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As You Like It
William Shakespeare



Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, is fed up. Since his father's death, his oldest brother, Oliver, has refused to give Orlando either the proper education or the money that Sir Rowland intended for him. Oliver hates Orlando. When he learns that Orlando intends to try his skill against a professional wrestler named Charles, Oliver incites Charles to kill Orlando in their match.

The country is ruled by Duke Frederick, who seized the throne from his own older brother by force. The wronged brother, Duke Senior, has been exiled to the Forest of Arden with many of his lords. His daughter, Rosalind, however, has remained at court. She and Duke Frederick's daughter, Celia, love each other like sisters.

Observing Orlando and Charles preparing for their match, Rosalind and Celia fear that the wrestler will hurt Orlando. Much to everybody's surprise, Orlando defeats Charles. But when Duke Frederick finds out that Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, who was once his enemy, he coldly dismisses the young man and leaves. The ladies offer Orlando a word of congratulation, and as they do so, it is clear that Rosalind and Orlando have already fallen in love.

Duke Frederick accuses Rosalind of stealing the people's affection away from his own daughter. As a punishment, she must leave the city or be put to death. Celia, who cares more for Rosalind than for her wicked father, resolves to run away with her cousin to the Forest of Arden. For safety's sake, Celia disguises herself as a peasant girl, named Aliena, while Rosalind dons a boy's outfit and assumes the name Ganymede. They convince Duke Frederick's court fool (clown), Touchstone, to go with them.

When Duke Frederick discovers that Celia and Rosalind are missing, he assumes they are with Orlando and angrily commands Oliver to find them and bring his daughter back. Meanwhile, warned by his father's old servant Adam that Oliver intends to murder him, Orlando has fled with Adam to the Forest of Arden.

After a long, hard journey, the ladies and Touchstone arrive in the forest. Rosalind arranges with Corin, an old shepherd, to buy a cottage for them and a flock of sheep.

Orlando and Adam finally reach Arden. Tired and starving, they find a haven in the camp of Duke Senior (Rosalind's father) and his lords.

Orlando now turns his thoughts to love. He writes passionate but amateurish poems to his beloved Rosalind and hangs them on the trees. He doesn't know, of course, that she is in the forest. She discovers the poems and is thrilled that Orlando is near.

Disguised as Ganymede, Rosalind finds Orlando in the forest and strikes up a conversation with him. He never suspects her true identity. Adopting a cynical attitude toward women, Rosalind tells Orlando that his lovesick behavior is foolish. She offers to cure him of love by playing a game with him. She will pretend to be his Rosalind. If he will woo her, she will demonstrate how impossible women are. Although he doesn't want to be cured, Orlando agrees to play along. They plan to meet the next day to begin the "love cure."

While waiting for Orlando to keep their appointment, Rosalind observes a young shepherd named Silvius wooing Phebe, a shepherdess. Phebe scorns Silvius, who swears that her rejection will kill him. Rosalind soon has heard enough. She steps in and berates Phebe for her cruelty. Thinking that Rosalind is a man, Phebe immediately falls in love with her! Rosalind, of course, rejects Phebe and quickly leaves.

Orlando finally arrives for his first dose of love cure. After Ganymede demonstrates how difficult women can be, Orlando leaves, promising to return shortly.

Silvius shows up with a letter from Phebe to Ganymede. He assumes that it's an angry message. But when Rosalind reads it aloud, he's dismayed to learn he's brought a love letter. Rosalind sends the crushed lover back to Phebe.

Then Oliver, Orlando's brother enters, bearing a message for the "youth" Rosalind. It seems that Orlando has just saved Oliver's life by fighting and killing a fierce lioness that was ready to attack. As a result, Oliver has seen and renounced the evil of his ways.

Celia and Oliver fall in love at first sight. Their joy only increases Orlando's sadness at being separated from Rosalind. Ganymede offers to make Rosalind appear the next day by magic.

The following day, all the lovers gather at Duke Senior's camp. Touchstone arrives with Audrey, a country wench he's decided to marry. Rosalind reveals her true identity, paving the way for a joyful conclusion to the story. Rosalind will marry Orlando; Oliver and Celia will wed; Phebe, seeing that Ganymede is a woman, decides she loves Silvius after all; and Touchstone and Audrey will marry.

Before the celebrating can begin, a message arrives that Duke Frederick, who set out into the forest with the intention of killing Duke Senior, has met an old religious man along the way and been converted. Duke Senior's lands and position are therefore restored to him. After music and dancing, Rosalind asks the lovers in the audience to bid her farewell with their applause.

[As You Like It Contents]



    Rosalind's function in the plot of As You Like It is vital. Once circumstances have driven all the major characters to the Forest of Arden, Rosalind either causes or contributes to all the major conflicts. It is she who resolves them all in the end.

