Analysis Pages

Allusion in As You Like It

Allusion Examples in As You Like It:

Act I - Act I, Scene 1

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"golden world...."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)

“The golden world” is an allusion to Ovid’s Metamorphosis. It signifies a type of Eden and represents the primal age of innocence from which humankind was thought to have come. With this allusion, the countryside is figured as an edenic paradise.

"Shall I keep your hogs, and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury?..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)

This is an allusion to the Biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son. In it, a father grants equal estate to his two sons. The younger squanders his wealth and continually demands more. This prodigal son is then forced to become a swineherd, and his greed causes him to envy the pigs their “husks” (Luke 15:11-32). In this allusion, Orlando distinguishes himself from the prodigal son because he has not spent his earning recklessly yet is still being punished as if he is the character in this parable.

"they say many young gentlemen flock to him..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)

The Robin Hood story also connects to As You Like It’s theme of court versus country. Robin Hood and his band of thieves inhabit the woods, and represent a rural, earthy way of life. Robin Hood’s goal is to steal from the wealthy, those who inhabit the courts. In subsequent scenes, Duke Frederick's choice to live in the woods with his men mirrors Robin Hood’s way of life.

"old Robin Hood of England..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)

The reference to Robin Hood relates deeply to the central themes and conflicts of the play. The Robin Hood story deals with class conflict, with a hero who champions the lower classes in a struggle against the landed gentry. Orlando, a nobleman left without wealth, mirrors this struggle.

"old Robin Hood of England..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)

Robin Hood is a bandit hero who originated in ballads in Renaissance England. The reference to Robin Hood would have been widely understood by Shakespeare’s audiences. Shakespeare penned As You Like It in 1599, a year after the appearance of a pair of popular plays about Robin Hood by the playwright Anthony Munday.

"Were you made the messenger?..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)

Touchstone embodies the mythological archetype of the Trickster, a character who crosses boundaries and breaks societal rules in order to bring about a new order. In Greek mythology, Hermes is both the Trickster and messenger god. When Celia asks whether Touchstone was “made the messenger,” she points to his secret identity and role.

"from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally...."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)

The “good housewife Fortune” also alludes to the ancient Greek concept of fate, in which one’s destiny is represented as a thread or yarn, spun and cut by the goddesses of fate. The “wheel,” in this context, represents a spinning wheel. A “good housewife” might spin yarn on a literal spinning wheel. The fates would spin the threads of human destiny on a figurative spinning wheel.

"the good housewife Fortune..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)

Celia’s characterization of Fortune, or “Fortuna”—the goddess of luck and fate— is a reference to the Rota Fortunae, the medieval and Roman concept of one’s fate as a rotating wheel. The wheel spins between states of blessing and suffering, never allowing anyone to remain in a fixed fate.

"Ganymede..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)

Ganymede, the name that Rosalind chooses for her male persona, is an allusion to a divine hero from Greek mythology. Ganymede was rumored to be the most beautiful mortal on Earth. Zeus turns into an eagle to kidnap him so that Ganymede will serve as a cupbearer on Olympus. In poetry Ganymede came to represent homosexual desire and love.

"Cupid have mercy!..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)

The reference to Cupid—the Greco-Roman god of love—signifies that Rosalind’s mood has changed because of her new infatuation. It is not clear whether Celia throws out Cupid’s name because she suspects the source of Rosalind’s silence.

"Though in thy youth thou wast as true a lover As ever sigh'd upon a midnight pillow:..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)

In the tradition of pastoral love poetry, Corin was the archetypal lovesick shepherd. In the work of poet Barnaby Googe—born two decades before Shakespeare—Corin spends his days in the fields, dreaming of his beloved Phillida. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania accuses Oberon of behaving like Corin:

When thou hast stol’n away from fairy land,/And in the shape of Corin, sat all day/Playing on pipes of corn, and versing love/To amorous Phillida" (2.1.64-68).

Shakespeare draws on the archetype of Corin to bolster the connection between the pursuit of lovers and the pastoral world.

"first-born of Egypt...."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 5)

This is an allusion to the Book of Exodus from the Bible. In it, the Pharaoh is threatened by 10 plagues unless he lets the imprisoned Israelites go. The last of the plagues is the death of the first-born son. First born refers to Duke Frederick, the elder of the two brothers.

