As You Like It
Summary and Synopsis

As You Like It Setting

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.

As You Like It Plot Timeline

  1. Family Feud. The evil Duke Frederick has supplanted his brother’s position as duke. Duke Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden with his supporters. Orsino’s daughter, Rosalind, remains behind as a companion to Frederick’s daughter Celia.​

  2. Orlando and Rosalind in Love. The youngest de Boys brother, Orlando, has been cheated out of his education and inheritance by his spiteful brother Oliver. After he unexpectedly beats the formidable Charles at a wrestling match, he and Rosalind fall in love.​

  3. Rosalind Banished. That happiness is short-lived when Frederick banishes Rosalind from the court. Accompanied by Touchstone the fool and Celia (using the alias Aliena), Rosalind disguises herself as a man called Ganymede and flees to Arden. Here, they buy a cottage from a passing shepherd, Corin.​

  4. A Murder Plot. Adam, a faithful servant, warns Orlando that Oliver is plotting to kill him. Together, they flee to Arden for safety but Adam collapses from fatigue. Orlando happens upon Duke Senior’s court in the forest, including a melancholy lord called Jaques. After a misunderstanding, the duke provides shelter and food for Orlando and Adam.​

  5. The Duke’s Demands. Suspecting Orlando’s involvement in his daughter’s disappearance, Duke Frederick demands Oliver reveal his brother’s whereabouts. The duke seizes the de Boys’ property and sends Oliver to find Orlando.​

  6. A Game of Disguise. Rosalind (as Ganymede) discovers that Orlando has pinned love poetry for her throughout the forest. Not yet revealing her true identity, she challenges Orlando to a game. “Ganymede” role-plays as a temperamental Rosalind to test Orlando’s love. Orlando consents and comes to relish his visits with Ganymede. 

  7. Misplaced Love. The shepherd Silvius is rejected by a woman called Phebe. When Rosalind tries to intervene, Phebe falls in love with Ganymede instead. Ignoring Rosalind’s protests, Phebe writes forlorn love letters to the youth.​

  8. Love All Around. Orlando finds Oliver in the forest and saves his life after he is stalked by a lioness. Oliver repents of his sins, falls in love with Celia, and offers up all his land to his brother in reparation. Meanwhile, Touchstone has also found love in Audrey. Orlando feels left out and ends the game with Rosalind, prompting her to promise to engender a happy ending for all.​ 

  9. Resolution and Celebration. The next day, Rosalind reveals her true self. Phebe resigns herself to marrying Silvius instead of Ganymede. Four weddings ensue: Phebe and Silvius; Touchstone and Audrey; Celia and Oliver; and Rosalind and Orlando. It’s briefly revealed that Duke Frederick has been converted to devout faith, repented of his evil deeds, and restored the rightful dukedom to Duke Senior. Rosalind performs the epilogue and they celebrate.
As You Like It Summary

As You Like It Summary

As You Like It Act 1 Summary

Act 1, Scene 1

Since Sir Rowland’s death, his eldest son Oliver has become head of the de Boys’ household. But he has failed to raise his youngest brother. Out of envy for Orlando, Oliver has denied him an education and inheritance. Despite his noble birth, Orlando is unrefined and penniless.

Now Orlando has had enough. He grumbles about his brother’s abuse to the old servant, Adam. When Oliver himself comes in, the brothers squabble which breaks out into a fistfight. Effortlessly, Orlando topples Oliver to the ground. (He may be unschooled, but he’s fit). Once again Oliver shrugs off Orlando’s appeal for better treatment and shoos him away.

Charles the wrestler brings Oliver news from court. Duke Frederick has usurped his older brother’s position. Banished, Duke Senior and his followers have set up their own court in the idyllic Forest of Arden. Left behind is his daughter Rosalind who is inseparable from Frederick’s daughter, Celia.

Charles also brings a warning. Orlando has challenged the unbeaten court wrestler to a match. It’s a death wish! Oliver insists that he’s tried to talk his brother out of it, but he’s stubborn and wicked; he deserves what’s coming.

Privately, Oliver admits that his hatred of Orlando is irrational. Although uneducated, Orlando is still wise, noble, loved by many, and good-hearted. It’s infuriating.

Act 1, Scene 2

Rosalind is (understandably) despondent. Her father is banished and her safety in court now depends on the precarious whim of her uncle. Celia comforts her cousin with silver linings. They’ve got each other at least. And, when Celia inherits her father’s estate, she’ll restore Rosalind’s status.

Rosalind’s sadness quickly dissipates once the life of the party, Touchstone, enters. He’s come to summon them to Duke Frederick. With the court fool, the cousins banter about the foolishness of love – something they will soon know more intimately.

All is ready for the wrestling match between Charles and Orlando. Frederick warns them it’s about to get bloody. Young Orlando has no chance! Concerned, the ladies try to convince Orlando to forfeit and save his skin, but he’s determined to fight.

