Painting of scene from As You Like It--Jester Touchstone talks to country lass Audrey in Arden forest.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It: Touchstone the Jester romances Audrey, the country lass.

As You Like It: Is Love Real? Learning and Laughing at  this and other Big Questions

How could a very old play about an imaginary forest where shepherds and shepherdesses tend their flocks, sing of love, and write poems on trees have anything to say about our lives in the 21st century?

Plenty, as I and my students repeatedly found—because this play, As You Like It, was written by the magnificent William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s knowledge of the human heart shows as full and rich today as ever it did when As You Like It was first performed in 1599.

One reason I love this play so much is that it tells us something so many of us modern cynics need to hear today:

Love is real. Yes, it may be complicated, twisted, and strange–but ultimately, love  is good, and can truly be long-lasting.

Here’s another good message in this play:

Simplifying your life, taking it right down to the basics even for a short while, can help you gain self-knowledge and regenerate your soul.

Not that Love, or Anything, is Simple. . .

Of course neither message is presented as just that simple. As You Like It may be high on love, but also illustrates its negative aspects.

For one thing, love is not as nearly so “romantic” as poems and romance novels often describe it. People get mixed up, mistaking obsession, lust, or ambition for love. We call all kinds of relationships “love” that, in truth, really aren’t. And not all loves are going to last.

As You Like It also shows that a “simple” life in the country—living rough and leaving a “small footprint,” as we might call it today–isn’t always that simple, or even very pleasant. However, life in the sophisticated city doesn’t always offer the best life either.

For one thing, civilization isn’t always that civilized. “Civilized” people can treat each other with savagery. The best people struggle to keep their positions in society as the worst people strike out from behind false smiles.

Yet when all is said and done in Shakespeare’s comedy, after many witty dialogues by the characters and much laughter from the audience, As You Like It ends with some clear messages:

  • Though some folk are corrupt and selfish, there are good people in the world.
  • A simple country life, for all its hardships, has valuable lessons to teach.
  • Urban civilization, for all its corruptions, can also enrich people’s characters.
  • And. . . True Love, despite its complexities, is very much worth pursuing.

As You Like It: Part Parody 

It’s doubly fun and interesting that Shakespeare conveys these, and many other themes and ideas, through engaging in a a re-mix of another popular work: Thomas Lodge’s pastoral fiction RosalyndeAccording to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, “Thomas Lodge’s prose romance  Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacy  (first published 1590) is best known today as the major source for Shakespeare’s  As You Like It, but its own success is apparent from its numerous reprintings.”   As You Like It, coming along nine years after Rosalynde’s first printing, is both homage to and parody of Lodge’s pastoral fiction.

Shakespeare’s play follows many of the conventions popularized by Lodge’s work and other Renaissance pastoral romances,  in which well-born ladies and gentlemen leave their sophisticated lives at court to wander an idyllic forest and countryside among simple shepherds and shepherdesses.  (“Pastoral” means “country.”) In traditional pastoral, these fictional lads and lasses have little to do but discourse of love and woo one another from morning to night.   Thus,  Lodge’s work is lively and enchanting.    Shakespeare’s version of the pastoral in As You Like It, however, is as gritty, real, and elemental as it is charming and sweet.

Though funny and very entertaining, As You Like It goes well beyond Lodge’s Rosalynde in presenting a balanced view of the elemental questions about life and love.  Let’s take a closer look at As You Like It.

Shakespeare's As You Like It characters painted in forest scene.

Shakespeare’s forest of Arden in As You Like It. 1864 painting by John Edmund Buckley.




First, a Quick Summary 

As You Like It follows the fortunes of Duke Senior, his lovely and lively daughter Rosalind, and her beloved: the athletic, impetuous, and uber-romantic Orlando. At the start of the play, Rosalind’s father Duke Senior has been thrown down from his rightful place as ruler of the French court by his younger brother Duke Frederick. Duke Senior and his followers have found refuge in the lovely but wild forest of Arden.

