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Saturday, June 16, 2012

As You Like It by William Shakespeare Summary & Analysis

Act I, scene i


Orlando, the youngest son of the recently deceased Sir Rowland de Bois, describes his unfortunate state of affairs to Adam, Sir Rowland’s loyal former servant. Upon his father’s death, Orlando was bequeathed a mere 1,000 crowns, a paltry sum for a young man of his social background. His only hope for advancement is if his brother, Oliver, honors their father’s wish and provides him with a decent education. Oliver, as the eldest son, inherited virtually everything in his father’s estate, yet he not only neglects this charge but actively disobeys it. Although he arranges for his other brother, Jaques, to attend school, Oliver refuses to allow Orlando any education whatsoever, leaving the young man to lament that his upbringing is little different from the treatment of a piece of livestock. Orlando has long borne this ill treatment, but he admits to Adam that he feels rising within himself a great resentment against his servile condition and vows that he will no longer endure it.

Oliver enters, and the hostility between the brothers soon boils over into violence. Orlando claims that the system that allows the eldest son to inherit the bulk of a father’s estate does not reduce the ancestral blood in the other sons. Oliver, offended by his brother’s insolence, assails Orlando, while Orlando seizes Oliver by the throat. Adam tries to intervene, seeking peace in the name of their father, but the brothers do not heed him. Orlando, undoubtedly the stronger of the two, refuses to unhand his brother until Oliver promises to treat him like a gentleman, or else give him his due portion of their father’s estate so that he may pursue a gentlemanly -lifestyle on his own. Oliver hastily agrees to give Orlando part of his small inheritance and, in a rage, dismisses Orlando and Adam, whom he chastises as an “old dog” (I.i.69).

Oliver bids his servant Denis to summon Charles, the court wrestler, who has been waiting to speak to him. Oliver asks Charles for the news at court, and Charles reports that Duke Senior has been usurped by his younger brother, Duke Frederick, and has fled with a number of loyal lords to the Forest of Ardenne. Because the noblemen have forfeited their land and wealth by going into voluntary exile, Duke Frederick allows them to wander unmolested. When Oliver asks if Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, has been banished, Charles says that the girl remains at court. Not only does Duke Frederick love Rosalind as though she is his own daughter, but the duke’s daughter, Celia, has a great friendship with her cousin and cannot bear to be parted from her. Charles asserts that two ladies never loved as Celia and Rosalind do. Charles then admits his real reason for coming to see Oliver: he has heard rumors that Orlando plans to disguise himself in order to enter a wrestling match at the royal court. Because Charles’s reputation depends upon the brutal defeat of all of his opponents, he worries that he will harm Orlando. He begs Oliver to intervene on his brother’s behalf, but Oliver replies that Orlando is a conniving and deceitful scoundrel. He convinces Charles that Orlando will use poison or some other trick in order to bring down the wrestler. Charles threatens to repay Orlando in kind, and Oliver, pleased with Charles’s promise, plots a way to deliver his brother to the wrestling ring.


Shakespeare begins his play with a pair of dueling brothers, an amendment of his source material—Thomas Lodge’s popular prose romance, Rosalynde—that allows him to establish, with great economy, the corrupt nature of so-called civilized life. Oliver’s mistreatment of his brother spurs Orlando to journey into the curative Forest of Ardenne as surely as Frederick’s actions did his own brother Duke Senior, which immediately locates the play in the pastoral tradition: those wounded by life at court seek the restorative powers of the country. But fraternal hostilities are also deeply biblical and resonate with the story of Cain’s murder of Abel, an act that confirmed mankind’s delivery from paradise into a world of malignity and harm. The injustice of Oliver’s refusal to educate or otherwise share his fortune with Orlando seems all the more outrageous because it is perfectly legal. The practice of primogeniture stipulated that the eldest son inherits the whole of his father’s estate so that estates would not fragment into smaller parcels. Primogeniture was not mandated by law in Shakespeare’s England, but it was a firmly entrenched part of traditional English custom. With such a system governing society, inequality, greed, and animosity become unfortunate inevitabilities, and many younger sons in Shakespeare’s time would have shared Orlando’s resentment.

In this opening scene, Shakespeare begins to muse on another theme common in pastoral literature: the origins of gentleness. As scholar Jean E. Howard makes clear in her introduction to the play, “gentleness” refers to both nobility and a virtuous nature (p. 1591). Elizabethans were supremely interested in whether this quality could be achieved or whether one had to be born with it, and Orlando shows himself to be a man of the times. Though Oliver has denied him all forms of education and noble living, Orlando nonetheless has a desire for gentleness. As he assails Oliver, he claims that his “gentleman-like qualities” have been obscured, but feels confident that he could develop them still (I.i.59). Of course, Oliver’s behavior suggests that gentleness has little to do with being born into nobility. Though he has the vast majority of his father’s estate at his fingertips, he proves lacking in the generosity and grace that would make him a true gentleman. The audience, then, looks optimistically to Orlando, who vows to go find his fortune on his own.

The episode with the wrestler Charles is important for several reasons. First, it provides further evidence of the prejudices that rule court society. Charles visits Oliver because he worries about defeating Orlando. Although Charles is paid to be a brute, he fears that pummeling a nobleman, even one so bereft of fortune as Orlando, may win him disfavor in the court. Such deference on Charles’s part speaks to the severe hierarchy of power that structures court life. Charles also provides necessary plot explication. Through Charles’s report to Oliver, Shakespeare sketches the backdrop of his comedy: the usurpation of Duke Senior by Duke Frederick, Rosalind’s precarious situation, and the qualities of life in the Forest of Ardenne. Although set in France, the forest to which Duke Senior and his loyal lords flee is intentionally reminiscent of Sherwood Forest, the home of Robin Hood. It is, in Charles’s estimation, a remnant of “the golden world,” a time of ease and abundance from which the modern world has fallen (I.i.103). Thus, before we ever see Ardenne, which cannot be located on any map, we understand it as a place where Orlando will find the remedy he so desperately seeks.

Act I, scenes ii–iii

Summary: Act I, scene ii

Rosalind is depressed over the banishment of her father, Duke Senior. Her cousin, Celia, attempts to cheer her up. Celia promises that as the sole heir of the usurping Duke Frederick, she will give the throne to Rosalind upon his death. In gratitude, Rosalind promises to be less melancholy, and the two women wittily discuss the roles of “Fortune” and “Nature” in determining the circumstances of one’s life (I.ii.26–47). They are interrupted by the court jester, Touchstone, who mockingly tells of a knight without honor who still swore by it. Le Beau, a dapper young courtier, also arrives and intrigues them with the promise of a wrestling match featuring the phenomenal strength and skill of the wrestler Charles.