    She's a complex and deeply human character. In Act I, you are first struck by her wit as she and Celia joke about such subjects as love and luck. At the same time, Shakespeare reminds you that Rosalind is an outsider, even in the court where she has grown up. Her father, the rightful duke, has been exiled. Although Rosalind misses him terribly, she will laugh and joke for her friend Celia's sake.

    Rosalind has the ability to rise above her own deeply felt emotions. Her love for Orlando makes her feel as giddy as any lovesick adolescent. (Look at her excitement when she learns that Orlando is in the forest.) She could easily surrender to the temptation to run around reciting poetry and swearing to die for love. Instead, she administers a love cure to Orlando that makes both of them stand back and take a good look at how ridiculous many conventional attitudes toward love really are. Thus, she avoids confusing the "idea of love" with love itself.

    She is also remarkably clever. She makes up the love cure on the spot and quickly invents an uncle and a magician to justify the stories she tells. And she's practical enough to be sure that she and Celia acquire a place to live as soon as they reach Arden.

    Rosalind is a good judge of character. She appreciates the skill of Touchstone, the court fool, and immediately sees through the pretensions of Jaques, Duke Senior's melancholy attendant. She has only to observe Silvius and Phebe for a few moments in order to size up their situation accurately.

    Finally, you should take note of her courage. She boldly tells the usurping duke that her father was no traitor. It also takes spunk to go on a dangerous journey disguised as a man because highwaymen would probably attack the man first.


    Readers' opinions about Orlando tend to fall into two camps. Some view him as the embodiment of all the virtues a Renaissance gentleman should possess. Others consider him dull and even stupid.

    Even his brother Oliver, who hates him, admits that Orlando is well thought of in the community. He's considered gentle and naturally noble. Although he's physically strong (as his defeat of Charles the wrestler proves), he will not harm his brother. He should respect his older brother, and he does. Later, even after Oliver has plotted to kill him, Orlando only hesitates a moment before risking his life to save Oliver's. When Orlando and his faithful old servant Adam are starving, Orlando will not eat a bite until he has seen to the old man's needs. Such courtesy must be a product of his nature, because he's been denied a gentleman's education.

    So, Orlando is strong, gentle, and noble. Is he witty and intelligent, too? He does outsmart Jaques in a contest of words. But nobody would read his love poems and find much to praise in them. As a lover, he tends to be a bit sappy. Without Rosalind's help, he could be another Silvius. Does that make him a fool? Rosalind must see hope for him. Under her guidance, he does improve.

    Do you see Orlando's weaknesses as indications that he's noble but not very intelligent? Or do you regard them as the kinds of imperfections that make him more human?


    In Act I, Celia has just as much to do and say as Rosalind. She fades into the background, however, as the play goes on. Although she remains undeveloped, many readers find her a charming character. She and Rosalind share a deep, loving friendship, and her importance is a function of that relationship.

    First, she serves as a confidant, a person with whom Rosalind can talk openly about her feelings. While Rosalind hides her true emotions in her scenes with Orlando, she is absolutely honest with Celia.

    What raises Celia from dramatic device (someone serving merely to help the play along) to a character who is interesting in her own right is her wit. From their first appearance, Celia matches Rosalind in her ease with words. Since Celia doesn't fall in love until nearly the end of the play, she also retains her cool judgment. Thus, when Rosalind expresses her own romantic feelings, Celia is there to undercut them with pointed jests.


    Jaques (pronounced "Jake-ways" or "Jake-weez") has been the focus of much debate. Is he a caricature of the many self-styled social critics Shakespeare saw around him? Or is he a genuine critic of society who voices Shakespeare's own cynical view of life? Many readers see Jaques as a "railer," a professional griper who adopts a melancholy pose. Is he profound or foolish? That you can even ask such questions is a tribute to Shakespeare's genius in portraying his major characters. You can take different views of them, just as you can of real people.

    Duke Senior and his followers treat Jaques with a certain amount of respect, but they clearly derive more amusement than instruction from his pronouncements. Touchstone patronizes Jaques, although Jaques doesn't realize it. Orlando plainly tells Jaques that he hates his company. Rosalind accuses him of being a traveler who pretends not to like his own country only to get attention.

    Are these assessments correct? Readers who see Jaques as Shakespeare's spokesman point to his speech about the Seven Ages of Man. If Shakespeare wanted to satirize Jaques's cynical views, would he have Jaques express his sentiments so beautifully? On the other hand, does the play as a whole support such a viewpoint? Would Shakespeare have picked Jaques as his spokesman? You must make up your mind based on your interpretation of the text.

