Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Much like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It takes place partly in the “Green World.” The Green World is a Shakespearean trope in which the characters from the civilized world escape to the natural world in order to avoid the problems of civilized life.

Over the course of the play, these characters have experiences and interactions within the Green World that allow them to solve the problems of the court. Thus, the Green World is an idyllic space in which the consequences, pressures, and restrictions of society do not apply. The Forest of Arden is a Green World because it provides a safe haven for many of the characters in As You Like It. Duke Senior is able to maintain a court after being usurped by his brother. In this court, he is both in control and not responsible for reclaiming his throne. Rosalind is able to assume a masculine identity that she uses to transform her lover into an ideal partner. Oliver and Orlando are able to mend their familial relationship when Orlando must save Oliver from a lion attack in the woods. Because the characters manipulate their circumstances in the Green World, they are able to restore order in the courtly world. Indeed, by the end of the play, Frederick steps down and allows his brother to assume his rightful place at the head of the court.

Historical Context

Shakespeare’s source material for As You Like It is Thomas Lodge’s 1590 comedic pastoral novel, Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie. Shakespeare borrows the names Rosalind, Celia, Pheobe, Corin, and Silvius from Lodge’s text. In the introduction to Lodge’s story, a character says, “If you like it, so,” which is the line upon which Shakespeare based his play’s title. While there are many similarities, it is also apparent that Shakespeare meant to change the story in order to achieve a different theme. In setting the story primarily in the Forest of Arden and juxtaposing the courtly love of Rosalind and Orlando with the pastoral love of Silvius and Phoebe (as well as Touchstone and Audrey), Shakespeare mocks the pastoral comedy. It becomes a critique of courtly people who unrealistically idealize country life. As the play is set in France, the Forest of Arden may also be a reference to the real Forest of Ardennes in Belgium.

The Pastoral Mode

The pastoral convention is an Early Modern literary mode that presents the countryside as an idyllic space that lies in contrast to the complexity and corruption of the city and the court. This space, imagined by courtiers and rich noblemen of the city, ignores the reality of a country life full of manual labor and hardship. It imagines peaceful shepherds in mild, sunny, natural spaces. Shepherds will participate in “singing matches” that demonstrate their prowess with words and respect for poetry. The pastoral space is a paradise. To this point, Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden gets its name by combining Arcadia, the earthly paradise of Greek lore, with Eden, the biblical paradise. Duke Senior’s benevolent court in the forest, the singing interludes, and the shepherds who aid and fall in love with city dwellers all point to the pastoral tropes of As You Like It. Songs like “Blow Thy Winter Wind” demonstrate the stark contrast between the idealized countryside and the corrupt court. However, just as much as the play embodies a pastoral comedy, it also calls it into question and satirizes it. Orlando’s terrible love poetry pokes fun of the tradition in which singing shepherds are poets in disguise; Jaques reminds the audience of the miseries of the real world; Corin the shepherd reminds the courtiers that their manners are “poorly suited” to the hard labor of the countryside. In this way, the play mocks the idea of a paradise on Earth. The pastoral paradise is a space invented by the delusions and desires of city dwellers who wish to escape the hardships of their lives.

Historical Background

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

As You Like It was probably written in 1599 or 1600, at the midway point of Shakespeare's career as a playwright. His principal source for the play was Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance, Rosalynde. Lodge's novel, published in 1590, was in turn adapted from The Tale of Gamelyn, a 14th-century narrative poem. Shakespeare rewrote the story even further; he introduced new themes and created a number of new characters including Jaques, Touchstone, William, and Audrey. He also gave his characters far more depth and dimension than they had in Lodge's novel and added humor to the storyline.

Pastoral romance-a romantic story that takes place in a rural of forest setting-was a popular category of literature and drama in Shakespeare's time. Love stories of innocent shepherds and shepherdesses and tales of woodland adventure were then in vogue. Shakespeare, a practical man of the theatre, created a play that he knew would appeal to his audience. The wrestling scene and the clowning of the rustic shepherds would have captured the attention of the groundlings, while the sophisticated wordplay would have impressed educated playgoers in the galleries. George Bernard Shaw felt that Shakespeare, in calling the play As You Like It; was commenting disparagingly on standards of contemporary theatrical taste. Yet it seems unlikely that Shakespeare had purely commercial considerations in mind when he wrote this play, for As You Like It does not adhere strictly to the conventions of pastoral romance. It satirizes them as well. The Forest of Arden is in many ways an idealized, fairy tale setting for the play, but it is also a place where "winter and rough weather" present hardships and wild beasts lurk as a threat. Shaw may have been correct, however, in his observation that Shakespeare was losing interest in crowdpleasing comedies. Soon after he wrote As You Like It, Shakespeare abandoned comedy and turned to the composition of his major tragedies.

According to theatrical legend, Shakespeare-an actor as well as a playwright-played the old servant, Adam, when the play was presented by the Lord Chamberlain's Men (later the King's Men), the acting company of which he was a member. We have evidence that suggests this play was performed before King James I in 1603. In all likelihood it remained in the repertory of Shakespeare's company for a number of years after it was written.

