Act 1, Scene 1
In the opening scene of As You Like It, Orlando tells the old family servant Adam of his discontent with his brother Oliver’s management of the family fortune and his treatment of him, for he is being allowed no education and thus will have no means to advance in the world. This speech, with Orlando’s referring to ‘‘the spirit of my father, which I think is within me’’ (21–2), introduces a filial connection that establishes Orlando as the novel’s hero in both a romantic and a moral sense. When Oliver arrives, Orlando bests him first with wit, then with strength, ultimately demanding the share that their deceased father had allotted to him. Oliver placates Orlando, then curses Adam, who reveals his fond remembrance of their father, Sir Rowland de Boys, and effectively allies himself with Orlando. Left alone, Oliver summons the court wrestler, Charles, who provides an account of the state of the ducal court (largely for the audience, in that he is only delivering ‘‘old news’’ (96–7): the elder Duke Senior has been ousted and banished by his younger brother Frederick. Rosalind, the daughter of the banished Duke Senior, has remained at the court only because she is highly favored by her cousin Celia. Meanwhile, Duke Senior and the lords who joined him in exile have settled in the evidently idyllic Forest of Arden, where they ‘‘fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world’’ (114–15). As Charles will be wrestling a disguised Orlando the following day, Oliver entreats him to do as much harm as possible. Oliver’s scene-closing monologue leaves no doubt about his role as a villain: he despises Orlando solely because the youngest of the three brothers is so benevolent and beloved.
Act 1, Scene 2
Upon their first appearance in the play, Rosalind mourns the absence of her father while Celia tries to persuade her to content herself with the friendship they share. Rosalind suggests that falling in love might distract her from her sorrows, and Celia agrees that she could ‘‘make sport withal’’ (25), which she will indeed do, but cautions against loving ‘‘in good earnest’’ (26), which she will also do. After ruminating on the goddesses Fortune and Nature, the two women greet Touchstone, the court fool, who marks his entrance with a trivial display of wit regarding knightly honor. The courtier Monsieur Le Beau then arrives to inform the three of the wrestling match about to take place there. When Duke Frederick enters—accompanied by a shift from prose to blank verse, which endows the action with greater gravity until the end of the scene—he entreats the ladies to persuade the young challenger to stand down. When they cannot refute Orlando’s tragically heroic reasons for fighting—no one would truly regret the loss of his life anyway, and he wishes to test himself— he proceeds to defeat the champion, Charles, to Rosalind’s cry of ‘‘Hercules be thy speed, young man!’’ (199). In turn, Frederick expresses disappointment, because he was an enemy of Orlando’s father—while Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior, had held Sir Rowland de Boys in the highest esteem. The ladies commend Orlando, with Rosalind dramatically giving him a chain from around her neck, before exiting, leaving Orlando dumbfounded by his growing passion for Rosalind Le Beau then returns, first warning Orlando that he ought to leave the dukedom, as he has aroused Frederick’s displeasure, then informing Orlando about the identities of Rosalind and Celia.
Act 1, Scene 3
Rosalind discusses her adoration for Orlando with Celia, exchanging a fair amount of wit and referring to him as potentially being her ‘‘child’s father’’ (11). Duke Frederick, however, interrupts the scene—to the return of blank verse— to banish Rosalind, citing a general mistrust of her intentions; also, just as Oliver dislikes Orlando for his virtue, Frederick takes issue with the fact that ‘‘Her very silence, and her patience, / Speak to the people, and they pity her’’ (76–7). Frederick also tries to convince his daughter that she would be better off without her cousin as a rival. The two women then decide to journey to the Forest of Arden disguised as peasants, with the taller Rosalind posing as a man named Ganymede and Celia posing as a woman named Aliena; gathering the clown Touchstone and their ‘‘jewels’’ and ‘‘wealth’’ (132), they depart.
Act 2, Scene 1
The second act provides a transition from the court to the forest, with the first scene taking place in Arden, the second at court, the third at Oliver’s, and each scene thereafter in the forest. The foremost patriarchal figure of the woodlands is introduced, Duke Senior, who is attended by Amiens and a number of lords. After extolling upon the virtues of the forest, Duke Senior regrets his company’s need to kill the deer, who are true forest natives, for their meat. One lord mentions how the ‘‘melancholy Jaques’’ (26, 41), who was just seen mourning a mortally wounded deer, is particularly revolted by their intrusions on nature. Interested in some conversation with the philosophizer—if only for amusement—Duke Senior and his lords depart in search of him.