    Jaques is what Elizabethans called a "humor" character. To the Elizabethans, humor meant temperament. A humor character is based on an exaggerated personality trait. Elizabethans believed that a person's temperament (mood or personality) was regulated by the balance of four bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy. According to this theory, if the balance of your bodily fluids changed, your mood would alter. If a person was constantly sad and gloomy, like Jaques, Elizabethans believed he had too much melancholy (also called "black bile") in his system. That's why there are references to "the melancholy Jaques."


    Many noble households in Shakespeare's time kept "licensed fools." These fools were essentially entertainers. They wore "motley," a patchwork coat of various colors. Touchstone, the fool of Duke Frederick's household, becomes Rosalind and Celia's traveling companion when they escape to the Forest of Arden. Like Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or the Fool in King Lear, Touchstone is a "wise" fool. Under the guise of spouting amusing nonsense, he reveals the truth about the people he meets.

    Touchstone's name describes his function. A touchstone was used to test the purity of precious metals- that is, to determine the genuineness or quality of a thing. This fool unmasks pretension and foolishness wherever he sees it. His primary technique is mimicry. For example, the first time he hears Silvius carrying on about Phebe, Touchstone does a funny imitation of the lovesick shepherd. He accomplishes two things: He makes the audience laugh, and he points out the absurdity of Silvius's behavior.

    He uses the same approach on the melancholy Jaques, who finds sad morals everywhere. Touchstone mimics him by delivering a gloomy but meaningless sermon about the consequences of time passing, making Jaques believe he's found a kindred spirit. Touchstone reveals that Jaques's pronouncements may not be as profound as Jaques would like people to believe.

    Touchstone doesn't always mimic the person he's talking to. With Corin and William, he imitates a learned man from the city. His manners and his "learned examples" are all nonsense, but the shepherds are fooled. Shakespeare uses Touchstone to clarify one of the satiric points of As You Like It- that real shepherds are not "poetical," like their counterparts in pastoral romances.

    Touchstone's courtship of Audrey parodies the pure, spiritual love that Silvius talks about by demonstrating the opposite extreme. Silvius sees love as something poetic and marriage as the fulfillment of a great spiritual longing. Touchstone regards marriage as a way to fulfill one's sexual urges. He purposely chooses an ugly woman and clearly states his intention to leave her once he tires of her.

    As you read each of Touchstone's scenes, ask yourself, Whom is the fool mimicking? What point is he making?


    Orlando's brother Oliver starts the play as a villain. When you first meet him, he is arrogant and cruel. He has stolen Orlando's inheritance by refusing to give him a gentleman's education or the money that their late father intended for Orlando. When Orlando wins acclaim by defeating Charles the wrestler, the jealous Oliver plots to murder his brother.

    Several times in Act I, Oliver is called "unnatural." That means he respects neither his dead father's wishes nor the laws of God, according to both of which he should love and care for his brother. His ill treatment of the faithful old servant, Adam, demonstrates his contempt for all the Old World virtues.

    Some readers believe that Oliver is motivated by envy. He says in a soliloquy (monologue) that people love Orlando and, as a consequence, ignore Oliver. Thus, he's an example of what Duke Senior calls the "envious court." Other readers hold that Oliver's psychological motivations are beside the point. He is not a study of a good man ruined by envy. He's evil because Shakespeare needed him to be. (The same is often said of a much more fully developed villain- Iago in Othello.)

    When you see Oliver at the end of Act IV, he has undergone a complete and miraculous conversion. His forsaking of evil serves two purposes: It parodies the types of sudden conversions found in pastoral romances, and it allows Celia to fall in love with him, thus providing another couple for the climactic wedding scene.


    These two rustics, or country folk, are the typical shepherds and shepherdesses of pastoral romances. Though uneducated, Silvius and Phebe speak in verse. Their sheep must be wandering loose somewhere, because their only concern is love.

    The roles they play are determined by convention. Phebe proudly scorns Silvius, who constantly pursues her, swearing eternal love. He seems actually to believe that her frowns can kill him, and he's always ready to die for love. When Phebe falls in love with Ganymede, she expresses the same sentiments.

    Can a modern audience appreciate these characters? Of course. Most people who have ever been in love can identify with Silvius (and later with Phebe). Can you? If you regard them as people (rather than as literary parodies), they become embodiments of all the ridiculous extremes to which love can drive almost anybody.


    These three rustics are very different from Silvius and Phebe. Instead of speaking in elaborate verse, Corin, William, and Audrey express themselves simply and have very limited vocabularies.