The match’s participants enter with many members of the court, including Duke Frederick, who cordially greets Rosalind and Celia. The duke remarks on the danger Charles’s young challenger faces, and he suggests that the girls attempt to dissuade the present challenger from his effort to defeat the wrestler. Rosalind and Celia agree and call to the young man, who turns out to be Orlando. Try as they might, they cannot sway him. He remains deaf to their pleas and speaks as if he has absolutely nothing to lose. Orlando and Charles wrestle, and Orlando quickly defeats his opponent. Amazed, Duke Frederick asks Orlando to reveal his identity. When Orlando responds that he is the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Bois, the duke laments that he wishes Orlando had been someone else’s son, admitting that he and Sir Rowland were enemies. Rosalind and Celia rush in to offer their congratulations, and Rosalind admits how deeply her father admired Orlando’s father. In the exchange, Orlando and Rosalind become mutually smitten, though both are too tongue-tied to confess their feelings.

Immediately after Rosalind and Celia take their leave, Le Beau warns Orlando that, though his victory and conduct deserve great praise, he will get none from Duke Frederick. In fact, La Beau says, the duke is due for a dangerous outburst. Orlando, already heartsick over Rosalind, resolves to flee from the tyrannical duke.

Summary: Act I, scene iii

Rosalind is overcome with her emotions for Orlando. Celia asks her cousin how she could possibly manage to fall in love with Orlando so quickly. Just then, Duke Frederick approaches and demands that Rosalind leave the royal court. He denounces her as a traitor and threatens her with death should she be found within twenty miles of court. Rosalind does not know how she has offended the duke and pleads her innocence, but the duke remains firm. When Rosalind asks him to explain his decision to banish her, Duke Frederick replies that she is her father’s daughter, and that is enough. Celia makes an impassioned plea on Rosalind’s behalf, but the duke condemns Rosalind for her “smoothness” and “silence,” and tries to convince his daughter that she will seem more beautiful and virtuous after Rosalind is gone (I.iii.71–72). Celia announces that in banishing Rosalind, Duke Frederick has also banished Celia, and the two women decide to seek out Duke Senior in the Forest of Ardenne. Realizing that such a journey would be incredibly dangerous for two wealthy, attractive young women, they decide to travel in disguise: Celia as a common shepherdess and Rosalind as a young man. Celia renames herself Aliena, while Rosalind dubs her disguised self Ganymede, after the cupbearer to Jove. The two decide to convince Touchstone, a clown, to accompany them on their journey.

Analysis: Act I, scenes ii–iii

As many critics have pointed out, Rosalind’s relationship with Celia suggests an element of homoeroticism. Homoeroticism differs from homosexuality in connoting feelings of desire or longing between members of the same sex, but not necessarily the desire for actual sex acts. Celia begins Act I, scene ii by challenging the depth of her cousin’s love for her, claiming that the depressed Rosalind would be content if she only returned Celia’s love. Celia’s language here conforms to conventional protestations of romantic love, and there is no doubt that the women’s friendship is remarkable. When Celia pleads with Duke Frederick to allow Rosalind to stay at court, she points out that the pair has always slept in the same bed—people normally slept two to a bed in Shakespeare’s time—and went everywhere together, “coupled and inseparable” (I.iii.70). The women’s special bond is not lost on those who witness their friendship—as Duke Frederick’s courtier, Le Beau, exclaims, the cousins share a love that is “dearer than the natural bond of sisters” (I.ii.243).

Before jumping to conclusions about the nature of Rosalind and Celia’s relationship, it is important to note that contemporary ideas about sexuality are quite different from Elizabethan ideas. Whereas people today tend to expect adherence to neatly defined and mutually exclusive categories of behavior, such as -heterosexuality or homosexuality, sexual identity was more loosely defined in Shakespeare’s England. Then, in literature and culture, if not in actual practice, Elizabethans were tolerant of same-sex couplings—indeed, homosexuality was an inescapable part of the Greek and Roman classics that made up an educated person’s culture in Shakespeare’s day. At the same time, Elizabethans could be very inflexible in their notions of the sexual and social roles that different genders play. They placed greater importance than we do on the external markers of gender such as clothing and behavior; so to Elizabethans, Rosalind’s decision to masquerade as a man may have been more thrilling than her homoerotic bond with Celia and perhaps even threatening to the social order. By assuming the clothes and likeness of a man, Rosalind treats herself to powers that are normally beyond her reach as a woman. For instance, instead of waiting to be wooed, she adopts the freedom to court a lover of her choosing. By subverting something as simple as a dress code, Rosalind ends up transgressing the Elizabethans’ carefully monitored boundaries of gender and social power.

Indeed, it is this very freedom that Rosalind seeks as she departs for the Forest of Ardenne: “Now go we in content, / To liberty, and not to banishment” (I.iii.131–132). By christening herself Ganymede, Rosalind underscores the liberation that awaits her in the woods. Ganymede is the name of Jove’s beautiful young male page and lover, and the name is borrowed in other works of literature and applied to beautiful young homosexuals. But while the name links Rosalind to a long tradition of homosexuals in literature, it does not necessarily confine her to an exclusively homosexual identity. To view Rosalind as a lesbian who settles for a socially sanctifying marriage with Orlando, or to view Celia as her jilted lover, is to relegate both of them to the unpleasantly restrictive quarters of contemporary sexual politics. The Forest of Ardenne is big enough to embrace both homosexual and heterosexual desires—it allows for both, for all, rather than either/or

Act II, scenes i–iv

Summary: Act II, scene i

The banished Duke Senior expounds on the wonders of life in the forest. He tells his associates that he prefers forest dwelling to the “painted pomp” of courtly existence (II.i.3). He reminds them that their existence in Ardenne is free from danger and that their greatest worry here is nothing worse than the cold winter wind. The woods provide Duke Senior with everything he needs, from conversation to education to spiritual edification, for he “[f]inds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything” (II.i.16–17). Lord Amiens agrees with him. The duke suggests that they hunt some venison, but he cannot help but mourn the fate of the deer, who, though natives of Ardenne, are violently slaughtered. One lord announces that the melancholy lord Jaques has seconded this observation, declaring Senior guiltier of usurpation than his loveless brother, Duke Frederick. Duke Senior, in good humor, asks one of his men to bring him to Jaques, because arguing with him is such fun.

Summary: Act II, scene ii

Back at court, Duke Frederick is enraged to discover the disappearances of Celia, Rosalind, and Touchstone; he cannot believe that the three could leave court without anyone’s notice. One attending lord reports that Celia’s gentlewoman overheard Celia and Rosalind complimenting Orlando, and she speculates that wherever the women are, Orlando is likely with them. Frederick seizes on this information and commands that Oliver be recruited to find his brother.

Summary: Act II, scene iii

Orlando returns to his former home, where the servant Adam greets him. News of the young man’s victory over Charles precedes him, and Adam worries that Orlando’s strength and bravery will be the keys to his downfall. Adam begs Orlando not to enter Oliver’s house. Oliver, he reports, having learned of Orlando’s triumph, plans to burn the place where Orlando sleeps in hopes of destroying Orlando with it. “Abhor it,” Adam warns, “fear it, do not enter it” (II.iii.29). Orlando wonders about his fate, speculating that without a home, he may be destined to eke out a living as a common highway robber. Adam suggests that the two of them take to the road with his modest life’s savings. Touched by Adam’s constant service, Orlando agrees.