Act 2, Scene 2
At the court, briefly, Duke Frederick is made aware of the disappearance of both his niece and his daughter and also of their expressed affection for Orlando, who may have accompanied them. Frederick then summons Oliver.
Act 2, Scene 3
At Oliver’s house, Adam meets Orlando and praises his many virtues, affectionately referring to him as a ‘‘memory / of old Sir Rowland’’ (2–3), then warns him that Oliver is scheming to have him murdered, if not by arson then by some other means. Knowing he would be unable to live life as an amoral thief, Orlando resolves to face his brother—until Adam volunteers his life’s savings and his service to help the youngest brother find shelter and provisions somewhere. The two depart together.
Act 2, Scene 4
Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone appear in the Forest of Arden, incredibly weary from their travels, with the fool regretting having left the court. The woodland shepherds Corin and Silvius then appear, softening the mood of the scene by speaking of love: Silvius expresses his adoration of Phebe and accuses the elder Corin of having never been a true lover himself, as he remembers none of his lover’s follies. Rosalind is reminded of her own aching for Orlando, and Touchstone reminisces somewhat soberly upon a love of his youth. The fool then calls out to Corin, and Rosalind inquires about lodgings and food; through Corin, they secure the purchase of a cottage and a flock of sheep.
Act 2, Scene 5
Amiens and Jaques share songs about the peacefulness of the forest, where the only enemies are ‘‘winter and rough weather’’ (7). Jaques again mentions his distaste for men, specifically their general lack of manners, and notes that he has been avoiding Duke Senior because he finds him ‘‘too disputable’’ (31).
Act 2, Scene 6
Adam and Orlando stumble into the Forest of Arden. When Adam collapses, Orlando sets out to seek help for him.
Act 2, Scene 7
Jaques and Duke Senior meet, and Jaques relates his earlier encounter with Touchstone when the fool uttered some witty comments about the passing of the time. Duke Senior scoffs at the soundness of Jaques’s judgments given his checkered past. Orlando then arrives, threatening to attack them and rob them of their food, only to be offered the food gladly by the gentlemanly Duke Senior. As Orlando leaves to return to Adam, Duke Senior and Jaques muse on the theatricality of life, with Jaques giving the famous ‘‘seven ages’’ speech, in which he remarks that a single man goes through seven stages, or acts, in the course of his lifetime. (‘‘All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players.’’) Amiens marks the meal with a song, ‘‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind,’’ and the duke rejoices in meeting the son of his beloved and deceased friend Sir Rowland de Boys.
Act 3, Scene 1
At his palace, Duke Frederick orders Oliver to bring his brother to the court within a year or be exiled himself. As Oliver grovels, Duke Frederick scorns him as a villain for having never loved his own brother.
Act 3, Scene 2
Orlando hangs love poems to Rosalind on trees throughout the forest, singing her praises as he does so. With the entrance of the fool and a shepherd, the play reverts to prose form; Touchstone demands that the shepherd Corin give an acceptable accounting of why he should spend his life in the countryside rather than at court. The fool manages to phrase his own reasons for favoring the court with enough nuance to stymie the peasant. Rosalind interrupts them as she arrives reading one of the anonymous poems written about her, which Touchstone promptly ridicules as being pedantic and dull, devising his own pithy and mocking rhymes. Celia then arrives reading a somewhat longer poem that Rosalind finds tedious. The two women send the two men off so they can talk together. Rosalind begins by deriding the author’s poetic abilities. Celia then reveals to her cousin that she saw the poet hanging up one of the sheets—and that he wears Rosalind’s chain around his neck, at which news Rosalind reddens but seems not to realize that the man is Orlando. Celia first describes him, then reveals his identity, and Rosalind becomes quite agitated by romantic sentiments. Orlando himself then appears on the scene, chatting with Jaques, and the women hide. Orlando relates his affections for Rosalind and responds to Jaques’s probing inquiries with fine wit. When Jaques slinks off, Rosalind disguised as Ganymede approaches, intending to best Orlando in conversation. She ends up carrying on a profound discourse about the passage of time experienced by people who spend their time differently. From the beginning, the conversation is strained by Rosalind’s attempts to conceal her person. After remarking on how glad she is not to be a woman, Rosalind belittles Orlando for allowing himself to be infected with love, which she sees evidenced by his poems more than by his person. Rosalind then remarks that she can cure Orlando of his love if he will focus his affection on her (that is to say, Ganymede), and substitute the name Rosalind instead. He is skeptical but he agrees, and they head for the women’s cottage.
