness, only when objective time loses its importance and is no longer marked.’”1 Taylor thus redefines Wilson's objective time in As You Like It, stressing the ability of characters to seize the opportune moment, the kairos of classical art as modified by medieval thought.2 Of particular interest to Taylor is the concept of physical ripeness, and whether Rosalind and Orlando seize moments opportune for their growth as lovers worthy of one another. “Most of the characters seize their Occasion,” he concludes, “complete their growth to maturity, and are joined in good Fortune through the multiple marriage which concludes the play” (p. 127).

Taylor's idea of kairos, however, is incomplete. By focusing exclusively upon the Greek and Roman notion of the opportune moment, brought by Occasion, he overlooks the greater importance of Judeo-Christian kairos for As You Like It. According to G. F. Waller, “The New Testament writers transform the Jewish concept of a time of opportunity to the time, the kairos, the advent of Jesus of Nazareth in whom the time is fulfilled. The commencement of a new aion or era was proclaimed, in which men were called to live eschatologically, in a new pattern of living in which the quality of eternal life is revealed in time.”3 In Frank Kermode's opinion, “It is the New Testament that lays the foundation for both the modern sense of epoch … and the modern distinction between times: the coming of God's time (kairos), the fulfilling of the time (kairos—Mark 1.15), the signs of the times (Matt. 16.2, 3) as against passing time, chronos. The notion of fulfillment is essential; the kairos transforms the past, validates Old Testament types and the prophecies, establishes concord with origins as well as ends.”4 By seizing moments latent with spiritual, even incarnational, significance, individuals—both in life and in literature—redeem time lost or misspent to the salvation of themselves and their society.5 It is a version of providential kairos that Shakespeare repeatedly represents in As You Like It. By seizing certain propitious moments, Orlando re-creates heroic events in Hercules' and Aeneas's lives so that (in a sense to be explained later) the Golden Age returns. The spiritual dimension of these kairos becomes apparent in the fulfillment of time that Providence effects in the play. The kairoi of heroic moments from a classical age conclude in the masque of Hymen with an epiphany of the Garden of Eden. The reenactment of time in the play progresses to a point at which the audience realizes that a moment of innocence has been miraculously recovered.

Similarly, Shakespeare's idea of ripeness, of maturity in time—both spiritual and intellectual—is more complex than Taylor's notion of physical perfection. The twenty-five-year-old country bumpkin William may, as Touchstone admits, be physically ripe, but he scarcely can be said to have attained intellectual maturity. In As You Like It, Shakespeare plays off different kinds of ripeness within the same character and among characters. A question gradually posed in the play is whether the characters' acts of seizing opportune moments coincide with a time of most significant personal ripeness: that of fulfilled spiritual or intellectual growth. For Rosalind and Orlando, the question concerns the degree to which their individual ripening as lovers coincides with the final spiritual kairos of the play: their re-creation of Adam and Eve's marriage.6

Whatever fulfillment the characters of As You Like It achieve must occur at moments within certain unalterable time frames. The first moment involves the law of primogeniture, among sons the inheritance rights of the eldest, always ahead of his brothers because born first in time. “I know you are my eldest brother,” Orlando tells Oliver at the play's beginning, “and in the gentle condition of blood you should know me. The courtesy of nations allows you my better, in that you are the first-born, but that same tradition takes not away my blood, were there twenty brothers betwixt us” (1.1.43-49).7 Cruelly kept a peasant by his brother, Orlando certainly has a complaint; yet playgoers should notice that he is not challenging Oliver's superior legal rights but his inhumane, legally irremediable treatment of him. A satiric remark of Touchstone's suggests that Orlando would do wrong by trying forcibly to overthrow Oliver or deprive him of his rights by primogeniture. Touchstone refers to Celia's father, the younger brother who has wrongfully deposed the elder brother, Duke Senior, as “old Frederick” (1.2.76). The incongruous adjective amounts to Touchstone's barbed comment on the violation of primogeniture—on, that is, the “elder” position that Frederick has unjustly seized. By making the courtly usurper the younger brother, Shakespeare throws his audience's sympathy behind Duke Senior and the principle of the first-born's rights. While he obviously was interested in portraying abuses of privileges granted by the law of primogeniture, Shakespeare, in his depiction of the two dukes and their relationship, implies that the principle nevertheless deserves respect.8 The playwright was, after all, the eldest of John Shakespeare's four sons, only one of whom died in childhood. Orlando must overcome Oliver within the framework fixed by a law based on his inferiority in time, the time of birth order.

In the very first episode of As You Like It, intricate play on the word boy suggests that Orlando has attained not only physical but a certain spiritual ripeness as well. Challenged by Orlando's claims that he has kept him a peasant, Oliver strikes him and attempts to remind him of his inferior place as youngest brother by exclaiming, “What, boy!” (1.1.52). Orlando, grasping his assailant, resents Oliver's insult more than the blow: “Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this” (1.1.53-54). Orlando implies that, while Oliver may be the eldest brother, he is the younger in strength and skill in fisticuffs. When frightened Oliver asks, “Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?” (1.1.55), Orlando replies, “I am no villain. I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys: he was my father, and he is thrice a villain that says such a father begot villains” (1.1.56-59). Within the context of Oliver's insult “What, boy!” the father's name, by linguistic association, pointedly links Orlando to the patriarch.9 “Sir Rowland of the Boys” suggests a special boyishness, a youthfulness that still exists in the strength of the respectful son.10 Concerning Oliver's abusiveness, Orlando exclaims, “The spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it” (1.1.70-71). The spirit of the deceased, paternal boy lives in the boy devoted to his memory—his youngest son. Unintentionally, Oliver has been the catalyst for the spiritual ripening of a dead father within a loving, neglected son.

Appearing at the moment he is beckoned, Charles the wrestler comes to tell Oliver that Orlando's tender age predicts the youth's fatal defeat in the wrestling of the next day. Unexpectedly provided with the means of getting rid of Orlando, Oliver slanders his brother, so that Charles determines to kill him during their bout. Smugly, Oliver concludes the scene by echoing the insulting word that precipitated Orlando's anger: “Nothing remains but that I kindle the boy thither, which now I'll go about” (1.1.170-71). Ironically, Oliver has identified his brother by the surname linking him with his father, the old boyishness that will triumph over Charles.

