As You Like It
Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, is fed up. Since his father's death, his oldest brother,
Oliver, has refused to give Orlando either the proper education or the money that Sir Rowland intended for
him. Oliver hates Orlando. When he learns that Orlando intends to try his skill against a professional wrestler
named Charles, Oliver incites Charles to kill Orlando in their match.
The country is ruled by Duke Frederick, who seized the throne from his own older brother by force. The
wronged brother, Duke Senior, has been exiled to the Forest of Arden with many of his lords. His daughter,
Rosalind, however, has remained at court. She and Duke Frederick's daughter, Celia, love each other like
Observing Orlando and Charles preparing for their match, Rosalind and Celia fear that the wrestler will
hurt Orlando. Much to everybody's surprise, Orlando defeats Charles. But when Duke Frederick finds out
that Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, who was once his enemy, he coldly dismisses the young man and
leaves. The ladies offer Orlando a word of congratulation, and as they do so, it is clear that Rosalind and
Orlando have already fallen in love.
Duke Frederick accuses Rosalind of stealing the people's affection away from his own daughter. As a
punishment, she must leave the city or be put to death. Celia, who cares more for Rosalind than for her
wicked father, resolves to run away with her cousin to the Forest of Arden. For safety's sake, Celia disguises
herself as a peasant girl, named Aliena, while Rosalind dons a boy's outfit and assumes the name Ganymede.
They convince Duke Frederick's court fool (clown), Touchstone, to go with them.
When Duke Frederick discovers that Celia and Rosalind are missing, he assumes they are with Orlando
and angrily commands Oliver to find them and bring his daughter back. Meanwhile, warned by his father's old
servant Adam that Oliver intends to murder him, Orlando has fled with Adam to the Forest of Arden.
After a long, hard journey, the ladies and Touchstone arrive in the forest. Rosalind arranges with Corin,
an old shepherd, to buy a cottage for them and a flock of sheep.
Orlando and Adam finally reach Arden. Tired and starving, they find a haven in the camp of Duke Senior
(Rosalind's father) and his lords.
Orlando now turns his thoughts to love. He writes passionate but amateurish poems to his beloved
Rosalind and hangs them on the trees. He doesn't know, of course, that she is in the forest. She discovers the
poems and is thrilled that Orlando is near.
Disguised as Ganymede, Rosalind finds Orlando in the forest and strikes up a conversation with him. He
never suspects her true identity. Adopting a cynical attitude toward women, Rosalind tells Orlando that his
lovesick behavior is foolish. She offers to cure him of love by playing a game with him. She will pretend to be
his Rosalind. If he will woo her, she will demonstrate how impossible women are. Although he doesn't want
to be cured, Orlando agrees to play along. They plan to meet the next day to begin the "love
While waiting for Orlando to keep their appointment, Rosalind observes a young shepherd named Silvius
wooing Phebe, a shepherdess. Phebe scorns Silvius, who swears that her rejection will kill him. Rosalind
soon has heard enough. She steps in and berates Phebe for her cruelty. Thinking that Rosalind is a man, Phebe
immediately falls in love with her! Rosalind, of course, rejects Phebe and quickly leaves.
Orlando finally arrives for his first dose of love cure. After Ganymede demonstrates how difficult women
can be, Orlando leaves, promising to return shortly.
Silvius shows up with a letter from Phebe to Ganymede. He assumes that it's an angry message. But when
Rosalind reads it aloud, he's dismayed to learn he's brought a love letter. Rosalind sends the crushed lover
back to Phebe.
Then Oliver, Orlando's brother enters, bearing a message for the "youth" Rosalind. It seems
that Orlando has just saved Oliver's life by fighting and killing a fierce lioness that was ready to attack. As a
result, Oliver has seen and renounced the evil of his ways.
Celia and Oliver fall in love at first sight. Their joy only increases Orlando's sadness at being separated
from Rosalind. Ganymede offers to make Rosalind appear the next day by magic.
The following day, all the lovers gather at Duke Senior's camp. Touchstone arrives with Audrey, a country
wench he's decided to marry. Rosalind reveals her true identity, paving the way for a joyful conclusion to the
story. Rosalind will marry Orlando; Oliver and Celia will wed; Phebe, seeing that Ganymede is a woman,
decides she loves Silvius after all; and Touchstone and Audrey will marry.
Before the celebrating can begin, a message arrives that Duke Frederick, who set out into the forest with
the intention of killing Duke Senior, has met an old religious man along the way and been converted. Duke
Senior's lands and position are therefore restored to him. After music and dancing, Rosalind asks the lovers in
the audience to bid her farewell with their applause.
[As You Like It Contents]
Rosalind's function in the plot of As You Like It is vital. Once circumstances have driven all the major
characters to the Forest of Arden, Rosalind either causes or contributes to all the major conflicts. It is she
who resolves them all in the end.