    Corin befriends Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone when they first arrive in the forest. He arranges for Rosalind and Celia to purchase a cottage, some land, and a flock of sheep. Since he knows a lot about tending sheep, Rosalind and Celia hire him to look after their flock. Corin is a good, simple man. Touchstone's nonsense philosophy confuses him, but the fool cannot make Corin doubt his own values.

    Audrey is as earthy as Phebe is "poetical." Before Touchstone can woo her, he has to promise to look after her goats. She understands very little of what he says and believes that he's a courtier (a member of the royal court). If Touchstone tells the truth, she is extremely unattractive. A great deal of humor is derived from her coarseness and lack of sophistication. At one point, for example, Touchstone has to tell her to "bear [her] body more seeming [properly]" (Act V, scene iv, lines 72-73). After a distinctly unromantic courtship, she marries Touchstone.

    William is a country bumpkin who may have once been engaged to Audrey. When he comes to discuss the matter with Touchstone, the fool confuses him utterly and sends him on his way. Many readers consider William's one scene a classic example of Shakespeare's skill in comedic writing.


    Duke Frederick is a usurper (someone who seizes power illegally). He has taken the throne from his older brother, Duke Senior, and banished him to the forest. Elizabethans believed that rulers were placed on their thrones by God. Therefore, a usurper offended God as well as man. Frederick lives in constant fear of being overthrown himself. (In that way he's similar to another usurper in Shakespeare, Macbeth. Unlike Macbeth, however, Frederick has not committed murder.) As a consequence, he is capable of swift mood changes and acts of terrible cruelty. He banishes Rosalind, because he fears that she is stealing the people's affection away from his own daughter, Celia. He probably also fears that, as the daughter of the rightful ruler, Rosalind might inspire the people to revolt. All he cares about is preserving his own power.

    Duke Senior, on the other hand, is gentle, generous, and philosophical. He treats the lords who have joined him in exile like equals, although they still show him the respect due his position. He gladly welcomes Orlando and Adam into their group. He tries to find good in everything, even their banishment. Although living in the forest is difficult, he claims to prefer that life to the lies, flattery, and deception he had to deal with in the city.

    Some readers question whether he really enjoys the forest as much as he says he does. They point out how willingly he returns to the city at the end of the play. Is he trying to convince himself that he likes the forest? Or is he pretending to be cheerful for his companions' sake?

  • ADAM

    Orlando's faithful old servant, Adam, represents the virtues of the Old World. He clearly loved his master, Sir Rowland, and is now just as devoted to Sir Rowland's son Orlando. He even goes so far as to give Orlando all the money he has saved. Orlando proves his nobility by treating Adam with love and respect. The wicked Oliver, on the other hand, mistreats Adam, thus proving his villainy.


    The Lord of Amiens is one of Duke Senior's men. He engages in conversation with Jaques but, unlike the duke, does not dispute with him. Amiens's main function is to sing songs about the forest life.


    Le Beau, a courtier, is one of Duke Frederick's followers. He is a dandy, one who always dresses in the latest fashion, no matter how ridiculous it, or he, may look. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone band together to make fun of his posing. He is not merely a figure of fun, however. After the wrestling match, he risks his own safety to warn Orlando that the duke may harm him.


    Sir Oliver is a priest, who shows up to marry Touchstone and Audrey. His name provides a clue to his character- he will mar (ruin) his text (the wedding ceremony). By hiring this inept priest, Touchstone underscores his attitude toward marriage- that it is like the mating of animals.

[As You Like It Contents]



The first act of As You Like It takes place in the city. Here, a man-made order has been imposed. Oliver owns his house. The duke lives in the palace and rules the land. The wildness of nature has been tamed. Trees grow in an orchard; grass is neatly trimmed into a lawn. The same rigid order is found in the city's social structure. People know exactly whom they have to please in order to get ahead. Flattery and outright deception are commonplace.

Almost all the action in Acts II to V occurs in the Forest of Arden. There, no such man-made order exists. Except for the modest cottage purchased by Rosalind and Celia, ownership is never an issue. One scene is distinguished from another simply by its taking place in "another part of the forest." Duke Senior never gives commands. His lords treat him like a respected older gentleman.

There are similarities between this forest and the woodland settings of pastoral romances. It's a rather magical place. In no real forest does the animal population include both sheep and lions. An old, religious hermit lives there, and so, it seems, does Hymen, the god of marriage. Yet, there are realistic elements. The shepherd Corin has a hard life, and the duke and his men must contend with cruel winter winds.


Here are some major themes of As You Like It. Some appear to contradict each other (like the first two). As you study the play, you should decide which ones you consider valid.


