As You Like It Summary
As You Like It by William Shakespeare is a comedic play about two couples who fall in love between the contrasting worlds of the court and the forest.
- Duke Frederick exiles his brother, allowing his niece Rosalind to stay. She falls in love with Orlando.
- Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind, who disguises herself as a man and flees with Celia, Frederick’s daughter.
- Orlando writes love poems to Rosalind. Finding them, the disguised Rosalind persuades Orlando to woo her as if she were Rosalind.
- Phoebe falls in love with Rosalind. Oliver falls in love with Celia.
- Rosalind reveals her true identity, and all couples get married.
The comedic drama of Shakespeare’s time had two key elements that were considered essential: role reversal and a love story. As You Like It contains both elements in ample amounts. The story opens with two preexisting conflicts. First is the issue of Orlando and his brother Oliver, who dislike one another; the second is that Duke Fredrick recently usurped his duchy from his brother Senior. Orlando chooses to challenge the court wrestler, something Oliver tries to use against him, and Rosalind, the daughter of the deposed Duke Senior, falls in love with Orlando while he is wrestling. She gives him a favor, and he swoons.
Orlando then receives word that his brother wishes to harm him and flees. Rosalind is then banished by her uncle, the new Duke Fredrick. Fredrick’s daughter Celia chooses to accompany Rosalind into the Forest of Arden, following after Orlando. As they head into the forest, the comedic elements come into full effect. Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves as Ganymede and Aliena, and when they happen upon several people in love, they end up becoming involved in a complex web of relationships.
The rest of the play is devoted to Ganymede (Rosalind) teaching Orlando to “forget” his love for Rosalind by pretending they are in a relationship, which inevitably leads to Orlando and Rosalind marrying at the end. Along with their marriage, there are three other marriages at the end of the play, including that of the court fool, Touchstone, to Audrey; Celia to Oliver; and Silvius to Phoebe. Each of those relationships is worked out through the comedic mishaps and misunderstandings that come along with characters in disguise. The other conflicts in the play are solved when Orlando saves Oliver’s life in the forest and when Duke Fredrick denounces his actions and chooses to live a holy life.
The main parts of the plot of As You Like It rely on the comedic elements to make the play work. Without the hidden identities, it would be impossible for the characters to fall in love in a way that is satisfactory and happy. For example, Ganymede is a way for Rosalind to get close to Orlando, cementing Orlando’s feelings for Rosalind. At the same time, Ganymede is a device for Shakespeare to introduce conflict between Silvius and Phoebe, the shepherds. Silvius can marry Phoebe at the end, in a comedic twist, because Ganymede—to whom Phoebe has taken a liking—is not a real person. That relationship wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the comedic element of role reversal. However, because of the role-reversal in the story, the play can end with the multiple marriage and happy ending that the comedic drama requires.
One of Shakespeare's early plays, As You Like It (1598-1599), is a stock romantic comedy that was familiar to Elizabethan audiences as an exemplar of "Christian" comedy. Although the play does include two offstage spiritual conversions, the "Christian" designation does not refer to religion itself. Instead, it denotes the restoration and regeneration of society through the affirmation of certain Christian values such as brotherly love, marital union, tolerance for different viewpoints, and optimism about life at large.
The plot is very simple: the resolution of the dramatic problem in the warped attitudes of two evil brothers toward good brothers, and related obstacles to marriage...
(The entire section is 2,126 words.)