"More at your request than to please myself. ..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 5)

The pastoral song generally appeared when it was thematically apt and disappeared after it had run its course, much like a song in a musical. However, here Jaques interrupts this trend to demand the player keep singing. Jaques leverages his social power to force Amiens to perform the pastoral; in essence, he ruins the pastoral by bringing his urban perspective into the forest space.

"SONG..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 5)

Pastoral songs are a motif of pastoral literature. They generally took the form of folk songs performed with flutes or lutes, and used simplistic images to paint an idyllic scene. The harmonies of the song underscored the harmony thought to exist in the pastoral landscape, while the presence of singing within a story represented the carefree life of those who had the time and space to sing.

"If it do come to pass That any man turn ass, Leaving his wealth and ease A stubborn will to please,..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 5)

Jaques’ cryptic song mentions a man “turn[ing] ass,/Leaving his wealth and ease.” The image of a man turning into an ass alludes to King Midas, a figure in Greek mythology. After being given the ability to turn anything to gold with his touch, Midas renounced his wealth and became a disciple of Pan, the nature god. When asked to judge a musical competition between Apollo and Pan, Midas selected Pan as the victor. In a rage, Apollo gave Midas donkey’s ears. It is unclear precisely why Jaques evokes Midas, though the story does include multiple parallels. The musical competition in the Midas story mirrors the song competition between Jaques and Amiens. Midas’s choice to renounce worldly goods and become a disciple of nature mirrors Jaques’s character, devoted as he is to the natural world.

"Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion;..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

The manner in which Jaques lays out the seven stages of a human life mirrors an episode in the story of the Greek hero Oedipus. When Oedipus encounters the Sphinx outside Thebes, the Sphinx offers a riddle: What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening? Oedipus answers correctly: Man. Shakespeare mimics this gesture of the stages of life as a cycle which returns to its start.

"Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion;..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

The manner in which Jaques lays out the seven stages of a human life mirrors an episode in the story of the Greek hero Oedipus. When Oedipus encounters the Sphinx outside Thebes, the Sphinx offers a riddle: What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening? Oedipus answer correctly: Man. Shakespeare mimics this gesture of the stages of life as a cycle which returns to its start.

"chanticleer..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

“Chanticleer” was a popular name for roosters in folktales at this time. Most notably, Chaucer uses the name in the Canterbury Tales to name the rooster that appears in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” In the tale, Chanticleer is almost eaten by a fox because the fox tricks the rooster into his mouth by playing on his pride and vanity. At the end of the story, Chaunticleer saves himself by tricking the fox into boasting to the other animals, thus opening his mouth and releasing Chaunticleer.

"transform'd into a beast;..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

Remember that Jaques referenced King Midas, who was transformed into a donkey after judging a contest between two gods, in his pastoral song from Act II, scene iv. Here, “beastliness” is equated with melancholy rather than actual physical transformation. Jaques is a beast because he does not fit in with the attitudes and behaviors of the other men in camp.

"There lay he, stretched along like a wounded knight. ..."   (Act III - Act III, Scene 2)

The image of Orlando “stretched along like a wounded knight” alludes to the legends of King Arthur. A common theme among knights seeking the Holy Grail was the receiving of a wound, usually to the thigh. Many scholars interpret the wound as a metaphor for impotence. In the context of this scene, the wound becomes a symbol for Orlando’s ineptitude as a lover.

"capricious poet, honest Ovid..."   (Act III - Act III, Scene 3)

Touchstone makes reference to the Roman poet Ovid in part because of Ovid’s reputation as a lover and libertine. In the year 2CE, Ovid published the Ars Amatoria, a guide to navigating the complex worlds of romance and sexual liaisons. Given that Touchstone is courting Audrey as he makes reference to Ovid, this historical context is important.

"bastard of Venus..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

The “bastard of Venus” is Cupid. Rosalind’s claim that he was born in spleen is a reference to the humors that suggest anger, aggression, and violence in behavior. In this allusion, love, especially Rosalind’s love for Orlando, is characterized as something cruel and harmful.

