(This essay describes time’s two functions in As You Like It: first, as a foil whose two extremes— timelessness and time-consciousness—favourably contrast virtuous rustic life in Arden with dissolute court life, and second, as timelessness alone, as a link between life in the present and life in an earlier, less corrupt, generally better time. The critic maintains that Shakespeare perceives the city and court to be ruthless and degenerate, threatening places from which Arden’s timeless world is a refuge, a world where past and present merge and people flourish. Surveying the dramatic and thematic juxtapositions of these two worlds, Halio especially focuses on Rosalind’s awareness of time; he notes how, unlike Touchstone’s fascination with time’s power to ripen things and rot them, Rosalind is strongly influenced by time’s regenerative power, particularly as it concerns lovers.)
In As You Like It Shakespeare exploits timelessness as a convention of the . . . Read More
(The author maintains that Shakespeare depicts two contrasting worlds in As You Like It: Duke Frederick’s court, which is governed by Fortune, and Arden forest, which is dominated by Nature. Here, Fortune signifies not only power and material wealth, but the greed and envy that results from possessing them. By comparison, Nature reflects a more virtuous order that promotes humanity’s higher qualities. According to Hart, the corrupt court gradually becomes absorbed by the more harmonious world of Arden until it disappears from the play altogether. The critic ultimately asserts that those characters who have assimilated the lessons from both worlds—significantly, Rosalind, Orlando, and Duke Senior—emerge from the forest at the end of the play to redeem the degenerate court, replacing it with a more balanced and harmonious order.)
As You Like It presents an ideal world, just as The Merchant of Venice did. The Forest of Arden has as much romance, as many . . . Read More
(The author examines the allusions to classical mythology found in As You Like It. Among these are three references to oak trees that recall classical mythology by linking the character of Orlando to the Greek mythological hero Hercules. The critic points out that oak trees are symbolically associated with the god Jupiter (also called Jove) of Roman mythology.)
Richard Knowles has argued that many of the numerous allusions to classical mythology in Shakespeare’s As You Like It join together to form thematically suggestive patterns. (1) Incorporated into one such pattern, identified by Knowles as linking the character of Orlando to the mythological figure of Hercules, are two references to oaks, trees symbolically associated with Jove. (2) A third oak reference in the play, however, and one which extends this Orlando/ Hercules pattern, seems to have been overlooked by Knowles.
The first of the oak references is in Rosalind’s response to Celia’s . . . Read More
While the term urban would not be coined until 1619, at the beginning of the seventeenth century London was without doubt an essentially urban locale, with a total population of some two hundred thousand. Thus life in the city would have been remarkably different from life in the countryside, with the residents of the respective milieus perhaps perceiving one another as virtual foreigners. Shakespeare drew on these differences heavily in As You Like It, juxtaposing aristocrats and philosophers from the upper echelons of the dukedom like Jaques and Touchstone with simplistic woodland folk like William and Audrey. The conversations between the educated and the uneducated are some of the most comical of the play. Overall, the importance of the setting may have been relatively small, as the stage would not have been decorated with any backdrop or props conjuring the feel of the forest; only the actors’ words and costumes and the spectators’ . . . Read More
The way Shakespeare addresses gender roles in As You Like It reflects the widespread sexism of the Elizabethan era, and thus the topic merits discussion not only in the fictional but also in the historical context. In his Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, Russ McDonald offers an assessment of the state of gender relations:
“That women occupied a position subordinate to men in the early modern period is beyond dispute; that this was the ‘natural’ state of affairs was almost beyond dispute. Although the idea is repugnant to modern sensibilities, most thinkers in the sixteenth century took it as axiomatic that men are superior to women.”
