William Shakespeare's As You Like It is a pastoral comedy written in 1599 or early 1600.
Source: "As You Like It" Ed. Frances E. Dolan, Penguin.
The play is set in a duchy in France, but most of the action takes place in a location called the 'Forest of Arden', which is a toponym for a forest close to Shakespeare's home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The Oxford Shakespeare edition rationalizes this geographical discrepancy by assuming that 'Arden' is an anglicisation of the forested Ardennes region of Belgium, and alters the spelling to reflect this. Other editions keep Shakespeare's 'Arden' spelling, since it can be argued that the pastoral genre depicts a fantastical world in which geographical details are irrelevant.
Furthermore, Shakespeare's mother's name was Mary Arden, and the name of the forest may also be a pun on that.
In Shakespeare's version, Frederick has usurped the Duchy and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior. The Duke's daughter Rosalind has been permitted to remain at court because she is the closest friend of Frederick's only child, Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman of the kingdom who has fallen in love at first sight of Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Frederick becomes angry and banishes Rosalind from court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee together accompanied by the jester Touchstone, with Rosalind disguised as a young man.
Rosalind, now disguised as Ganymede ("Jove's own page"), and Celia, now disguised as Aliena (Latin for "stranger"), arrive in the Arcadian Forest of Arden — not to be confused with the real Forest of Arden, — where the exiled Duke now lives with some supporters, including "the melancholy Jaques," who is introduced to us weeping over the slaughter of a deer. "Ganymede" and "Aliena" do not immediately encounter the Duke and his companions, as they meet up with Corin, an impoverished tenant, and offer to buy his master's rude cottage.
Orlando and his servant Adam (a role possibly played by Shakespeare himself, though this story may be apocryphal ), meanwhile, find the Duke and his men and are soon living with them and posting simplistic love poems for Rosalind on the trees. Rosalind, also in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Ganymede says he will take Rosalind's place and he and Orlando can act out their relationship. Meanwhile, the shepherdess Phebe, with whom Silvius is in love, has fallen in love with Ganymede, though Ganymede continually shows that he is not interested in Phoebe. The cynical Touchstone has also made an amorous advance on the dull-witted goatherd girl Audrey, and attempts to marry her before his plans are thwarted by the intrusive Jaques.
Finally, Silvius, Phoebe, Ganymede, and Orlando are brought together in an argument with each other over who will get whom. Ganymede says he will solve the problem, having Orlando promise to marry Rosalind, and Phoebe promise to marry Silvius if she cannot marry Ganymede. The next day, Rosalind reveals herself as Ganymede, and since women are not allowed to marry women, Phoebe ends up with Silvius.
Orlando sees Oliver in the forest and rescues him from a lioness, causing Oliver to repent of mistreating Orlando. Oliver meets Aliena and falls in love with her, and they agree to marry. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey all are married in the final scene, after which they discover that Frederick has also repented his faults, deciding to restore his legitimate brother to the dukedom and adopt a religious life.
Source and publication history
Shakespeare drew the story for As You Like It from Thomas Lodge's prose story "Rosalynde" in the collection Euphues' Golden Legacy (1590).
As You Like It was listed in the Stationers' Register, the contemporary equivalent of copyright, in August 1600. No printed copy of it is known prior to the publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare's collected works in 1623.
Critics from Samuel Johnson to George Bernard Shaw have complained that As You Like It is lacking in the high artistry of which Shakespeare was capable. Shaw liked to think that Shakespeare wrote the play as a mere crowdpleaser, and signalled his own middling opinion of the work by calling it As You Like It — as if the playwright did not agree. Tolstoy objected to the immorality of the characters, and Touchstone's constant clowning. Despite these high-profile naysayers, the play remains one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies.
The elaborate gender reversals in the story are of particular interest to modern critics interested in gender studies. Through four acts of the play, Rosalind — who in Shakespeare's day would have been played by a boy — finds it necessary to disguise herself as a boy, whereupon the rustic Phoebe (also played by a boy), becomes infatuated with this "Ganymede", a name with homoerotic overtones. In fact, the epilogue, spoken by Rosalind to the audience, states rather explicitly that she (or at least the actor playing her) is not a woman.
Act II, Scene 7 features one of Shakespeare's greatest monologues, which begins:
This famous soliloquy is spoken by the melancholy Jaques. Comparing life to a play, it goes on to catalogue the seven stages of man's life: infant, school-boy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and second childhood, "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything".
As You Like It also features much humorous and clever wordplay, occasioned by chance encounters in the forest, and several entangled love affairs, all in a serene pastoral setting which makes it often especially effective staged outdoors in a park or similar site.
The theme of pastoral comedy is love in all its guises in a rustic setting, the genuine love embodied by Rosalind contrasted with the sentimentalized affectations of Orlando, and the improbable happenings that set the urban courtiers wandering to find exile or solace or freedom in a woodland setting are no more unrealistic than the string of chance encounters in the forest, provoking witty banter, which require no subtleties of plotting and character development. The main action of the first act is no more than a wrestling match, and the action throughout is often interrupted by a song. At the end, Hymen himself arrives to bless the wedding festivities.
The stock characters in conventional situations were familiar material for Shakespeare and his audience; it is the light repartee and the breadth of the subjects that provide texts for wit that put a fresh stamp on the proceedings. At the centre the optimism of Rosalind is contrasted with the misogynistic melancholy of Jaques. Shakespeare would take up some of the themes more seriously later: the usurper Duke and the Duke in exile provide themes for Measure for Measure and The Tempest.
According to the history of radio station WCAL in the U.S. state of Minnesota, As You Like It may have been the first play ever broadcast. It went over the air in 1922.
A new film of As You Like It is set to be released in 2006, directed by Kenneth Branagh .
See also As You Like It, on screen.