She's a complex and deeply human character. In Act I, you are first struck by her wit as she and Celia joke
about such subjects as love and luck. At the same time, Shakespeare reminds you that Rosalind is an outsider,
even in the court where she has grown up. Her father, the rightful duke, has been exiled. Although Rosalind
misses him terribly, she will laugh and joke for her friend Celia's sake.
Rosalind has the ability to rise above her own deeply felt emotions. Her love for Orlando makes her feel
as giddy as any lovesick adolescent. (Look at her excitement when she learns that Orlando is in the forest.)
She could easily surrender to the temptation to run around reciting poetry and swearing to die for love.
Instead, she administers a love cure to Orlando that makes both of them stand back and take a good look at
how ridiculous many conventional attitudes toward love really are. Thus, she avoids confusing the "idea
of love" with love itself.
She is also remarkably clever. She makes up the love cure on the spot and quickly invents an uncle and a
magician to justify the stories she tells. And she's practical enough to be sure that she and Celia acquire a
place to live as soon as they reach Arden.
Rosalind is a good judge of character. She appreciates the skill of Touchstone, the court fool, and
immediately sees through the pretensions of Jaques, Duke Senior's melancholy attendant. She has only to
observe Silvius and Phebe for a few moments in order to size up their situation accurately.
Finally, you should take note of her courage. She boldly tells the usurping duke that her father was no
traitor. It also takes spunk to go on a dangerous journey disguised as a man because highwaymen would
probably attack the man first.
Readers' opinions about Orlando tend to fall into two camps. Some view him as the embodiment of all the
virtues a Renaissance gentleman should possess. Others consider him dull and even stupid.
Even his brother Oliver, who hates him, admits that Orlando is well thought of in the community. He's
considered gentle and naturally noble. Although he's physically strong (as his defeat of Charles the wrestler
proves), he will not harm his brother. He should respect his older brother, and he does. Later, even after Oliver
has plotted to kill him, Orlando only hesitates a moment before risking his life to save Oliver's. When
Orlando and his faithful old servant Adam are starving, Orlando will not eat a bite until he has seen to the old
man's needs. Such courtesy must be a product of his nature, because he's been denied a gentleman's education.
So, Orlando is strong, gentle, and noble. Is he witty and intelligent, too? He does outsmart Jaques in a
contest of words. But nobody would read his love poems and find much to praise in them. As a lover, he
tends to be a bit sappy. Without Rosalind's help, he could be another Silvius. Does that make him a fool?
Rosalind must see hope for him. Under her guidance, he does improve.
Do you see Orlando's weaknesses as indications that he's noble but not very intelligent? Or do you regard
them as the kinds of imperfections that make him more human?
In Act I, Celia has just as much to do and say as Rosalind. She fades into the background, however, as the
play goes on. Although she remains undeveloped, many readers find her a charming character. She and
Rosalind share a deep, loving friendship, and her importance is a function of that relationship.
First, she serves as a confidant, a person with whom Rosalind can talk openly about her feelings. While
Rosalind hides her true emotions in her scenes with Orlando, she is absolutely honest with Celia.
What raises Celia from dramatic device (someone serving merely to help the play along) to a character
who is interesting in her own right is her wit. From their first appearance, Celia matches Rosalind in her ease
with words. Since Celia doesn't fall in love until nearly the end of the play, she also retains her cool
judgment. Thus, when Rosalind expresses her own romantic feelings, Celia is there to undercut them with
Jaques (pronounced "Jake-ways" or "Jake-weez") has been the focus of much
debate. Is he a caricature of the many self-styled social critics Shakespeare saw around him? Or is he a
genuine critic of society who voices Shakespeare's own cynical view of life? Many readers see Jaques as a
"railer," a professional griper who adopts a melancholy pose. Is he profound or foolish? That you
can even ask such questions is a tribute to Shakespeare's genius in portraying his major characters. You can
take different views of them, just as you can of real people.
Duke Senior and his followers treat Jaques with a certain amount of respect, but they clearly derive more
amusement than instruction from his pronouncements. Touchstone patronizes Jaques, although Jaques doesn't
realize it. Orlando plainly tells Jaques that he hates his company. Rosalind accuses him of being a traveler
who pretends not to like his own country only to get attention.
Are these assessments correct? Readers who see Jaques as Shakespeare's spokesman point to his speech
about the Seven Ages of Man. If Shakespeare wanted to satirize Jaques's cynical views, would he have Jaques
express his sentiments so beautifully? On the other hand, does the play as a whole support such a viewpoint?
Would Shakespeare have picked Jaques as his spokesman? You must make up your mind based on your
interpretation of the text.