Summary: Act II, scene iv

Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone arrive, safe but exhausted, in the Forest of Ardenne. The three sit down to rest, but before long they are interrupted by two shepherds: young Corin and old Silvius. The shepherds are so wrapped up in their conversation about Silvius’s hopeless love and devotion to the shepherdess Phoebe that they do not notice the three travelers. Corin, who claims to have loved a thousand times, tries to advise Silvius, but the young man, maintaining that his companion could not possibly understand the depth of his feelings, wanders off. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone approach Corin and ask where they might find a place to rest. When Corin admits that his master’s modest holdings are up for sale, Rosalind and Celia decide to buy the property.

Analysis: Act II, scenes i–iv

Pastoral literature makes a clear distinction between the quality of life and benefits of living in the city versus the country. The stresses of the former, this genre romantically suggests, may be healed by the charms of the latter; thus Act II introduces us to the Forest of Ardenne after we witness characters undergo banishment from courtly life. Although supposedly situated in France, Shakespeare’s forest bears closer resemblance to the fantastical getaway of A Midsummer Night’s Dream than to any identifiable geography. It may not be overrun with mischievous fairies and sprites, but it serves the function of correcting what has gone wrong with the everyday world. However, even with that purpose in mind, Ardenne is no Eden. Though Duke Frederick praises the forest as preferable to the artificial ceremony of the court, he takes care to describe its hardships. With its wild animals and erratic weather, Ardenne can hardly be called a paradise, and at the same time the duke celebrates Ardenne, he also draws attention to the difference between that forest and Eden or the Golden Age.

The forest is a lovely but ultimately temporary haven for the characters who seek refuge from exile. One reason for the transience of this sanctuary is that the city dwellers are, by the play’s end, ready to return to court. Jaques, a stock character who represents the melancholy brooder, suggests a more troubling reason for the temporary nature of the forest’s pristine state and restorative powers. Man, he suggests, will sooner or later mar the forest’s beauty. Grieved by the killing of the deer, Jaques claims that Duke Senior is guiltier of usurpation than his crown-robbing brother, Duke Frederick. According to Jaques, wherever men go, they bring with them the possibility of the very perils that make life in the “envious court” so unbearable (II.i.4). None of Duke Senior’s courtiers disagrees with Jaques, but the melancholy lord’s criticism lacks real sting. Indeed, Duke Senior sees Jaques as little more than entertainment, for the extremity of Jaques’s mood prompts Senior to declare amusingly, “I love to cope him in these sullen fits, / For then he’s full of matter”—matter being the word for pus in Shakespearean English (II.i.67–68). In a play that celebrates the complexity and the range of human emotions, there is little room for someone like Jaques, who knows how to sing only one tune.

With the introduction of Silvius, As You Like It begins to explore the foolishness of love as opposed to its delightfulness. Unlike Rosalind, who is equipped with enough wit to recognize the silliness of her sudden devotion to Orlando, Silvius is powerless in his attraction to Phoebe. In his laments to Corin in Act II, scene iv, he presents himself as love’s only true victim, and he implies that no one has ever loved as he loves Phoebe. Although Rosalind at first pities the shepherd’s predicament as curiously close to her own, she soon enough comes to share Touchstone’s observation on the necessary foolishness of being in love. As he watches Silvius call out to the absent Phoebe, Touchstone says, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly” (II.iv.47–49). Touchstone’s inarticulate and rude manner of speaking makes him a true touchstone for Rosalind, bringing into greater relief her supreme eloquence and wit. Here, however, he utters two essential pieces of truth: everything in the natural world is temporary, and every lover naturally behaves like a fool. But the fact that so many characters fall in love in Ardenne proves that they are less love’s victims than its willing subjects.

Act II, scenes v–vii

Summary: Act II, scene v

As Amiens strolls through the Forest of Ardenne with Jaques in tow, he sings a song inviting his listeners to lie with him “[u]nder the greenwood tree” (II.v.1), where there are no enemies but “winter and rough weather” (II.v.8). Jaques begs him to continue, but Amiens hesitates, claiming that the song will only make Jaques melancholy. The warning does not deter Jaques, who proudly claims that he can “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs” (II.v.11–12). While the other lords in attendance prepare for Duke Senior’s meal, Amiens leads them in finishing the song. Jaques follows with a verse set to the same tune, which he himself wrote. In it, he chides those foolish enough to leave their wealth and leisure for life in the forest. Amiens leaves to summon the duke to dinner.

Summary: Act II, scene vi

Orlando and Adam enter the Forest of Ardenne. Adam is exhausted from travel and claims that he will soon die from hunger. Orlando assures his loyal servant that he will find him food. Before he sets off to hunt, Orlando fears leaving Adam lying in “the bleak air” and carries him off to shelter (

Summary: Act II, scene vii

Duke Senior returns to camp to find that Jaques has disappeared. When a lord reports that Jaques has last been seen in good spirits, the duke worries that happiness in one who is typically so miserable portends discord in the universe. Just after the duke commands the lord to find Jaques, Jaques appears. He is uncharacteristically merry and explains that while wandering through the forest, he met a fool. He repeats the fool’s witty observations about Lady Fortune and proclaims that he himself would like to be a fool. In this position, Jaques reasons, he would be able to speak his mind freely, thereby cleansing “the foul body of th’infected world” with the “medicine” of his criticism (II.vii.60–61). The duke laments the sin of “chiding sin” and reminds Jaques that he himself is guilty of many of the evils he would inevitably criticize in others (II.v.64). Their playful argument is interrupted when Orlando barges onto the scene, drawing his sword and demanding food. The duke asks whether Orlando’s rudeness is a function of distress or bad breeding and, once Orlando has regained his composure, invites him to partake of the banquet. Orlando goes off to fetch Adam. Duke Senior observes that he and his men are far from alone in their unhappiness: there is much strife in the world. Jaques replies that the world is a stage and “all the men and women merely players” (II.vii.139). All humans pass through the stages of infancy, childhood, and adulthood; they experience love and seek honor, but all eventually succumb to the debility of old age and “mere oblivion” (II.vii.164). Orlando returns with Adam and all begin to eat. The duke soon realizes that Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, the duke’s old friend, and heartily welcomes the young man.

