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• The Plays
As You Like It

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As You Like It




T.H. Nicholson after C.W. Sheeres. Touchstone, Audrey, and Clown. Engraving, 19th century

Unknown artist. Celia and Rosalind departing from Orlando. Oil on tin, ca. 1840s.

As You Like It

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

Act 2, scene 1, lines 15–17

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.

Act 2, scene 7, lines 146–147

Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
Act 4, scene 1, lines 112–113

Readers and audiences have long greeted As You Like It with delight. Its characters are brilliant conversationalists, including the princesses Rosalind and Celia and their Fool, Touchstone. Soon after Rosalind and Orlando meet and fall in love, the princesses and Touchstone go into exile in the Forest of Arden, where they find new conversational partners. Duke Frederick, younger brother to Duke Senior, has overthrown his brother and forced him to live homeless in the forest with his courtiers, including the cynical Jaques. Orlando, whose older brother Oliver plotted his death, has fled there, too.

Recent scholars have also grounded the play in the issues of its time. These include primogeniture, passing property from a father to his oldest son. As You Like It depicts intense conflict between brothers, exposing the human suffering that primogeniture entails. Another perspective concerns crossdressing. Most of Orlando’s courtship of Rosalind takes place while Rosalind is disguised as a man, “Ganymede.” At her urging, Orlando pretends that Ganymede is his beloved Rosalind. But as the epilogue reveals, the sixteenth-century actor playing Rosalind was male, following the practice of the time. In other words, a boy played a girl playing a boy pretending to be a girl.

As You Like It is thought to date from about 1599, although it was not published until the 1623 First Folio. Shakespeare’s primary source was the pastoral romance Rosalynde: Euphues' Golden Legacy by Thomas Lodge.

Act 5 includes the song “It was a lover and his lass,” published in Thomas Morley’s First Book of Ayres in 1600. The only existing copy of this book is in the Folger Shakespeare Library. It is possible that Shakespeare wrote the words and Morley the music, or that Morley wrote the song and Shakespeare used it for his play, or that this was a popular song used by both Shakespeare and Morley.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1997 Folger Shakespeare Library

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Further reading
Maurice Hunt. Shakespeare’s As You Like It: Late Elizabethan Culture and Literary Representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Stephen J. Lynch. As You Like It: A Guide to the Play. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Edward Tomarken, ed. As You Like It From 1600 to the Present: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1997.

Movie
As You Like It (2006, BBC Films, HBO Films, Shakespeare Film Company). Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Cast includes Bryce Dallas Howard, David Oyelowo, Kevin Kline, Alfred Molina, and Brian Blessed.
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