Jaques is what Elizabethans called a "humor" character. To the Elizabethans, humor meant
temperament. A humor character is based on an exaggerated personality trait. Elizabethans believed that a
person's temperament (mood or personality) was regulated by the balance of four bodily fluids: blood, phlegm,
choler, and melancholy. According to this theory, if the balance of your bodily fluids changed, your mood
would alter. If a person was constantly sad and gloomy, like Jaques, Elizabethans believed he had too much
melancholy (also called "black bile") in his system. That's why there are references to "the
Many noble households in Shakespeare's time kept "licensed fools." These fools were
essentially entertainers. They wore "motley," a patchwork coat of various colors. Touchstone, the
fool of Duke Frederick's household, becomes Rosalind and Celia's traveling companion when they escape to
the Forest of Arden. Like Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or the Fool in King Lear, Touchstone is a
"wise" fool. Under the guise of spouting amusing nonsense, he reveals the truth about the people
Touchstone's name describes his function. A touchstone was used to test the purity of precious metals-
that is, to determine the genuineness or quality of a thing. This fool unmasks pretension and foolishness
wherever he sees it. His primary technique is mimicry. For example, the first time he hears Silvius carrying on
about Phebe, Touchstone does a funny imitation of the lovesick shepherd. He accomplishes two things: He
makes the audience laugh, and he points out the absurdity of Silvius's behavior.
He uses the same approach on the melancholy Jaques, who finds sad morals everywhere. Touchstone
mimics him by delivering a gloomy but meaningless sermon about the consequences of time passing, making
Jaques believe he's found a kindred spirit. Touchstone reveals that Jaques's pronouncements may not be as
profound as Jaques would like people to believe.
Touchstone doesn't always mimic the person he's talking to. With Corin and William, he imitates a
learned man from the city. His manners and his "learned examples" are all nonsense, but the
shepherds are fooled. Shakespeare uses Touchstone to clarify one of the satiric points of As You Like It- that
real shepherds are not "poetical," like their counterparts in pastoral romances.
Touchstone's courtship of Audrey parodies the pure, spiritual love that Silvius talks about by
demonstrating the opposite extreme. Silvius sees love as something poetic and marriage as the fulfillment of a
great spiritual longing. Touchstone regards marriage as a way to fulfill one's sexual urges. He purposely
chooses an ugly woman and clearly states his intention to leave her once he tires of her.
As you read each of Touchstone's scenes, ask yourself, Whom is the fool mimicking? What point is he
Orlando's brother Oliver starts the play as a villain. When you first meet him, he is arrogant and cruel. He
has stolen Orlando's inheritance by refusing to give him a gentleman's education or the money that their late
father intended for Orlando. When Orlando wins acclaim by defeating Charles the wrestler, the jealous Oliver
plots to murder his brother.
Several times in Act I, Oliver is called "unnatural." That means he respects neither his dead
father's wishes nor the laws of God, according to both of which he should love and care for his brother. His ill
treatment of the faithful old servant, Adam, demonstrates his contempt for all the Old World virtues.
Some readers believe that Oliver is motivated by envy. He says in a soliloquy (monologue) that people
love Orlando and, as a consequence, ignore Oliver. Thus, he's an example of what Duke Senior calls the
"envious court." Other readers hold that Oliver's psychological motivations are beside the point.
He is not a study of a good man ruined by envy. He's evil because Shakespeare needed him to be. (The same is
often said of a much more fully developed villain- Iago in Othello.)
When you see Oliver at the end of Act IV, he has undergone a complete and miraculous conversion. His
forsaking of evil serves two purposes: It parodies the types of sudden conversions found in pastoral romances,
and it allows Celia to fall in love with him, thus providing another couple for the climactic wedding scene.
- SILVIUS AND PHEBE
These two rustics, or country folk, are the typical shepherds and shepherdesses of pastoral romances.
Though uneducated, Silvius and Phebe speak in verse. Their sheep must be wandering loose somewhere,
because their only concern is love.
The roles they play are determined by convention. Phebe proudly scorns Silvius, who constantly pursues
her, swearing eternal love. He seems actually to believe that her frowns can kill him, and he's always ready to
die for love. When Phebe falls in love with Ganymede, she expresses the same sentiments.
Can a modern audience appreciate these characters? Of course. Most people who have ever been in love
can identify with Silvius (and later with Phebe). Can you? If you regard them as people (rather than as literary
parodies), they become embodiments of all the ridiculous extremes to which love can drive almost anybody.
- CORIN, WILLIAM, AND AUDREY
These three rustics are very different from Silvius and Phebe. Instead of speaking in elaborate verse,
Corin, William, and Audrey express themselves simply and have very limited vocabularies.
Corin befriends Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone when they first arrive in the forest. He arranges for
Rosalind and Celia to purchase a cottage, some land, and a flock of sheep. Since he knows a lot about
tending sheep, Rosalind and Celia hire him to look after their flock. Corin is a good, simple man.
Touchstone's nonsense philosophy confuses him, but the fool cannot make Corin doubt his own values.
