As You Like It Summary

William Shakespeare

As You Like It

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As You Like It Summary

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As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare. Though not one of his most famous works, it tends to be a highly popular work with a general audience. The plot concerns the trials, tribulations, and ultimately good fortunes of a cast of characters ranging across several classes, genders, and personalities.

The story opens with the death of Sir Rowland De Bois. Because it takes place in the old court system, the estate passes to his oldest son, Oliver. Although Oliver has been tasked with taking care of his younger brother, Orlando, he decides to disobey his father’s dying order and deny Orlando all his care. This eventually drives Orlando from his brother’s estate and into the woods outside.

On another estate, Duke Senior has been usurped by his brother, Duke Ferdinand; he also takes refuge in the same woods outside the two estates. His daughter, Rosalind, is allowed to stay in the court because of her close friendship with her cousin, Celia.

Charles, a wrestler from Duke Ferdinand’s court, had warned Oliver that Orlando would challenge him for control of his estate. When he does, Oliver persuades the wrestler to take the challenge for him thinking that Orlando will most certainly cheat his way into winning. After Charles soundly beats Orlando, Orlando is humiliated. However, during this trial, Orlando is introduced to Rosalind and falls madly in love.

When Orlando returns to the estate, he is warned of Oliver’s plot on his life by his servant, Adam, and they leave the estate permanently. At the other estate, Duke Ferdinand withdraws his support of Rosalind, and she and Celia leave the estate as well. Rosalind dresses as a man and Celia as a poor shepherdess. Everyone begins to converge in the Forest of Arden.

Duke Senior is living a Robin Hood existence in these woods with his few loyal men, including Jacques, a melancholy figure who delivers some of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines and Touchstone, a court jester who has fallen in love with Audrey, a country girl. He loves the lifestyle; it’s simple and without all the machinations of the court estate. When Orlando stumbles onto his group and demands food for him and his servant, Duke Senior recognizes who he is and accepts them into the group.

Meanwhile, Duke Ferdinand, furious about the disappearance of his daughter, sends Oliver out to find her and threatens his lands and estate if he fails. He decides that it’s time to deal with his brother once and for all.

Rosalind and Celia, now disguised as the man Ganymede and the shepherdess Aliena, arrive in the same forest where they come upon a love sick shepherd named Silvius. Silvius is pining for Phoebe, and they try to counsel him. Eventually, they purchase a small cottage to live their days in the woods.

It isn’t long after that they run into Orlando, still in love with Rosalind. He doesn’t recognize Rosalind dressed as Ganymede, and so she makes him a deal. “He” will cure Orlando of his lovesickness, but Orlando must pretend that Ganymede is Rosalind and try to woo her every day.

Phoebe continues to treat Silvius cruelly, and one day when Rosalind intervenes while dressed as Ganymede, Phoebe falls desperately in love with Ganymede. She pursues him more and more insistently, and all the while Orlando grows increasingly frustrated that this boy is not his real love Rosalind.

When Orlando doesn’t come to the lesson one day, Rosalind and Celia go searching for him still dressed in their disguises. In the woods, they stumble on Oliver who tells them that in his search for Orlando, he was attacked by a lion and saved by Orlando. He and “Aliena” (Celia) fall in love and agree to marry.

Rosalind then hatches a plan. She agrees to marry Phoebe if everyone will gather the next day for the wedding. When they arrive the next day, she gathers the various couples, Aliena and Oliver, Touchstone and Audrey, Silvius and Phoebe, and of course, her own love, Orlando.

She makes Orlando promise to marry Rosalind if Ganymede can produce her. She makes Phoebe promise to marry Silvius if she decides not to marry Ganymede. She makes Oliver and Celia promise to marry each other right then. She then takes off her Ganymede disguise, and every thing happens as promised.

Just then, there is news that Duke Ferdinand has decided to repent of his wrongdoing and return the estate. He entered the forest intent on killing his brother, but met a religious man and decided to change his ways. The estate returns to Duke Senior, who promises to put everything right, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The major theme of this play is love in its many forms. Many of the characters experience love at first sight with people who do not necessarily fit into the class system that would have been acceptable at the time. There is also an element of sisterly love between Rosalind and Celia demonstrated through their deep bond and devotion to each other.

Another prominent theme is injustice. The story begins with someone usurping the rightful estate of his brother, and another brother refusing to honor his father’s request to take care of his sibling. Love and honor are seemingly unfair. However, the woods are symbolic of nature and the natural order. As everyone spends time in the woods of Arden, injustice is made right again.