Analysis: Act II, scenes v–vii

Both Act II, scene v and Act II, scene vi deal primarily with the melancholy lord, Jaques, who offers a sullen perspective on the otherwise comedic events in Ardenne. He turns Amiens’s song about the pleasures of leisurely life into a means of berating the foresters, and he comes close to playing the part of the fool, in the sense that he turns a critical eye on a world in which he lives but does not fully inhabit. But unlike Feste in Twelfth Night or the fool in King Lear, Jaques does not demonstrate the insight or wisdom that would make his observations truly arresting or illuminating. His most impressive speech in the play begins with a familiar set piece in Elizabethan drama: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (II.vii.138–139). He goes on to describe the seven stages of a man’s life, from infancy to death, through his roles as lover and soldier, but Jaques’s observations may strike us as untrue or banal. His estimation that lovers sigh “like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress’ eyebrow” is humorous, and it certainly describes the kind of intemperate, undiscriminating affection that Silvius shows to Phoebe, or Phoebe to Ganymede (II.vii.147–148). But the criticism seems ill-suited to a play as aware and forgiving of love’s silliness as As You Like It. As a philosopher, Jaques falls short of accurately describing the complexity of Rosalind’s feelings for Orlando; his musings bear the narrow and pinched shortcomings of the habitually sullen.

Jaques’s sullenness blinds him to his own foolishness regarding life. Jaques goes on to describe man’s later years, the decline into second childhood and obliviousness, without teeth, eyesight, taste, or anything else. Countering Jaques’s unflattering picture of old age, Orlando carries Adam to the duke’s banquet table, the old man entering his final years with his loyalty, generosity of spirit, and appetite intact. Although the thought of serving as Duke Frederick’s fool appeals to him, Jaques ultimately lacks the wit, wisdom, and heart to perform the task. When he meets Touchstone in the forest, he sings the clown’s praises, quoting with glee Touchstone’s nihilistic musings on the passage of time: “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, / And then from hour to hour we rot and rot” (II.vii.26–27). Jaques does not realize that Touchstone’s “deep--contemplative” speech is a bawdy mockery of his own brooding behavior (II.vii.31). Indeed, throughout the play, Jaques remains so mired in his own moodiness that he sees very little of the world he so desperately wants to criticize. Knowing that Jaques’s eyes are trained on men’s baser instincts, the duke doubts Jaques’s ability to serve as a proper and entertaining fool. Jaques, he feels, would be a boor, berating the courtiers for sins that Jaques himself has committed. This exchange points to an important difference between Jaques and the duke: the former is committed to being unhappy in the world and will suffer in it, while the latter is happy to make the best of the world he is given and will thrive, as the title of the play seems to promise.

Act III, scenes i–ii

Summary: Act III, scene i

Oliver, who has been unable to locate Orlando, reports to Duke Frederick at court. The duke chastises him for his failure and commands him to find Orlando within a year’s time or else forfeit the whole of his property. Frederick turns Oliver out to search for Orlando and seizes his lands and worldly goods until Orlando is delivered to court.

Summary: Act III, scene ii

Orlando runs through the Forest of Ardenne, mad with love. He hangs poems that he has composed in Rosalind’s honor on every tree, hoping that passersby will see her “virtue witnessed everywhere” (III.ii.8). Corin and Touchstone enter, but are too engrossed in a conversation about the relative merits of court and country life to pay attention to Orlando’s verses. Corin argues that polite manners at court are of no consequence in the country. Touchstone asks him to provide evidence to support this thesis and then challenges the shepherd’s reasoning.

Rosalind enters, disguised as Ganymede. She reads one of Orlando’s poems, which compares her to a priceless jewel. Touchstone mocks the verse, claiming that he could easily churn out a comparable succession of rhymes. He does so with couplets that liken Rosalind to a cat in heat, a thorny rose, and a prostitute who is transported to the pillory on a cart. Rosalind rebukes Touchstone for his meddling. Just then, Celia enters disguised as the shepherdess Aliena. She, too, has found one of Orlando’s verses and reads it aloud. The women agree that the verses are terribly written, yet Rosalind is eager to learn the identity of their author. Celia teases her friend, hesitating to reveal this secret until Rosalind is nearly insane with anticipation. When Celia admits that Orlando has penned the poems, Rosalind can hardly believe it. Like a smitten schoolgirl, she asks a dozen questions about her intended lover, wanting to know everything from where he is to what he looks like.

As Celia does her best to answer these questions, despite Rosalind’s incessant interruptions, Orlando and Jaques enter. Hiding, the women eavesdrop on their conversation. Orlando and Jaques clearly do not care for one another’s company and exchange a series of barbed insults. Jaques dislikes Orlando’s sentimental love, declaring it the worst possible fault, while Orlando scoffs at Jaques’s melancholy. Eager to part, Jaques walks off into the forest, leaving Orlando alone. Rosalind decides to confront Orlando. She approaches him as the young man Ganymede, and speaks of a man that has been carving the name Rosalind on the trees. Orlando insists that he is the man so “love-shaked” and begs her for a “remedy” (III.ii.332–333). She claims to recognize the symptoms of those who have fallen under the spell of true love, and assures Orlando that he exhibits none of them. He is, she says, too neatly dressed to be madly in love. She promises to cure him if he promises to woo Ganymede as though Ganymede were Rosalind. As Ganymede, Rosalind vows to make the very idea of love unappealing to Orlando by acting the part of a fickle lover. Orlando is quite sure he is beyond cure, but Rosalind says, “I would cure you if you would but call me Rosalind and come every day to my cot, and woo me” (III.ii.381–382). With all his heart, Orlando agrees.

Analysis: Act III, scenes i–ii

In Act III, as the play moves from Duke Frederick’s court into the Forest of Ardenne, Shakespeare explores more fully the complexities of his major themes: the merits of country versus city life, and the delights and dismays of romantic love. The conversation between Touchstone and Corin in Act III, scene ii provides interesting insight into the matter of city versus country living. Although Corin concedes the argument to Touchstone, calling the clown’s high but hollow rhetoric “too courtly . . . for me,” we note that Corin’s speech is much clearer and his logic more sound than Touchstone’s (III.ii.61). Corin’s declaration that “[t]hose that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court” is not only sensible, it is also in keeping with the guiding philosophy of the play: that the world is full of contradictions that do not cancel one another out, but exist side by side (III.ii.40–42). Corin’s willingness to rest, then, is not so much an admission of defeat as a recognition that court and country, along with the style and the substance that they respectively represent, must coexist.

As the argument between Touchstone and Corin plays out, we witness the repercussions of Orlando’s lovesickness. When characters fall in love in As You Like It, they invariably fall hard and fast, abandoning all reason in their desperate attempts to win the object of desire. Orlando is no exception, as the silly and unskilled poems he tacks on the trees make clear. Here, Orlando’s behavior accords with the Petrarchan model of romantic love (Petrarch is a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose lyrics elevate the woman he loves to an unattainable, semidivine status). Orlando’s behavior leads him to great folly and prompts Jaques’s sour declaration: “The worst fault you have is to be in love” (III.ii.258). But, sour though it is, the sentiment is not Orlando’s alone. As Rosalind reads Orlando’s verses, she comments on their poor composition, but this shortcoming does not stop her from enjoying them. It is much to the play’s credit that it conceives of such irrational devotion as both a virtue and a vice. It is also the greatest testament of the depth of Rosalind’s character: only she is capacious and generous enough to welcome and thrive on such contradictions.