Audrey is as earthy as Phebe is "poetical." Before Touchstone can woo her, he has to promise
to look after her goats. She understands very little of what he says and believes that he's a courtier (a member
of the royal court). If Touchstone tells the truth, she is extremely unattractive. A great deal of humor is derived
from her coarseness and lack of sophistication. At one point, for example, Touchstone has to tell her to
"bear [her] body more seeming [properly]" (Act V, scene iv, lines 72-73). After a distinctly
unromantic courtship, she marries Touchstone.
William is a country bumpkin who may have once been engaged to Audrey. When he comes to discuss
the matter with Touchstone, the fool confuses him utterly and sends him on his way. Many readers consider
William's one scene a classic example of Shakespeare's skill in comedic writing.
- DUKE FREDERICK AND DUKE SENIOR
Duke Frederick is a usurper (someone who seizes power illegally). He has taken the throne from his older
brother, Duke Senior, and banished him to the forest. Elizabethans believed that rulers were placed on their
thrones by God. Therefore, a usurper offended God as well as man. Frederick lives in constant fear of being
overthrown himself. (In that way he's similar to another usurper in Shakespeare, Macbeth. Unlike Macbeth,
however, Frederick has not committed murder.) As a consequence, he is capable of swift mood changes and
acts of terrible cruelty. He banishes Rosalind, because he fears that she is stealing the people's affection away
from his own daughter, Celia. He probably also fears that, as the daughter of the rightful ruler, Rosalind
might inspire the people to revolt. All he cares about is preserving his own power.
Duke Senior, on the other hand, is gentle, generous, and philosophical. He treats the lords who have
joined him in exile like equals, although they still show him the respect due his position. He gladly
welcomes Orlando and Adam into their group. He tries to find good in everything, even their banishment.
Although living in the forest is difficult, he claims to prefer that life to the lies, flattery, and deception he had
to deal with in the city.
Some readers question whether he really enjoys the forest as much as he says he does. They point out how
willingly he returns to the city at the end of the play. Is he trying to convince himself that he likes the forest?
Or is he pretending to be cheerful for his companions' sake?
Orlando's faithful old servant, Adam, represents the virtues of the Old World. He clearly loved his master,
Sir Rowland, and is now just as devoted to Sir Rowland's son Orlando. He even goes so far as to give Orlando
all the money he has saved. Orlando proves his nobility by treating Adam with love and respect. The wicked
Oliver, on the other hand, mistreats Adam, thus proving his villainy.
The Lord of Amiens is one of Duke Senior's men. He engages in conversation with Jaques but, unlike the
duke, does not dispute with him. Amiens's main function is to sing songs about the forest life.
- LE BEAU
Le Beau, a courtier, is one of Duke Frederick's followers. He is a dandy, one who always dresses in the
latest fashion, no matter how ridiculous it, or he, may look. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone band together
to make fun of his posing. He is not merely a figure of fun, however. After the wrestling match, he risks his
own safety to warn Orlando that the duke may harm him.
- SIR OLIVER MARTEXT
Sir Oliver is a priest, who shows up to marry Touchstone and Audrey. His name provides a clue to his
character- he will mar (ruin) his text (the wedding ceremony). By hiring this inept priest, Touchstone
underscores his attitude toward marriage- that it is like the mating of animals.
[As You Like It Contents]
The first act of As You Like It takes place in the city. Here, a man-made order has been imposed. Oliver
owns his house. The duke lives in the palace and rules the land. The wildness of nature has been tamed. Trees
grow in an orchard; grass is neatly trimmed into a lawn. The same rigid order is found in the city's social
structure. People know exactly whom they have to please in order to get ahead. Flattery and outright deception
Almost all the action in Acts II to V occurs in the Forest of Arden. There, no such man-made order exists.
Except for the modest cottage purchased by Rosalind and Celia, ownership is never an issue. One scene is
distinguished from another simply by its taking place in "another part of the forest." Duke Senior
never gives commands. His lords treat him like a respected older gentleman.
There are similarities between this forest and the woodland settings of pastoral romances. It's a rather
magical place. In no real forest does the animal population include both sheep and lions. An old, religious
hermit lives there, and so, it seems, does Hymen, the god of marriage. Yet, there are realistic elements. The
shepherd Corin has a hard life, and the duke and his men must contend with cruel winter winds.
Here are some major themes of As You Like It. Some appear to contradict each other (like the first two).
As you study the play, you should decide which ones you consider valid.
- THE PASTORAL LIFE
In Elizabethan pastoral romances (love stories set in the country), rustic life was idealized as simpler,
happier, and healthier than city life. Some readers believe this play expresses the same attitude. In the city,
Rosalind's and Orlando's virtues arouse so much envy that both must flee to avoid being murdered. In the
country, these two noble characters prosper. Virtuous Duke Senior seems to be happier in exile than he was
at court. Country folk like Corin and Audrey are simple, hardworking people. Silvius and Phebe may seem
silly, but they are harmless and rather charming. Finally, both villains (Oliver and Duke Frederick) renounce
evil as soon as they arrive in the forest.
