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William Shakespeare: As You Like It
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1999

William Shakespeare

Acknowledgment: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.   

Overall Impression: This play made little impression on me in high school and on first rereading in 1999, but after seeing the play in April 2000 and getting a better appreciation for its humor and its understated charm, it has grown on me. It lacks the fireworks of Beatrice and Benedict and is much gentler in its approach to the war between the sexes. It contains a few very memorable passages.

Per Bevington: Draws on Thomas Lodge's "Rosalynde: Euphues' Golden Legacy" and this in turn on the 14C "[Cook's] Tale of Gamelyn" (formerly falsely attributed to Chaucer as the "Cook's Tale"), which was inspired by the Robin Hood tradition. Also on Sidney's "Arcadia" and Lyly's "Euphues". Thomas Lodge included much pastoralism with its artificial conventions in part derived from Petrach's sonnets. The pastoral rage of the 1580's-1590's derived also from Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar. AYLI contrasts two worlds, the jaded corrupt court and the sylvan environment of the pastoral setting in the Forest of Arden [i.e., Ardennes in France]. The forest community is utopian and communal.

Act I

Act I Scene 1

France, near the Forest of Arden, at the Garden of Oliver's House. Orlando, who is the youngest son of the deceased Sir Rowland de Boys, laments about his condition to the old family servant Adam. He is oppressed and mistreated by his eldest brother, Oliver, who educates his middle brother Jacques but denies even the most basic support to Orlando. Oliver arrives and Orlando puts his complaints to him. Oliver strikes him and Orlando says he will no longer endure this treatment. Adam asks Oliver to be patient and Oliver casts the old man out. After they leave, Oliver meets with Charles, a wrestler. He is employed in the court of Duke Frederick, an evil man who has usurped the rule and lands of his now banished brother Duke Senior. Charles recounts past history, that several loyal lords have gone into exile with Duke Senior in the Forest of Arden, the band living like Robin Hood. Charles informs Oliver that he has learned that Orlando plans to challenge Charles at wrestling, wants to know if he should spare him. But Oliver asks that Charles try to break his neck and kill him, warning that Orlando will otherwise try to poison Charles. Oliver (to himself) wishes to be rid at last of his troublesome brother.

Act I Scene 2

Duke Frederick's court. Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior, laments her father's fate--her best friend, Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick, cannot console her even with an offer to restore her lost inheritance when Celia's father dies. Touchstone, the court clown or jester (i.e., a motley fool), enters and wittily spars with the ladies, his wit "laid on with a trowel". Le Beau, one of Frederick's courtiers, comes to tell them of the upcoming wrestling match. Orlando enters with the Duke, Charles etc. Orlando is called over by the ladies, but cannot be persuaded to give up his dangerous challenge, saying he has little to lose in life. Rosalind wishes him well. They wrestle, Charles loses, and is carried out defeated. Duke Frederick, on learning of Orlando's identity, wishes he were not the son of Sir Rowland, whom he considers his enemy because of his deep friendship with Duke Senior. Rosalind gives Orlando a chain from her neck. Orlando is tongue-tied, unable to speak, though Rosalind hints she has been won by him. After they all leave, Orlando knows he has been overcome with love for Rosalind. Le Beau counsels him in private to leave the court, since the Duke is suspicious of his intentions and also has plans against his niece Rosalind.

Act I Scene 3

Same. Celia and Rosalind discuss Orlando and the attitudes of the two Dukes toward Orlando's father. Duke Frederick arrives and tells Rosalind he is banishing her to at least 20 miles away on penalty of death, suspecting her unjustly of being a traitor or at least someone he no longer trusts to have around. She defends her father's name. Frederick is worried that the people pity Rosalind and that Celia compares poorly while she is around. After he leaves, the ladies resolve to flee together to the forest of Arden where Rosalind's father is known to be. They will go disguised, Rosalind in the guise of a young man named Ganymede [G., after G. son of Tros, carried off by Jove/Jupiter to be his cupbearer, a name signifying homosexual love in the Middle ages and the soul's ascent to the absolute in the Renaissance], and she as his sister Aliena. They will take Touchstone to comfort their travel.