The play also adds an interesting twist on the stage convention of cross-dressing as Rosalind decides to use her disguise as Ganymede, in effect, to woo Orlando. The erotic possibilities here are nearly endless, considering that Rosalind dresses as a rather effeminate man and offers to provide Orlando with love lessons so that Orlando may win his beloved Rosalind. The complexities of the situation multiply when we consider that in Shakespeare’s era, Rosalind would have been played by a boy actor. As the audience watches a boy playing a woman who plays a man in order to win a man’s love, the neat borders of gender and sexuality become hopelessly muddled.

Act III, scenes iii–v

Summary: Act III, scene iii

Touchstone and a goatherd named Audrey wander through the forest, while Jaques follows behind them, eavesdropping. Touchstone laments that the gods have not made Audrey “poetical” (III.iii.12). Were she a lover of poetry, she would appreciate the falsehoods of which all lovers are guilty and would be dishonest, a quality that Touchstone prefers she possess. His reason behind encouraging her dishonesty is that to have beauty and honesty together, as he claims he does in Audrey, is “to have honey a sauce to sugar” (III.iii.25). Nevertheless, Touchstone has arranged to marry Audrey in the forest with Sir Oliver Martext, a vicar from a nearby village, officiating. Touchstone determines that many wives cheat on their husbands, but claims that the horns of cuckoldry are nothing of which to be ashamed. Oliver Martext arrives to perform the wedding ceremony and insists that someone “give the woman” so that the ceremony is “lawful” (III.iii.55–58). Jaques offers his services but convinces Touchstone that he should marry in a proper church. The clown counters that a nonchurch wedding will make for an ill marriage and that an ill marriage will make it easier for him to abandon his wife, but in the end he acquiesces. Jaques, Touchstone, and Audrey leave the rather bewildered vicar alone in the forest.

Summary: Act III, scene iv

Orlando has failed to show up for his morning appointment with Ganymede, the disguised Rosalind, and she is distraught. She wants desperately to weep. Rosalind compares Orlando’s hair to that of the infamous betrayer of Christ, Judas. Celia insists that Orlando’s hair is browner than Judas’s, and Rosalind agrees, slowly convincing herself that her lover is no traitor. Celia, however, then suggests that in matters of love, there is little truth in Orlando. A lover’s oath, Celia reasons, is of no more account than that of a bartender.

Corin enters and interrupts the women’s conversation. He explains that the young shepherd, Silvius, whose complaints about the tribulations of love Rosalind and Celia witness earlier, has decided to woo and win Phoebe. Corin invites the women to see the “pageant” of a hopeless lover and the scornful object of his desire, and Rosalind heads off to see the scene play out (III.iv.46). Indeed, she determines to do more than watch—she plans to intervene in the affair.

Summary: Act III, scene v

Silvius has confessed his love to Phoebe, but his words fall on hostile ears. As the scene opens, he pleads with her not to reject him so bitterly, lest she prove worse than the “common executioner,” who has enough decency to ask forgiveness of those he kills (III.v.3). Rosalind and Celia, both still disguised, enter along with Corin to watch Phoebe’s cruel response. Phoebe mocks Silvius’s hyperbolic language, asking why he fails to fall down if her eyes are the murderers he claims them to be. Silvius assures her that the wounds of love are invisible, but Phoebe insists that the shepherd not approach her again until she too can feel these invisible wounds. Rosalind steps out from her hiding place and begins to berate Phoebe, proclaiming that the shepherdess is no great beauty and should consider herself lucky to win Silvius’s love. Confronted by what appears to be a handsome young man who treats her as harshly as she treats Silvius, Phoebe instantly falls in love with Ganymede. Rosalind, realizing this infatuation, mocks Phoebe further. Rosalind and Celia depart, and Phoebe employs Silvius, who can talk so well of love, to help her pursue Ganymede. Phoebe claims that she does not love Ganymede and wonders why she failed to defend herself against such criticism. She determines to write him “a very taunting letter,” and orders Silvius to deliver it (III.v.135).

Analysis: Act III, scenes iii–v

Although we learn of the romance between Audrey and Touchstone rather late in the game, the relationship is important to the play for many reasons. First, it produces laughs because of the incongruities between the two lovers. Touchstone delights in words and verbiage. He obsesses over them, wrings multiple—and often bawdy—meanings from them, and usually ends up tangling himself and others in them. That he chooses to wed Audrey, a simple goatherd who fails to comprehend the most basic vocabulary—the words “features,” “poetical,” and “foul” are all beyond her grasp—ensures the laughable absurdity of their exchange (III.iii.4, 13–14, 31). Indeed, the play offers few moments more outrageous than Audrey’s declaration of virtue: “I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul” (III.iii.31).

The rustic romance between Audrey and Touchstone also provides a pointed contrast with the flowery, verbose love of Silvius for Phoebe or Orlando for Rosalind. Whereas Phoebe and Silvius are caught up in the poetics of love—with the man in agonizing pursuit of an unattainable but, to his mind, perfect lover—the attraction between Touchstone and Audrey is far from idealized. Indeed, if Audrey cannot grasp the meaning of the word “poetical,” there is little hope that she will be able to fulfill the part dictated to her by literary convention. Ideals have little to do with Touchstone’s affections for Audrey. By his own admission, the clown’s passions are much easier to understand. In explaining to Jaques his decision to marry Audrey, Touchstone says, “As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires” (III.iii.66–67). Here, Touchstone equates his sexual desire to various restraining devices for animals. Sexual gratification, or “nibbling,” to use Touchstone’s phrase, will keep his otherwise untamed passions in check (III.iii.68).

Although Silvius and Phoebe’s and Touchstone and Audrey’s are two very different kinds of love relationships, taken together they form a complete satire of the two major influences on the play—-pastoralism and courtly love. In pastoral literature, city dwellers take to the country in order to commune with and learn valuable lessons from its inhabitants. Audrey represents a truly rural individual, uncorrupted by the politics of court life, but she is, in all respects, far from ideal. In her supreme want of intelligence, Audrey shows the absurd unreality of the pastoral ideal of eloquent shepherds and shepherdesses. Silvius aspires to such eloquence and nearly achieves it, and his poetic plea for Phoebe’s mercy conforms to the conventions of the distraught but always lyrically precise lover. But Phoebe exposes the absurdity of Silvius’s lines by dragging romance into the harsh, unforgiving light of reality. When taken literally, his insistence that his lover’s eyes are his “executioner” (III.v.3) seems hopelessly lame when Phoebe demands, “Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee” (III.v.20).