- A SATIRE OF THE PASTORAL LIFE
Some readers believe that As You Like It exposes the absurdity of the so-called pastoral ideal. Duke
Senior speaks about Arden as if it were the Garden of Eden, but he returns to the city the first chance he gets.
Silvius and Phebe aren't even real shepherds. They exist only to demonstrate the absurd way rustics are
portrayed in pastoral fiction. Real shepherds, such as Corin and William, are dim-witted clowns. Arden isn't
Eden- it's a place where the winter winds will freeze you, if the wild beasts don't kill you first.
- VARIETIES OF LOVE
As You Like It is a love story. The word "love" has many meanings. Through its various
characters and their relationships, the play comments on several varieties of love.
- Romantic Love
The essence of romantic love, as portrayed in literature, is that love must remain unfulfilled. The lovers
are separated by distance, circumstance, or some unkind act of fate. Therefore, they quietly pine away for each
other. This romantic ideal became popular in medieval times. By Shakespeare's time, the conventions of
romantic love had been refined into a formula by the writers of romantic prose and poetry. Silvius and Phebe
act out those conventions. Rosalind and Orlando flirt with the formula but ultimately rise above it.
- Sexual Love
In sexual love, fulfillment is the only consideration. As Touchstone explains, people have needs.
Marriage is an efficient, socially acceptable means to satisfy those physical needs. The love object need not be
beautiful, noble, or inspirational- only available and willing.
- Balanced Love
Rosalind and Orlando occupy a middle ground between the romantic and the purely sexual. They both
feel the joy and excitement of romance, as they do inspire each other. But they want their love to lead to
fulfillment. Rosalind has only just met Orlando when she tells Celia that she wants him to be the father of her
children. Is their love the most complete love found in this play? What evidence can you offer to support your
- Love as Friendship
Rosalind and Celia enjoy an ideal friendship. They feel each other's pain and enjoy each other's good
qualities. There is no envy between them. Such friendships were frequently portrayed in Renaissance fiction,
but the relationship was generally between two men.
- FORTUNE AND NATURE
The play can be viewed as a study of the difference between what people deserve and what they get.
"Nature," according to the Elizabethans, referred to the qualities a person is born with.
"Fortune" was thought of as a force that determined a person's worldly position. By Nature,
Orlando is honest, virtuous, and noble. Fortune, however, has deprived him of his birthright. His brother
Oliver is petty and jealous, but Fortune has given him wealth and power. All the noble characters suffer in this
play. In the end, the imbalance is corrected.
- NATURAL VS. ARTIFICIAL
Affectations (pretensions) have always been good targets for satire. In As You Like It, Shakespeare
exposes several forms of artificial behavior. The affectations of courtiers are parodied by Touchstone. Corin,
William, and Audrey provide realistic examples of country folk in contrast to the artificial characters
portrayed by Silvius and Phebe. Rosalind systematically explains how the conventions of romantic love do not
agree with the realities of life. While ridiculing pretense, Shakespeare celebrates genuine nobility and real
- ROLE PLAYING
"All the world's a stage," says Jaques, "and all the men and women merely
players" (Act II, scene vii, lines 149-150). Every person plays a variety of roles in real life-parent, child,
friend, lover, enemy, and so on. Some of the characters in this play engage in playacting as well. Some of the
role playing produces positive results. Rosalind's disguise as a man enables her to teach Orlando a valuable
lesson. Celia's disguise allows her to escape from the court of her wicked father. Touchstone amuses and
instructs by assuming various roles at will. Other roles cause problems. Silvius and Phebe act out the limited
conventions of romantic love; without Rosalind's help, their relationship would remain static. Some readers
consider Jaques a consummate role player. They hold that his criticisms come not from true feeling but from a
desire for attention.
- ORDER VS. DISORDER
Elizabethans believed that God established the order and rank of people and things. Whoever disturbed
that order committed a sin. Duke Frederick upset God's plan when he stole his older brother's throne. Oliver
committed a wrong by refusing to respect his late father's wishes. These sins cause suffering. The noble
characters must endure hardship, and the villains can't enjoy the power and wealth they've stolen. By the end
of the play, the natural order is restored. Both villains are converted, and God's will once again prevails.
You can learn a lot about the characters in As You Like It by examining the way they speak. For example,
if you look at Orlando's use of language in Act I, you will notice that his statements are bold and direct but
always respectful. That suggests that he's a noble young man, forced to stand up for his rights. Oliver, in
contrast, is snide and deceitful. The tyrant Duke Frederick often gives commands. His speeches contain
neither wit nor poetry. Rosalind and Celia have a natural optimism and enthusiasm for life that no hardship
can subdue. Their speech accordingly bubbles with wit and good humor.