Act II

Act II Scene 1

The forest of Arden. Duke Senior reflects with his lords Amiens and others on the sweetness of their adversity (and the relief their banishment has given them from the decadence of the court). The First Lord tells about their fellow lord, the wise and satirical but melancholy Jacques [not the same as Jacques de Boys]: how he lamented the slaying of a stag which before dying wrpt tears into a brook, and how he claimed the men have usurped the rightful places of the animals in the woods.

Act I I Scene 2

Duke Frederick's court. He cannot believe the ladies and the clown have fled unseen and threatens his lords to find them, suspecting a conspiracy and that Orlando is involved.

Act I I Scene 3

Before Oliver's House. Adam laments that Orlando's virtues serve as his enemies (by provoking Oliver's jealousy) and warns Orlando not to appear, since Oliver means to kill him tonight by burning down the lodging where he sleeps. Adam asks that Orlando flee and take Adam in as his servant, even offering to help him with expenses out of his hard-earned savings. He says "my age is as a lusty winter, / Frosty but kindly."

Act I I Scene 4

The Forest of Arden. Rosalind is dressed as Ganymede and Celia as Aliena. They are very weary. An old shepherd Corin and a young shepherd Silvius enter. Silvius laments his unrequited love for the shepherdess Phoebe. G. asks Corin for assistance for Aliena. Corin says his master is churlish but that he will do what he can to offer hospitality. Upon learning they are for sale, G. offers to buy the shepherd's cottage and flock and pasture from the unseen master. Corin agrees to arrange the sale and be Celia's servant.

Act I I Scene 5

Same. Lords Amiens and Jacques enter. Amiens sings and they converse wittily, Jacques playing the role of a malcontent satirist. 

Act I I Scene 6

Same. Orlando and Adam are alone in the forest, the latter exhausted. Orlando goes to search for food. 

Act I I Scene 7

Same. Duke Senior and his men have been looking for Jacques. Jacques appears and describes meeting a motley fool, Touchstone, who he notes has been a courtier. More witty conversation. Orlando arrives with sword drawn to steal some of their food, but he is surprised to learn they are not like savages and is welcomed into the company and treated hospitably. Senior recounts their past lives in the civilized world. Jacques sardonically reflects, in his often-quoted "Seven Ages of Man" speech that "All the world's a stage..." Orlando brings Adam in. After the Duke learns Orlando's parentage, he welcomes them both and wants to hear Orlando's story.


Act III Scene I

Duke Frederick's court. The Duke angrily tells Oliver to get Orlando brought back dead or alive, as he suspects Oliver has murdered him.

Act II I Scene 2

The forest. Orlando writes verses to Rosalind and hangs these about the woods (exits). Corin and Touchstone comically contrast the shepherd's life vs. court life. G. enters, reading the poem Orlando has written, which Touchstone mocks. Aliena/Celia reads another. G. critiques the quality of the poetry as lame. Celia observes that it is Orlando that has written them and that she has seen him laying in the woods (they stand aside). Orlando and Jacques arrive, O. discussing his quest for Rosalind, which the disguised ladies overhear. They appear to him and G. wittily converses with him. Orlando notes that G. has a unexpectedly fine accent, to which G. attributes schooling by "his" uncle. G. asks him to stop carving "Rosalind" on the trees. G. teases and schools him in how to pursue his lover, though insisting that he lacks the usual stigmata of love-sickness [as in Petrach]. G. offers to cure him of his love-sickness: he is to call G. "Rosalind" and come every day and woo "him".

Act II I Scene 3

The forest. Touchstone woos the ignorant country wench, Audrey. He refers to a "great reckoning in a little room" [?a tribute to Christopher Marlowe, also in 3.5]. He proposes to marry her, and has arranged for the vicar Sir Oliver Mar-text to perform the ceremony, who then arrives. The vicar is disturbed that no man is there to give away the woman. Jacques comes in and advises they do the wedding more properly in a church and not by a hedge-priest. Touchstone dislikes having such a formal marriage, as he wants one just of convenience that he can abandon later when he wishes.

