“As You Like It represents, together with Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night, the summation of Shakespeare’s achievement in festive, happy comedy during the years 1598-1601,” proclaims David Bevington his The Complete Works of Shakespeare (288). Bevington is obviously not the first editor to have categorized Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, part of the plays’ popularity might be based upon the fact that audiences know what to expect when they begin viewing the productions. For example, As You Like It’s title hints that audiences should expect the play to end happily.
This play’s name is not, however, all that helps classify it as a comedy. Every element of the play drips with comedic elements, as Shakespeare characteristically critiques love, while highlighting the pastoral motif. The theme of the play is an obvious remark on its classification. Shakespeare exploits literary convention by mocking the foolishness love generates in us all. Kenneth Muir, in Shakespeare’s Comic Sequence, declares, “His [Shakespeare’s] lovers-Rosalind, Orlando, Celia, Oliver and Phoebe-would all make answer to Marlowe’s question ‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?
‘ with a chorus of ‘No one. ‘(88)” Each of the characters do and say impulsive things based solely on emotion. The Forest of Arden gives the characters freedom to act in such silly manners. Once their love relationships have been realized in marriage, the couples can prepare to return to the order, and presumably reason, of the court. The plot of As You Like It centers on the love relationships of four couples. Made up of the lovers’ stories and the story of the overthrown Duke Senior, who has fled into the Forest of Arden, the plot is quite complex.
It centers on the movement of the characters from the court to the forest and then readying themselves to return to court. The play begins with the instantaneous falling in love of Rosalind and Orlando at court and the nearly simultaneous retreat of each into the Forest of Arden, due to Duke Frederick’s sudden disdain for Rosalind and Oliver’s intention to kill Orlando. The plotline continues with Rosalind disguised as Ganymede, a boy, blocking Rosalind and Orlando’s love. The plot moves from disorder to order, though, and the play concludes with a typical comic ending: a marriage ceremony.
The marriage masque further solidifies the play’s comedic classification. Helen Gardner notes in her article that the masque of Hymen returns order as it is able “to end the whole with courtly grace and dignity. This is an image of civility and true society, for Hymen is a god of cities” (59). A song sung at the wedding feast declares Hymen’s dominion over towns: “Tis Hymen peoples every town / High wedlock then be honored. / Honor, high honor and renown / To Hymen, god of every town! ” (Shakespeare, V. iv. 142-145).
Furthermore, the scene accounts for all of the characters happy state: Rosalind and Orlando have finally overcome all obstacles to be united; Oliver and Celia are able to immediately marry and Oliver has changed his ways; Silvius finally obtains Phoebe’s love; Touchstone and Audrey are married; and Duke Frederick has repented and joined a monastery, leaving Duke Senior to assume his rightful throne. All problems have been resolved, which leaves no room for arguing that the play is a comedy. The characters also prove that the play has been appropriately classified.
The different lovers demonstrate stereotypical kinds of love. Commentator Kenneth Muir remarks, “In As You Like It different kinds of love are examined-the lust of Touchstone, the self-love of Jacques, the pride and vanity of Phoebe, and the sentimental idealism of Orlando-and all are found wanting” (91). The central relationship is between Rosalind and Orlando, whom Bertrand Evans describes as “the brightest of Shakespeare’s bright heroines” and “the least conscious of his unconscious heroes” (92).
Orlando seems a typical jock. He wrestles Charles in the court and then falls hopelessly in love with Rosalind-so hopelessly in love that he, despite being a poor poet, carves Rosalind’s name and poems about her into tree trunks. Although Oliver has denied him a gentleman’s education, he is a noble character, who is loyal to his servant Adam, brave enough to fight Charles, and loving when speaking about his beloved Rosalind. Nonetheless, Orlando must have some naiveti??
in order for Rosalind to continue fooling him. Evans expounds, “Despite the deserved praise which Oliver heaps upon Orlando [… ,] Orlando is exposed repeatedly in situations of which the truth eludes him. [… ] His abrupt disposal of Charles the wrestler; his first tongue-tied meeting with Rosalind; his sword-brandishing, valiant, but frightfully unaware entrance to demand food of Duke Senior-all these are parts of the preparation. ” (92-3)