"-Hero of Sestos..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

Sestos was the land in which Hero’s tower was located. Leander is called the “hero of Sestos.”

"Leander..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

Leander is a tragic character from mythology who drowns while pursuing his lover Hero. Hero lives in a tower across a narrow channel, which Leander swims every night to reach her. During the summer months, Leander successfully navigates the channel by following the light of a lantern that Hero puts in the window. One night there is a storm that blows out the lantern. Unable to find his way in the dark, Leander swims in circles until he gets a cramp and drowns.

"Troilus..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

Troilus is a character from Greek mythology whose death signified the end of the Trojan Empire. He was born to Hecuba the queen of Troy and was so beautiful that people believed his father was Apollo. A prophecy proclaimed that Troy would not fall if Troilus made it to adulthood. Upon hearing the prophecy, Achilles seeks out the youth, makes sexual advances on him, and beheads him in a temple. There are many versions of Troilus’ story including Shakespeare’s own Troilus and Cressida, in which the poet turns this myth into a heterosexual love story.

"He that will divide a minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part of the thousand part of a minute in the affairs of love, ..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

The “he” to which Rosalind refers in these lines is slightly unclear. She could mean Cupid, the god of love, lengthening an hour by dividing it into excruciatingly smaller units of time. She could also mean the man who divides the hour but does not do so on behalf of love. In either reading, fragmentation is used to signify the anguish that comes with love and reflects the poetic blazon that characterized much of the sonnets. This is why Rosalind’s characterization of Orlando as “whole-hearted” is negative: he cannot be in love if he is not fragmented.

"with udders all drawn dry..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)

The reference to the lioness offers connotations of royalty which pull together two traditions. On an immediate level, the lion is the symbol for the English throne. The fact that it is a lioness with “udders all dry” brings to mind the mythical she-wolf who reared the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The image of the lioness serves to relocate the she-wolf in an English context. From this perspective, we can see how the rival brothers Romulus and Remus serve as a fitting allegorical backdrop for Orlando and Oliver, themselves brothers locked in a rivalry for their father’s title.

"gilded snake..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)

The presence of both a snake and a lion in this story vaguely reference mythology and the Bible. Both animals are negative omens that foreshadow doom. Oliver’s story builds tension for both the audience and the characters as these animals suggest Orlando will die.

"lioness..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)

The Lion appearing and threatening the lives of lovers is a reference to Pyramus and Thisbe, a tragic love story from antiquity. In the myth, Pyramus and Thisbe fall in love with each other through a hole in their shared wall. When they decide to run away together, they agree to meet outside a mausoleum. Thisbe arrives before her lover and encounters a Lion. Frightened, she runs away dropping her scarf on the ground. Pyramus arrives to find his beloved’s scarf and the lion, and commits suicide because he believes that the lion has eaten Thisbe. Thisbe then kills herself when she finds her lover dead.

"'The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.'..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 1)

Touchstone mocks WIlliam with an apt quotation from Socrates. Having asked William whether he thinks himself wise, William replies “Ay, sir.” Touchstone points out that only the fool would think he is wise. Touchstone’s treatment of William raises the question of whether Touchstone would consider himself a wise man or a fool.

"there was never anything so sudden but the fight of two rams and Caesar's thrasonical brag of "I came, saw, and overcame:"..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)

Rosalind uses a pair of metaphors to describe the suddenness with which Oliver and Celia fell in love. The metaphors are strangely violent: the “fight of two rams” and Caesar’s declaration after having swiftly won the battle of Zela. The aggressive connotations underlying these metaphors are certainly in line with Oliver’s character.

"It is to be all made of sighs and tears;-- ..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)

Once again, Silvis explains love using romantic tropes. He alludes to the speaker from love poetry, such as sonnets, who suffers from unrequited love. This speaker’s infatuation has more to do with the pose of love than the actual experience of love.

"amongst the rest of the country copulatives..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)

Touchstone’s phrase is a clever pun. Copulation works on two levels here. The series of soon-to-be-wedded couples are copulatives in the sense of sexual union. Copulation also refers to linguistic union, and so the phrase “country copulatives”—with its noticeable alliteration—is in itself copulative.

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