As You Like It
Study Guide

Difficulty: Accessible

Length: 2,670 lines

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As You Like It Overview

At its heart, As You Like It is a love story. By the end of the play, four couples are married including the core heroes, Rosalind and Orlando. The play pulls together some of Shakespeare’s greatest hits like the forest from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the cross-dressing of Twelfth Night. The end product is a crowd-pleaser that explores both the folly and the joy of falling in love.


The plot belongs to a popular novel by Thomas Lodge, Euphues Golden Legacie (1590). (Lodge himself based this work on a poem, “The Coke’s Tale of Gamelyn”). Most of the characters and the plotline are identical to Lodge’s work. Shakespeare even pilfered the line “If you like it” which ended up as the play’s title.

There are minor changes. Adapted for the theater, the exposition is cut. Some gory details are censored, plus the death count is lower. And the bard added his signature touch. He invented two memorable supporting characters, Touchstone the court jester, and Jaques the cynical lord. (The latter is responsible for the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech).

Pastoral Comedy

In their shock of creativity, Renaissance writers revived many Ancient Greek forms. One of these was the pastoral poem. In this genre, ancient writers lauded the utopia of rural life. Out in nature, lovelorn shepherds waxed poetry and sang of heartache. They stood for the simplicity, honesty, and goodness that had been lost by life in the corrupt cities.

As You Like It nods to this mode. For the most part, the plot takes place in the Forest of Arden which resembles Eden. Here, Duke Senior’s golden world contrasts sharply with Frederick’s sinister court. If the court is a prison, Arden offers freedom for the characters to discover who they truly are. Here, Orlando can escape his lowly status and tyrant brother. Here, as Ganymede, Rosalind can step out of gender norms to vet the man she loves.

And Arden offers a spiritual cleansing too. Miraculously, the evil brothers are converted to goodness when they enter the forest. Both even abdicate their lives of luxury for the pastoral life.

Study As You Like It

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