Just as Bassanio wins Portia's, Orlando wins an admiring lady's heart in the briefest passage of time. Unlike Bassanio, however, Orlando consciously does not undergo a trial to win the woman's love. When he wrestles Charles, he has no knowledge of Rosalind's affections. In fact, his aim in wrestling seems to be only to reassure himself privately of his worth, a reassurance which at the time can have no material advantage. Thus, regarded from Orlando's perspective, his seizure of Opportunity's forelock appears inconsequential, virtually worthless. Nevertheless, Orlando's seizing of the moment coincides with (perhaps precipitates) spiritual kairos—Orlando's strength while wrestling is not only that of the deceased Rowland; it is also that of Hercules. John Doebler has demonstrated that Charles's invitation, “Come, where is this young gallant that is so desirous to lie with his mother earth?” (1.2.188-89), evokes the myth of Hercules wrestling with the giant Anteus.11 The figure of Hercules is not Charles, however. As the match begins, an admiring Rosalind shouts, “Now Hercules be thy speed, young man!” (1.2.198). At the moment of grappling, Hercules' strength joins with that of Sir Rowland de Boys within Orlando, making possible a physical impossibility: his defeat of the previously invincible Charles. For a moment, the heroic past intersects Frederick's court; the spirit of Hercules providentially returns to defeat an incarnation of Anteus.12

As interpreted by Renaissance humanists, the myth of Hercules and Anteus signifies reason's overthrow of the passions, associated with the base earth (Knowles, pp. 4-5). Renewed each time he falls upon his mother, Earth, Anteus is defeated when Hercules lifts him off the ground, squeezing the life from him. Shakespeare's reprising of this myth in As You Like It implies symbolically that Orlando has reasonably triumphed not over his passions for Rosalind (which scarcely exist at this instant) but over his angry desire for revenge against Oliver. While collaring his brother, Orlando does not harm him. It is his virtuous self-control, figured in the wrestling, that justifies Rosalind's love. This recovery of a moment from the heroic Golden Age invites comparison with other temporal variations presented early in the play. Like the former Sir Rowland, old Adam possesses a boyish spirit. “Almost fourscore” (2.4.71), he maintains that

Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty;
For in my youth I never did apply
Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood,
Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo
The means of weakness and debility.
Therefore my age is as a lusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly.


In his spirit, Adam is not vicious or cynical, that is to say, “old.” Deeply moved by Adam's charitable offer of service, Orlando exclaims: “O good old man, how well in thee appears / The constant service of the antique world, / Where service sweat for duty, not for meed” (2.4.55-57). Orlando believes that, in Adam, he has witnessed the sudden showing forth of a classical virtue in the faithless modern world. Even as Duke Senior believes that the Edenic life can be recovered in the forest of Arden, so Orlando thinks that virtues of an age past can suddenly reappear in a good man like Adam. Both Duke Senior and Orlando do not believe that the world's aging necessarily entails the absolute loss of a previous time and the virtues associated with it.

Nevertheless, while Adam's spirit may be young, he shows unmistakable signs of his advanced age. He himself supplies the first piece of evidence as he and Orlando flee the court:

At seventeen years, many their fortunes seek
But at fourscore, it is too late a week;
Yet fortune cannot recompense me better
Than to die well, and not my master's debtor.


Adam's spirit is not so young that it can silence the natural pessimism of old age. His old body, overruling his spirit, persuades him that he is too aged to enjoy a new, beneficial fortune. Dramatic events soon contradict his weary conviction that the ars moriendi bene, the art of dying well (in no man's debt), can be his only recompense. The duty of the ancient world may appear in Adam's gesture, but he does not powerfully realize a heroic epiphany, as Orlando does, an epiphany that supersedes his pessimism.

Likewise, Duke Senior does not recover the Golden Age by leading the pastoral life. In his eloquent, idealized portrait of this way of life (2.1.1-17), the duke implies that he has recovered an Edenic time. And yet the actual forest of Arden suggests otherwise. Charles memorably characterizes the duke and his courtiers' life in exile as one in which they “fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world” (1.1.118-19). Time, however, is not experienced “fleetingly” in the pastoral world. A place of great antiquity, the forest of Arden measures the slow passage of time and the four seasons necessary for the pastoral exile's enlightenment. The duke claims that

Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding 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.”


The “custom” that has made Duke Senior's life in the woods “more sweet / Than that of painted pomp” is “old” (2.1.2-3); the root of the oak under which Jaques lies is “antique” (2.1.31). The regular appearance of “the winter's wind” that “feelingly persuades” Duke Senior of his mortality depends upon the temporal revolution of the seasons, whose “difference” (decorous natural working) cannot be rushed. These images contradict the idea of time's fleeting passage for pastoral mankind. Since the swift experiencing of time has been the only imagined trait of the Golden Age explicitly evoked, it proves difficult, if not impossible, to maintain that Duke Senior has recovered either heroic or Edenic time.

A second epiphany of heroic time, kairos in the spiritual, divine sense, occurs in the forest of Arden when Orlando carries Adam, faint from hunger, on his back to the duke's banquet. A reenactment of Aeneas piously bearing his father, Anchises, appears onstage; a moment from the story of Troy, as told by Virgil, lives again.13 Orlando's surprising reference to himself as a “doe” and Adam as his “fawn” needing sustenance underscores the special relationship between heroic deeds and time (2.7.127-29). Rather than suggesting something unorthodox about Orlando's sexuality, his likening himself to a doe reflects the strength of his desire to succor Adam, a desire stereotyped as maternal. More important, by likening Adam to a fawn, Orlando stresses the youthful spirit of Adam. In the case of Adam, the playgoer has the impression of time running backward in Orlando's metaphor, as it will soon seem to do in the recovery of a heroic moment when the image of a pious “son” carrying a reverend “father” to safety, away from death by burning, appears onstage.14

In Orlando's speaking picture of filial piety, the Golden Age providentially returns for an instant for those with eyes and ears to perceive it. Adam trusted that “he that doth the ravens feed, / Yea providentially caters for the sparrow” would comfort him in a wilderness (2.3.43-45). Dropped manna, however, does not succor Adam; Orlando's charitable deeds do instead. Absent from Duke Senior's philosophy of pastoral life is the importance of well-doing in the Sidneyan sense, of active deeds of charity that issue from right thinking. Physics—noble doing—must complement Duke Senior's Edenic metaphysics, his passive meditation, for his philosophy to have value. Orlando's charitable deed, his bearing Adam, represents his seizing the opportune moment for his and Adam's personal advantage (kairos in the classical sense), an act apparently eliciting and justifying the sudden epiphany of heroic time (kairos in the religious sense). This epiphany confirms the inner ripeness of Orlando's filial piety, a virtue that complements the earlier expression of his physical ripeness, his Herculean strength.