Rosalind, his daughter, has remained at Court with her bosom friend and first cousin Celia, Frederick’s daughter. She sees Orlando at a wrestling match and falls in deep love with him, just before her uncle Frederick banishes her as well. She and Celia, who won’t leave Rosalind’s side, also escape to Arden Forest, disguised to make them safer as they flee. Rosalind poses as the male youth Ganymede and Celia assumes the guise of a humble shepherdess, Aliena. The faithful court jester (or “fool”) Touchstone also flees with the girls.

Meanwhile, Orlando is also chased from court by his envious brother Oliver, who wants him dead rather than fulfill his promise to their dead father to educate and provide for Orlando. Orlando ends up in Arden Forest too, along with his loyal old servant Adam. In Arden, he meets Rosalind, still disguised as a male youth. She takes advantage of her disguise as a man to school the overly romantic Orlando in the truths of love, and to test the depth of his feeling for her.

Rosalind and Orlando meet a host of other characters in Arden who are all lost in their own love tangles. Hilarity and entertaining philosophical discussions on the meaning of life and love ensue. In the end, after many ups and downs for all, everything is made right.

Rosalynde and Rosalind

Painter's idea of Rosalind dressed as the boy Ganymede in Shakespeare's As You Like It

Painter’s idea of Rosalind dressed as the boy Ganymede in Shakespeare’s As You Like It

As I mentioned above, As You Like It is Shakespeare’s version of Lodge’s Pastoral Romance, Rosalynde, from which he borrowed many plot points and characters.
Like Lodge’s Rosalynde, Shakespeare’s As You Like It features the lively Rosalind, a strong woman character who spends most of the play pretending to be a man in order to make her way more safely in the rough countryside. Also like Lodge’s story, As You Like It contains all the ingredients of a charming pastoral, a tale set in an idyllic countryside where shepherds woo shepherdesses, noblemen sing songs, and almost everyone writes poetry. Love, of course, is the central topic–its beauties, pains, and endless ups and downs.

The pastoral is an old kind of story, dating back to the Greek poet Theocritus, who wrote around 300 BC, then continued by the Roman poet Virgil who lived from 70 to 19 BC. This mode of writing was revived by Italian and later French and English poets in the Renaissance, when Shakespeare was writing.

As You Like It is a relatively late entry into the genre. While Shakespeare uses many pastoral conventions straightforwardly, his play pokes fun at the pastoral as much as celebrating it. In As You Like It, everything from setting to characters is more gritty and real than a typical pastoral would describe. Audience members who were familiar with Lodge’s work or other pastorals probably found Shakespeare’s cynical realism very funny.

Shakespeare’s Twists on Lodge

Throughout As You Like It, Shakespeare inserts many playful twists on Lodge’s plot points and assumptions about romance.

For instance, Lodge’s characters are all graceful and physically beautiful; Shakespeare’s are, well, not–even though the lead characters are very attractive.
Lodge’s character Phoebe, for example, the object of the shepherd Montanus’s longing, is as gorgeous as a goddess. Shakespeare’s Phoebe, on the other hand, is so unattractive that Rosalind thinks her pursuer Silvius is a fool to care so much, and Phoebe even more of a fool for rejecting her chance to marry a nice guy.

Rosalind’s advice to the couple is famous:

You [Silvius] are a thousand times a properer man
Than she a woman. ’Tis such fools as you
That makes the world full of ill-favored children.
’Tis not her glass but you that flatters her,
And out of you she sees herself more proper
Than any of her lineaments can show her.—
But, mistress, know yourself. Down on your knees
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man’s love,
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can; you are not for all markets. III.v.56-65

Rosalind and Orlando, the stars of the show, are strong and beautiful characters in both versions. But while Lodge’s Rosalynde is indeed lively, well-spoken and humorous, Shakespeare fashioned his Rosalind into one of the strongest woman characters in Western literature. Shakespeare’s Rosalind is witty, wise, brave, outspoken, philosophical, satirical, yet loving and caring, in spite of all her difficulties. Shakepeare’s Rosalind is a hard-headed realist who finds herself in deep love with a good man, much to her own surprise, and determines, despite problems, to walk forward and embrace her destiny.