Act II I Scene 4

The forest. G. weeps over Orlando's failure to show up on time. G. has met Duke Senior, and cleverly dodged his questions about "his" parentage. Corin enters and suggests they all watch the lovers Silvius and Phoebe (they stand aside). Silvius and Phoebe enter, she scorning his attentions. G. approaches and chastises Phoebe for her cruelty toward Silvius and he for his foolishness in pursuing her. Phoebe falls in love at first sight with G., and resolves to have Silvius deliver a love letter to "him", though disguising her intent to Silvius.

Act IV

Act IV Scene 1

The forest. Jacques wants to get to know G. and they discuss Jacques' melancholy. Orlando enters, and G. chastises him for his tardiness and unfaithfulness, though he is only an hour late. Orlando claims he will die if he does not win Rosalind, but G. lectures him pragmatically that in the real world men do not die for love. One can desire too much of a good thing, G. says. They go through a mock marriage. He leaves to go to the Duke and G. considers herself jilted. After he leaves, Rosalind proclaims her deep love for him to Celia.

Act IV Scene 2

The forest. Jacques comments on the deer that has been slain. A lord sings.

Act IV Scene 4

The forest. Silvius delivers Phoebe's letter to G. Contrary to how Phoebe represented the contents, it is a poetic love letter, which Rosalind reads aloud and playfully claims it to be otherwise. Rosalind insists to Silvius that Phoebe should love him. Oliver, Orlando's brother, enters with a bloody handkerchief. He says that as he slept in the woods, he was nobly saved from a snake and an attacking lioness by Orlando, who was wounded in the attack, and thus excuses his tardiness. G. faints, and Oliver notes "he" is not manly in "his" behavior. G. dismisses "his" momentary swoon.

Act V

Act V Scene 1 The forest. Touchstone tells Audrey there is a man who wants her, and William appears. Touchstone is witty with them, but tells William that he Touchstone will kill him if he does not abandon his pursuit.

Act V Scene 2

The forest. Oliver tells Orlando that he has fallen in love with Aliena and that he is bestowing his father's estate and income on Orlando, and that he will remain there to live as a shepherd with Aliena. They will marry tomorrow. G. enters and tells of how Oliver and Aliena fell in love at first sight. G. tells Orlando that she is a magician and that Orlando will marry Rosalind the next day also. Silvius and Phoebe arrive and G. tells her that if G. shall ever marry a woman it will be her, also reassuring the others that they will be satisfied.

Act V Scene 3

The forest. Touchstone still plans to marry Audrey. Two banished pages enter and sing songs ("It was a lover and his lass"). 

Act V Scene 4

The forest. Duke Senior asks Orlando if O. believes Ganymede can do all he has promised. G. arrives and makes Phoebe promise that, if she refuses to marry G., she will marry Silvius instead, to which she consents. She extracts from the Duke his promise to give his daughter Rosalind to Orlando, and he consents. The Duke thinks he sees some resemblance to Rosalind in G., as does Orlando. Jacques arrives with Touchstone and Audrey, commenting wryly on the pairing up as with Noah's flood. Touchstone wittily converses, and the Duke comments he uses his folly like a stalking-horse. Hymen, Roman god of faithful marriage, enters with the now undisguised Rosalind and Aliena. Rosalind gives herself to Orlando, with her father's blessing, and Phoebe bids her love for Ganymede adieu. Hymen marries the four couples (Rosalind/Orlando, Celia/Oliver, Phoebe/Sylvius,Audrey/Touchstone) and sings a song. Duke Senior welcomes his niece Celia. The other brother of Orlando, Jacques de Boys, arrives and states that Duke Frederick has been converted "from his enterprise and from the world" by a religious man, and has lifted the banishment of Duke Senior and all the others. Duke Senior welcomes his returned fortune, which he will share with all of his comrades who have endured shrewd days. Lord Jacques wishes them all well and, despite the Duke's entreaty to stay, departs to hear and learn from the newly converted Duke Frederick.


Rosalind speaks fondly to the audience and bids them goodbye.