The Play’s the Thing: Orlando and his older brother, Oliver, have a contentious relationship. Oliver has kept Orlando at home, provided him with no education, and appears to hate him for no reason, all of which Orlando resents. Oliver meets with the usurping Duke Frederick’s wrestler, Charles, as Orlando intends to go up against him. He lies and says Orlando intends to kill Charles by whatever means necessary and therefore Charles should do his best to kill Orlando. Meanwhile, Celia is trying to rouse Rosalind out of her melancholy. While Rosalind’s father, the Duke, has been banished, Duke Frederick had Rosalind stay at court because Celia loves her so much. A courtier comes to the ladies and tells them that Charles has already defeated three young men (likely to the point of death) and that he is about to wrestle with another and that the girls should come watch. They do, and watch as Orlando defeats Charles. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, as he does with her. However, later that day, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind from court due to his suspicion of her and the people’s love of her. Celia decides to go with Rosalind into exile, and the pair decide to disguise themselves. Rosalind will dress as a man and call herself Ganymede, while Celia will dress like a common woman and pretend to be her sister, Aliena, and they’ll bring the clown, Touchstone, with them.
The Duke is living in banishment in the forest with a small group of lords who have remained loyal to him, and other than the cold weather, life in the woods is pretty good. Meanwhile, Orlando heads home only to be told by Adam, an old servant, that Oliver intends to kill him and he should head into the woods in order to save his life. The two men will live off of Adam’s life savings until they find a more permanent means of support. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone are all exhausted and hungry when they come across a pair of shepherds who tell them that there’s a cottage and the associated sheep for sale. Rosalind and Celia buy the cottage. One of the Duke’s followers, Jacques, is depressed most of the time and philosophizes periodically throughout the play. Orlando and Adam are also hungry and tired in their trek through the woods. Orlando leaves Adam behind to rest and goes off in search of food. He comes across the Duke’s party and initially threatens them to get food but when he realizes that they’re civilized people like himself, he makes friends and they have a meal together.
Duke Frederick believes that Orlando has helped Celia and Rosalind escape and so tells Oliver that he must find his brother, dead or alive, otherwise Duke Frederick will confiscate his house and lands. In the forest, Orlando is writing poetry about Rosalind and his love for her and sticking it to trees. Rosalind and Celia both find some of the poetry and Rosalind is thrilled to discover that Orlando has been writing poetry for her. She then encounters him in the wood and, as she’s disguised as a boy, tells Orlando that she can cure him of his love by pretending to be Rosalind and being so capricious that he’ll get angry and fall out of love with her. Orlando firmly believes he’ll remain in love whatever she does, and agrees to the scheme. Touchstone meets a woman named Audrey and attempts to get her to marry him with a fake priest, but it doesn’t work out. Rosalind, irked that Orlando is late for an appointment, watches Silvius, a shepherd, as he tries to woo Phebe, a sheperdess. Rosalind scolds Phebe for being so hardhearted and Phebe predictably falls in love with her and sends a letter to “Ganymede” delivered by Silvius declaring her love.
Rosalind and Orlando meet up in the wood, and after she scolds him for his lateness, has him woo her until he is called away to attend on the Duke at dinner. He promises to return by two o’clock. Silvius delivers the letter from Phebe to Rosalind, who reads it aloud, and then tells Silvius to tell Phebe she really ought to love Silvius. Oliver meets Rosalind and Celia and tells them that he was sleeping in the woods and was nearly attacked by a snake and a lion, but Orlando fought them off and saved his life. The two brothers were then reconciled, returned to the Duke’s hideout in the woods, and then discovered that Orlando was wounded by the lion. Rosalind faints but tries to say she faked it upon returning to consciousness. Touchstone meets a man who wants to marry Audrey, William (and there’s a delightful joke about William being “a fair name”), and very deftly sends him on his way. Orlando and Oliver chat and we learn that Oliver and Celia have fallen in love at first sight and will be married the next day. Rosalind comes to visit Orlando and tells him that if he wants to marry Rosalind, she will bring her to him the next day and they’ll be married at the same time as Oliver and Celia. Silvius and Phebe then show up, and Rosalind has Phebe vow that if the next day she decides not to marry her, she’ll marry Silvius. Everyone agrees. The next day, Rosalind meets everyone, has them confirm their vows, disappears, and then returns with Hymen, who reveals all. Orlando marries Rosalind, Oliver marries Celia, Silvius marries Phebe, and Touchstone marries Audrey. And then the happy news is brought that Duke Frederick on his way into the woods to kill his brother, met a monk who convinced him to join a monastery, so the Duke can now return to court. Everybody dances, and then Rosalind delivers an epilogue.
Heroes and Villains: Unsurprisingly, Rosalind is my favourite character in the play. She’s yet another brilliant cross-dressing Shakespearean heroine, and while not as witty as some of her fellows, her epilogue is thoroughly charming and just a little proto-feminist.
- cast away upon curs (I.iii)
- live a little (II.vi)
- neither rhyme nor reason (III.ii)
- can one desire too much of a good thing? (IV.i)
Speech to Know: This play includes probably one of the most famous Shakespearean speeches outside of Hamlet, delivered by Jacques in Act II.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances:
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
When the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (II.vii)
View from the Pit: As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s lighter comedies, and it includes a lot of his greatest hits like cross-dressing, love at first sight, and temporarily deposed leaders. While Rosalind has a great deal of wit, Orlando doesn’t match wits with her and is instead undeniably earnest. However, Shakespeare does write one of his best speeches in this play with his “All the world’s a stage” bit. While there’s a lot going on, it never becomes confusing and the characters are all distinct. However, Rosalind is definitely the stand-out and her epilogue is a fascinating exploration of gender roles in just a few lines.