Wordplay in As You Like It

Wordplay Examples in As You Like It:

Act I - Act I, Scene 2 2

"smell..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)

This type of bantering dialogue signals a comedic scene. This snappy wordplay demonstrates the character’s intelligence and sets up these characters as a type of trickster, someone who plays with boundaries and mocks the social customs by which everyone else lives their lives. As we will see, Rosalind and Celia spend much of the play challenging their boundaries as women.

"Nay, if I keep not my rank,-- ROSALIND. Thou losest thy old smell...."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)

“Rank” here means both a bad small and one’s social status. Rosalind plays on Touchstone’s words to both mock this man and the social structure that gives him his rank.

"They are but burs, cousin..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)

Celia’s pun, an alteration of “briers” to “burs” is telling. A brier is a thorny bush, whereas a bur refers specifically to the thorns of a flower. As flowers are a classic symbol of love and fertility, the metaphor of the bur is fitting. Rosalind’s emotions are the result of her newfound feelings for Orlando.

"I had as lief be wooed of a snail...."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

Rosalind offers a subtle pun. The archaic word “lief” means “glad,” suggesting that Rosalind would be equally glad to be courted by a snail. “Lief” of course also sounds like “leaf,” which metonymically connects back to the image of the “snail.” That is to say, the phrase evokes the relationship between snails and leaves.

"I care not if I have: it is my study To seem despiteful and ungentle to you:..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)

Rosalind’s claim that “it is my study” is a clever pun. On one level, the word “study” indicates that Rosalind’s inauthentic identity is a result of study. There is also the notion of an understudy, a secondary actor who fills in a role in the event of an absence. Rosalind thus describes Ganymede as a sort of understudy, an alternate persona.

"By my troth, yes; I count it but time lost to hear such a foolish song...."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 3)

Touchstone insults the song sung by the two pages. After he accuses the two pages of keeping poor time, they reply “we lost not our time.” Touchstone’s response represents a clever chiasmus—or reversal—of the page’s phrase: “I count it but time lost.”