As You Like It, although neglected in performance for more than a century after Shakespeare's death in 1616, has been a popular play on the stage ever since. It was revived in England for the first time in 1723 in an adaptation called Love In A Forest. This version of the play interpolated passages from other Shakespearean dramas and comedies, notably A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare's original was restored to the theatre seventeen years later. In the 19th century As you Like It was staged by a number of eminent English actor-managers including Charles Kean and William Charles Macready. In late nineteenth century America, especially, the play became a favorite with audiences. Rosalind found noteworthy interpreters in Helena Modjeska, Mary Anderson, Ada Rehan, and Julia Marlowe.

More recently, the role of Rosalind has attracted a number of leading actresses including Peggy Ashcroft, Katharine Hepburn, and Vanessa Redgrave. In 1967, the National Theatre of Great Britain staged an all-male production of the play, and in 1991 England's experimental Cheek By Jowl company mounted a similar production. Thus, modern audiences were introduced to a theatrical convention of Shakespeare's time, when young men played all the women's roles. Both productions were well received by audiences and critics and subsequently toured the United States. Also noteworthy is the Renaissance Theatre Company's 1988 Edwardian dress production in London with Kenneth Branagh as Touchstone. Today, when there are more than three hundred Shakespeare festivals worldwide, As You Like It remains one of the Bard's most well-loved and frequently produced comedies.

Places Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

*Arden Forest

*Arden Forest. Arden, William Shakespeare’s mother’s maiden name, is also an actual forest north of Stratford. Shakespeare’s forest owes more to associations with Arcadia, the legendary home of pastoral poetry, and with the Garden of Eden than to reality. In this setting the banished Duke Senior and his band of followers find a world free from envy and flattery, where a man can weep for a wounded deer and there are “books in the running brooks” and “sermons in stones.” Separated from society, it is a region of freedom where the banished Rosalind can costume herself as a man and “teach” Orlando how to woo her, and the company of courtiers, exiles, shepherds, and even country bumpkins can mingle and interact with little regard for society’s strictures. It is a haven of song and laughter, of wit and wooing, of acceptance and forgiveness, seasoned only by halfhearted criticism, which vanishes with the multiple weddings in the last act.

Orchard of Oliver’s house

Orchard of Oliver’s house. Customarily a fruitful setting, the first scene of the play serves as an ironic background for the hatred of Oliver toward his younger brother Orlando.

Duke’s palace

Duke’s palace. Although not delineated physically by Shakespeare, the scenes in the palace show a dangerous court ruled by the tyrant Duke Frederick, who arbitrarily banishes his niece Rosalind and threatens both Orlando and Oliver. In this setting the palace paranoia contrasts pointedly with the relaxed harmony of the forest.

Modern Connections

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Like many modern television situation comedies, the humor of As You Like It depends upon the audience's suspension of disbelief. We are asked, for example, to believe that Duke Senior does not recognize his own daughter in disguise. Similarly, although Orlando does not know Rosalind all that well, we would still expect that he would be able, eventually, to recognize some quality in Ganymede that would remind him of Rosalind. And also like modern sitcoms, Shakespeare's comedy also resolves all problems neatly and quickly at the end. The conversions of the early villains, Duke Frederick and Oliver, are perhaps too neat and too quick to be believable. Similarly, the marriage combinations—Oliver and Celia; Phebe and Silvius; and Touchstone and Audrey—seem to defy rationality. Beyond the confines of the play, we might imagine that the marriages between these couples might not work, since they know each other so shallowly. The coercion and deception upon which the marriage of Phebe and Silvius is based, for example, is hardly an ideal circumstance, and the marriage of Audrey and Touchstone, as Jaques suggests, "Is but for two months victuall'd" (V.iv.192), meaning that as an emotional expedition it is meagerly supplied and cannot last. The real function of neat and quick comic resolutions in this play, as in modern sitcoms, is to suggest and reinforce social values. In the idealized Elizabethan world that As You Like It presents, marriage represents an important element in social stability.

The idealized world of the Forest of Arden also functions in another way; it can be seen as a critique of the worlds of Duke Frederick's court and Oliver's hierarchical household. As You Like It is a pastoral drama, and the pastoral mode was generally accepted in Shakespeare's day as a technique for thinly veiled criticism of social institutions. Shepherds were presented as living simply in a kind of "Garden of Eden" environment remote from the ambition and deception of the court and the city. The simple basic values these shepherds living close to nature express, then, become implicit condemnations of the artificiality of all that is not natural, all that is competitive, coercive, and hierarchical. In this play, Corin is such a pastoral figure, and the simple philosophy of life he espouses can be compared with the elaborate and systematized philosophies of Jaques and Touchstone, often rendering them ridiculous in contrast. The pastoral Forest of Arden is a place in which the characters can be themselves, unpressured by the hidden desires of others. It is the modern equivalent of what we would call an emotional haven from the "rat race" of daily living, a paradisal vacation spot where a person's essence seems to surface.

