What makes As You Like It a pastoral comedy? What does "pastoral" mean?

Quick answer:

The play is pastoral in that it uses a similar style and presents a similar dichotomy of the country to the city, which aims to offer characters some form of relief from the pressures of living in towns and cities.

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This comedy is pastoral in that it is written in the tradition of many works at the time that sought to compare the simplicity of country life to the complex and stressful life of cities and towns. Pastoral literature presented the country as something of an idyllic retreat that had the potential to help town dwellers restore a helpful sense of balance through contact with nature and conversations with representatives of this pastoral way of life, shepherds and shepherdesses, who lived simpler lives than those who lived in cities and towns. It is important to recognise however that Shakespeare in this play does seek to subvert the pastoral mode. Audrey, for example, is by no means presented as a virginal, pure character who waxes lyrical about the delightful simplicity of her life as a shepherdess. However, it is clear from the beginning that Shakespeare adopts the pastoral mode in his creation of two rival camps, one in the city, and one in the Forest of Arden. Note how Charles describes the camp of Duke Senior and those who fled with him in Act I scene 1: in the forest of Arden... many young gentlemen... fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.” This dichotomy is backed up through Duke Senior's own presentation of his life and how it compares to his former life back in the city:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?

The life of "painted pomp" is directly compared to the carefree life Duke Senior currently enjoys living in the forest as if he were Robin Hood. The play is therefore a pastoral comedy through the creation and establishment of this dichotomy between urban and rural and the way in which characters enter the Forest of Arden and leave refreshed and with a new perspective on life.

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