Shakespeare takes pains in As You Like It to sketch life devoid of these special recoveries of heroic time. As Jaques reports, Touchstone, contemplating his portable sundial in the forest, says:

                                                                                                    “It is ten o'clock,
Thus may we see,” quoth he, “how the world wags:
‘Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ‘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.”


Whatever wisdom Jaques hears in Touchstone's meditation pertains to satire on contemporary life; he refers to Touchstone's moralizing of the time (2.7.29) rather than to his moralizing on time as a metaphysical subject. The playgoer, however, appreciates Touchstone's anatomy of time as philosophical speculation.15 His conclusion, “‘And thereby hangs a tale,’” heard in the context of his earlier utterance “‘how the world wags,’” creates a pun—tale/tail—that evokes a four-legged creature—a dog, presumably.16 Considering the bleakness of life lived in the time of Touchstone's depiction, the playgoer finds this metaphoric slanting downward toward animal life appropriate. A dog, in comparison to mankind, experiences time as a valueless and unvalued process of physical ripening and rotting. Shakespeare stylistically strengthens our impression of time drained of enriching value through Touchstone's thrice-repeated “and,” a conjunction beginning four successive verses and creating a paratactic syntax relatively rare in the Shakespeare of 1599. By Touchstone's account, existence in the “wagging” world consists of a fixed sequence of ripening and rotting moments, none of which is more or less important than any other, none of which is subordinate to a central moment realizing a meaningful existential design or life goal.17

Conspicuously absent from Touchstone's portrait of time's depressing progress is any mention of cresting, the moment of fullest ripeness, the moment celebrated in several Shakespearean sonnets as the instant when the flower and the young man “hold in perfection.” And yet it is precisely this moment and its value that Touchstone's account of time implicitly (and almost certainly unintentionally) emphasizes. The jester's portrait of time suggests that only the capitalized-upon moment of full ripeness—whatever that may mean—lends value to an otherwise physical existence that, in its biological flowing and ebbing, does not differ materially from that of a dog. Without seized, epiphanic moments of fulfillment, the tale that hangs from Touchstone's re-creation of time could be the tale of Oliver, hirsute and forlorn in the forest, never rescued by Orlando or killed by the serpent and lioness threatening him.18 Quite simply, it could be the tale of a vicious man who dies in despair after a period of both physical and spiritual rotting in a forest.

Wanting to hear social satire in Touchstone's musings, Jaques overlooks in the jester's meditation a complex suggestion that affects him along with the rest of mankind. Struck “that fools should be so deep-contemplative,” Jaques states that he “did laugh, sans intermission, / An hour by his dial” (2.7.32-33). In other words, Jaques wastes his time by demonstrating that he has not seized the moment to fathom the implications of Touchstone's speech. Because his laughter is egoistically scornful, Jaques's overlooking the burden of Touchstone's remarks reflects a degree of poetic justice. Touchstone himself obviously believes that the forest offers no moment of ripeness worth seizing.19 Interjected between scenes in which Orlando succors Adam and himself (2.6; 2.7.88-203), Touchstone's meditation on time is framed by vivid examples of seized moments.

Not surprisingly, the pessimism of Touchstone's version of time's progress recurs in Jaques's portrait of mankind's seven ages, an account of courtly or civilized time that complements Touchstone's pastoral analysis of the subject. Like Touchstone, Jaques does not imply that the good things in life can be seized at opportune instants. In fact, his account of the seven ages reflects neither a ripening nor a rotting process; it leads neither toward nor away from a moment of fulfilled being. His word pictures, for the most part, express his cynical outlook on life: the infant mewls and pukes in the nurse's arms; the schoolboy whines, “creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school”; the lover sighs “like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow” (2.7.139-49). In Jaques's view, neither education nor love ripens the scholar and lover. “Seeking the bubble reputation / Even in the cannon's mouth” (2.7.152-53), the soldier of the fourth age illustrates Jaques's belief that the chief moment seized in life often proves fatal because it is pursued recklessly. With no personally meaningful crest of inner ripeness, mankind's life slips into one of words, not deeds, into a language most likely unappreciated and then lost to the speaker altogether. The corpulent justice's “wise saws, and modern instances” (2.7.156) surely fall on bored ears; and the sixth age, that of “the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,” turns toward a “childish treble,” in which the aged man—clownish in the overtones of “pantaloon”—“pipes / And whistles in his sound” (2.7.157-63). The emptiness of the seventh age, mankind's final days, resounds in Jaques's image of “second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” (2.7.165-66). Rather than impel mankind upward to ripeness and a redemptive moment and then downward naturally, consolingly, to death, time, according to Jaques, moves in a depressing circle from first to second childhood without providing occasions for special instants of personal triumph. Even though his portrait lacks Touchstone's suggestions of bestial life (the wagging tail), Jaques's tracing of time's course reduces mankind's dignity at least as far as Touchstone's does.20

Touchstone's and Jaques's meditations on time are largely designed to raise the question of whether Rosalind and Orlando will recognize the opportune moment of ripeness in their romantic love and be able to seize it in betrothal and marriage. To do so, they must overcome a built-in challenge, the protracted delay usually required for romantic love to ripen into permanent affection. While Rosalind falls “into so strong a liking with old Rowland's youngest son” “on … a sudden” (1.3.24-26), it will take time for her “liking” to mature. Pleading with her father to rescind Rosalind's exile, Celia argues that over time she has come to know the worth of her cousin. As Rosalind's girlish playmate, she “was too young … to value her, / But now I know her” (1.3.67-68). The same point is made later during Touchstone and William's dialogue. The jester sarcastically terms William's age of twenty-five years “ripe” (5.1.20). A raw youth in his literal-mindedness, fostered by an uncultivated life spent in the forest, William lacks intellectual ripeness. If William is the playwright's comic alter ego, as several critics have proposed,21 then the point about the lengthy time needed for ripening is even more complex. At twenty-five, the thirty-four- or thirty-five-year-old creator of As You Like It was most likely writing aesthetically immature works such as the Henry VI trilogy, which he himself almost certainly recognized as unripe compared to intervening plays such as The Merchant of Venice and Henry V.

