(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 delightful lovers, more laughter and joy. Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice, it is built by means of two worlds: the world ruled by Duke Frederick and the world of the Forest of Arden. The effect is not the ‘‘separate but equal’’ envelope structure of AMidsummer Night’s Dream, nor the interlocking and necessary alternation of The Merchant of Venice; instead, Frederick’s world first seems dominant and then dissolves and disappears into the world of Arden. Its life seems to be in the play not so much for itself as to help us understand and read its successor.
We have seen power presented in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merchant of Venice. In the former, Theseus rules according to judgment or reason; in the latter the Duke of Venice rules according to the laws of the city. Frederick’s world is like neither of these. Frederick is in complete command of his court. He has taken his brother’s place as Duke, exiled him with many of his followers, seized their lands for his own, and now rules. His highhanded behavior is illustrated by his usurpation of his brother’s dukedom, his immediate displeasure at Orlando, the sudden dismissal of Rosalind, the quick seizure of Oliver’s lands. What is most characteristic of his power is that it is arbitrary; neither reason nor law seems to control it.
When we look for his motives, we discover two kinds. His greed for power and possessions is obvious. But personal attitudes are just as strong. He treats Orlando rudely because he is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, an old enemy of his. He comes to hate Rosalind, giving as his reasons that he does not trust her, that she is her father’s daughter, that his own daughter’s prestige suffers by comparison; all these are half-hearted rationalizations rooted in jealousy and envy.
Frederick’s behavior is echoed if not matched by Oliver’s treatment of his brother Orlando and of his servant Adam. Oliver demeans and debases his younger brother; he plots his serious injury and later his death. He acts ignobly toward his faithful household servant Adam. Again, the motivations are mixed. He states explicitly that he wants Orlando’s share of their father’s bequest. But, beyond that, he wants to get rid of Orlando out of envy, out of fear of comparison made by others: …
“my soul (yet I know not why) hates nothing more than he. Yet he’s gentle, never school’d and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly belov’d, and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him that I am altogether mispris’d. [I. i. 165–71]”
Thus, ‘‘tyrant Duke’’ and ‘‘tyrant brother’’ are described in tandem, public and private images of the same behavior. They have the power; they control their world; they do not fear disapproval or reprisal. Charles the wrestler, Lebeau and other lords surrounding Frederick, however many reservations they may have about the morality of their leaders, do not dare to question their authority. They have their own positions to protect.
Those chiefly harmed by the ruthless domination of these men are Orlando and Rosalind. They have committed no fault but they are hated. Their presence too gives definition to Frederick’s world. Orlando has virtue, grace, beauty, and strength. Rosalind is beautiful, intelligent, virtuous, honest. Their action, their reputations, the loyalty they command all testify to these wonders. Yet both of them are conscious of what they do not have—their proper place and heritage in this world. Orlando feels deeply his brother’s injury in depriving him of his education and his place in the household. Rosalind is sad at her father’s banishment and then indignant at her own dismissal. Both are too virtuous to think of revenge; but they are fully aware that they are being wronged. Having all the graces, they are nevertheless dispossessed of their rightful positions.
Yet, these two have their own power. When they leave Frederick’s world, they draw after them others, too loyal, too loving to remain behind. Celia, meant to profit from her cousin’s departure, follows Rosalind into banishment without question or remorse. She has already promised that what her father took from Rosalind’s father by force, ‘‘I will render thee again in affection’’ [I. ii. 20–1]. And when the test occurs soon after, she meets it at once. In her, love triumphs hands down over possession and prestige.
Her example is followed by the Clown. Not only will he ‘‘go along o’er the wide world’’ [I. iii. 132] with Celia out of loyalty to her; he has also, in Frederick’s world, lost place just as Rosalind has. There ‘‘fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly’’ [I. ii. 86–7]. Since he has lost his usefulness as a fool, he may as well leave with Celia and Rosalind.
