Historical Background

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...

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Places Discussed

*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

Like many modern television situation comedies, the humor of As You Like It depends upon the audience's suspension of...

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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

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.