Shakespeare metaphorically establishes the forest as a place of ripening for Orlando and his love by having Celia tell Rosalind that she “found him under a tree like a dropped acorn” (3.2.230-31). Throughout the pastoral scenes of As You Like It, Shakespeare counterpoints the lovers' eagerness to fulfill or memorialize their love instantaneously with references to the time required for its growth. Orlando expresses his desire in inflated, adolescent poetry in which his impatience colors his view of mankind's life span. One of his written “civil sayings,” proposed for hanging on a bough, chronicles

                    how brief the life of man
          Runs his erring pilgrimage
That the stretching of a span
          Buckles in his sum of age.


Carving his love thoughts into trees and hanging sheets of poetry from their boughs, Orlando seeks to protect his romantic passion from time's ravages. By turning the leaves (silvae) of the forest into the leaves (silvae) of the book of nature, Orlando illustrates the pastoral lover's impulse to make the quality of his love permanent. And yet the puerility of his sentiments suggests that the eventual loss of their record through the decay of tree bark might be appropriate. Objecting to the “false gallop” of Orlando's discovered verses, Touchstone quips that the tree bearing them “yields bad fruit” (3.2.111-14). In one sense, Orlando's poetry is rotten before ripe.

That Touchstone thinks Orlando's verses “rotten” is confirmed by Rosalind's immediate allusion to the medlar tree, fascinating to Renaissance poets. Answering Touchstone tit for tat in defense of her lover, she declares, “You'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virtue of the medlar” (3.2.117-18). Touchstone's wisefoolishness is generally rotten in the sense that it resembles the cynical commentary of an old man. And yet linking Orlando to the medlar is apt; like the medlar, rotting before it mellows, his imagination may in time ripen into a finer expression of romantic love than his bad poetry promises. Mainly, however, Oliver illustrates the truth of Rosalind's assertion that some people rot before they ripen. His reformation is meaningful only because he has been an egregious villain; his spiritual ripening develops out of, in fact gains significance from, his moral rottenness. To Rosalind's claim that time can rot before it ripens, Touchstone replies, “You have said; but whether wisely or no, let the forest judge” (3.2.119-20). The forest judges in Rosalind's favor by presenting Oliver asleep beneath an oak tree, in despair and ready for his sudden ethical ripening. On occasion, rottenness does possess a “right virtue.” Earlier, when Adam offers Orlando gold and service, the depressed young man exclaims, “But poor old man, thou prun'st a rotten tree, / That cannot so much as a blossom yield, / In lieu of all thy pains and husbandry” (2.3.63-65). But after a period of dark, inner rottenness caused prematurely by Oliver's neglect and abuse, Orlando romantically blooms under Rosalind's cultivation. The positive effect upon characters of the inversion of time's normal natural progress suggests that further remarkable warping of the medium may occur in Arden.

While Orlando wastes his time in the forest by poetizing Rosalind, she resolves to seize the moment. She determines to test Orlando—to physic him, actually—to see if his clichéd poetry proceeds from a form of self-love—from his being in love with love. In effect, Rosalind seeks—prematurely, we learn later—to discover if time has ripened Orlando into a mature, clear-sighted lover. By playing the role of shrew under her disguise as Ganymede, she hopes to purge him homeopathically of any egoism concerning love.22

When Rosalind argues that “men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (4.1.101-3), her cynicism is carefully calculated to counteract Orlando's foolish belief that Petrarchan lovers expire from unrequited passion for their mistresses. Yet by naming Hero and Leander and Troilus and Cressida as legendary couples who died not for love, as poets feign, but ignominiously, from a swimmer's cramp and a “Grecian club,” Rosalind hits upon an important truth. Neither Leander nor Troilus managed to seize a moment opportune for consummating his love so as to avoid personal tragedy. Certainly Rosalind, optimistic and life-loving, does not want to die in the tragic manner of the lovers described by Marlowe and Chaucer. She knows that she and Orlando must be alert for the time to crown their love prosperously, so that they do not likewise end up the subjects of future poets' tragic poems.

In act 2, scene 4, Orlando appears unable to use time to his advantage; he has missed his first appointment with his physician, who, naturally enough, interprets his absence as a sign of weak love for Rosalind (3.4.1-29). Apparently, Orlando is not Rosalind's true lover, or his sighs and groans would have marked time until the moment of his meeting with “Rosalind” (3.2.295-99). Perhaps the lover is too green for Rosalind to seize the moment for refining his affection. Still, it is in her sanguine nature to take the opportunity to educate others. Rather than scorn the pageant of Silvius's painful love for Phebe and her proud rejection of him, Rosalind determines to “prove a busy actor in their play” (3.5.55). She berates Phebe for her pride and ingratitude, attempting to correct her vices through direct, personal criticisms. Her near insults conclude with a carpe diem:

But mistress, know yourself. Down on your knees
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love;
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can, you are not for all markets.


Like Orlando, however, Phebe is not ready to hear and understand Rosalind's blunt wisdom. Inwardly unripe, she vainly falls in love with Ganymede's feminine face, a mirror image of the beauty she cherishes in herself.

When Orlando does appear for his session of therapy, he states that he has come “within an hour” of the time appointed (4.1.40-41). But as Rosalind herself has pointed out, there is no clock in the forest to synchronize its inhabitants' subjective perceptions of time's pace (3.2.302-27). Driven by passion, Rosalind internally computes time more exactly than Orlando does: “Break an hour's promise in love! He that will divide a minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part of the thousand part of a minute in the affairs of love, it may be said of him that Cupid hath clapped him o' th' shoulder, but I'll warrant him heart-whole” (4.1.42-47). While Rosalind's unreasonably exacting reprimand is primarily part of her physic of confronting Orlando with exaggerated versions of his love conceits in order to refine or purge them, it also expresses her genuine impatience that her love is still unfulfilled. In her memorable account of time's various paces, she characterizes herself as the young maid with whom it “trots hard.”23 Earlier, she jokes that if the interval between her betrothal and wedding “be but a se'nnight, Time's pace is so hard that it seems the length of seven year” (3.1.307-11). Rosalind's unfeigned desire to hasten time makes her feel the truth of her claim that true lovers painstakingly, almost unnaturally, compute the time until their next meeting.

