(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 description of Orlando lying ‘‘under a tree like a dropped acorn’’ (3.2.231).(3) Knowles suggests that Rosalind’s observation, ‘‘It may well be called Jove’s tree, when it drops/ such fruit’’ (3.2.232–3), echoes a more explicit Orlando/Hercules association that she has made earlier (1.2.198) by indirectly alluding here to Hercules’ being the son, or metaphorical fruit of the god Jove.(4) Knowles’s second Jovian oak reference lies in Oliver’s identification of ‘‘ … an old oak, whose boughs were moss’d with age / And high top bald with dry antiquity’’ (4.3.104–5) (5) as the site of Orlando’s victory over a snake and a lion. Beneath this arboreal symbol of the father, Jove, Orlando reenacts versions of the first and second famous labors of the son, Hercules, the defeat of the Nemean lion and the snakelike Lernaean Hydra.(6)
The overlooked, third Jovian oak reference precedes the other two and appears to suggest Orlando’s symbolic reenactment of Hercules’ third famous labor, the capture in Arcadia of Diana’s sacred stag.(7) It occurs in the reported observation of Jaques lying:
Under an oak, whose antique root peeps out
Upon the brook that brawls along this wood,
To the which place a poor sequester’d stag,
That from the hunter’s aim had ta’en a hurt,
Did come to languish (2.1.31–35)
Although the wounded deer in this passage ostensibly provides Jaques with an occasion to bemoan man’s inhumanity to beasts, its specific location, under an ‘‘antique’’ oak, suggests mythological ties with the play’s other two conspicuous oak tree references. In this light, the defeated hart [sic] may be seen as an allusion to Hercules’ victory over Diana’s hart [sic] and, punningly, Orlando’s victory over Rosalind’s heart.
This specific punning link between Hercules’ third labor and Orlando’s effect upon Rosalind may be found in the play elsewhere. Knowles detects it in Rosalind’s further comments upon Celia’s report of Orlando under the tree. Associated herself with Diana earlier in the same scene (3.2.2–4), Rosalind jests that Orlando’s hunter’s garb indicates that ‘‘he comes to kill my heart!’’ (3.2.242). It may appear more faintly suggested as well in a syllepsis-like construction used by Rosalind in the scene immediately preceding the one containing the wounded hart [sic] under the oak. Describing her intended masculine disguise as Ganymede, she imagines:
A boar-spear in my hand, and in my heart,
Lie there what hidden women’s fear there will. (1.3.114–15)
It would seem that in a play in which the name of Jove is invoked seven times, and in which specific reference is made to his sacred tree, we would do well to stop before certain ‘‘antique’’ oaks in the forest of Arden and, as Duke Senior advises, consider what they have to say (2.1.16).
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
Steven Doloff, ‘‘Shakespeare’s As You Like It. (William Shakespeare),’’ in The Explicator, Vol. 51, No. 3, Spring 1993, pp. 143–146.