Indeed, many gendered notions are presented not simply through the opinions of certain characters but as established facts, illustrating for the modern reader the common beliefs of the era. In the course of the discussion on the goddesses Fortune and Nature, Rosalind . . . Read More
Shakespeare emphasized the romantic, pastoral aspect of As You Like It by including a significant number of songs and poems. In all, five different songs are performed, more than in any other comedy, while the audience hears three poems read aloud, two of Orlando’s—one of which is then parodied by Touchstone—and one of Phebe’s. In addition, Touchstone offers a few pithy lines upon leaving Sir Oliver MarText, and Hymen’s lines, which are written in rhyming trimeter instead of Shakespeare’s conventional pentameter, have an immediate poetic ring to them. All of these forms of verse are presented in the Forest of Arden, rather than in the court. Meanwhile, more than half of the play is written in prose, aptly contrasting the characters’ offhand everyday discourse with their romantic poetic bursts.
The texts of these songs are generally relevant to the scene in which they appear or to the play as a whole. The . . . Read More
Traditionally, a pastoral is a poem focusing on shepherds and rustic life; it first appeared as a literary form in the third century C.E. The term itself is derived from pastor, the Latin word for ‘‘shepherd.’’ A pastoral may contain artificial or unnatural elements, such as shepherd characters speaking with courtly eloquence or appearing in aristocratic dress. This poetic convention evolved over centuries until many of its features were incorporated into prose and drama. It was in these literary forms that pastoralism influenced English literature from about 1550 to 1750, most often as pastoral romance, a model featuring songs and characters with traditional pastoral aspects. Many of these elements can be seen in the source for Shakespeare’s play, Thomas Lodge’s popular pastoral novel Rosalynde, written in 1590. But by the time Shakespeare adapted Lodge’s tale into As You Like It nearly a decade later, many pastoral themes were considered trite.
As a . . . Read More
Time is also contrasted in the court scenes and in the Forest of Arden. At court, time is referred to in specific terms, marked by definite intervals, in most cases in relation to the duke’s threats: he orders Rosalind to leave the court within ten days or she will be executed, and he gives Oliver one year to find Orlando or else his land and possessions will be confiscated. In Arden, however, the meaning of time is less precise. In his first meeting with Jaques, Touchstone provides a slightly whimsical rumination on time; he seems to be remarking on his sense that he is simply rotting away in the uneventful forest. Jaques later offers a disheartened perception of how time passes predictably for all men, as his ‘‘Seven Ages of Man’’ speech illustrates the individual’s passage through life in predetermined stages, ending with the image of man as a pathetically ineffectual and dependent creature.
When Rosalind, posing as . . . Read More
Closely allied with the opposition of court life and the Forest of Arden is the dichotomy between fortune and nature. Here, ‘‘fortune’’ represents both material gain—achieved through power, birthright, or possessions—and a force that unpredictably determines events. ‘‘Nature,’’ on the other hand, is both the purifying force of Arden and humanity’s fundamental condition stripped of the trappings of wealth, power, and material possessions.
The opposition between fortune and nature is highlighted most in the first act, where the audience finds that fortune has benefited the villainous (Frederick and Oliver) over the virtuous (Duke Senior, Orlando, and Rosalind). Celia suggests that she and Rosalind ‘‘mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally’’ (1.2.30–2), referring to the fact that the goddess Fortune was historically depicted as blind, sitting on a spherical throne, with one foot on a . . . Read More
Numerous oppositions in As You Like It reveal Shakespeare’s partiality toward the pastoral rustic life of Arden forest to life at court. At Duke Frederick’s court, disorder holds sway. The deterioration of political authority is the most obvious form of disorder, for Duke Frederick has unlawfully seized Duke Senior’s kingdom. This political degeneration is compounded by a more personal disorder, since the dukes are also brothers at odds with each other. This conflict is also underscored by the antagonistic relationship of two other brothers at the court, Oliver and Orlando. Arden forest offers a sense of pure, spiritual order in contrast to the corrupt condition of Duke Frederick’s court. Indeed, Duke Senior, who introduces the audience to the forest, immediately establishes the realm as a haven from the court, which he refers to as a place of ‘‘painted pomp’’ and as ‘‘envious’’—that is, a place where people covet what others have—in opposition to the . . . Read More