    In Elizabethan pastoral romances (love stories set in the country), rustic life was idealized as simpler, happier, and healthier than city life. Some readers believe this play expresses the same attitude. In the city, Rosalind's and Orlando's virtues arouse so much envy that both must flee to avoid being murdered. In the country, these two noble characters prosper. Virtuous Duke Senior seems to be happier in exile than he was at court. Country folk like Corin and Audrey are simple, hardworking people. Silvius and Phebe may seem silly, but they are harmless and rather charming. Finally, both villains (Oliver and Duke Frederick) renounce evil as soon as they arrive in the forest.


    Some readers believe that As You Like It exposes the absurdity of the so-called pastoral ideal. Duke Senior speaks about Arden as if it were the Garden of Eden, but he returns to the city the first chance he gets. Silvius and Phebe aren't even real shepherds. They exist only to demonstrate the absurd way rustics are portrayed in pastoral fiction. Real shepherds, such as Corin and William, are dim-witted clowns. Arden isn't Eden- it's a place where the winter winds will freeze you, if the wild beasts don't kill you first.


    As You Like It is a love story. The word "love" has many meanings. Through its various characters and their relationships, the play comments on several varieties of love.

    1. Romantic Love

      The essence of romantic love, as portrayed in literature, is that love must remain unfulfilled. The lovers are separated by distance, circumstance, or some unkind act of fate. Therefore, they quietly pine away for each other. This romantic ideal became popular in medieval times. By Shakespeare's time, the conventions of romantic love had been refined into a formula by the writers of romantic prose and poetry. Silvius and Phebe act out those conventions. Rosalind and Orlando flirt with the formula but ultimately rise above it.

    2. Sexual Love

      In sexual love, fulfillment is the only consideration. As Touchstone explains, people have needs. Marriage is an efficient, socially acceptable means to satisfy those physical needs. The love object need not be beautiful, noble, or inspirational- only available and willing.

    3. Balanced Love

      Rosalind and Orlando occupy a middle ground between the romantic and the purely sexual. They both feel the joy and excitement of romance, as they do inspire each other. But they want their love to lead to fulfillment. Rosalind has only just met Orlando when she tells Celia that she wants him to be the father of her children. Is their love the most complete love found in this play? What evidence can you offer to support your opinion?

    4. Love as Friendship

      Rosalind and Celia enjoy an ideal friendship. They feel each other's pain and enjoy each other's good qualities. There is no envy between them. Such friendships were frequently portrayed in Renaissance fiction, but the relationship was generally between two men.


    The play can be viewed as a study of the difference between what people deserve and what they get. "Nature," according to the Elizabethans, referred to the qualities a person is born with. "Fortune" was thought of as a force that determined a person's worldly position. By Nature, Orlando is honest, virtuous, and noble. Fortune, however, has deprived him of his birthright. His brother Oliver is petty and jealous, but Fortune has given him wealth and power. All the noble characters suffer in this play. In the end, the imbalance is corrected.


    Affectations (pretensions) have always been good targets for satire. In As You Like It, Shakespeare exposes several forms of artificial behavior. The affectations of courtiers are parodied by Touchstone. Corin, William, and Audrey provide realistic examples of country folk in contrast to the artificial characters portrayed by Silvius and Phebe. Rosalind systematically explains how the conventions of romantic love do not agree with the realities of life. While ridiculing pretense, Shakespeare celebrates genuine nobility and real love.


    "All the world's a stage," says Jaques, "and all the men and women merely players" (Act II, scene vii, lines 149-150). Every person plays a variety of roles in real life-parent, child, friend, lover, enemy, and so on. Some of the characters in this play engage in playacting as well. Some of the role playing produces positive results. Rosalind's disguise as a man enables her to teach Orlando a valuable lesson. Celia's disguise allows her to escape from the court of her wicked father. Touchstone amuses and instructs by assuming various roles at will. Other roles cause problems. Silvius and Phebe act out the limited conventions of romantic love; without Rosalind's help, their relationship would remain static. Some readers consider Jaques a consummate role player. They hold that his criticisms come not from true feeling but from a desire for attention.


    Elizabethans believed that God established the order and rank of people and things. Whoever disturbed that order committed a sin. Duke Frederick upset God's plan when he stole his older brother's throne. Oliver committed a wrong by refusing to respect his late father's wishes. These sins cause suffering. The noble characters must endure hardship, and the villains can't enjoy the power and wealth they've stolen. By the end of the play, the natural order is restored. Both villains are converted, and God's will once again prevails.


You can learn a lot about the characters in As You Like It by examining the way they speak. For example, if you look at Orlando's use of language in Act I, you will notice that his statements are bold and direct but always respectful. That suggests that he's a noble young man, forced to stand up for his rights. Oliver, in contrast, is snide and deceitful. The tyrant Duke Frederick often gives commands. His speeches contain neither wit nor poetry. Rosalind and Celia have a natural optimism and enthusiasm for life that no hardship can subdue. Their speech accordingly bubbles with wit and good humor.

