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.
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.
As You Like It was probably written in 1599 or 1600, at the midway point of Shakespeare's career as...
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