These gifted models of humanity, Rosalind and Orlando, draw out of Frederick’s world the loving, the truthful, the loyal. Frederick and Oliver, seeking to control and ultimately to crush their enemies, only succeed in driving away other worthwhile characters with them.
The world of Frederick is simply in structure. The powerful control, but they envy the virtuous; the virtuous attract, but they want to have their rightful place. Those in authority triumph in their own terms, but things happen to them in the process. They turn against each other—Frederick would devour Oliver as he has so many others. Their world, as it grows more violent, diminishes in importance until it disappears altogether. The virtuous are undefeated though displaced.
In contrast to the specific placing of Frederick’s world, the Forest reaches beyond the bounds of any particular place, any specific time. Its setting is universalized nature. All seasons exist simultaneously. Duke Senior speaks of ‘‘the icy fang And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind’’ [II. i. 6–7]; but Orlando pins verses to ‘‘a palm tree,’’ ‘‘abuses our young plants with carving,’’ and ‘‘hangs odes upon hawthorns, and elegies on brambles’’ [III. ii. 360–62]; and Rosalind and Celia live at the ‘‘tuft of olives.’’ Again, Orlando does not wish to leave Adam ‘‘in the bleak air’’; but in the next scene Jacques has met a fool who ‘‘bask’d him in the sun.’’ The songs continue this mixture: ‘‘Here shall he see No enemy But winter and rough weather’’ [II. v. 6–8] alongside ‘‘the greenwood tree’’ and ‘‘the sweet bird’s throat’’ [II. v. 1, 4] both in the same song, or the alternation between the ‘‘winter wind’’ [II. vii. 174] and the ‘‘spring time, the only pretty ring time’’ [V. iii. 19], dominant notes in two other songs. If the Forest is not to be defined in season, neither is it limited to any particular place. The variety of trees already indicates this; the variety of creatures supports it: sheep, deer, a green and gilded snake, a lioness. Meek and domestic creatures live with the untamed and fierce.
Yet the Forest is more than an outdoors universalized, which largely accommodates itself to the mood and attitude of its human inhabitants. It is a setting in which the thoughts and images of those who wander through it expand and reach out to the animate, as if the Forest were alive with spirits taken for granted by everyone. Even so mundane a pair as Touchstone and Audrey, discussing her attributes—unpoetical, honest, foul—assign these gifts to the gods. Orlando, who is able at first meeting Rosalind only to utter ‘‘Heavenly Rosalind,’’ is suddenly release to write expansive verses in praise of her, some of which place her in a spiritual context:
… heaven Nature charg’d
That one body should be fill’d
With all graces wide-enlarg’d …
Thus Rosalind on many parts
By heavenly synod was devis’d …
[III. ii. 141–43, 149–50]
Phoebe seconds his view by giving Rosalind qualities beyond the human:
Art thou god to shepherd turn’d,
That a maiden’s heart hath burn’d?…
Why, thy godhead laid apart,
Warr’st thou with a woman’s heart?
[IV. iii. 40–1, 44–5]
But in addition to mind-expanding qualities, the Forest produces some real evidence of its extraordinary powers. Oliver, upon his first appearance in the Forest, is beset by the green and gilded snake (of envy?) and by the lioness (of power?), but when these two are conquered, his whole behavior changes. And Frederick, intent on destroying his brother, meets an ‘‘old religious man’’ and
After some question with him, was converted
Both from his enterprise and from the world.
[V. iv. 161–62]
And these events harmonize with Rosalind’s producing Hymen, the god of weddings, to perform the ceremony and bless the four pairs of lovers. The Forest is a world of all outdoors, of all dimensions of man’s better nature, of contact with man’s free imagination and magical happenings.
The Forest has still another quality in its setting. It is not timeliness but it reflects the slow pace and the unmeasurable change of the earth. The newcomers notice the difference from the world outside. Orlando comments that ‘‘there’s no clock in the forest’’ [III. ii. 300–01]; Rosalind tells us ‘‘who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal’’ [III. ii. 309–11]. And Touchstone, as reported by Jaques, suggests the uselessness of measuring changes in the Forest by the clock:
’Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven,
And so from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.