In the forest, when Orlando's thoughts turn to love, his mode of expression changes. He becomes fanciful and poetic in talking about Rosalind. Silvius and Phebe speak only in verse; love is all that matters to them. The severely limited vocabularies of Corin, William, and Audrey tell you that these are genuine rustics- uneducated, and familiar only with matters pertaining to sheep and goats.

Some of the dialogue is written in verse (Silvius and Phebe's, for example). For these passages, Shakespeare used unrhymed iambic pentameter- that is, lines of ten syllables each, with every second syllable accented. Other characters, like Corin and Audrey, speak less formally in prose. Most of the others alternate between two styles.

Shakespeare's language is loaded with imagery- words and phrases that make you see a picture. The imagery tells you something about the speaker's character or his emotions. A good example is Jaques's famous speech about the Seven Ages of Man (Act II, scene iii). Jaques paints a picture to describe each age, from the "mewling and puking" infant to the old man who has entered "second childishness." Each image reflects Jaques's melancholy and overcritical nature.

As you read, ask yourself: How is each character using language? What does his or her language reveal about that character?


All languages change. Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents and their children. If language differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected that the English used by Shakespeare four hundred years ago will be markedly different from the English used today. The following information on Shakespeare's language will help a modern reader to a fuller understanding of As You Like It.


Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular classes in Shakespeare's day. Adjectives were often used as adverbs. In Act II, scene iv, line 54, for example, "wiser" is used for "more wisely":

Thou speakest wiser than thou art ware of.

They could also appear as verbs. In Act I, scene iii, line 5, "lame" means "make [me] lame":

...come lame me with reasons.

Nouns, including proper nouns, could be used as verbs. "Estate" is used to mean "leave as my estate":

...all the revenue that was old Sir Rowland's
will I estate upon you,...

(V, ii, 10-12)

and "Phebe" means "treats [me] as Phebe would":
She Phebes me.

(IV, iii, 39)


The meanings of all words undergo changes, a process that can be illustrated by the fact that "prevent" used to mean "come before," as in the biblical "He prevented [came before] the dawn." Many of the words in Shakespeare still exist today but their meanings have changed. The change may be small, as in the case of "honest," meaning "chaste," in

'Tis true, for those she makes fair, she scarce
makes honest; and those she makes honest, she
makes very ill-favoredly.

(I, ii, 36-38)

or more fundamental, so that "countenance" (I, i, 17) meant "lifestyle," "underhand" (I, i, 138) meant "unobtrusive," "villains" (II, ii, 2) meant "lower servants," "fond" (II, iii, 7) meant "foolish," and "modern" (IV, i, 6) meant "trite."


Words not only change their meanings but are frequently discarded from the language. In the past, "kine" was a plural form of "cow" and "lich" meant "corpse." The following words used in As You Like It are no longer current in English, but their meanings can usually be gauged from the context in which they occur.

HINDS (I, i, 19)
farm servants

INTENDMENT (I, i, 132)

HUSSIF (I, ii, 30)

QUINTAIN (I, ii, 241)
stuffed dummy used in jousting

MISCONSTERS (I, ii, 255)

SWASHING (I, iii, 116)

ROYNISH (II, ii, 8)

MEED (II, ii, 8)

DOG APES (II, iv, 97)

COVER (II, v, 28)
set the table

BOB (II, vii, 55)


FELLS (III, ii, 51)

PERPENT (III, ii, 65)

false friends

BREATHER (III, ii, 275)
living human being

QUOTIDIAN (III, ii, 356)
severe, uninterrupted fever


BOW (III, iii, 71)

CARLOT (III, v, 108)

LEER (IV, i, 64)

BASTINADO (V, i, 54)
beating, cudgeling



Shakespearean verb forms differ from modern usage in three main ways:

  1. Questions and negatives could be formed without using "do/did":

    What said he? How looked he? Wherein went
    he? What makes he here?

    (III, ii, 216-18)


    This must I do, or know not what to do;

    (II, iii, 34)

    Shakespeare had the option of using forms a and b whereas contemporary usage permits only the a forms:

    a b

    Is Orlando going? Goes Orlando?

    Did Orlando go? Went Orlando?

    You do not look well. You look not well.

    You did not look well. You looked not well.

  2. Many past participles and past tense forms are used that would be ungrammatical today. Among these are

    "broke" for "broken" in

    Or if thou hast not broke from company

    (II, iv, 37)

    "eat" for "eaten" in

    Why, I have eat none yet.

    (II, vii, 89)

    "love-shaked" for "love-shaken" in

    I am he that is so love-shaked.