The Orlando character in Lodge’s version, named Rosader in that work, is an accomplished young knight who wins acclaim at court among all the dignified panoply of a jousting and formal wrestling tournament. Like Rosader, Shakespeare’s Orlando is also young and good-looking with many unformed talents, but he is rough and wholly uneducated in correct behavior, though naturally kind and gentle in manner. He wins Rosalind’s regard in a down and dirty, fight-club style wrestling match held informally in the town square.

In Shakespeare’s World, Cynics Stalk the Countryside

Jacques watches the wounded stag.

Jacques moralizes on the wounded stag in As You Like It.

To continue taking a bit of the stuffing out of the original pastoral, Shakespeare adds two great characters not to be found in Lodge’s version: Jacques, Duke Senior’s follower, one of the most cynical characters in Shakespeare, and Touchstone, the court fool, the eternal city boy who sees nothing much to like in country life.
The melancholy Jacques stalks in and out of the scenes in As You Like It, pointing out what’s wrong with humanity and puncturing supposed delusions of grandeur wherever he goes.

The famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech belongs to Jacques.  In this speech, he describes every aspect of human life from birth to the grave as nothing more than people playing meaningless and ephemeral roles as if they were actors on a stage, all adding up to nothing in the end. If you come across this speech out of context, don’t assume its cynical view of life is Shakespeare’s, since this speech belongs to a character who delights in taking the negative view.

Naturally Jacques questions whether love is real at all. His disbelief in feelings of the heart really gets to Orlando, the most romantic character in the play, and therefore he hates Jacques the minute he meets him.

Touchstone adds a lot of silly comedy to the play, partly through making fun of court styles of speech and interaction, as when he facetiously defines for Jacques all the stages of insult that lead to duels among court gentlemen, from the “quip modest” and “reply churlish” to “the lie with circumstance” (V.4.70-106). His dislike of the rawness of country life repeatedly punctures the pastoral fiction of the country as an Edenic place.

Love Poetry, the Bad and the Good

Lodge’s characters almost all write poetry about the joys and pains of love; only some of Shakespeare’s characters do, and most of the poetry they write is pretty terrible.

In Lodge’s Rosalynde, the lovelorn shepherd Montanus pours out rhymed and romantic laments because his beloved Phoebe will not accept him as her lover. For instance:

Love’s burning brand is couchèd in my breast,
Making a Phoenix of my faintful heart:
And though his fury do enforce my smart,
Ay blithe am I to honor his behest.
Prepared to woes, since so my Phoebe wills,
My looks dismayed, since Phoebe will disdain;
I banish bliss and welcome home my pain:
So stream my tears as showers from Alpine hills.      –Montanus the Shepherd in Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde

Shakespeare’s Silvius, his sillier version of Montanus, doesn’t become  super-poetic under the spell of love;  instead, he  just becomes inarticulate, abruptly breaking off his rant to Corin about his broken heart to run off stage howling “O Phoebe Phoebe, Phoebe!” (II.iv.41)

Orlando’s Poetry
Painting of As You Like It's Orlando pinning his love poetry on a tree.

Painting of As You Like It’s Orlando pinning his love poetry on a tree.

Unlike Silvius, Shakespeare’s hero Orlando does burst into rhyme under pressure of his overpowering love for Rosalind. Like most of Lodge’s characters, Orlando also posts his verses upon multiple trees in the forest:

O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character,
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witnessed everywhere.
Run, run, Orlando, carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she.