When Orlando promises to return in two hours at two o'clock, Rosalind, who has chided him for being an hour late for his first appointment, emphasizes that she will think him a “break-promise” if he comes “one minute behind [his] hour” (4.1.180-81). Orlando does break his promise when seizing a redemptive moment takes precedence over courting her. Hastening toward the duke's banquet, he discovers a ragged Oliver sleeping beneath an oak tree, threatened by a serpent and a lioness. (Shakespeare accentuates time's ravages on the outcast Oliver by making the oak partly rotten with age; its “high top” is “bald with dry antiquity” [4.3.105] even as Oliver is “o'ergrown with hair” [4.3.106].) After twice resolving to leave his betraying brother to his death, Orlando turns back to battle and kill the lioness to save Oliver's life. Orlando courageously seizes an opportune moment in the passage of time's natural ripening and rotting to express his brotherly love. In doing so, he momentarily recovers the Golden Age; his fight reprises Hercules' slaying of the Nemean lion.24 The epiphanies of kairos outline a progression in As You Like It from the expression of ripened physical strength, through an act of filial piety, to an ultimate deed of brotherly love. In each case, mythic allusion indicates that Orlando has recovered a moment of the heroic age. Traditionally, the lion is a figure of wrath; the playgoer understands that Orlando has triumphed over anger (both his own and Oliver's) through the heroic fury of his fight.25 In this sense, he realizes the heroic potential of his Renaissance name—Orlando Furioso.26

Orlando fails to keep the romantic lover's excruciatingly precise time because a greater love, that of a forgiving brother for a reprobate kinsman, compels him to seize the moment heroically. This fulfilled moment, which prompts Oliver's spiritual transformation, redeems the rottenness of time, symbolized by Oliver's timeworn appearance and the oak's dead boughs. The fact that time, in the course of nature, rots all creatures, including mankind, argues for the necessity, even the duty, of capitalizing upon the rare opportune moments when a massive difference might be made. In a moment, even now, Orlando crystallizes Oliver's latent virtue—and his own, as he comes to learn. Contrary to the spirit of Rosalind's claim that no lover ever died for love, he almost loses his life for love—not the romantic love that she characterizes but brotherly love, a more ideal affection in both the Platonic and Christian schemes.

Shakespeare has taken pains to suggest that providence has a special interest in Orlando and Rosalind's love and marriage.27 In response to Celia's comment about finding Orlando under a tree like a fallen acorn, Rosalind says, “It may well be called Jove's tree, when it drops such fruit” (3.2.232-33). Orlando's character takes place beneath another oak, an ancient one but nevertheless Jove's tree.28 The counterpoint of arboreal imagery stresses two extremes of time, that of budding, the precursor to ripening, and that of the ravages of age. But the coincidence of trees suggests that Jove may have a hand in guiding the action. This possibility should not surprise playgoers; as Ganymede, Rosalind is Jove's faithful servant, and he rewards her with happiness.

Orlando's expressions of filial piety and brotherly love complement his physical strength and conclusively demonstrate the ripeness of his ethical character. But has he ripened as a romantic lover—one worthy of the more mature Rosalind? In the scene in which Rosalind describes the “pair of stairs” that “incontinent” Oliver and Celia will climb to marriage (5.2.1-40), Orlando indicates that the sport of imagining Ganymede as Rosalind is wearing thin. Oliver and Celia's prospect of fulfilled happiness makes Orlando's loneliness and unrealized love bitter. “I can live no longer by thinking” (5.2.50), he tells Rosalind, suggesting that he, unlike Jaques, is ready to involve himself actively in life. Has Rosalind's homeopathic physic purged Orlando's romantic love of its impurities? She tests him to see if his artificial, Petrarchan way of conceiving his love has vanished. “O my dear Orlando,” she cries, “how it grieves me to see thee wear thy heart in a scarf!” “It is my arm,” he unimaginatively replies. “I thought thy heart had been wounded with the claws of a lion,” she jokes, playing upon the homonymic pun of heart/hart. “Wounded it is,” Orlando disappointingly answers, “but with the eyes of a lady” (5.2.19-24). While Shakespeare has presented the metaphorical truth of Orlando's reply, most notably in Rosalind's lacerating effect upon Phebe's sensibility, Orlando appears to understand the familiar Renaissance metaphor as a literal fact. He believes that he suffers from the lover's actually bleeding heart.29 To the degree that Rosalind's therapy has not helped him distinguish between literal and metaphoric truth, Orlando remains romantically unripe, a distant cousin of the literal-minded clown William and a precursor of the late Shakespearean character Caliban, who, half taught by Prospero and Miranda, mistakes Stephano for the man-in-the-moon.30

At play's end, then, Rosalind accepts a suitor whose selfless love has been proved by his rescue of Oliver and his dutiful sending of the bloody handkerchief as an explanation of his failure to keep his lover's appointment, but one whose imagination remains unripe. Rosalind appears to realize that she cannot wait for a better moment to betroth herself to Orlando but must compromise, as Phebe will, by accepting a noble suitor who is immature in at least one important respect. Practically, she realizes that she herself is “not for all markets” but must sell when she can. Thus, some irony attaches itself to Rosalind's claim that she knows that Orlando is “a gentleman of good conceit” (5.2.52-53), that is to say, of good imagination.

The pastoral phase of As You Like It begins in the wintry season of adversity that, while sweet for Duke Senior, nevertheless includes churlish winds and cold weather. It ends in act 5, scene 3, in the springtime of the two pages' song, “It was a lover and his lass” (5.3.16). By moving from winter to spring, pastoral time in the play promises rebirth and happiness. These goods, however, come only to the character who can seize the day. The pages' spring lyric is a carpe diem of love. Lying “between the acres of the rye,” the “pretty country-folks” of the song sing, “How that a life was but a flower, / In spring-time” (5.3.20-31). The pages directly advise their listeners “therefore [to] take the present time … for love is crowned with the prime, / In spring-time” (5.3.32-37). As a pleasant flower, “Rosa-linda,” Rosalind herself is perhaps about to fade, to decline from the “prime” of her physical beauty. The song's burden justifies her seizing the moment to orchestrate her appearance and thus her own and the other lovers' fulfillment. Still, doing so in lovers' springtime is premature when considered from the perspective of late summer or early autumn, the season symbolic of inner, nonphysical ripeness. It is no accident that the imagery of springtime in Prospero's masque of Ceres in The Tempest is at first relatively colorless and barren but gradually becomes richer as Iris moves toward the fulfillment promised by August's sicklemen and the blessing “Spring come to you at the farthest / In the very end of harvest.” The tension within the pages' song in As You Like It underscores Rosalind's haste to wed an Orlando who is only partly ripe. After all, the cornfield of the song is green rather than golden (5.3.16). Still, life is but a flower, “crowned with the prime” (5.3.34)—where “prime” ambiguously connotes the second, spiritually unripe canonical hour as well as natural time and ripeness, before the pattern of inevitable decay sets in.31 Love may be crowned with the prime, but as regards the development of the lover's imagination, that crowning may not appear in the springtime of nature.