[II. vii. 24–8]
But the qualities of the setting are only part of what goes into the definition of the Forest world. The natives to the Forest make their contributions as well. Corin and Silvius and Phoebe, Audrey and William and Sir Oliver Martext all appear, without seeming consequence or particular plot relevance, put there to show off different dimensions of the Forest, to strike their attitudes, to stand in contrast with the characters newly come from another world, and then, like the deer and the sheep and the snake and the lioness, to retire into the Forest again until or unless called upon by their visitors.
In all these natives there is a non-critical quality, an innocence, a lack of competitiveness that suits well with the Forest world and helps to describe it. But Shakespeare gives us still other ways of distinguishing this world from Frederick’s. Early in the play Celia and Rosalind engage in idle banter about the two goddesses, Fortune and Nature, who share equally in the lives of men. Fortune ‘‘reigns in gifts of the world,’’ Rosalind says, ‘‘not in the lineaments of Nature’’ [I. ii. 41–2]. It is a shorthand way of distinguishing the Forest world from Frederick’s. Frederick’s world is a world of Fortune, from which the children of Nature are driven. Power, possession, lands, titles, authority over others characterize that world, and men to live there must advance their careers or maintain their positions in spite of everything. The Forest world is completely Nature’s. In its natives the idleness, the lack of ambition and combativeness, the carelessness about ownership and possession, the interest in the present moment without plan for the future, all are signs of a Fortune-less world. Instead there is awareness of the gifts inherent from birth in the individual, no matter how untalented or unhandsome (Audrey’s response to her foulness or William’s self-satisfaction, for instance). These are ‘‘the lineaments of Nature,’’ the basic materials of one’s being. In the Forest, the natives neither can nor aspire to change them. And the qualities of the setting—universality, gradual rather than specific change, a linkage between the outdoors world and a projected though perhaps imaginary supernatural, these too are compatible with the world of Nature, Fortune having been removed. Both Fortune and Nature, then, are abbreviated terms to epitomize the kinds of worlds represented by Frederick’s on the one hand and the Forest’s on the other.
One further means of defining the Forest world emerges with the character of Jaques. He has been in the outside world, but he has chosen the Forest and he is its most eloquent spokesman. He is the personification of the speculative man. He will not react when Orlando threatens his life: ‘‘And you will not be answer’d with reason, I must die’’ [II. vii. 100–01]. He will not dance or rejoice in the final scene. He would prevent action in others if he could. He weeps that the Duke’s men kill the deer, he would keep Orlando from marring the trees with his poems, he advises Touchstone not to ‘‘be married under a bush like a beggar’’ [III. iii. 84]. He is like the natives of the Forest, ambitionless, fortuneless, directionless.
Duke Senior, like Jaques, has had experience in both worlds. He too is being ‘‘philosophical.’’ Their life in the Forest
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
[II. i. 16–17]
He and his men ‘‘fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world’’ [I. i. 118–19]. But for the Duke and his men, it is only play-acting. They appear in one scene as Foresters, in another as outlaws. He himself has lost his name: he is Duke Senior, not specifically named like Frederick. More than that, he has nothing serious to do. While his brother is seizing Oliver’s lands and organizing a search for his daughter and seeking to destroy him, he is contemplating a deer hunt or asking for Jaques to dispute with or feasting or asking someone to sing. Duke Senior has no function to perform; he cannot be a Duke except in title. All the philosophical consolations he may offer himself and his men cannot alleviate the loss he feels at being usurped and banished by his brother.
Touchstone’s is the outsider’s view of the Forest. His responses are the touchstones which set off the Forest natives most clearly. As Jaques is the ‘‘official’’ voice of the Forest, Touchstone is the ‘‘official’’ voice of the world outside.
The Forest is liberating for the newly arrived lovers, too. Oliver is freed from the burden of envy and absorption with power; and as a consequence he and Celia can fall immediately in love. So satisfying is it that Oliver would give up his possessions to Orlando and live a shepherd’s life forever. Celia has assumed the name Aliena, left her father’s court so completely that she never thinks of him again, and falls utterly in love when she meets the reformed Oliver. She has never been tied to the idea of possession or prestige and so she is easily open to the lures of the Forest.
