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Themes in As You Like It
Themes Examples in As You Like It:
Act I - Act I, Scene 1
"for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
Oliver’s final lines reveal one of the major plots in this play: sibling rivalry. Oliver states that his “soul” hates Orlando above all else and that he “knows not why.” This statement suggests a type of inherent hatred an older brother directs towards his younger brother.
"you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities:..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
Orlando’s separation from the courtly education and upbringing he desires places him in between the two thematic spheres of court and country. The tension between these two cultures is one of the play’s central themes.
"villain..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
At this time, “villain” meant someone of low born or rustic class. In calling Orlando a villain, Oliver diminishes the class and status that his birth should have granted him. This term subtly reveals the problems with primogeniture: because second sons do not by law receive inheritance, noblemen could have as much wealth as a low born individual.
"they say many young gentlemen flock to him..." See in text (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.
" mutiny against this servitude;..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
“Mutiny against servitude” introduces the theme of upsetting the social order. This theme will resurface throughout the play. Orlando does not simply accept his fate within the classed system but rather challenges that which he finds unfair.
"old Robin Hood of England..." See in text (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.
"his countenance seems to take from me: he lets me feed with his hinds, bars me the place of a brother, and as much as in him lies, mines my gentility with my education...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
Here, Orlando complains that his older brother strips him of his nobility by denying him an education. This establishes two prominent themes in the play. First, that education is a means by which one can gain power; second, the scrutiny of a feudal class system based on primogeniture, the right of succession going to the firstborn son.
Act I - Act I, Scene 2
"if you saw yourself with your eyes, or knew yourself with your judgment, the fear of your adventure would counsel you to a more equal enterprise. We pray you, for your own sake, to embrace your own safety and give over this attempt...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
This line reveals Orlando’s need to prove himself. He cannot accept the proof of his eyes that wrestling Charles will be dangerous; he must experience it for himself. This drive to prove himself reveals the chaos in the social system: as a nobleman, he should be able to fall on his title for definition. But because his brother denies him access to nobility, he does not know himself.
"No; when Nature hath made a fair creature, may she not by Fortune fall into the fire?..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
Rosalind and Celia take opposite sides in a debate about the relationship between Nature and Fortune. Rosalind sees the two forces as acting independently: Nature makes humans fair or “ill-favouredly,” and Fortune treats them all with random abandon. Celia claims, however, that Fortune can be an equalizing force, bringing ill events to those blessed by Nature. The ups and downs of fate are an important thematic thread in the play. Different characters begin in low or high states. As the play progresses, those states shift.
Act I - Act I, Scene 3
"No; let my father seek another heir...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Celia chooses Rosalind over her father. The choice is selfless in that Celia must forfeit her inheritance by abandoning her father’s court. On a thematic level, the close tie between Rosalind and Celia runs counter to the broken ties between each pair of brothers in the play.
"Thou art thy father's daughter; there's enough...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
For evidence of Rosalind’s untrustworthiness, Duke Frederick falls back on Rosalind’s relationship to her father. Frederick assumes that, because she is her father’s daughter, she must be similar to Duke Senior in character. This touches on the theme of inheritance. Throughout the play, the question of what it is that fathers pass along to their children—be it wealth or character traits—comes up.
"Yet your mistrust cannot make me a traitor: Tell me whereon the likelihood depends...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Rosalind demands to know the source of her guilt. Thus far, Duke Frederick has only said that Rosalind’s words do not preclude her from suspicion. Rosalind turns the same idea around on Frederick, claiming that his “mistrust cannot make me a traitor.” This exchange touches on a thematic thread that runs through the play about the untrustworthy nature of words.
" outface it with their semblances...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Rosalind claims that masculinity can be put on and taken off like a costume, pointing to an underlying logic of internal versus external states. She claims that in her heart, “women’s fear” may still exist, but in her external appearance she will be fiercely masculine. She speaks about the human tendency to “outface” one’s internal feelings with “semblances.”
"A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh, A boar spear in my hand;..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Here Rosalind characterizes the “curtle-axe,” or short sword, and spear as symbolic of masculinity. When she claims that she will pose as a man, she points to these external, violent items to construct her masculine identity. In this way, gender is portrayed as an external mask that can be put on and taken off.
"Doth it therefore ensue that you should love his son dearly? By this kind of chase I should hate him, for my father hated his father dearly; yet I hate not Orlando...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Celia here points out the faulty logic behind inherited rivalries or affections. Celia does not respect her father’s opinions or choices and therefore cannot hate Orlando simply because of his lineage. This reasoning however undermines the social caste system in which one’s birth determines everything about their life. This play repeatedly portrays children rebelling against their parents to underscore a larger theme of social upheaval on a political scale.
Act II - Act II, Scene 1
"Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,--..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
This allusion to “the penalty of Adam” serves to draw a metaphor between the Forest of Arden and the Garden of Eden. Adam’s penalty was his expulsion from Eden as a result of his decision to eat the fruit of knowledge. Duke Senior thus sees his own exile as a return to Paradise from the corrupted state of the “envious court.” The metaphor relates closely to theme of country versus court living. Duke Senior tends to moralize country and court, viewing the former as good and the latter as wicked.