By announcing that she can “do strange things,” having since the age of three “conversed with a magician” (5.2.58-62), Rosalind begins to coordinate the time of her own and others' happiness. Since the god Hymen mystically appears at Rosalind's command, we retrospectively believe her claim to magical power.32 Having been a child prodigy, a very young learner of difficult magical arts, Rosalind contradicts Jaques's portrait of the barren, painful first and second ages of mankind. Ripe in a profoundly intellectual sense from a tender age, she challenges the assumption that mental ripening necessarily entails long years of lean and wasteful learning. While the showings forth of Hercules and Aeneas are figurative—avataristic, in fact—that of Hymen, the classical god of marriage, is literal. In this respect, a moment from antiquity manifests itself. Thus far, our focus has been on the appearance of classical moments and heroic deeds. Yet Christian allusions and overtones have been heard in As You Like It as well.33 For example, the bloody handkerchief that represents Orlando's apology possesses Christian value when considered in the light of his martyrlike brotherly love and defeat of a deadly sin.34 Consistent with these and other Christian allusions, time in a sense never calculated or controlled by the lovers appears to run backward from the present age to recover spiritually key moments in Genesis and the Garden of Eden. The point may be put another way. One has the impression that time at the end of the play, having recovered redemptive moments of the classical, the heroic age, has reached the age of Genesis and the Garden of Eden.

As the play unfolds, allusions to Old Testament events come progressively earlier in the chronology of the Jews' history. Jaques's exclamation—“I'll go sleep if I can; if I cannot, I'll rail against all the firstborn of Egypt” (2.5.57-58)—gives way to his remark “There is sure another flood toward, and these couples are coming to the ark” (5.4.35-36). Providentially time appears to roll backward as it dramatically runs forward; events in the play evocative of those described in Exodus give place to those based on a story in Genesis. As it unfolds, time appears to deliver the characters of As You Like It to a paradisiacal locus near the beginning of Renaissance mankind's religious history. Rosalind and Orlando recapture an Edenic experience of Adam and Eve.35

Admittedly, the backward running of time is only an impression in As You Like It created in playgoers' minds by poetic allusions. Nevertheless, the impression represents the supernatural operation of time in this comedy. Clearly, Hymen has traveled through a time warp to enter the forest of Arden. The actual appearance of the classical god implies that Shakespeare conceived of a metaphysical realm close to the play's world and capable of penetrating it. Recently, Alice Lyle-Scoufos has allegorically interpreted the green world of As You Like It; the symbolic properties of Shakespeare's pastoral link it to the Paradiso Terrestre as defined by Dante, Jacopo Sannazaro, and Sir Philip Sidney (pp. 215-27). In the final cantos of the Purgatorio, Virgil leaves Dante the pilgrim “at the outer limits of Eden—the post-lapsarian Eden that is still beautiful except for the giant Tree of Knowledge that stands tall, dry, and sere in the center of the garden. It is dead and wintry, much like the giant tree, ‘bald with drie antiquitie,’ that Oliver describes for Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It” (p. 216). For Lyle-Scoufos, Orlando's forgiveness of his brother and his victory over the symbolic snake and lioness make the garden and tree spiritually bloom again. “Archetypal images pull the pastoral setting suddenly into the mystical realm” (p. 221). I would put the point differently. The mystical realm, shaping itself in the form of archetypal images, at moments suddenly intersects, or intrudes upon, the pastoral setting of As You Like It.

It is as though key moments and personages in mankind's classical and Christian past continue to exist in an unperceived dimension, alongside the appearing and vanishing instants of an ongoing present. When privileged characters such as Orlando and Rosalind, in the course of their ripening, charitably or bravely seize a propitious moment, profound spiritual events from the past manifest themselves. In the epiphanies of these pregnant moments the time of past ages can be said to be recovered. In As You Like It, Shakespeare gives a unique twist to the Renaissance commonplace of the recovery of a Golden Age in pastoral surroundings. By seizing opportune moments in a modern romance, Orlando and Rosalind recover certain kairoi of mankind's history: the pattern of living that rewards filial piety, the heroic labor of controlling wrath, and the Christian forgiveness of a Cain-like brother with the divine gift of a long-desired complementary self—the gift, that is, of divinely married love.

With the literal epiphany of Hymen, we have the impression that we are near the source of this history, for the classical god reprises God's giving of Eve to Adam. Providence rewards Rosalind's magical seizing of the moment with an unanticipated kairos (in the Judeo-Christian sense): a spiritual epiphany of the creation and bestowal of Eve. Addressing Duke Senior, the god of marriage offers Rosalind as Orlando's helpmate:

Hymen from heaven brought her,
          Yea brought her hither,
That thou mightst join her hand with his
Whose heart within his bosom is.


God took a rib from Adam's side to make him a companion who might remedy his loneliness; Hymen, through the agency of Rosalind's father, joins to Orlando the woman whose heart has been passionately beating in his breast.36 Shakespeare plays an Aristophanic variation upon a biblical theme. Whereas God divided a whole (Adam) into two complementary beings, Shakespeare's Hymen ritualistically reincorporates man and woman into the single whole they yearn to be. Whereas God took Adam's rib to make Eve, Shakespeare depicts Rosalind's heart displaced within Orlando. In keeping with the generally greater complexity of character of his romantic heroines, Shakespeare makes woman rather than man the source of mankind's life.37

Hymen's song thus suggests that time has carried the lovers back to the mysterious origin of romantic married love. Granted the solemn, mystical atmosphere of the final scene of As You Like It, one could easily overlook the imperfections of the Rosalind and especially the Orlando who enact Eve's and Adam's roles. Obviously, however, they are not the mother and father of mankind. Providential time in the play is such that, through spiritual kairoi, it allows imperfect yet privileged mortals to approximate archetypal personas in rituals of mythic proportions. Orlando's imagination as a lover may remain unripe, but his Christian charity qualifies him to enjoy in his reunion with Rosalind a special blessing of the prelapsarian Adam. Rosalind may be knowledgeable of promiscuous wives' methods of hoodwinking their husbands, but her general virtue, seen, for example, in her unselfish attempt to reform Silvius and Phebe's romance, marks her as deserving prelapsarian Eve's blessing of a helpmate. In As You Like It, this double perspective on dramatic character is not as pronounced as it is in a later play such as The Winter's Tale. Perdita, by her expressed discomfort with fulfilling her mythological role, never lets us forget that a hesitant, frightened girl brought up by homely shepherds is the Roman goddess Flora. And yet so magnificently does she play Flora in the enriching context of an idealizing pastoral world that, for an instant, she becomes Flora herself in her lover's eyes. At least the lyric rapture of Florizel's spoken hymn of love (4.4.135-46), prompted by his vision of her, suggests as much. In The Winter's Tale, Apollo's providence does not work through a pattern of spiritual kairoi of the kind found in As You Like It, and playgoers never sense that a mythic past returns through epiphanies in the great pastoral scene of the late romance. Still, the later play instructs us in the alternate awareness of character that we need to maintain through the epilogue of the earlier comedy.

