How is human perception explored in As You Like It?

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In As You Like It, human perception is explored in relationship to love, gender, and rural settings. The misleading quality of appearances is emphasized throughout. Some characters deliberately disguise themselves, while others make serious errors based on inaccurate perception. One important theme is the tendency of urban people to romanticize the rural setting, which Shakespeare implies is a false perception.

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William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It explores numerous dimensions of human perception. One central theme of the play is the superficial, shifting quality of appearances. The idea that people are not whom they seem to be correlates with Jaques’s “all the world’s a stage” speech. Three main areas in which altered or inaccurate perceptions are developed are love, gendered self-representation, and the valuing of rural settings.

Errors in perception as related to love and gender are exemplified in the romance between Rosalind and Orlando, much of which is conducted when she is disguised as Ganymede. A parallel is established between Phebe and Ganymede. Although Rosalind’s original intention in using transvestism was self-preservation so she could travel safely, she finds that self-representation as a person of a different gender has numerous advantages. She is in a privileged position regarding perception, as she can learn about Orlando’s feelings. In contrast, he is in the dark as to her true identity.

Duke Senior’s exile in the Forest of Arden provides for a wide range of comments on human perceptions of environment. To the Duke, the forest is an idyllic setting, as it provides refuge from the intrigues of court and an opportunity for rest and relaxation. His romantic vision of the forest disregards the hardships that permanent residents experience. Touchstone both mocks and endorses the virtues of Arden, while Jaques provides an alternate, primarily critical view.

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