Act 3, Scene 3
In the forest, Touchstone and Audrey are carrying on something of a courtship, while Jaques watches from a concealed location. Audrey reveals her unfamiliarity with the notion of the ‘‘poetical’’ (15), while Touchstone flaunts his wit and makes little secret of his desire simply to have sexual relations with the female goatherd. After mentioning that he has brought along a local vicar to perform a marriage ceremony to legitimate their lovemaking, he speaks at length about animals and men and their horns, sustaining the sexual references. When Sir Oliver Mar-text begins to conduct the wedding, Jaques offers to give away the bride and then convinces Touchstone that such a dull marriage would not befit the gentleman that he is. Jaques at last leads the couple away.
Act 3, Scene 4
At their cottage in the morning, Rosalind anxiously awaits Orlando, fretting to Celia about the color of his hair while admiring his evident chasteness. Celia admits that she doubts the truth of his love, leading Rosalind to inquire further. Rosalind also mentions that she met her father the day before and successfully maintained her disguise. When Corin arrives to lead them to the spectacle of Silvius trying to court Phebe (at which point the text switches to blank verse, the first time that such a change is introduced for a peasant) Rosalind remarks that she may ‘‘prove a busy actor in their play’’ (56).
Act 3, Scene 5
As Silvius begs Phebe to show him but the smallest kindness, Rosalind, Celia, and Corin arrive to observe. Phebe rejects Silvius saying that no man should be truly hurt by emotional disappointment. As Silvius despairs, Rosalind enters to first make fun of Phebe’s appearance and then suggest to Silvius that he would be better off seeking another mate; ultimately she recommends that they form a union, even if it might produce ‘‘ill-favored children’’ (53). However, Phebe takes an instant liking to Ganymede, despite, if not because of, his aggressiveness. When Silvius and Phebe are again left alone, Phebe agrees to love Silvius not romantically but as a neighbor, as well as to employ him. Subsequently, she inquires about Ganymede and expresses how appealing she found his softer qualities. At last recalling Ganymede’s bitterness and claiming to be offended by him, Phebe entreats Silvius to bring Ganymede a letter that she will compose.
Act 4, Scene 1
Jaques is engaging in conversation with the disguised Rosalind and Celia, offering justification for his melancholy, which he claims stems in part from his travels; Rosalind says that she prefers the amusement of a fool to the sadness fostered by experience. When Orlando appears, Jaques exits, leaving Rosalind to chide Orlando for being so late to a meeting with one he supposedly loves. After comparing him unfavorably to a snail, which at least has a home and horns on its head, Rosalind then urges Orlando to try and woo her. They banter about kissing and chasteness, then Rosalind echoes Phebe’s earlier remarks about no man having ever truly died from love. When Orlando objects to Rosalind’s lamenting tone, she becomes pleasanter, and they engage in a mock wedding ceremony. Nevertheless, she again grows negative, offering a list of ways in which she would disappoint Orlando as a wife. Ultimately she asserts that above all she would not abandon her wit, and if her husband tried to dismiss her, she would simply turn to another man. Orlando then departs to join the duke at dinner, asserting that he will return in two hours, and Rosalind remarks that if he breaks that promise, he will be thoroughly out of favor. Celia then chastises Rosalind for her disparaging remarks about the female sex, to which Rosalind replies only by celebrating the depth of her love for Orlando.
Act 4, Scene 2
Jaques and a few lords are found celebrating their successful deer hunt, although Jaques had earlier mourned the death of a hunted deer. One of the lords offers a song ritualizing the wearing of the deer’s horns, horns that are portrayed as almost sacred.