However, unlike Lodge’s heroine Rosalynde, Shakespeare’s Rosalind is not so impressed by her lover’s efforts, and half shares Touchstone’s opinion of how bad Orlando’s poems are. In one of the funniest passages in the play,  jester Touchstone hears Rosalind reading aloud her first found poem and he immediately makes up a parody of it, claiming:

I’ll rhyme you so eight years together,
dinners and suppers and sleeping hours excepted.
It is the right butter-women’s rank to market. III.ii.96-98.

This last line suggests that the rhythm of the poem is so inept and clip-cloppy, it sounds like the butter-woman trotting to market on her donkey with dairy goods to sell. Touchstone goes on to illustrate how bad it is by declaiming  his own off-color version of the poem.

About another of Orlando’s poems to Rosalind, his love object  herself exclaims how boring it is:

O most gentle Jupiter, what tedious homily of love have you wearied your parishioners withal, and never cried “Have patience, good people!”      –Rosalind (III.ii.157-159)

Clearly, Orlando has much to learn about love and how to communicate it. But at least from these poems, Rosalind does learn more about Orlando’s notions of love. Later in the play, she grabs the chance to educate him more realistically about love. She teaches him that women are not goddesses, but people, and require something more substantial than soppy love-poetry from their lovers.

Orlando’s Lessons

Orlando meets Rosalind in the forest in her disguise as the young man Ganymede, and confides in “him” his overpowering love for Rosalind. Rosalind cleverly proposes to cure him of this unhappy state by pretending to be “his own” Rosalind, demonstrating how annoying women are and what madness it is to love them.

What she really aims to accomplish is something else completely: to sound Orlando for his true feelings about women, and herself.

Orlando’s poems, so closely resembling the poetry appearing throughout Lodge’s whole narrative, just tell the sensible Rosalind that Orlando has an overly romantic idea of love, and indeed, of Rosalind herself.  Rosalind sets about curing Orlando of taking love much too seriously, as Lodge’s characters tend to do.

Back in Lodge’s Rosalynde, the lovelorn shepherd Montanus declares that if his Phoebe can’t love him, “let a storm of frowns end the discontent of my thoughts, and so let me perish in my desires, because they are above my deserts: only at my death this favor cannot be denied me, that all shall say Montanus died for love of hard-hearted Phoebe.”

However, unlike Lodge, when Shakespeare’s Orlando romantically protests that Rosalind’s refusal of his suit might kill him, Shakespeare’s Rosalind scoffs that unsuccessful love is not fatal:

ROSALIND: No, faith, die by attorney.
The poor world is almost six thousand years old,
and in all this time there was not any man died in
his own person, videlicet, in a love cause. . . .
Men have died from time to time and worms have
eaten them, but not for love.

ORLANDO I would not have my right Rosalind of this
mind, for I protest her frown might kill me.

ROSALIND (as Ganymede): By this hand, it will not kill a
fly.                                                              IV.i.97-103; 112-13.

From this lesson, Rosalind goes on with her merry banter, engaging Orlando in a witty give-and-take so rich and complex I can’t describe it all here. But among her aims are to test Orlando’s response to common misogynistic notions of the time. Will he take the bait and agree with his supposed “guy” friend that women are bad, or defend them along with Rosalind’s worth?

She also wants to know whether his interest in her is all poetry and moonshine, or if he is prepared to support her in actual adversity with material contributions to their daily needs. Finally, will he force her to play the unrealistic role of perfect love goddess, or can he accept her as a down-to-earth, imperfect, changeable, though delightful, human being?

You must read the play to follow how she covers all these and other topics, and how Orlando struggles to respond. But it’s reasonable to conclude that if Orlando passes all these tests, he has proved himself worthy of a good woman’s love, one that bids fair to be long-lasting on both sides.

Other Kinds of “Love” in As You Like It

Art piece: Stick figure clings to large red heart.