Whereas Oliver’s and Celia’s love experience is muted, described rather than dramatized, Orlando’s and Rosalind’s is the heart of the play. Orlando, idle in the Forest and ‘‘loveshak’d,’’ expresses his love for the lost Rosalind by writing passionate verses for her and hanging them on the trees; later he plays the game of wooing the young man Ganymed as if he were his Rosalind. He makes his protestations of love, he makes pretty speeches of admiration, he takes part in the mock-marriage ceremony, he promises to return to his wooing by a certain time. But his playing the game of courtship is as nothing compared to the game of deception and joyful play that Rosalind, safe in her disguise as Ganymed, engages in when she is with him. Her spirits soar and her imagination and wit expatiate freely and delightedly on the subject of men in love, on their looks, on their behavior, on the cure of their disease, and then specifically on Orlando’s mad humor of love, on how he could woo, on how he can be cured through the lore she (he) acquired from the ‘‘old religious uncle.’’ The Forest gives both of them an opportunity to play parts free of the restraints that might accompany acknowledged wooing.
But though their fanciful indulgence leads them to forget the rest of the world—Rosalind cries out, ‘‘But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando?’’ [III. iv. 38–9]— the play is only play and basically incompatible with their real natures.
Orlando’s behavior outside and in the Forest suggests responsibility, suggests need for significant action. To him the Forest is a ‘‘desert inaccessible’’ and those in it. ‘‘Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time’’ [II. vii. 110, 112]; he himself will keep appointments with Duke Senior, he will care for his loyal servant Adam, he will save his brother’s endangered life. He has a general distaste for the company of the speculative Jaques, and he finally gives up the wooing game entirely: ‘‘I can live no longer by thinking’’ [V. ii. 50]. He is Nature’s child, but he insists on living by Fortune’s standards.
And Rosalind is even more emphatic in the attitudes founded in the outside world. Her first act in coming into the Forest is to buy a sheepcote; she uses the imagery of the market place when she is judging others: ‘‘Sell when you can, you are not for all markets’’ [III. v. 60], she says to Phoebe; ‘‘I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much, and to have nothing, is to have rich eyes and poor hands’’ [IV. i. 22–5], she says to Jaques. With Silvius and Phoebe, she has small patience. To him she says, ‘‘Wilt thou love such a woman? What, to make thee an instrument, and play false strains upon thee?… I see love hath made thee a tame snake’’ [IV. iii. 67–8, 69–70]. The natives receive short shrift from her, but she herself is in the depths of love for Orlando, and in her playing with Orlando partly mocks her own condition.
Given the characteristics of the Forest world, given the attachments of Duke Senior, Touchstone, Orlando, and Rosalind to the outside world, the resolution of the play can be foreseen. Under the spell of the Forest, pretended marriage takes place between Orlando and Rosalind (as Ganymed) with Celia officiating. Marriage almost takes place between Touchstone and Audrey with Martext officiating. In the last scene, all four couples are married in the only way possible in the Forest, by the appearance of Hymen, god of marriage, to perform the ceremony: ‘‘Then is there mirth in heaven, When earthly things made even Atone together’’ [V. iv. 108–10]. Hymen joins the lovers and reintroduces the Duke to his Daughter: ‘‘Good Duke, receive thy daughter, Hymen from heaven brought her… ’’ [V. iv. 111–12]. He thus re-establishes the father-daughter relationship first devised through his means at Rosalind’s birth. The hiatus caused by the Duke’s exile and by the disguises in the Forest is broken and the societal structure of father and daughter is made clear once again.