Lyle-Scoufos's allegorical reading of the pastoral of As You Like It suggests that Shakespeare and Spenser at times shared a common methodology and teleology. Shakespeare's manipulation of time appears less idiosyncratic when considered in relation to Spenser's in The Faerie Queene. The saints living in the New Jerusalem that the Redcross Knight mystically sees from the Mount of Contemplation were once breathing men and women. A timeless moment is suddenly thrust into the chronological time of the Redcross Knight's pilgrimage of holiness. More to the point, Christ manifests himself in the person of Prince Arthur (7.29-8.28).38 Arthur's diamond shield, “perfect pure and cleene” (7.33.5), reveals the reality behind every appearance and enables him to overthrow any enemy. It represents the perfection of faith (Eph. 6:16), making possible Christ/Arthur's triumphant crucifixion of his own flesh in the person of Orgoglio. Rather than say that Arthur is a type of Christ, readers can just as plausibly claim that the timeless fact of Christ's crucifixion and redemption manifests itself in a moment of a historical narrative concerned with two knights named Arthur and Redcross. Both Spenser and Shakespeare depict in a pastoral realm the intersection of the timeless in chronological, natural time.

Divided between Jaques and Rosalind, the pattern of progressively earlier biblical allusions in As You Like It is Shakespeare's (or the play's). It represents his idea that, under providential control, the fruits not only of heroic moments of the classical age but of Christian time as well can be recovered. Shakespeare implies that the coincidence of Rosalind's praiseworthy seizing of the moment and a primal Christian kairos is no accident but the gift of a shadowy providence ruling the comedy's world. The fact that this providence is sometimes that of Jove, sometimes that of Hymen, and, finally, sometimes that of the Christian god suggests that the ages form a seamless web, a single time in which privileged men and women, like Orlando and Rosalind, are rewarded for their heroic deeds and Christian attitudes with an approximation of the first, the paradisiacal moment of married joy.


  1. Halio, “‘No Clock in the Forest’: Time in As You Like It,Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900, 2 (1962): 197-207; Wilson, “The Way to Arden: Attitudes toward Time in As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly, 26 (1975): 16-24, esp. 17; Taylor, “‘Try in Time in Despite of a Fall’: Time and Occasion in As You Like It,Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 24 (1982): 121-36, esp. 121-22.

  2. Taylor cites Erwin Panofsky, who claims that “shortly after the eleventh century, the image of Kairos merged with the feminine image of Fortune to become the ‘Fortune of Time’” (p. 123).

  3. The Strong Necessity of Time: The Philosophy of Time in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Literature (The Hague: Mouton, 1976), p. 17.

  4. The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 48. Kermode asserts that “the divine plot is the pattern of kairoi in relation to the End” (p. 47).

  5. Waller charts the transformation of this Christian idea into the secular notion that an individual can seize the moment for his or her personal, especially commercial, advantage—a change that occurred during Shakespeare's lifetime (pp. 24-25, 32-34).

  6. Accounts of time in As You Like It outside the Halio-Wilson-Taylor line of argument and different from my reading of the play are given by Frederick Turner, Shakespeare and the Nature of Time (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), pp. 28-44; Ricardo J. Quinones, The Renaissance Discovery of Time (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 422-26; and Hallett Smith, Shakespeare's Romances: A Study of Some Ways of the Imagination (San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1972), pp. 92-93. All of these studies disprove Helen Gardner's claim that Shakespeare's “comedies are dominated by a sense of place rather than of time.” “As You Like It”: More Talking of Shakespeare, ed. John Garrett (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1959), p. 22.

  7. All quotations of As You Like It are taken from the Arden edition, ed. Agnes Latham (London: Methuen, 1975). Quotations of other Shakespeare plays are taken from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

  8. The abuse of primogeniture by elder brothers in late sixteenth-century England is described with reference to Elizabethan texts and the makeup of Shakespeare's audience by Louis A. Montrose, “‘The Place of a Brother’ in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 32 (1981): 31-37.

  9. Montrose notes that Sir Rowland's “surname is a play on ‘woods’ [Bois] and ‘boys’” (p. 43 n. 35).

  10. “Orlando is in fact an anagram for Rowland,” Thomas Kelly remarks; it makes “clear that the virtues of the antique world still live in Orlando.” “Shakespeare's Romantic Heroes: Orlando Reconsidered,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 24 (1973): 15.

  11. “Orlando: Athlete of Virtue,” Shakespeare Survey, 26 (1973): 111-17. Also see Richard Knowles, “Myth and Type in As You Like It,English Literary History, 33 (1966): 4-5; and Mark Bracher, “Contrary Notions of Identity in As You Like It,Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900, 24 (1984): 232.

  12. A second Herculean overtone, that of the tongue-tied, modest victor, is identified in this passage by Jeff Shulman, “‘The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye’ and the Tongue-tied Orlando,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 31 (1980): 390.

  13. Orlando and Adam's emblematic re-creation of this moment is confirmed by John Doebler, Shakespeare's Speaking Pictures (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1974), pp. 33-34 and pl. 4; and Raymond Waddington, “Moralizing the Spectacle: Dramatic Emblems in As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly, 33 (1982): 156-57. Both critics cite Geoffrey Whitney's emblem Pietas filiorum in parentes in A Choice of Emblemes (1586) as a possible source of Shakespeare's conception. See also Peter Erickson, “Sexual Politics and the Social Structure in As You Like It,Massachusetts Review, 23 (1982): 75.

  14. “Indeed, if we recall that [Orlando's] exile to Arden has come about because Oliver ‘… means / To burn the lodging where you use to lie,’ the Virgilian backdrop becomes appropriate in more ways than one” (Waddington, p. 157).

  15. In a picture and poem in Whitney's A Choice of Emblemes, E. Michael Thron finds an emblem analogous to Touchstone's portrayal of time. “Jaques: Emblems and Morals,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 30 (1979): 86.