Besides Rosalind and Orlando’s love match, As You Like It contains at least three more couples who, like Rosalind and Orlando, all marry at the end of the play. Each couple exhibits a different kind of love relationship. My students always enjoyed describing each type, usually saying that they have met couples who fit each type of relationship.

As we’ve seen, Rosalind and Orlando build their relationship through thorough discussion about their values and assumptions in love. But before all the talk, their coupling begins with a powerful burst of love at first sight: each falls hard for the other from the first time they meet. Their relationship has powerful attraction as a basis, followed by a good stretch of getting to know one another.

There is another couple in the play who fall in love at first sight: Celia and Orlando’s brother Oliver.  Though Rosalind and Orlando both experienced immediate attraction, Celia and Oliver become attached so quickly that even Rosalind and Orlando can’t quite believe it. Could Shakespeare be poking a bit of fun at the lovesick couples in Lodge’s Rosalynde? Possibly.

Shakespeare might also be laughing at some of Lodge’s assumptions about love in his description of the third couple, Phoebe and Silvius, who represent a couple in which one person is obsessed with someone who doesn’t care two hoots for him, but he just can’t let go. Phoebe ends up marrying Silvius only because her preferred partner, Ganymede/Rosalind, turns out to be a girl—and she likes guys.

Shakespeare adds one couple that Lodge’s fiction doesn’t have: Audrey and Touchstone. Neither one of this pair has anything in common with the other at all. Simple country girl Audrey doesn’t understand hardly anything that the quick-tongued city boy Touchstone says to her. However, Audrey wants social advancement (Touchstone is from the Court, after all); Touchstone wants her body. Touchstone sums it up this way: “Come, sweet Audrey: We must be married, / or we must live in bawdry” (III.iii.96-97).

Which type of love is the best?

Maybe all types of love are fine, if you are willing to just take it “as you like it.” However, I think Shakespeare implies at the end of the play that some types of love will produce more happiness than others. Read the play and decide for yourself.

Court and Civilization

Though love is everywhere throughout the play, As You Like It is about more than love. Among other themes, Shakespeare explores the contrast between living in the court (today’s  city), and the country. In a perfect world, the Court should represent civilization and moral, gentle behavior. However, As You Like It begins by showcasing a Court that has become savage and immoral. The unrightful usurping ruler Duke Frederick makes all his decisions based on self-interest, and does not hesitate to confiscate, threaten, banish, or kill those who cross him. He presides over a society that watches people break necks in the wrestling ring for entertainment.

Lodge’s court doesn’t seem quite so degraded as Shakespeare’s. For instance, when Lodge’s Rosader wins the tournament wrestling match, Torismond, the usurping ruler of the kingdom, embraces and praises him. When Shakespeare’s Orlando wins the wrestling match, impressing all onlookers with his courage and skill, Duke Frederick refuses to praise or honor him just because Orlando’s father was an ally of the banished Duke Senior rather than of himself.

Both versions cast Rosader/Orlando’s older brother in an evil light, both of whom hate their younger brothers so much they try to get them killed. In neither version is the Court kind to Rosalind. In both versions, this young lady has stayed behind in the Court after her father’s banishment because of her close friendship with her cousin, the ruler’s daughter. In both versions, the ruler becomes jealous of Rosalind’s beauty and virtues on his own and his daughter’s behalf, and banishes her as well. She disguises herself as the male youth Ganymede and escapes to Arden, accompanied by her loving and faithful cousin, Celia in Shakespeare’s version, who refuses to be separated from her best friend.

These ladies’ virtues shine, making the Court appear even more sordid and corrupt. Even so, Shakespeare does not give up completely on the virtues of civilization, suggesting later in the play that a court civilization, with a virtuous ruler at its head, does indeed teach and support gentler manners and kinder behavior than people might show by nature.

Shakespeare’s Countryside

Lodge’s forest of Arden is an idyllic backdrop for love, hospitable to shepherds and wandering noblemen. Shakespeare’s Arden Forest may be lovely, but at first appears wild and cold, a place where people must work to eat, hunt their food, and live in rude shelters.