If Audrey and Touchstone’s and Phoebe and Silvius’s relationships stand at opposite ends of the romance continuum, then -Rosalind, in her courtship of Orlando, struggles to find a more livable middle ground. Although Phoebe wisely points out the literal flaws in Silvius’s verse, she cannot help falling into the same trap herself regarding Ganymede. In the entire play, only Rosalind can appreciate both the ideal and the real. Although she possesses the unflinching vision required to chastise Phoebe for her cruelty and Silvius for his blindness to it, she cannot help but indulge in the absurdity of romantic love, allowing herself to have a fit over Orlando’s tardiness. This inconsistency may explain why Rosalind is such a seductive, winning character: in her ability to experience and appreciate all emotions, she appeals to everyone.

Act IV, scenes i–ii

Summary: Act IV, scene i

Jaques approaches Rosalind, who is still in her disguise as Ganymede, wishing to become better acquainted. Rosalind criticizes Jaques for the extremity of his melancholy. When Jaques claims that “’tis good to be sad and say nothing,” Rosalind compares such activity to being “a post” (IV.i.8–9). Jaques defends himself, outlining for Rosalind the unique composition of his sadness, but Rosalind gets the better of him and he departs.

Orlando arrives an hour late for his lesson in love. As agreed, he addresses Ganymede as if the young man were his beloved Rosalind and asks her to forgive his tardiness. Rosalind refuses, insisting that a true lover could not bear to squander “a part of the thousand part of a minute in the affairs of love” (IV.i.40–41). She goes on to suggest that Orlando’s love is worse than a snail’s, for though a snail comes slowly, he carries his house on his back. Eventually, though, Rosalind relents and invites Orlando to woo her. The lesson begins: when he says that he desires to kiss her before speaking, she suggests that he save his kiss for the moment when conversation lags. What, Orlando worries, should he do if his kiss is denied? Rosalind reassures him that a denied kiss would only give him “new matter” to discuss with his lover (IV.i.69–70). When Rosalind refuses his affections, Orlando claims he will die. She responds that, despite the poet’s romantic imagination, no man in the entire history of the world has died from a love-related cause.

Rosalind then changes her mood, assuming a “more coming-on disposition” (IV.i.96). She accepts and returns Orlando’s declarations of love and urges Celia to play the part of a priest and marry them. Rosalind reminds Orlando that women often become disagreeable after marriage, but Orlando does not believe this truism of his love. He begs leave in order to dine with Duke Senior, promising to return within two hours. Rosalind teasingly chastises him for parting with her but warns him not to be a minute late in keeping his promise. After Orlando departs, Celia berates Rosalind for so badly characterizing the female sex. Rosalind responds by exclaiming how vast her love for Orlando has grown. Only Cupid, she says, can fathom the depth of her affection.

Summary: Act IV, scene ii

Jaques and some of Duke Senior’s loyal followers kill a deer and decide to present it to the duke. They plan to set the animal’s horns upon the hunter’s head as a crown of victory. Jaques asks the men to sing a song that fits the occasion. They launch into a tune about cuckoldry, which is symbolized by a man with horns on his head. The song proclaims that cuckoldry is timeless and borne by all men, and thus it is not something of which to be ashamed.

Analysis: Act IV, scenes i–ii

When Rosalind chastises Jaques for his oppressively melancholy ramblings, her words serve as a general criticism of the extremes to which the characters go in the play. Jaques admits that he is indeed the “melancholy fellow” of whom Rosalind has heard tell, and Rosalind upbraids him by saying, “Those that are in extremity of either [laughter or melancholy] are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards” (IV.i.3–7). Here, Rosalind speaks out not only against Jaques’s willful sadness, but against the myriad excesses found around her. From Silvius’s whimpering devotion to Phoebe’s hauteur, to the crudely physical attraction of Audrey and Touchstone, to Jaques’s melancholy, every type of extreme behavior in As You Like It is subject to mockery.

It is a testament to the clarity of Rosalind’s vision that she does not spare herself or Orlando from this condemnation of extremes. When Orlando claims that he will die of love, Rosalind disproves him with one of the play’s most famous and delightful speeches. Her insistence that literature has misrepresented and unduly romanticized the world’s greatest lovers is a stringent antidote to Orlando’s mewling, and supports Touchstone’s earlier observation that “the truest poetry is the most feigning, and lovers are given to poetry; and what they swear in poetry it may be said, as lovers, they do feign” (III.iii.15–17). After dismantling Orlando’s model of love, Rosalind goes on to assail the men who follow the model, claiming that the greatest romantics are transformed by marriage into inattentive, uncaring dictators. In addition to the jesting, there is a serious element of self-preservation in Rosalind’s famous observation that “men are April when they woo, December when they wed” (IV.i.124–125). When, on two occasions, Orlando is late for their appointment, Rosalind fears that her lover’s devotion might not be steadfast, but she also knows that the thrill of romance is short-lived. Over time, love weathers and even dulls, an unhappy but inevitable truth that only Rosalind stops to consider: “the sky changes,” she admits, “when [maids] are wives” (IV.i.126–127).

Rosalind might be construed as a spoilsport, out to ruin everyone else’s fun by exposing the crumbling foundations of their love fantasies, but there is much more to her than this simplistic interpretation. Certainly, even her closest confidante Celia misunderstands her, claiming that Rosalind, in her attempts to drain the excess of Orlando’s romanticism, has succeeded in disparaging the entire female sex. Rosalind’s goal is less to represent the female gender than to show Orlando that, just as there is no such thing as a perfect and heroic love, there is also no such thing as an ideal and ideally worthy woman. By stripping Orlando and herself of the ideals that preoccupy him, Rosalind prepares them both for love in the real world, for a love that strikes a balance between the transcendent and the familiar, and for a love that blends the loftiness of Silvius’s poetry with the baseness of Touchstone’s desires. Thus, Rosalind’s attacks on Orlando’s idea of love are not an attack on love itself. After all, Rosalind herself is clearly and deeply in love. Her attempts to furnish Orlando with a more realistic understanding of love are a means of ensuring that their relationship will thrive in a world less enchanted than Ardenne.

Act IV, scene iii


Rosalind and Celia, still in disguise, briefly discuss Orlando’s tardiness. Two hours have passed, and he has not returned, as promised, to resume his love lessons. Silvius interrupts in order to deliver a letter to Ganymede. It is from Phoebe and, after he turns it over, Silvius warns the disguised Rosalind that its tone is harsh. Phoebe, he admits, looked very angry when she penned it. Rosalind scans the letter and reports that Phoebe judges Ganymede to be a young man without looks or manners. She then accuses Silvius of writing the letter himself, which he vehemently denies. Rosalind asserts that no woman could have written such a rude and defiant letter. To prove herself, she reads the letter aloud, but it turns out to be full of unabashedly romantic declarations, comparing Ganymede to a god who has destroyed Phoebe’s heart. Baffled, Silvius asks if this language is what Ganymede calls chiding. Celia offers her pity to the shepherd, but Rosalind says he deserves none for loving such a woman as Phoebe. She sends Silvius back to Phoebe with the message that Ganymede will never love Phoebe unless Phoebe loves Silvius.

