Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Navarre. Historical kingdom in northern Spain, along the French border. In this early play, William Shakespeare depicts a conception of an ideal commonwealth. Setting the play within the king’s park underscores the struggle between man’s natural will to enjoy and society’s desire to restrict that will. The palace—which is never actually entered on stage—symbolizes the rules of the community to which the king and his gentlemen have chosen to retreat. The park itself is a representation of nature, not Rosalind’s forest of Arden, but rather a landscaped sculpture of that world designed to unite the beauty of what is natural for people to savor with the practicality of proper behavior. The king and his men swear off revelry, feasting, and women, as though these were moral deficiencies. Setting the reconciliation between their passions and their social inhibitions in this park signifies the possibility of living a life that is full both spiritually and intellectually. This understanding is appropriately brought home to them by women, nature’s consorts, and it is poetically fitting that the king and his men must take what they have learned and demonstrate it in the world for a year before they are permitted to return to the garden and reunite with their new lovers.