Corin the longtime laboring shepherd helps drive home the hardness of country life when he points out to Touchstone:

CORIN. . . Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court. You told me you salute not at the court but you kiss your hands. That courtesy would be uncleanly if courtiers were shepherds.

TOUCHSTONE Instance, briefly. Come, instance.

CORIN Why, we are still handling our ewes, and their fells, you know, are greasy.                  III.ii.45-50

Jacques, the play’s resident cynic, laments in detail the violence noblemen commit when shooting deer for food. The banished Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father and the rightful ruler of the French Court, laughs at Jacques’s exaggerations, but agrees with his basic sentiment:

. . . it irks me the poor dappled fools,
Being native burghers of this desert city,
Should in their own confines with forkèd heads
Have their round haunches gored. II.i.-22-25.

Getting “Real” in the Country

Shakespeare’s realism about country life stands apart from Lodge’s enjoyable pastoral fiction, suggesting that if Eden is to be found on earth, it won’t be found in the forest. However, in the end, just like Lodge’s forest, Shakespeare’s country setting offers redemption and regeneration to almost all the characters who wander there.

Both wicked brothers in the play, Duke Frederick who has staged a coup against the virtuous Duke Senior, and Oliver, who has tried to have his own brother killed owing to jealousy, find reformation and regeneration in the forest. Orlando also finds the opportunity to practice gentler manners among Duke Senior’s banished noblemen and to learn about love from his clever Rosalind disguised as Ganymede.

If forest life is far from idyllic, whence comes all this redemption?

The best speech explaining the saving graces of life in the country occurs quite early in the play, when Duke Senior explains what he has learned from being forced into exile, far from the comforts and political powers of the court:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
“This is no flattery. These are counselors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything. II.i.1-17

As the Duke points out, salvation in the country comes precisely because life is harder and more elemental than the pampered life in the city. Living close to nature, subject to savage weather and working for his food, the Duke comes to understand who he really is—not a special person elevated by his court status above those around him, but as one man among many, subject to time and fate as all humanity.

The large-minded Duke appreciates this direct and honest treatment, having endured the false smiles in  the Court of those who plotted to harm him. Here, the Duke, and Shakespeare, offers important wisdom for those who would understand the nature of human life.

More and More Themes to Explore. . . .

Silvius courts Phoebe in Shakespeare's As You Like It

Silvius courts Phoebe in Shakespeare’s As You Like It

Besides the themes I have discussed, this play is so rich in ideas, there are plenty more I don’t have space to talk much about. But to list just a few:

More Themes in AYLI
  • How do good girlfriends relate?  Celia and Rosalind are such BFFs, it’s such a pleasure to eavesdrop on their warm and witty girlfriend talk.
  • Loyalty is explored in Orlando’s relationship to his faithful servant Adam. Adam loses his place to help and defend Orlando, and Orlando repays his loyalty.
  • Redemption: Meetings and circumstances in the wild forest help Orlando, Oliver, and Frederick understand themselves better and overcome their hatred for their brothers.
  • Definitions of Gender: Rosalind spends the play trying to act like a guy, and sometimes failing. Through this device, Shakespeare discusses which qualities may belong naturally to males or to females, and which may just be culturally assumed. Beyond that, the audience is aware the whole time that Rosalind is played by a teenage boy, since women were banned from acting onstage in Shakespeare’s day. Shakespeare uses some of the lines in the play to draw attention to this gender-bending, opening discussion of all the complexities surrounding gender.

Read the play to take them all in.

Now for the biggest question in the play: IS LOVE REAL?

After all the shenanigans, all the different kinds of love both deep and superficial, is love just a fun fiction, a pretty story or good joke to laugh at?