As Silvius leaves, Oliver enters. He asks for directions to Ganymede and Aliena’s cottage. Then, looking over the pair, who are still in disguise, he asks if they are the brother and sister who own that property. When they admit that they are, Oliver remarks that his brother Orlando’s description of the pair was very accurate. To Ganymede, Oliver delivers a bloody handkerchief on Orlando’s behalf. Rosalind asks what has happened. Oliver tells a lengthy story: soon after leaving Ganymede, Orlando stumbled upon a ragged man asleep in the forest, who was being preyed upon by a “green and gilded snake” (IV.iii.107). Orlando succeeded in scaring the snake away, only to see a hungry lioness emerge from the underbrush. Orlando approached the ragged man, and recognized him as his brother. Orlando’s first impulse was to let Oliver, who treated him so abominably, perish in the lion’s jaws, but his nobler nature would not allow it. He fought off the lion, wounding his shoulder but ultimately saving Oliver’s life. Orlando’s kind and selfless gesture have transformed Oliver into a new man, and the elder brother confesses that he is ashamed of his former self. He continues, saying that he and Orlando made amends and went to see the duke. There, Orlando fainted, having lost a great deal of blood in his fight with the lioness. Before passing out completely, he charged Oliver to deliver an apology to Ganymede in the form of a bloodstained handkerchief. Upon hearing this story, Rosalind faints dead away. Celia and Oliver help her recover, and Oliver remarks that young Ganymede “lack[s] a man’s heart” (IV.iii.163–164). Rosalind begs Oliver to impress upon Orlando how well she “counterfeited” a suitable reaction to his injury, in accordance with their lessons (IV.iii.167). Oliver protests that her reaction must be genuine, for her face is flushed. Rosalind, however, assures him that she was merely playing a part.


In Act IV, scene iii, the play takes two important steps toward its resolution. First, Rosalind begins to tire of the game she plays. Her disguise as Ganymede allows her a number of freedoms that she could not enjoy as a woman: she can leave court, travel safely into the forest, express sexual desire, and initiate a romantic courtship. But her disguise also has its limitations. After all, it disables her from consummating her relationship with Orlando, and Rosalind does not relish the idea of acting out the indefinitely protracted desire depicted in Petrarch’s love poetry. If Orlando were willing to test the bounds of their fiction and have sex with Ganymede, he would discover Rosalind’s true identity. Even if Orlando already suspects that Ganymede is Rosalind, as some critics suggest he must, he could not very well pursue a sexual relationship with her unless they were properly married. To do so would be to compromise Rosalind’s virtue and denigrate her incomparably delightful character. Besides, Rosalind’s disguise is meant to be temporary yet powerful, just like the temporary yet critical move to Ardenne.

As noted previously, Elizabethans placed a great importance upon outward markers of identity such as dress and behavior. A cross-dressing woman presents a very amusing spectacle temporarily, but the ruse cannot be maintained indefinitely. Such a sustained subversion of the social order would bring chaos, and Shakespeare takes care to remind us that a woman in man’s clothing is still a woman, returning to his Elizabethan audience’s expectations of gendered behavior. For example, upon hearing of Orlando’s trial with the lioness, Rosalind faints, prompting Oliver to remark that she lacks “a man’s heart” (IV.iii.163–164), to which she responds, “So I do; but, i’faith, I should have been a woman by right” (IV.iii.173–174). This call and response signals to the audience that the game is still a game, that Ganymede is little more than a pair of pants, and that Rosalind, though smart enough to avoid temporarily her proper place in society, is ultimately willing to resume it.

The arrival of Oliver offers a second movement toward resolution. When the previously evil Oliver steps foot in Ardenne, he is transformed into the loving brother he never was before. This transformation speaks to the mutability of the human experience: people can change and, as As You Like It insists, can change for the better. Certainly this transformation has much to do with the movement from court into the country. Once removed from the politics and pressures of life at court, the obstacles, greed, and petty jealousies that separate the brothers dissolve. Although the play at several points satirizes the pastoral mode for its simplicity and unreality, here it indulges in the pastoral fantasy that nature can heal the wounds inflicted by the artificial and corrupt hierarchies of the man-made world.

Act V, scenes i–iii

Summary: Act V, scene i

Touchstone and Audrey wander through the forest discussing their postponed marriage. Audrey claims that the priest was qualified to perform the ceremony, regardless of Jaques’s opinion. Switching topics, Touchstone mentions that there is a youth in the forest who loves Audrey. Just then, William, the youth in question, appears. Touchstone asks William if he is witty, and William responds that he is. Touchstone then asks if William is in love with Audrey. Again, the young man responds affirmatively. When Touchstone asks William if he is educated, William admits that he is not, and Touchstone sets out to teach him a lesson. “[T]o have is to have,” he says, meaning that Audrey, to whom he is engaged, is not available to other men (V.i.37). He orders William to leave, employing an exhaustive list of synonyms so that the simple lad is sure to understand him. William exits, just as Corin enters to fetch the couple on Rosalind’s behalf.

Summary: Act V, scene ii

Orlando finds it hard to believe that Oliver has fallen so quickly and so completely in love with Aliena. Oliver vows that he has and pledges to turn over the entirety of his father’s estate to Orlando once he and Aliena are married. Orlando gives his consent and orders a wedding prepared for the following day. Oliver leaves just as Rosalind, still disguised as Ganymede, arrives. Orlando confesses that though he is happy to see his brother in love, he is also pained to be without his Rosalind. Rosalind asks—with a hint of a sexual double entendre—if Ganymede cannot fill Rosalind’s place, and Orlando admits that he has tired of wooing a young man in his lover’s stead. Assuring Orlando that she can work magic, Rosalind promises that he will marry as he desires when Oliver takes Aliena for a bride. Just then, Phoebe and Silvius appear. Phoebe accuses Ganymede of “ungentleness,” and Rosalind encourages her to devote her attentions to Silvius (V.i.67). The lovers take turns professing their various loves until Rosalind tells them to stop howling like “Irish wolves against the moon” (V.i.101–102). She promises that Ganymede will marry Phoebe on the following day if Ganymede will ever marry a woman and makes everyone promise to meet the next day at the wedding. They all agree. The group parts until Oliver’s wedding.

Summary: Act V, scene iii

Touchstone looks forward to his marriage to Audrey on the following day. Audrey admits her excitement as well, but she hopes that her desire to be married does not compromise her chastity. The couple meets two of Duke Senior’s pages. Touchstone, in a good mood, asks for a song. The pages oblige, singing of springtime and the blossoming of love. When the song ends, Touchstone claims that the song made little sense and that the music was out of tune. The pages disagree, but Touchstone is unmoved by their arguments: to him, the song was hopelessly foolish.