    (III, ii, 357)

    "begot" for "begotten" in

    ...that was begot of thought,...

    (IV, i, 202)

    and "writ" for "wrote" in

    To show the letter that I writ to you.

    (V, ii, 77)

  3. Archaic verb forms sometimes occur with "thou" and "he/she/it":

    Thou art not for the fashion of these times,

    (II, iii, 59)


    ...knowest thou not the Duke
    Hath banished me his daughter?

    (I, iii, 90-91)


Shakespeare and his contemporaries had one extra pronoun, "thou," which could be used in addressing a person who was one's equal or social inferior. "You" was obligatory if more than one person was addressed:

I beseech you, punish me not with your hard
thoughts, wherein I confess me much guilty to
deny so fair and excellent ladies anything.

(I, ii, 172-74)

but it could also be used to indicate respect. Duke Senior often uses "thou" when addressing his subordinates but always receives "you" in return:

Duke: Art thou thus boldened man by thy distress?

Orlando: You touched my vein at first.

(II, vii, 92 and 95)

Frequently, a person in power used "thou" to a child or a subordinate but was addressed "you" in return. This invariably happens in the speeches between Adam and Orlando:

Orlando: Why whither Adam wouldst thou have me go?

Adam: No matter whither, so you come not here.

(II, iii, 29-30)

One further pronominal reference warrants a comment. The third person pronouns "he" and "it" were frequently interchanged:

I'll tell thee, Charles, it is the stubbornest young

(I, i, 140)

And whistles in his [its] sound.

(II, vii, 163)


Prepositions were less standardized in Elizabethan English than they are today, and so we find several uses in As You Like It that would have to be modified in contemporary speech. Among these are "of" for "about" in

...who perceiveth our natural wits too dull to
reason of such a goddess...

(I, ii, 51)

"of" for "from" in

Rosalind: Where learned you that oath, fool?

Touchstone: Of a certain knight....

(I, ii, 59-60)

"up" for "off" in

To fright the animals and kill them up

(II, i, 62)

and "of" for "by" in

...I were better to be married of him than of

(III, iii, 81-82)


Contemporary English requires only one negative per statement and regards such utterances as "I haven't none" as nonstandard. Shakespeare often uses two or more negatives for emphasis, as when Celia advises Rosalind

But love no man in good earnest, nor no further
in sport neither, than with safety...

(I, ii, 26-27)

or when Orlando tells Jaques

Nor shalt not till necessity be served.

(II, vii, 90)

or when Rosalind, in the epilogue, assures the audience

What a case am I in then, that am neither a
good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you
in the behalf of a good play?

(V, iv, 204-206)


As You Like It is divided into five acts, which are subdivided into scenes. Many readers have commented that almost all the major events of the play occur in the first act and a half. The city characters are introduced and the necessary history is explained (exposition). Each of the major characters is given a reason to go to the Forest of Arden. After Act II, scene iii, only one short scene takes place in the city.

In the country, nothing happens quickly except the characters' falling in love. The tension of the plot grows out of Rosalind's disguise. When will she reveal her true identity? What will happen when she does? In that sense, Rosalind has the power to end the play whenever she chooses. She takes time to explore the consequences of her disguise while discussing matters of love and philosophy. More confusions and additional pairs of lovers are added until Act V, scene ii, when Rosalind decides that it's time to unmask herself. The four marriages in Act V, scene iv, the repentance of both villains, and the restoration of Duke Senior's dukedom all give the play an entirely happy ending. Music and dancing follow, after which Rosalind turns to the audience and delivers a short epilogue.


Shakespeare didn't create his plots from scratch but derived aspects of them from other sources. The basic story and many details of the plot of As You Like It come from a pastoral romance by Thomas Lodge entitled Rosalynde. (Lodge didn't invent the story, either; he based it on a 14th-century narrative poem called The Tale of Gamelyn.) Printed in 1590, Lodge's novel supplies the story of the exiled king, the hostility between the two brothers, the young maidens in disguise, the escape from the city to the forest, and the lovesick shepherds. Lodge's Rosalynde also woos her lover while she is disguised as a man. The hero saves his wicked brother's life, after which the brother repents and falls in love with Rosalynde's friend.

Shakespeare's alterations and additions are noteworthy. Lodge's novel is bound by the conventions of the pastoral romance. The play is richer and more meaningful because it takes liberties with those conventions. Shakespeare's Rosalind is more three-dimensional and human than Lodge's, partly because Shakespeare gives her a sense of humor. Shakespeare also peoples his forest with characters, such as Touchstone and Jaques, who refuse to accept the pastoral ideal. The simpleminded rustics, such as Corin, William, and Audrey, are totally unlike the poetic shepherds of pastoral romances.