Many people today, especially young people I have met, are cynical about love. We modern folk “know” that attraction isn’t caused by Cupid’s arrow or a mysterious overpowering force, but by hormones or psychological issues or social pressures. Some believe that relationships shouldn’t be based on inexplicable passions but on lists of qualities and calculations, things like who wants how many kids or whether they both want to live in a city apartment, a tract house in the burbs, or a “tiny house” on a mountain.

So then, is there such a thing as real, genuine love, or just different types of calculated coupling? What does Shakespeare’s play have to say?

Admittedly, Love is Madness, and yet. . . .

When the main characters in the play fall in love, they both are mysteriously overpowered by it, and aren’t especially happy to find themselves in that state.
Orlando can’t manage even to speak to Rosalind after first falling for her at the wrestling match, moaning, “O poor Orlando! Thou art overthrown. / Or Charles [his wrestling opponent] or something weaker masters thee.” I.ii.260

Rosalind herself casts love partly as inexplicable misfortune and lunacy:

Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too. III.iii.406

Yet for all her sensible acknowledgement that love can be painful, irrational, and at the least inconvenient, she knows herself well enough to accept that she truly loves Orlando and must bravely accept her fate. After a long afternoon of pretending to Orlando to be someone who disdains love, she admits to her cousin and BFF Celia that love has her in its grip, and that’s how it’s going to stay:

O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou
didst know how many fathom deep I am in love. But
it cannot be sounded; my affection hath an
unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal. . ..

. . . . that same wicked bastard of Venus [Cupid] that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses everyone’s eyes because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I am in love. I’ll tell thee, Aliena, I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando: I’ll go find a shadow and sigh till he come.                   IV.i.218-221; 224-230

These heartfelt confessions are poignantly convincing, erupting as they do from someone who has been pretending to Orlando for hours that love is a sickness or an inconvenience that can be reasoned away.

Rosalind knows herself well enough to acknowledge that, wherever this love may originate, it is real. Having examined Orlando and finding him a worthy mate, she accepts her feelings as true, and marries him.


Marriage is Celebrated

In Act V, Hymen, the god of marriage, appears in the exiled community in Arden to join all the newly-formed couples in matrimony. Hymen praises the state of matrimony by leading the company in singing this song:

Wedding is great Juno’s crown,
O blessèd bond of board and bed.
’Tis Hymen peoples every town.
High wedlock then be honorèd. V. iv . 146-49

Significantly, Hymen also promises Rosalind and Orlando that “You and you no cross shall part,” V.iv.136, indicating that their coupling will be lasting.

But even more interesting to me are Jacques’s final words to the newly married couples as he prepares to leave the company. Though the most cynical of all the characters, he says he leaves Orlando “to a love your true faith doth merit” V.iv.196.

As I interpret the play, there is no cynicism in this assertion. Faced with evidence of true love, even Jacques admits that love is real and lovers can be faithful. I think that Shakespeare in this instance agrees with Jacques. As the play shows, Love can hit you at any time, completely re-make your character, and even keep couples “heart in heart” for a lifetime.

To which I raise my glass: Cheers to Love! Cheers to As You Like It! May its sentiments long prevail in the hearts of humans.

Now, go read the play.


Related Posts and Pages: 

Reading the Renaissance: English Literature from 1485-1660.

Renaissance Literature Timeline: Tudor Era- 16th Century


Photo Credits:

Touchstone romances Audrey painting. John Collier. 1892. [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]

As You Like It characters in Arden painting. John Edmund Buckley. 1864. [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]

Rosalind. Robert Walker Macbeth. [CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]

Jacques Moralizes on the Deer. William Hodges. [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]

Orlando leaving poems on the trees.  Hugh Thomson [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]

Stick man hanging from a heart.   Photo by  Nick Fewings  on  Unsplash.

Moody forest photo.  Photo by  Skitterphoto  from  Pexels.

B & W Photo. Williams and Verdon as Silvius and Phoebe. Richard Burke [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]

Couple holding hands.  Photo by Jasmine Carter from Pexels.