Analysis: Act V, scenes i–iii

In the encounter between Touchstone and William, the sophistication of the court overwhelms the simplicity and ignorance of the country. But though Touchstone clearly defeats William in the country boy’s attempt to win Audrey, his performance strikes us as farcical rather than triumphant. Touchstone may not be as ignorant as the uneducated country boy, but his inflated rhetoric makes him appear the more foolish of the two. Touchstone dazzles William with his city wit, for the lad lacks the means to see the ridiculousness of Touchstone’s threats. But, to audiences watching Touchstone’s tirade, the style and sophistication of the city may lose its luster.

In Act V, scene iii, Touchstone goes on to deflate the spiritually idealized brand of love. As the duke’s pages sing a ballad that compares love to springtime, indulging every cliché from sweet lovers to trilling birds, Touchstone dismisses the song as senseless. His criticism recalls Rosalind’s dismissal of literature’s greatest lovers in Act IV, scene i, but it fails to convince. Whereas Rosalind’s criticism seems imbued with a wide-ranging and generous understanding of the world, Touchstone’s opinion seems narrow and begrudging. Although Touchstone is fundamentally correct in denying that love and budding springtime are one and the same, he remains blind to the song’s undeniable beauty. Spring may not, in truth, be only a matter of “green cornfield[s]” and a “hey ding-a-ding ding,” but the song captures something of the truth—the nonsense, irrationality, and sheer beauty of being in love (V.iii.16–18). One cannot expect Touchstone to see this splendor, given his rather myopic focus on the mechanics of sex. Again, his insight is most valuable as a contrast to that of Rosalind, who could well enjoy the page’s song even as she absorbs its silliness.

Quick, irrational love is contagious in the Forest of Ardenne, as evidenced by Oliver’s head-over-heels involvement with the disguised Celia. At court, Oliver would have no cause to notice, let alone fall in love with, a common shepherdess, but in Ardenne the injustices of class are cast aside for the sake of romance. Oliver’s happy union brings about a swift end to Rosalind’s game: she cannot stand to see her beloved Orlando jealous and unhappy, and so determines to hang up Ganymede’s trousers. Her plan is quite clear as she strikes a marriage bargain with Phoebe, and we see the inevitability of a slew of weddings on the horizon. Some critics condemn the play at this point for what they see as a return to the normative social order that it has, thus far, delighted in subverting. As the close of the final act draws near, it is no surprise that the boys end up with the girls, and that life at court resumes, presumably, with its rigid class structures in place—in short, that all returns to normal.

Act V, scene iv & Epilogue

Summary: Act V, scene iv

On the following day, Duke Senior asks Orlando if he believes that Ganymede can do all that he has promised. With them, Oliver, Celia disguised as Aliena, Amiens, and Jaques have gathered to see whether the miracle of multiple marriages will be performed. Rosalind enters in her customary disguise, followed by Silvius and Phoebe. She reminds all parties of their agreements: the duke will allow Orlando to marry Rosalind, if she appears, and Phoebe will marry Ganymede unless unforeseen circumstances make her refuse, in which case she will marry Silvius. Everyone agrees, and Rosalind and Celia disappear into the forest.

While they are gone, Duke Senior notes the remarkable resemblance of Ganymede to his own daughter—an opinion that Orlando seconds. Touchstone and Audrey join the party. Touchstone entertains the company with the description of a quarrel he had. As he finishes, Rosalind and Celia return, dressed as themselves and accompanied by Hymen, the god of marriage. Phoebe, realizing that the young man she loves is, in fact, a woman, agrees to marry Silvius. Hymen marries the happy couples: Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Phoebe and Silvius, and Touchstone and Audrey. A great wedding feast begins.

Halfway through the festivities, Jaques de Bois, the middle brother of Oliver and Orlando, arrives with the information that Duke Frederick mounted an army to seek out Duke Senior and destroy him. As he rode toward the Forest of Ardenne, Duke Frederick met a priest who converted him to a peace-loving life. Jaques de Bois goes on to report that Frederick has abdicated his throne to his brother and has moved to a monastery. All rejoice, happy in the knowledge that they can return to the royal court. Only Jaques decides that he will not return to court. He determines to follow Duke Frederick’s example and live a solitary and contemplative existence in a monastery. The wedding feast continues, and the revelers dance as everyone except Rosalind exits the stage.

Summary: Epilogue

Rosalind steps forward and admits that the play is breaking theatrical customs by allowing a female character to perform the epilogue. But the play, she says, improves with the epilogue, and so she asks the audience’s indulgence. She will not beg for the audience’s approval, for she is not dressed like a beggar. Instead, she will “conjure” them (Epilogue, 9). She begins with the women, asking them to like as much of the play as pleases them “for the love [they] bear to men” (Epilogue, 10–11). She asks the same of the men, saying that if she were a woman—for all the female roles in Renaissance theater were played by men—she would kiss as many of them as were handsome and hygienic. She is sure the compliment would be returned, and that the men will lavish her with applause as she curtseys.

Analysis: Act V, scene iv & Epilogue

In the play’s final act, Rosalind makes good on her promise to “make all this matter even,” that is, to smooth out the remaining romantic entanglements (V.iv.18). Both Duke Senior and Orlando seem to have discovered Rosalind’s game by this time, and, indeed, Orlando might well have known Ganymede’s true identity from the start: “My lord, the first time that I ever saw him, / Methought he was a brother to your daughter” (V.iv.28–29). That Rosalind’s identity is known before she reveals it does nothing to undermine the charm of her spell. On the contrary, her lover would not be any less willing than the audience to play along with her charms.

Rosalind’s love for Orlando requires the blessing of marriage in order to have currency in the world beyond the forest. Hymen, by his own declaration, is a god not of the forest but “of every town,” and it is to town that the lovers will now return (V.iv.135). This movement should not be read as a simple victory of city over country, especially when we consider that one location necessitates the other: only a respite in the country could mend what civilization had broken. Although As You Like It draws discernable lines between the merits of town and country, heterosexual and homosexual unions, artifice and nature, youth and age, and idealism and realism, it refuses to take a definitive stand on any issue. Rather, the play insists on the complexity of life by allowing for the crossing of such boundaries. The characters’ delight in transcending these boundaries suggests a utopia where human existence is no less joyous for all its absurdities and hardships, and one where all that has been broken can, to some degree, be rebuilt. The play’s hopeful vision is one in which not everyone can or will share, as the implacable Jaques makes clear, but it is one to which most of us are only too delighted to cling.

The Epilogue, in which one of the actors remains onstage after the play has ended, was a standard part of many plays in Elizabethan times. An epilogue proves a convenient way to tie up loose ends, to distill the thematic concerns of the play into a neat speech, and to ask the audience for applause. But Shakespeare explodes the conventions of the form when he allows Rosalind to take the stage. Not only has Rosalind dropped her disguise as Ganymede, but the boy actor playing Rosalind lets slip the mask of Rosalind. When he solicits the approval of the men in the audience, he says, “If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me” (Epilogue, 14–16). The dizzying intermingling of homosexual and heterosexual affections that govern a man pretending to be woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in the hopes of seducing a man reiterates the play’s celebration of the wonderful complexities of human life.

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