With the appearance of Touchstone another relationship is given social standing. When he is introduced to Duke Senior by Jaques, Touchstone immediately resumes his professional position as fool. His comment on the life of the courtier, his long argument on ‘‘the quarrel on the seventh cause’’ is appreciated by the Duke: ‘‘I like him very well’’; ‘‘By my faith, he is very swift and sententious’’; ‘‘He uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit’’ [V. iv. 53, 62–3, 106–07]. A rapport is established between them which suggests that Duke will be Duke and master again and Fool will be Fool and servant.
A final relationship is re-established among the sons of Rowland de Boys. Through its magic the Forest has brought Orlando and Oliver together. Now a third brother appears, carrier of the news of Frederick’s resignation—‘‘His crown bequeathing to his banish’d brother’’ [V. iv. 163]—and agent for restoring his own brothers to the outside world. His coming not only reunites all three but makes a necessary link to the outside world for them. It also sounds an echo: Charles the Wrestler sought advancement and distinction by breaking the ribs of three of his victims, all brothers. That was a symbol of the way power broke blood relationships in Frederick’s world—Frederick with his niece and daughter, Oliver with his brother. Now separated families are reunited and friends.
But they have not yet left the Forest. Duke Senior’s speech assuming his authority shows that he is in command of both the Forest world and his former Dukedom and that each of them is part of his experience and momentarily under his perfect control. Duke Senior’s reference to the lands which will be given to the brothers is balanced and ambiguous:
Welcome, young man;
Thou offer’st fairly to thy brothers’ wedding:
To one his lands withheld, and to the other
A land itself at large, a potent dukedom.
[V. iv. 166–69]
To Oliver, the lands taken from him by Frederick are returned; to Orlando, his son-inlaw, the heritage of his dukedom is given. Yet there is just a suspicion that the gifts might be directed the other way: to Orlando, whose lands have been taken from him by Oliver, will be returned his father’s lands; to Oliver, the Forest world where he has determined to remain; for the Forest is without a ruler and without bounds, a place where he who does not have to own or possess anything may feel himself a powerful ruler.
This distinction between the brothers is followed by a statement of the Duke’s own intention in regard to the Forest and the world outside it:
First, in this forest let us do those ends
That here were well begun and well begot;
And after, every of this happy number,
That have endur’d shrewd days and nights with us,
Shall share the good of our returned fortune,
According to the measure of their states.
[V. iv. 170–75]
By ‘‘those ends,’’ presumably, he means the marriages which have been the contribution and the fruit of the Forest world. Then his attention will be turned to the world outside the forest, where they will enjoy their ‘‘returned fortune, According to the measure of their states.’’ Place and prestige are implied here, possession a necessary element. Both Forest and his Dukedom are in his mind and paired. And the retention of both worlds continues right to the end when he repeats the words fall and measure once to apply them to Nature’s world and once to apply them to Fortune’s:
Mean time, forget this new-fall’n dignity,
And fall into our rustic revelry.
Play, music, and you brides and bridegrooms all,
With measure heap’d in joy, to th’ measures fall.
[V. iv. 176–79]
‘‘New-fall’n’’ applies to his returnedDukedom, ‘‘fall’’ applies to the current Forest life. ‘‘Measure heap’d in joy’’ could apply to both worlds, but it recalls for us ‘‘the measure of their states’’ and the assumption of rank and position looked upon as normal in Fortune’s world; the final ‘‘measures’’ refers to the dance they will do in the Forest. We are left, after this balanced holding of both worlds at once, with the departure of Jaques and with the dance which is the sign of the harmony of the moment.
The Epilogue is all that marks the return to the workaday world, spoken by the boy who has played Rosalind. He has gone from the heights of role-playing—this boy playing Rosalind playing Ganymed playing Rosalind— step by step back down the ladder of fantasy to speak directly to the men and women in the audience before him. He speaks of attraction between the sexes, of possible kisses, of the need for appreciation and applause. It is not the Forest nor the Duke’s realm. It is the theater, the living reality of the image used so extensively in the play.
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
John A. Hart, ‘‘As You Like It: The Worlds of Fortune and Nature,’’ in Dramatic Structure in Shakespeare’s Romantic Comedies, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980, pp. 81–97.