Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
As You Like It is a complicated drama, for Shakespeare simultaneously and masterfully develops several plots. Two of them, the Oliver/Orlando conflict and the Duke Senior/Duke Frederick conflict, center on the theme of hatred. The other plots are developed around the theme of love, including the Orlando/Rosalind relationship, the Touchstone/Audrey relationship, the Oliver/Celia relationship, and the Phebe/Silvius relationship.
In spite of the varied plots, Shakespeare adheres to the unities of time, place, and character. Although there is much action in the play, with several characters going into exile and several couples falling in love, the play actually takes place in a tight time frame, spanning only a few days. Likewise, there are only two settings in the entire play, which are total contrasts to one another. The court of the duke is characterized by formality, deception, and hostility; the Forest of Arden is characterized by beauty, freedom, and naturalness. Finally, even though there are a number of characters in the play, Shakespeare focuses the attention of his audience on the two main characters, Orlando and Rosalind. The other key characters appear in a relationship with one of them. For example, Oliver is Orlando's brother, Celia is Rosalind's cousin and friend, Duke Senior is Rosalind's father, Duke Frederick is Rosalind's uncle and Celia's father, Touchstone is the chaperone of Rosalind and Celia to the forest, and Adam is Orlando's faithful servant.
To further unify the plot, it is developed along classical lines. Act I provides an introduction to the key characters and the conflict of hatred. It clearly projects the hostility between Duke Senior and Duke Frederick and between Orlando and Oliver. It also introduces the theme of love, for Orlando and Rosalind have fallen in love with one another. The real rising action of the play begins at the end of Act I, when Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind from court, and she and Celia head towards the Forest of Arden, when Duke Senior is already in exile.
Acts II, III, and IV develop the complications of the plot through the rising action. Orlando is forced to flee into the forest, for Oliver is threatening to have him killed. Touchstone meets Audrey and wants to marry her. Rosalind, dressed in disguise as a young man, meets Orlando in the forest and tricks him into a love cure by which he will woo Ganymede as a practice to woo Rosalind. Oliver falls in love with Celia, disguised as Aliena, and makes plans to marry her. Phebe falls in love with Ganymede, unaware that he is really a girl in disguise. Rosalind comes up with a plan to solve all the problems in the love affairs. She asks everyone to meet in a clearing in the forest.
In the fifth and final action, the climax is reached. Rosalind and Celia shed their disguises, freeing them to marry Orlando and Oliver. During the grand ceremony, Touchstone and Audrey finally tie the knot, and even Phebe and Silvius are wed. The falling action occurs when it is learned that Duke Frederick has undergone a conversion and will restore the dukedom to Duke Senior, freeing the way for all the exiles in the forest to return to their normal life in court. The denouement, or conclusion, is given in the epilogue, when Rosalind addresses the audience, asking them for applause for this successful romantic comedy, where all the protagonists overcome their antagonists to meet with a happy end.