The Forest of Arden operates on yet another level. It is a magical place with religious suggestions, some critics have argued. Oliver tells of a struggle in the Forest of Arden involving a serpent, typically representative of evil, and a lioness, perhaps representative of Christianity. The presence of such animals in what is ostensibly the English countryside is unexpected and certainly allows the possibility that the encounter is meant to be read allegorically. Similarly, Duke Frederick has encountered an "old religious man" (V.iv.160) and has abandoned both worldly pursuits and his plans to subdue the exiles by force. On this level, the Forest of Arden is symbolic of a spiritual realm, while Duke Frederick's court and Oliver's household represent an earthly world subject to the whims of human frailty.

As You Like It treats time in a way that is significant to our own modern era. In the Forest of Arden, there exists a timelessness in which the characters are free to pursue possibilities and live unfettered by time's constraints. In our own time, so driven by and dependent on technology, we know what it is like to be harried and constrained by time's fleeting moments. We also know, if only occasionally, the feeling of freedom from time's constant presence, those precious, unpressured moments when we can relax and be ourselves. And like the characters in As You Like It, we can decide which condition we prefer.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Halio, Jay L., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “As You Like It.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Includes essays by Helen Gardner, John Russell Brown, Marco Mincoff (on Lodge’s Rosalynde as the source), and the editor (on time and timelessness in Arden). Also includes an introduction and bibliography.

Jenkins, Harold. “As You Like It.” Shakespeare Survey 8 (1955): 40-51. Mainly concerned with the structure of the play, this essay notes the dearth of big theatrical scenes and causally linked events, which are replaced by a more complex design that emphasizes comic juxtapositions.

Knowles, Richard. “Myth and Type in As You Like It.” English Literary History 33 (1966): 1-22. Discusses the many mythical allusions in As You Like It that make the literal action reverberate beyond itself. Hercules is the dominant mythological figure, whom by analogy Orlando resembles. Biblical overtones are also discussed.

Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1974. Leggatt shows how the forest scenes provide an imaginative freedom to explore ideas and play roles. Partisan laughter against any one character in the play is discouraged, for the audience is reminded of the partiality of any single perspective.

Young, David. The Heart’s Forest: A Study of Shakespeare’s Pastoral Plays. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972. Young reviews the pastoral tradition and its salient characteristics, so important in this play, and shows how Shakespeare explored and exploited the medium of pastoral drama in As You Like It and other plays, including The Winter’s Tale (c. 1610-1611) and The Tempest (1611). A deliberate self-consciousness, he says, pervades As You Like It, whose atmosphere of artifice and hypothesis is fostered by extensive use of “if,” and whose major theme is self-knowledge.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Barber, C. L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Berry, Edward. Shakespeare's Comic Rites. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Major Literary Characters: Rosalind. New York: Chelsea House, 1992.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretation: William Shakespeare's As You Like It. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Bonazza, Blaze O. Shakespeare's Early Comedies: A Structural Analysis. The Hague: Mouton, 1966.

Brown, John Russell. Discovering Shakespeare: A New Guide to the Plays. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Bush, Geoffrey. Shakespeare and the Natural Condition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956.

Campbell, Oscar James, and Edward G. Quinn, eds. The Reader's Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. New York: Crowell, 1966.

Champion, L. S. The Evolution of Shakespeare's Comedy: A Study in Dramatic Perspective. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Derrick, Patti S. "Rosalind and the Nineteenth-Century Woman: Four Stage Interpretations." Theatre Survey 26 (November 1985): 143-162.

French, Marilyn. Shakespeare's Division of Experience. New York: Summit Books, 1981.

Frye, Northrop. "Characterization in Shakespeare's Comedy." Shakespeare Quarterly 4 (1953): 271-277.

Granville-Barker, Harley. Prefaces to Shakespeare. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965/1978.

Grebanier, Bernard. Then Came Each Actor. New York: David McKay, 1975.

Halio, Jay L., and Barbara C. Millard. As You Like It. An Annotated Bibliography, 1940-1980. New York: Garland, 1985.

Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Trans. Boleslaw Taborski. Rev. ed. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1966.

McFarland, Thomas. Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Nevo, Ruth. Comic Transformations in Shakespeare. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1981.

Odell, G. C. D. Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving. 2 vols. New York: Scribner's, 1920.

Palmer, John. Comic Characters of Shakespeare. London: Macmillan, 1946.

Parrott, Thomas M. Shakespearean Comedy. New York: Russell & Russell, 1962.

Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare's Bawdy. Rev. ed. New York: Dutton, 1969.

Reynolds, Peter. Penguin Critical Studies: As You Like It. London: Penguin, 1988.

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. London: Penguin Books, 1981.

Shaw, John. "Fortune and Nature in As You Like It." Shakespeare Quarterly 6 (1955): 45-50.

Speaight, Robert. Shakespeare On the Stage. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.

Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare's Early Comedies. London: Athlone Press, 1965.

Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1939.

Ward, John Powell. As You Like It: Twayne's New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Wilson, Edwin, ed. Shaw on Shakespeare. New York: Dutton, 1961.

Wilson, John Dover. Shakespeare's Happy Comedies. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1962.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access