Act 4, Scene 3
As Celia and Rosalind wonder about Orlando’s failure to return on time, Silvius appears—accompanied by blank verse—to present Rosalind, still dressed as Ganymede, with a supposedly caustic letter from Phebe. In fact, finding the message to be one of love, Rosalind seizes the opportunity to jest with Silvius: she first claims that some man, certainly he, must have in fact written the ‘‘giantrude’’ (35) invective therein, then reads the letter aloud to reveal its actual loving contents. Finally, she sends Silvius on his way, although he is hopelessly in love with Phebe. Oliver then arrives in search of the cottage and the disguised women, bearing a handkerchief stained with blood. He relates how Orlando had happened upon a man sleeping under a tree with a snake wrapped about his neck and a lioness crouching in the bushes nearby. The snake slithered away, leaving Orlando to discover that the man was none other than his elder brother Oliver; after some indecision, Orlando drove off the lioness, saving Oliver’s life. Upon reaching the safety of the realm of Duke Senior, Orlando collapsed from a wound he received, then entreated Oliver to bring the handkerchief to Rosalind as a token. At this news, Rosalind herself swoons, leaving Oliver somewhat unconvinced of her masculinity. She hopes that Oliver will tell Orlando that she had only pretended to faint.
Act 5, Scene 1
Audrey and Touchstone are conversing, with Audrey regretting that they had not been married earlier by the adequate priest. Audrey then confirms that William ‘‘lays claim to’’ (7) but has ‘‘no interest in’’ (8) her, and Touchstone prepares to belittle him with wit. After conversing inconsequentially, the fool concludes by threatening the hapless William with death if he should try to maintain relations with Audrey.
Act 5, Scene 2
Oliver discusses his newfound adoration for Celia (as Aliena) with Orlando, also telling his younger brother that he intends to remain in the forest and live the life of a humble shepherd; if he does, Orlando will inherit their father’s estate. Upon Rosalind’s arrival, Orlando—who refers to the ‘‘greater wonders’’ (27) related to him by his brother and may thus be aware of Rosalind’s disguise—rues the fact that his brother gets to enjoy his love in the present. Orlando states that he ‘‘can live no longer by thinking,’’ that is, about his absent love (50). Rosalind, as Ganymede, then relates how she has long ‘‘conversed with a magician’’ (60–1) and promises that she will bring the true Rosalind the following day. Silvius and Phebe then arrive, with Silvius professing his love for her, while she professes her love for Ganymede—and Orlando once more professes his love for Rosalind. Rosalind then promises to resolve all of their conflicts of love the following day, presenting the intended outcome in such a witty way that everyone is content.
Act 5, Scene 3
Touchstone and Audrey look forward to their coming wedding, with two of Duke Senior’s pages arriving and singing the company a song about love and springtime. Touchstone concludes their tune with some sardonic remarks about the time he just wasted.
Act 5, Scene 4
In the closing scene, Duke Senior, Jaques, Orlando, Oliver, Silvius, Phebe, Celia, and Rosalind are gathered, with Rosalind receiving confirmation from everyone that they will agree to the various proposed unions. The two disguised women then leave, with Duke Senior and Orlando commenting upon Ganymede’s resemblance to Rosalind. Touchstone and Audrey then arrive, with Jaques praising the fool’s wit. Touchstone frames his acceptance of Audrey as a noble deed, then goes on to relate a quarrel he had, naming all of the retorts and reproofs according to the conventions of rhetoric; Jaques proves interested enough to ask for a recounting of the seven ‘‘degrees of the lie’’ (88–9). At last, the undisguised Rosalind and Celia arrive, led by Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, who speaks in blank verse with three or four feet per line, as opposed to Shakespeare’s usual iambic pentameter, which has five feet. After Duke Senior and Orlando rejoice in Rosalind’s appearance, Hymen proceeds to wed each of the four couples: Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey. After a ‘‘wedlock hymn’’ (137), Jaques de Boys, the brother between Oliver and Orlando, arrives to announce news: Duke Frederick, having embarked on a military journey into the forest in search of the banished Duke Senior, was converted to goodness by ‘‘an old religious man’’ (160) and bequeathed the crown and all his land back to his brother. Duke Senior implores the company to fully enjoy the ‘‘rustic revelry’’ (177) before returning to courtly life. The philosophizing Jaques then bids farewell to the company, naming the good fortunes that all the men have happened upon, to join the converted Duke Frederick, from whom he expects ‘‘there is much matter to be heard and learned’’ (185). The play closes with dancing.
The character of Rosalind bids farewell to the audience with the hope that women and men alike found enjoyment in the play. Since in Shakespeare’s time the actor playing Rosalind was a man, he notes that he would have even kissed some of the men in the audience had he been a woman; instead, he simply asks that they bid him farewell.
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007