“As You Like It” by William Shakespeare is a pastoral comedy first published in 1600. The play explores themes of love, identity, and the contrast between court life and rural life. Set primarily in the Forest of Arden, it follows the journey of various characters who flee the corruption of court life, seeking refuge and finding unexpected romance and self-discovery in the forest.

Comprehensive Plot Summary

In the land ruled by Duke Frederick, the noble Orlando laments his harsh treatment by his elder brother, Oliver. Denied the education and privileges promised by their deceased father, Orlando feels trapped and undervalued. His resentment grows when he decides to compete in a wrestling match at the court, seeking to prove his worth and break free from his brother’s tyranny.

At Duke Frederick’s court, the scene is set for a spectacle. Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke Senior, and her cousin Celia, the Duke’s daughter, are among the spectators. Despite the tension between their fathers, Rosalind and Celia share a bond as close as sisters. Orlando, strong and determined, wins the wrestling match against Charles, the court wrestler, impressing both the audience and Rosalind. She gifts him a necklace, sealing her admiration with a token of affection.

However, Duke Frederick grows increasingly suspicious of Rosalind’s popularity and virtue. In a fit of jealousy, he banishes her from the court, giving her ten days to leave. Celia, loyal to her cousin, decides to accompany Rosalind into exile. To ensure their safety, they disguise themselves—Rosalind as a young man named Ganymede and Celia as his sister, Aliena. The witty court jester, Touchstone, joins them on their journey to the Forest of Arden, where Duke Senior and his followers live in exile.

The Forest of Arden, a realm of natural beauty and simplicity, contrasts starkly with the corruption of the court. Here, Duke Senior and his loyal followers, including the melancholic Jaques, find solace and wisdom in their rustic surroundings. Jaques, ever the philosopher, reflects on the stages of life, delivering his famous monologue, “All the world’s a stage.”

Orlando, fleeing his brother’s murderous intentions, also finds refuge in the forest, accompanied by his loyal servant, Adam. Hungry and desperate, Orlando stumbles upon Duke Senior’s camp and is welcomed with open arms. Grateful for the sanctuary, he begins to express his love for Rosalind by hanging poetic verses on the trees, unaware that she is nearby, disguised as Ganymede.

Rosalind, in her guise, encounters Orlando and proposes a playful scheme. She offers to cure his love-sickness by allowing him to woo her as if she were Rosalind. This charade allows Rosalind to test Orlando’s feelings and explore her own emotions more deeply. Their interactions are filled with wit and tenderness, as Orlando proves his devotion through earnest words and actions.

Meanwhile, the forest is a backdrop to other unfolding love stories. Silvius, a young shepherd, pines for the disdainful Phoebe, who, in a twist of fate, becomes infatuated with Ganymede. Touchstone, with his characteristic humor, courts Audrey, a simple country girl, intending to marry her quickly and provide a comic counterpoint to the more serious romances.

As the characters navigate their feelings and misunderstandings, the forest reveals its magic. Rosalind orchestrates a series of events leading to multiple weddings. She reveals her true identity, reuniting with her father and solidifying her bond with Orlando. The disguises are shed, and true love triumphs as the couples prepare to marry: Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver, Touchstone and Audrey, and even Silvius and Phoebe.

In a remarkable turn of events, Duke Frederick, on his way to confront Duke Senior, encounters a hermit and undergoes a spiritual conversion. He renounces his claim to the dukedom, restoring it to Duke Senior and choosing a life of penance. This unexpected transformation brings harmony and peace, resolving the conflicts and paving the way for a joyful conclusion.

The forest, which served as a place of exile and refuge, becomes a site of reconciliation and celebration. The characters, having undergone personal transformations, return to the court with newfound wisdom and understanding. Love, identity, and the contrasts between nature and society are explored and resolved, leaving the characters—and the audience—reflecting on the themes of forgiveness, redemption, and the enduring power of love.

In the end, the play concludes with a sense of unity and happiness. The multiple love stories intertwine and resolve, highlighting the richness of human relationships and the joy of finding one’s true self. As the couples prepare to leave the forest, they carry with them the lessons learned in the simplicity of nature, ready to face the complexities of the world with renewed hearts and spirits.

Main Characters

  • Rosalind: The daughter of the banished Duke Senior, she is intelligent, resourceful, and witty. Disguised as Ganymede, she explores her identity and love for Orlando.
  • Orlando: The youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, he is brave and honorable. He falls deeply in love with Rosalind.
  • Celia: Daughter of Duke Frederick and cousin to Rosalind. She is loyal, compassionate, and accompanies Rosalind into exile.
  • Duke Senior: The rightful duke, living a contented life in exile in the Forest of Arden.
  • Jaques: A melancholic follower of Duke Senior, known for his reflective and philosophical nature.
  • Touchstone: The court jester who provides comic relief and marries Audrey.
  • Oliver: Orlando’s older brother, initially cruel but eventually reconciles with Orlando.
  • Duke Frederick: The usurping duke who banishes Rosalind and is later converted to a life of penance.

Themes and Motifs

  • Love: Explored in its various forms—romantic, familial, and friendship. The play examines the irrationality and transformative power of love.
  • Identity and Disguise: Characters frequently disguise themselves, leading to mistaken identities and deeper self-discovery.
  • Nature vs. Court: The contrast between the corrupt court and the idyllic, freeing forest of Arden highlights the theme of natural simplicity versus human artifice.
  • Transformation and Redemption: Many characters undergo personal transformations, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Writing Style and Tone

Shakespeare’s writing in “As You Like It” is characterized by its lyrical and witty dialogue, rich with wordplay and puns. The pastoral setting allows for a light-hearted and contemplative tone, blending humor with philosophical musings. The use of prose and verse differentiates characters and their social standings, while the play’s structure interweaves various subplots, enhancing its complexity and charm. The tone shifts between the comedic and the reflective, capturing the diverse emotional landscape of the characters’ journeys.

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer (if any)

When I am not working/watching movies/reading books/traveling, you can reach me via my Twitter/LinkedIn or you can contact me here

Categories: Book Summary