"Did he not moralize this spectacle? FIRST LORD. O, yes, into a thousand similes...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
To “moralize a spectacle” is to make meaning out of an seemingly meaningless event. The lords mock Jacques for making meaning out of the deer’s death with “a thousand similes.” From their standpoint, the event is not a cause for grief. Though they cannot see it, the Lords are creating their own “thousand similes” to make sense of Jaques’ melancholic response. In this way, Jaques becomes a mirror that reveals the Lords’ characters and one of the main themes of the play: all men “moralize” and make meaning out of meaningless events based on their perspective–we’re all writing the world as we experience it.
Act II - Act II, Scene 3
"I will not call him son-..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 3)
Adam introduces the idea of inheritance within these lines, specifically questioning what each son inherits from his father. While Oliver inherits the wealth and title, Orlando inherits his father’s character. Adam identifies this inheritance as making Orlando more his father’s son than Oliver, who only inherits Sir Rowland’s money.
Act II - Act II, Scene 4
"CORIN. Who calls? TOUCHSTONE. Your betters, sir. CORIN. Else are they very wretched...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)
Corin does not recognize Rosalind, Touchstone, and Celia as nobility because they look “wretched.” As we have seen thus far, external appearance constructs many of these characters’ identities. Just as Rosalind can don male clothing and become a man, so can these three characters take off their noble attire and become peasants. These lines underscore a major theme in this play about identity and perception: identity is constructed outwardly because it must be validated by the society that perceives it.
"weaker vessel..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)
Notice that even though Rosalind’s claims reflect a patriarchal view of women, in which women are weak and men are courageous, she recognizes that both of these abilities exist within her. She is simultaneously the “weaker vessel” and the man who must bring comfort to this “weaker vessel.” This reflects a theme of gender fluidity in the Forest of Arden.
Act II - Act II, Scene 7
"I am the duke That lov'd your father...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
The Duke recognizes Orlando because of his lineage and assumes to know his identity based on this lineage. These lines reinforce the theme of expecting lineage to determine one’s identity and story arc.
"I thought that all things had been savage here; And therefore put I on the countenance Of stern commandment...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Orlando’s claim that he “put on the countenance” of a rogue robber invokes the recurrent theme of appearance vs. essence. Like Rosalind who can become a man by putting on his clothing, Orlando can change his identity by putting on an act: his appearance is in tension with his essence, but his identity is defined by his appearance.
Act III - Act III, Scene 1
"Thy lands, and all things that thou dost call thine Worth seizure, do we seize into our hands,..." See in text (Act III - Act III, Scene 1)
Frederick’s ability to seize all of Oliver’s wealth and landholdings demonstrates the unstable nature of Oliver’s identity: though he is a landowner and a member of the nobility, his position is subject to the king’s discretion. It is something that can be given and taken away. Therefore, Oliver’s identity can be seen as a type of costume or pose; like many of the other characters in the play, Oliver plays his part as an aristocrat.
Act III - Act III, Scene 2
"Why, if thou never wast at court, thou never saw'st good manners; if thou never saw'st good manners, then thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation...." See in text (Act III - Act III, Scene 2)
While Touchstone and Corin are similar in that they both embody the archetype of the Fool, their conversation centers around their different views of the tension between court and country. To Touchstone, one who has no experience of courtly life is incomplete, an “ill-roasted egg.” Corin sees no value in courtly life, and offers a retort to each of Touchstone’s claims.
Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1
"Nay, you might keep that check for it, till you met your wife's wit going to your neighbour's bed...." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
If we consider this scene Rosalind’s attempt to teach her lover how to love her, these lines could be a way in which Rosalind trains Orlando to respect her “wit.” While Orlando initially paints Rosalind as an archetypal love object—an ethereal, chaste, and passive woman—the actual Rosalind has sharp wit, strong opinions, and a sexual appetite. Rosalind uses this discussion of “wit” and poses as a “difficult woman” in order to retrain Orlando’s mind; women are not the objects found in love poetry.
"Then you must say..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
Here, Rosalind plays the part of playwright orchestrating the events of the drama and dictating the other character's lines. She takes full control of her destiny and her romance in not only educating Orlando on how to woo her but also putting the words of the marriage vow in his mouth.
Act V - Act V, Scene 2
"Neither call the giddiness of it in question, the poverty of her, the small acquaintance, my sudden wooing, nor her sudden consenting; but say with me, I love Aliena;..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)
Notice that Oliver lists all of the things that are wrong with Celia in telling Orlando to not mention her faults. This is the first instance in which the audience is told that Oliver is in love with Celia. Though most of the play has mocked love at first sight, it ends with this love at first sight relationship between Celia and Oliver.
Act V - Act V, Scene 4
"good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
A “good” appearance in this time was thought to signify a good moral character. Rosalind claims that she would kiss everyone in the audience if she were a woman, but those with “good beards and faces” would bid her farewell rather than accepting this kiss. In the final lines of the play, Rosalind reinforces the idea that appearance can signal interiority.
"If I were a woman,..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
Rosalind’s epilogue once again plays with the boundaries of gender roles. At the beginning of this speech she claims that it is odd to see a woman play the Epilogue; yet by the end she makes her female identity once again hypothetical— “If I were a woman.”
"I am not furnished like a beggar; ..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
Rosalind underscores a major theme within the play in this final Epilogue: the power of external appearance or dress over one’s identity. Because she is not wearing beggar’s clothing, she cannot beg the audience to love the play.