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 virtual absence of both private property and social position in the wild.
Meanwhile, for those fleeing the court, the journey to the forest is long and difficult; when the characters arrive they are physically exhausted and hungry. The harsh experience of returning to nature acts as a stripping process, however, laying bare the characters’ virtuous natures calloused by court life. Some characters, like Orlando and Rosalind, need little improvement and find in Arden a liberation from the oppression they have endured at court. Others, such as Oliver and Duke Frederick, approach the forest with malicious intent only to undergo a complete spiritual reformation. Arden is thus a morally pure realm whose special curative powers purge and renew the forest dwellers, granting them a self-awareness that they will ultimately use to restore order at court.
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