In the forest, when Orlando's thoughts turn to love, his mode of expression changes. He becomes fanciful
and poetic in talking about Rosalind. Silvius and Phebe speak only in verse; love is all that matters to them.
The severely limited vocabularies of Corin, William, and Audrey tell you that these are genuine rustics-
uneducated, and familiar only with matters pertaining to sheep and goats.
Some of the dialogue is written in verse (Silvius and Phebe's, for example). For these passages,
Shakespeare used unrhymed iambic pentameter- that is, lines of ten syllables each, with every second syllable
accented. Other characters, like Corin and Audrey, speak less formally in prose. Most of the others alternate
between two styles.
Shakespeare's language is loaded with imagery- words and phrases that make you see a picture. The
imagery tells you something about the speaker's character or his emotions. A good example is Jaques's famous
speech about the Seven Ages of Man (Act II, scene iii). Jaques paints a picture to describe each age, from the
"mewling and puking" infant to the old man who has entered "second childishness."
Each image reflects Jaques's melancholy and overcritical nature.
As you read, ask yourself: How is each character using language? What does his or her language reveal
about that character?
All languages change. Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents
and their children. If language differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected that the
English used by Shakespeare four hundred years ago will be markedly different from the English used today.
The following information on Shakespeare's language will help a modern reader to a fuller understanding of
As You Like It.
MOBILITY OF WORD CLASSES
Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular classes in Shakespeare's day.
Adjectives were often used as adverbs. In Act II, scene iv, line 54, for example, "wiser" is used for
Thou speakest wiser than thou art ware of.
They could also appear as verbs. In Act I, scene iii, line 5, "lame" means "make [me]
...come lame me with reasons.
Nouns, including proper nouns, could be used as verbs. "Estate" is used to mean
"leave as my estate":
...all the revenue that was old Sir Rowland's
will I estate upon you,...
(V, ii, 10-12)
and "Phebe" means "treats [me] as Phebe would":
She Phebes me.
(IV, iii, 39)
CHANGES IN WORD MEANING
The meanings of all words undergo changes, a process that can be illustrated by the fact that
"prevent" used to mean "come before," as in the biblical "He prevented [came
before] the dawn." Many of the words in Shakespeare still exist today but their meanings have changed.
The change may be small, as in the case of "honest," meaning "chaste," in
'Tis true, for those she makes fair, she scarce
makes honest; and those she makes honest, she
makes very ill-favoredly.
(I, ii, 36-38)
or more fundamental, so that "countenance" (I, i, 17) meant "lifestyle,"
"underhand" (I, i, 138) meant "unobtrusive," "villains" (II, ii, 2) meant
"lower servants," "fond" (II, iii, 7) meant "foolish," and
"modern" (IV, i, 6) meant "trite."
Words not only change their meanings but are frequently discarded from the language. In the past,
"kine" was a plural form of "cow" and "lich" meant "corpse."
The following words used in As You Like It are no longer current in English, but their meanings can usually
be gauged from the context in which they occur.
- HINDS (I, i, 19)
- farm servants
- INTENDMENT (I, i, 132)
- HUSSIF (I, ii, 30)
- QUINTAIN (I, ii, 241)
- stuffed dummy used in jousting
- MISCONSTERS (I, ii, 255)
- SWASHING (I, iii, 116)
- ROYNISH (II, ii, 8)
- MEED (II, ii, 8)
- DOG APES (II, iv, 97)
- COVER (II, v, 28)
- set the table
- BOB (II, vii, 55)
- CHARACTER (III, i, 6)
- FELLS (III, ii, 51)
- PERPENT (III, ii, 65)
- BACKFRIENDS (III, ii, 155)
- false friends
- BREATHER (III, ii, 275)
- living human being
- QUOTIDIAN (III, ii, 356)
- severe, uninterrupted fever
- POINT-DEVICE (III, ii, 372)
- BOW (III, iii, 71)
- CARLOT (III, v, 108)
- LEER (IV, i, 64)
- BASTINADO (V, i, 54)
- beating, cudgeling
- THRASONICAL (V, ii, 30)
Shakespearean verb forms differ from modern usage in three main ways:
- Questions and negatives could be formed without using "do/did":
What said he? How looked he? Wherein went
he? What makes he here?
(III, ii, 216-18)
This must I do, or know not what to do;
(II, iii, 34)
Shakespeare had the option of using forms a and b whereas contemporary usage permits only the a forms:
Is Orlando going? Goes Orlando?
Did Orlando go? Went Orlando?
You do not look well. You look not well.
You did not look well. You looked not well.
- Many past participles and past tense forms are used that would be ungrammatical today. Among
"broke" for "broken" in
Or if thou hast not broke from company
(II, iv, 37)
"eat" for "eaten" in
Why, I have eat none yet.
