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In this lesson, we will explore Shakespeare’s comedy ‘As You Like It,’ an adventurous tale with the flavor of Robin Hood, a tale in the Forest of Arden with romance around every tree. It is a story of disguise and love triangles, and all of the confusion gets sorted out in the end.


As You Like It Characters ; Plot

The play As You Like It is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s finest comedies. Its got something for everyone: villainy, romance, humor and a happy ending.

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The setting is France. The play begins with the close friendship of two young cousins, Rosalind and Celia. It would be difficult to find a closer pair than this; they are in essence, BFFs, like a classical era Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior, has been banished by his own brother, Celia’s father, Duke Frederick. Frederick is the villain of the tale. Although he banishes Rosalind’s father, he allows her to stay for some time because she is so close to Celia. However, his patience runs out, and he decides to banish Rosalind as well.

In fact, he swears she will die if she is within 20 miles of the castle after ten days have passed.Now we have Oliver and Orlando. These two are brothers who inherit their father’s estate after he passes.

However, the greedy and cruel Oliver neglects Orlando’s schooling and gentlemanly upbringing, keeping the best of the estate for himself. Rosalind meets Orlando at a wrestling match, and the two fall in love without revealing their feelings to each other. Oliver eventually tries to have Orlando killed, so Orlando and an elderly, faithful servant flee to the Forest of Arden where Duke Frederick and his merry men live. By the way, Orlando carves Rosalind’s name in the bark of the trees in the forest, and hangs love poems for her on the tree branches.Seeing as they are true BFFs, Rosalind and Celia obviously can’t be parted, so they both disguise themselves: Rosalind as a gentleman named Ganymede and Celia as a shepherdess named Aliena, and together with the jester Touchstone, they escape to the Forest of Arden.

They buy a small cottage on the forest’s edge. One day, Rosalind begins to find the love notes Orlando has written to her. That must have been pretty weird, right? Who would hang love notes on trees in the Forest of Arden? Celia observes Orlando carving the notes and reveals this to Rosalind, who is thrilled with this discovery.Rosalind sees Orlando coming through the woods, and decides to confront him, still disguised as Ganymede. She tells Orlando that he can’t possibly be in love because he did not show physical signs such as a ‘lean cheek’ and a ‘neglected beard’ (3.2). Rosalind disguised as Ganymede tells Orlando that she can cure him of being in love if he drops by the cottage and tries to woo her, calling her ‘Rosalind.

‘ This all seems very confusing, but I suspect Rosalind wants Orlando to prove that he really loves her. Orlando visits Rosalind at her cottage on the edge of the woods, and she does put Orlando through a test of wits, finally realizing his love is genuine. Orlando says he must leave to have lunch with the Duke, but that he will be back at 2:00. But 2:00 comes, and he doesn’t show up.In a strange twist of events, his brother Oliver arrives at the cottage, instead, with an odd tale to tell. He was asleep under a tree, and a green snake had wrapped itself around his neck and was about to strike a killing blow when Orlando found him.

Orlando rescues Oliver from the snake, but a lioness in the bushes nearby attacks Orlando, severely injuring his arm. Oliver is so grateful to Orlando that he repents of his evil intents and no longer wants to kill him. Orlando gives Oliver a bloody rag and implores him to find Ganymede (remember, this is Rosalind) and explain why he didn’t show up by 2:00.When Rosalind hears the story, she faints, but later says she was only pretending to faint. Meanwhile, Oliver and Celia fall in love at first sight and plan to be married the following day in the forest. Rosalind visits the wounded Orlando and vows she will produce the real Rosalind the next day for a double wedding.In shedding her disguise, Rosalind is both happily reunited with her father, Duke Senior, and married to Orlando.

Celia is also married to Oliver. In fact, two other couples are united as well in this quadruple forest wedding. Another brother of Oliver and Orlando’s then arrives with the joyful news that Duke Ferdinand has returned his brother’s throne, choosing rather to live in a monastery.

Analysis of As You Like It

This play is chock full of misunderstandings and humorous scenes. As part of the misunderstandings, the play is also filled with couples and love triangles. A shepherdess, Phoebe, falls in love with Ganymede, not knowing she’s actually Rosalind. A shepherd, Silvius, is head-over-heels in love with Phoebe, but she won’t give him more than her friendship. Then we find the jester, Touchstone, in love with a homely goatherd named Audrey, who is in turn, being pursued by the simple man, William.

In the end, all of the couples are sorted out, with Phoebe marrying Silvius and Touchstone marrying Audrey.As you may have noticed, many of these misunderstandings and humorous scenes involve Rosalind and Celia. One of the wonderful qualities Shakespeare brings to his plays is a genuine understanding and valuing of women. In a time when women had so few rights, time and time again, Shakespeare not only gives his women character’s delightful parts, but intelligence as well.

Rosalind and Celia represent femininity with courage, wit, and spunk. One could interpret that Shakespeare both saw and portrayed women as equal to that of men, this is the core belief of most feminist ideology.However, this gets more complicated. At the same time, Shakespeare seems to be making illusions to the idea that women represent both temptation and danger, especially with the use of the snake and lion that attack Oliver and Orlando.

Both are referred to as a ‘she-snake’ and a ‘she-lion.’ Some interpretations suggest that Shakespeare was trying to warn readers and viewers of women with strong personalities, like Rosalind and Celia. So, while Shakespeare was indeed ahead of his time in writing interesting roles for women, many modern folks might take issue with his underlying suggestions.There are many ways to analyze As You Like It. The best way to close an analysis, however, is to look at the title itself: what does it mean? The phrase ‘as you like it,’ is really just another way of saying, ‘whatever you want,’ or ‘take it as you will.’ Rosalind even says during the play’s epilogue:’I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you.

And I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women – as I perceive by your simpering, none of you hates them – that between you and the women the play may please.’This could easily suggest that men and women will appreciate the play differently but that’s okay, you are free to enjoy this story as you like it.

Lesson Summary

We’ve covered a lot, but let’s review what’s we’ve learned. The play As You Like It is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s finest comedies.

It focuses on the trials and tribulations of the love lives of our two heroines, Rosalind and Celia, who are cousins and classical versions of modern day BFFs. The play also focuses on brothers Oliver and Orlando, who start out with a tempestuous relationship, but one that gets mended after the cruel Oliver rescues Orlando from the clutches of a snake. Despite some mistaken identity brought on by Rosalind and Celia disguising themselves, with Rosalind going as far as disguising herself as a man named Ganymede, the four all end up having a joint wedding at the end of the play.There are many analyses of As You Like It, but one of the most prevalent is what some see as a feminist message at its core, that women and men are fundamentally equal. However, one can also see Shakespeare playing with more traditional and critical views of strong women with big personalities by suggesting inevitable comparisons between Rosalind and Celia with the ‘she-snake’ and the ‘she-lion.’ Despite any way it’s interpreted however, Shakespeare clearly had a mind for the differences in taste between men and women, suggesting that both will enjoy the play, as they like it.


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