One of the most famous theaters of all time is the Globe Theatre. It was one of several Shakespeare worked in during his career and many of the greatest plays of English literature were performed there. Built in 1599 for L600 just across the River Thames from London, it burned down in 1613 when a spark from a cannon in a battle scene in Shakespeare's Henry VIII set fire to the thatched roof. The theater was quickly rebuilt and survived until 1644. No one knows exactly what the Globe looked like but some scholarly detective work has given us a pretty good idea.

When it was built, the Globe was the latest thing in theater design. It was a three-story octagon (eight- sided building) with covered galleries surrounding an open yard some 50 feet across. Three sides of the octagon were devoted to the stage and backstage areas. The main stage was a raised platform that jutted into the center of the yard, or pit. Behind the stage was the tiring house- the backstage area where the actors dressed and waited for their cues. It was flanked by two doors and contained an inner stage with a curtain used when the script called for a scene to be discovered. (Some scholars think the inner stage was actually a tent or pavilion that could be moved about the stage.) Above the inner stage was the upper stage, a curtained balcony that could serve as the battlements in Hamlet or for the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Most of the action of the play took place on the main and upper stages.

The third story held the musicians' gallery and machinery for sound effects and pyrotechnics. Above all was a turret, from which a flag was flown to announce "Performance today." A roof (the shadow) covered much of the stage and not only protected the players from sudden showers but also contained machinery needed for special effects. More machinery was located under the stage, where several trapdoors permitted the sudden appearance of ghosts in a play and allowed actors to leap into rivers or graves, as the script required.

For a penny (a day's wages for an apprentice), you could stand with the "groundlings" in the yard to watch the play; another penny would buy you a seat in the upper galleries; and a third would get you a cushioned seat in the lower gallery- the best seats in the house. The audience would be a mixed crowd- scholars, courtiers, and merchants and their families in the galleries; rowdy apprentices and young men looking for excitement in the yard; and pickpockets and prostitutes taking advantage of the crowds to ply their trades. And crowds there would be- the Globe could probably hold 2,000 to 3,000 people, and even an ordinary performance would attract a crowd of 1,200.

The play you came to see would be performed in broad daylight during the warmer months. In colder weather, Shakespeare's troupe appeared indoors at court or in one of London's private theaters. There was no scenery as we know it, but there are indications that the Elizabethans used simple set pieces such as trees, bowers, or battle tents to indicate location. Any props needed were readied in the tiring house by the book keeper (we'd call him the stage manager) and carried on and off by actors. If time or location were important, the characters usually said something about it. Trumpet flourishes told the audience that an important character was about to enter, rather like a modern spotlight, and a scene ended when all the characters left the stage. (Bodies of dead characters were carried off stage.) Little attention was paid to historical accuracy in plays such as Julius Caesar or Macbeth, and actors wore contemporary clothing. One major difference from the modern theater was that all female parts were played by young boys; Elizabethan custom did not permit women to act.

If the scenery was minimal, the performance made up for it in costumes and spectacle. English actors were famous throughout Europe for their skill as dancers, and some performances ended with a dance (or jig). Blood, in the form of animal blood or red paint, was lavished about in the tragedies; ghosts made sudden appearances amid swirling fog; thunder was simulated by rolling a cannonball along the wooden floor of the turret or by rattling a metal sheet. The costumes were gorgeous- and expensive! One "robe of estate" alone cost L19, a year's wages for a skilled workman of the time. But the costumes were a large part of the spectacle that the audience came to see, and they had to look impressive in broad daylight, with the audience right up close.

You've learned some of the conventions of the Globe Theatre, a theater much simpler than many of ours but nevertheless offering Shakespeare a wide range of possibilities for staging his plays. Now let's see how specific parts of As You Like It might have been presented at the Globe.

If you could slip back in time and see As You Like It at the Globe, you might be surprised at the speed of the play. A modern production of Shakespeare takes at least two and a half hours, and that's with part of the play omitted. But back in Shakespeare's day, plays took only about two hours. This could be done because there was no real break between scenes, and no scenery had to be shifted. Instead, different parts of the stage could be used.

Imagine how this could work in As You Like It. The first scene of Act I would take place on the main stage; then the second and third scenes, set in rooms in the palace, could be acted on the inner stage. The first scene of Act II (remember, no break between acts) would be back on the main stage for the forest. The next scene, another room in the palace, could use the balcony stage. Then one side of the main stage could serve for Scene iii, in front of Oliver's house, represented by the door. For Scene iv Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone could enter from the other side of the stage and Rosalind would announce, "This is the Forest of Arden." Each scene would follow on the heels of the one before it, so that the play would move very quickly.



ECC [As You Like It Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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