(II, vii, 89)
"love-shaked" for "love-shaken" in
I am he that is so love-shaked.
(III, ii, 357)
"begot" for "begotten" in
...that was begot of thought,...
(IV, i, 202)
and "writ" for "wrote" in
To show the letter that I writ to you.
(V, ii, 77)
- Archaic verb forms sometimes occur with "thou" and "he/she/it":
Thou art not for the fashion of these times,
(II, iii, 59)
...knowest thou not the Duke
Hath banished me his daughter?
(I, iii, 90-91)
Shakespeare and his contemporaries had one extra pronoun, "thou," which could be used in
addressing a person who was one's equal or social inferior. "You" was obligatory if more than one
person was addressed:
I beseech you, punish me not with your hard
thoughts, wherein I confess me much guilty to
deny so fair and excellent ladies anything.
(I, ii, 172-74)
but it could also be used to indicate respect. Duke Senior often uses "thou" when addressing
his subordinates but always receives "you" in return:
Duke: Art thou thus boldened man by thy distress?
Orlando: You touched my vein at first.
(II, vii, 92 and 95)
Frequently, a person in power used "thou" to a child or a subordinate but was addressed
"you" in return. This invariably happens in the speeches between Adam and Orlando:
Orlando: Why whither Adam wouldst thou have me go?
Adam: No matter whither, so you come not here.
(II, iii, 29-30)
One further pronominal reference warrants a comment. The third person pronouns "he" and
"it" were frequently interchanged:
I'll tell thee, Charles, it is the stubbornest young
(I, i, 140)
And whistles in his [its] sound.
(II, vii, 163)
Prepositions were less standardized in Elizabethan English than they are today, and so we find several
uses in As You Like It that would have to be modified in contemporary speech. Among these are
"of" for "about" in
...who perceiveth our natural wits too dull to
reason of such a goddess...
(I, ii, 51)
"of" for "from" in
Rosalind: Where learned you that oath, fool?
Touchstone: Of a certain knight....
(I, ii, 59-60)
"up" for "off" in
To fright the animals and kill them up
(II, i, 62)
and "of" for "by" in
...I were better to be married of him than of
(III, iii, 81-82)
Contemporary English requires only one negative per statement and regards such utterances as "I
haven't none" as nonstandard. Shakespeare often uses two or more negatives for emphasis, as when
Celia advises Rosalind
But love no man in good earnest, nor no further
in sport neither, than with safety...
(I, ii, 26-27)
or when Orlando tells Jaques
Nor shalt not till necessity be served.
(II, vii, 90)
or when Rosalind, in the epilogue, assures the audience
What a case am I in then, that am neither a
good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you
in the behalf of a good play?
(V, iv, 204-206)
FORM AND STRUCTURE
As You Like It is divided into five acts, which are subdivided into scenes. Many readers have commented
that almost all the major events of the play occur in the first act and a half. The city characters are introduced
and the necessary history is explained (exposition). Each of the major characters is given a reason to go to
the Forest of Arden. After Act II, scene iii, only one short scene takes place in the city.
In the country, nothing happens quickly except the characters' falling in love. The tension of the plot
grows out of Rosalind's disguise. When will she reveal her true identity? What will happen when she does?
In that sense, Rosalind has the power to end the play whenever she chooses. She takes time to explore the
consequences of her disguise while discussing matters of love and philosophy. More confusions and
additional pairs of lovers are added until Act V, scene ii, when Rosalind decides that it's time to unmask
herself. The four marriages in Act V, scene iv, the repentance of both villains, and the restoration of Duke
Senior's dukedom all give the play an entirely happy ending. Music and dancing follow, after which Rosalind
turns to the audience and delivers a short epilogue.
Shakespeare didn't create his plots from scratch but derived aspects of them from other sources. The basic
story and many details of the plot of As You Like It come from a pastoral romance by Thomas Lodge entitled
Rosalynde. (Lodge didn't invent the story, either; he based it on a 14th-century narrative poem called The Tale
of Gamelyn.) Printed in 1590, Lodge's novel supplies the story of the exiled king, the hostility between the
two brothers, the young maidens in disguise, the escape from the city to the forest, and the lovesick
shepherds. Lodge's Rosalynde also woos her lover while she is disguised as a man. The hero saves his wicked
brother's life, after which the brother repents and falls in love with Rosalynde's friend.
Shakespeare's alterations and additions are noteworthy. Lodge's novel is bound by the conventions of the
pastoral romance. The play is richer and more meaningful because it takes liberties with those conventions.
Shakespeare's Rosalind is more three-dimensional and human than Lodge's, partly because Shakespeare gives
her a sense of humor. Shakespeare also peoples his forest with characters, such as Touchstone and Jaques,
who refuse to accept the pastoral ideal. The simpleminded rustics, such as Corin, William, and Audrey, are
totally unlike the poetic shepherds of pastoral romances.