  16. For other readings of this pun (and Touchstone's meditation in general), see Helge Kökeritz, Shakespeare's Pronunciation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958), pp. 58-59, 117, 141, 149; and Jenijoy La Belle, “Touchstone's Dial: Horology or Urology,” English Language Notes, 24 (1987): 19-25. Kökeritz hears Touchstone making a sexually obscene joke, punning upon hour/whore, ripe (ripen/search), and tale/tail (sexual organ), while La Belle argues that Touchstone is not meditating on time so much as on his own sexuality, with dial meaning “penis” and poke “codpiece.”

  17. Harold Jenkins notes that Touchstone “dares to speak in Arcadia, where one can never grow old, of Time's inevitable processes of maturity and decay. By this the ideal life of the banished Duke is mocked, and since Touchstone's words are repeated by Jaques with delight and uproarious laughter, the mockery is double.” “As You Like It,Shakespeare Survey, 8 (1955): 49.

  18. Cf. C. L. Barber, who argues that the tale that “hangs” for the telling is that of Jaques's seven ages of mankind. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (1959; rpt. Cleveland: World, 1963), p. 226.

  19. John Russell Brown describes the moment at which Touchstone comes closest to altering the regularity of time's hours: “The first time we see [Audrey and Touchstone] together, he is offering to ‘fetch up’ her goats and is already impatient of Time, questioning ‘Am I the man yet? doth my simple feature content you?’” (3.3.1-4). Shakespeare and His Comedies (1962; rpt. London: Methuen, 1968), p. 152.

  20. Both Turner (pp. 32-38) and Quinones (pp. 422-23) analyze the defects of Jaques's view of time as delineated in his portrait of mankind's seven ages.

  21. See, for example, William Jones, “William Shakespeare as William in As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly, 11 (1960): 228-31; and Howard Cole, “The Moral Vision of As You Like It,College Literature, 3 (1976): 26-27.

  22. For an analysis of Rosalind's homeopathy, see R. Chris Hassel, Jr., Faith and Folly in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980), p. 136; Ruth Nevo, Comic Transformations in Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1980), p. 193; and Maurice Hunt, “Homeopathy in Shakespearean Comedy and Romance,” Ball State University Forum, 29 (1988): 50-52.

  23. In The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), David P. Young defines the relativity of Rosalind's account, arguing that the passage is part of the play's larger presentation of the truth of subjectivity (p. 58).

  24. Both Knowles (pp. 5-6) and Doebler (“Athlete of Virtue,” pp. 114-15) note allusions to Hercules killing the Nemean lion and strangling the serpent sent by Hera in Orlando's victory over the lioness and snake.

  25. On the lioness as a type of both Oliver's and Orlando's wrath (and on the symbolic importance of Orlando's triumph over anger), see Latham, p. xliii, and Montrose, p. 44.

  26. Alice Lyle-Scoufos describes the relevance of Robert Greene's Orlando Furioso for Shakespeare's Orlando in “The Paradiso Terrestre and the Testing of Love in As You Like It,Shakespeare Studies, 14 (1981): 217-18, 219.

  27. Sylvan Barnet describes the Christian providence of As You Like It in “‘Strange Events’: Improbability in As You Like It,Shakespeare Studies, 4 (1968): 121-22, 127-29.

  28. Alluding to Spenser, Homer, Virgil, and the Old Testament, René Fortin establishes the divinity of the oak trees mentioned in As You Like It in “‘Tongues in Trees’: Symbolic Patterns in As You Like It,Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 14 (1972-73): 573-77. Also see Jeanne Addison Roberts, “Shakespeare's Forests and Trees,” Southern Humanities Review, 11 (1977): 117-23.

  29. Admittedly, the passion of romantic love, according to the Renaissance Galenic theory of the humours, could so strike at the lover's heart and body that death was an imagined possibility. But as Lily B. Campbell clearly implies in her summary of this view, such a death was an imagined rarity. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion (1930; rpt. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968), pp. 63-83. As Rosalind has noted, Orlando in his neat dress shows no signs of “adust” love melancholy, the extreme form of a disease that might result in death. Shakespeare's focus is on Orlando's naïve blindness to the often-invoked metaphorical dimension (or status) of medical theory that was only on rare occasions thought (usually by doctors and not by writers) to be fatal.

  30. D. J. Palmer also finds Rosalind's cure of Orlando's lovesickness unsuccessful. “Art and Nature in As You Like It,Philological Quarterly, 49 (1970): 37-38. For the contrary view—that Rosalind's physic proves the ideal quality of Orlando's love—see Edward Berry, “Rosalynde and Rosalind,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 31 (1980): 49-50; and James Black, “The Marriage-Music of Arden,” English Studies in Canada, 6 (1980): 393-95.

  31. For the precedent of “prime” referring to the moment of full ripeness, see sonnet 12: “When I do count the clock that tells the time, / And see the brave day sunk in hideous night; / When I behold the violet past prime.”

  32. Margaret Beckman locates the source of Rosalind's magical powers in her marvelously inclusive character, which is able to control the “natural harmony of opposed forces that constitutes man's ‘possible perfection.’” “The Figure of Rosalind in As You Like It,Shakespeare Quarterly, 29 (1978): 49.

  33. Christian allusions in As You Like It are recorded by Fortin (pp. 575-81); Hassel (pp. 110-48); Knowles (pp. 9-19); Edward A. Armstrong, Shakespeare's Imagination (1946; rpt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963), pp. 125-28; Michael Taylor, “As You Like It: The Penalty of Adam,” Critical Quarterly, 15 (1973): 78-79; and A. Stuart Daley, “To Moralize a Spectacle: As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 1,” Philological Quarterly, 65 (1986): 147-70.

  34. The association of Orlando's bloody redemption of his brother with Christ's redemption of mankind is explored by Fortin (p. 580) and by Knowles (p. 13).

  35. Knowles remarks that “the golden age was commonly taken as the gentile corruption of the Genesis story of paradise by English Renaissance writers such as Arthur Golding and Sir Walter Raleigh” (p. 10).

  36. Armstrong identifies imagery in acts 1 and 3 of As You Like It that is suggestive of “the rib which was taken from man to form woman” (p. 127).

  37. For an alternative analysis of the masque of Hymen, see Marilyn Williamson, “The Masque of Hymen in As You Like It,Comparative Drama, 2 (1968): 248-58, esp. 255-57.

  38. The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (London: Longman, 1980).


As You Like It (Vol. 57)


As You Like It (Vol. 80)