THE GLOBE THEATRE
One of the most famous theaters of all time is the Globe Theatre. It was one of several Shakespeare
worked in during his career and many of the greatest plays of English literature were performed there. Built in
1599 for L600 just across the River Thames from London, it burned down in 1613 when a spark from a
cannon in a battle scene in Shakespeare's Henry VIII set fire to the thatched roof. The theater was quickly
rebuilt and survived until 1644. No one knows exactly what the Globe looked like but some scholarly
detective work has given us a pretty good idea.
When it was built, the Globe was the latest thing in theater design. It was a three-story octagon (eight-
sided building) with covered galleries surrounding an open yard some 50 feet across. Three sides of the
octagon were devoted to the stage and backstage areas. The main stage was a raised platform that jutted into
the center of the yard, or pit. Behind the stage was the tiring house- the backstage area where the actors
dressed and waited for their cues. It was flanked by two doors and contained an inner stage with a curtain
used when the script called for a scene to be discovered. (Some scholars think the inner stage was actually a
tent or pavilion that could be moved about the stage.) Above the inner stage was the upper stage, a curtained
balcony that could serve as the battlements in Hamlet or for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Most of
the action of the play took place on the main and upper stages.
The third story held the musicians' gallery and machinery for sound effects and pyrotechnics. Above all
was a turret, from which a flag was flown to announce "Performance today." A roof (the shadow)
covered much of the stage and not only protected the players from sudden showers but also contained
machinery needed for special effects. More machinery was located under the stage, where several trapdoors
permitted the sudden appearance of ghosts in a play and allowed actors to leap into rivers or graves, as the
For a penny (a day's wages for an apprentice), you could stand with the "groundlings" in the
yard to watch the play; another penny would buy you a seat in the upper galleries; and a third would get you a
cushioned seat in the lower gallery- the best seats in the house. The audience would be a mixed crowd-
scholars, courtiers, and merchants and their families in the galleries; rowdy apprentices and young men
looking for excitement in the yard; and pickpockets and prostitutes taking advantage of the crowds to ply their
trades. And crowds there would be- the Globe could probably hold 2,000 to 3,000 people, and even an
ordinary performance would attract a crowd of 1,200.
The play you came to see would be performed in broad daylight during the warmer months. In colder
weather, Shakespeare's troupe appeared indoors at court or in one of London's private theaters. There was no
scenery as we know it, but there are indications that the Elizabethans used simple set pieces such as trees,
bowers, or battle tents to indicate location. Any props needed were readied in the tiring house by the book
keeper (we'd call him the stage manager) and carried on and off by actors. If time or location were important,
the characters usually said something about it. Trumpet flourishes told the audience that an important
character was about to enter, rather like a modern spotlight, and a scene ended when all the characters left the
stage. (Bodies of dead characters were carried off stage.) Little attention was paid to historical accuracy in
plays such as Julius Caesar or Macbeth, and actors wore contemporary clothing. One major difference from
the modern theater was that all female parts were played by young boys; Elizabethan custom did not permit
women to act.
If the scenery was minimal, the performance made up for it in costumes and spectacle. English actors were
famous throughout Europe for their skill as dancers, and some performances ended with a dance (or jig).
Blood, in the form of animal blood or red paint, was lavished about in the tragedies; ghosts made sudden
appearances amid swirling fog; thunder was simulated by rolling a cannonball along the wooden floor of the
turret or by rattling a metal sheet. The costumes were gorgeous- and expensive! One "robe of
estate" alone cost L19, a year's wages for a skilled workman of the time. But the costumes were a large
part of the spectacle that the audience came to see, and they had to look impressive in broad daylight, with the
audience right up close.
You've learned some of the conventions of the Globe Theatre, a theater much simpler than many of ours
but nevertheless offering Shakespeare a wide range of possibilities for staging his plays. Now let's see how
specific parts of As You Like It might have been presented at the Globe.
If you could slip back in time and see As You Like It at the Globe, you might be surprised at the speed of
the play. A modern production of Shakespeare takes at least two and a half hours, and that's with part of the
play omitted. But back in Shakespeare's day, plays took only about two hours. This could be done because
there was no real break between scenes, and no scenery had to be shifted. Instead, different parts of the stage
could be used.
Imagine how this could work in As You Like It. The first scene of Act I would take place on the main
stage; then the second and third scenes, set in rooms in the palace, could be acted on the inner stage. The first
scene of Act II (remember, no break between acts) would be back on the main stage for the forest. The next
scene, another room in the palace, could use the balcony stage. Then one side of the main stage could serve
for Scene iii, in front of Oliver's house, represented by the door. For Scene iv Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone
could enter from the other side of the stage and Rosalind would announce, "This is the Forest of
Arden." Each scene would follow on the heels of the one before it, so that the play would move very
AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
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