Naturally strong and brave, Orlando stuns everyone by throwing Charles unconscious. The underdog has won! Frederick’s congratulations are dampened when he hears who Orlando’s father is (the two had a frosty relationship). But Rosalind speaks fondly of Old Sir Rowland. Flattered by this young victor, Rosalind rewards Orlando with a love token: a chain.

The youth is dumbstruck. It takes love to knock him out, not a champion wrestler. Le Beau, a courtier, politely bids him leave. Before he does, Orlando finds out the name of his beloved. Rosalind.

Act 1, Scene 3

In their quarters, Rosalind sighs. Lovesickness has taken hold and Celia has fun teasing her cousin.

Just then, Duke Frederick thunders in. Swiftly he banishes his niece from the court. If found within twenty miles of the place, she will be put to death. Rosalind is astonished. She tries to defend her innocence, but Frederick is unyielding: she is a traitor. Bravely Celia appeals to her father to reconsider. But Ferdinand is deaf to her pleas. Rosalind must get packing. He leaves.

Rosalind is frozen with fear. Celia thinks quickly. She pledges to forsake her father and travel with her dear cousin to the Forest of Arden. It’ll be a dangerous journey for two noblewomen, so they settle on disguises. Celia will muddy her face and dress in rags using the name Aliena. Rosalind comes round to the idea. She’ll don man’s clothes and call herself Ganymede. And for kicks and giggles, they’ll drag Touchstone along too.

Now Rosalind’s fear has faded. She is excited about the liberty they will find. The cousins head off to prepare for their adventure.

As You Like It Act 2 Summary

Act 2, Scene 1

Meanwhile, deep in that very forest, Duke Senior has built a court with his followers. The rightful duke muses about the beautiful forest. Here, life in nature is pure, free of the backstabbers, politics, and sycophants he had to deal with back in the “envious” court. Every spiritual and intellectual need is fulfilled here. Even the cold wind and rain makes him happy.

The party prepares to hunt deer but one key member is missing: Jaques, the melancholy lord. Last seen, Lord Amiens reports, Jaques was moping about the death of a lone deer who was wounded by hunters. He thinks the men are “tyrants” in the forest. Looks like he won’t be joining the hunt. Duke Senior sets off, hoping to poke fun at Jaques’s discontent.

Act 2, Scene 2

News has reached Duke Frederick of Celia and Rosalind’s escape. He’s enraged. From his lords he gathers that Touchstone is also gone; and that the women were overheard doting on Orlando de Boys. The duke connects some dots. He orders Orlando to be detained and brought to him. The guard is to scour exhaustively for Celia and bring her home.

Act 2, Scene 3

Orlando returns home to find Adam waiting up outside for him. He’s in a state. Adam warns the young de Boys son to stay far away from the house. The fame of Orlando’s victory against Charles has blazed its way into Oliver’s ears. Incensed by jealousy, the eldest plans to murder his brother by burning down his lodgings that night.

Orlando is at a loss. Without money, what can he do? Where else can he go? He’s just about to resign himself to his brother’s clutches when Adam, with incredible generosity, offers up his life’s savings to his master. After a teetotalling youth, Adam is still strong; he’ll flee with Orlando into Arden.

Grateful, Orlando consents. After bidding farewell to his home of 40 years, Adam follows Orlando off on his travels.

Act 2, Scene 4

Rosalind (as Ganymede), Celia (as Aliena), and Touchstone have made it to Arden. After the arduous journey, they are weary but high-spirited. As they rest, two shepherds – one young, one old – come their way.

The younger, Silvius, is passionately in love (so much so that it’s all he can talk about). Corin, wiser and older, assures him love’s passions become milder with age. But the youth rails about his beloved in sentimental clichés. Aside, Rosalind sympathizes.

At Celia’s request, Rosalind asks Corin for rest and food. He apologizes: though he’d love to, he works for a selfish man who is currently selling his pastures and cannot provide for them. Sniffing out a great deal, Rosalind spends their gold on this man’s cottage, flock, and pasture. This will be their refuge from the court.

Act 2, Scene 5

In another part of the forest, the elusive Jaques lounges around. As Amiens sings a few songs, glum Jaques mopes about. He sings his own about fools (or dukes) leaving their “wealth and ease”, making up a few words as he goes. They part, Amiens to the Duke; Jaques to sleep, or to complain about life some more.

Act 2, Scene 6

Finally, Orlando and Adam have made it to Arden. But the old servant has used up his last strength to get here. He collapses with fatigue. Orlando swears to face the dangerous forest alone to find shelter and food to revive the old man

Act 2, Scene 7

Meanwhile, Duke Senior’s court has gathered for a meal. Jaques appears, to Senior’s delight. It seems the lord has stumbled into the court jester, Touchstone – and he’s hooked. Touchstone, Jaques claims, is the wisest, the wittiest, the most perceptive social critic he’s ever met. Now Jaques is devoted to a new life’s ambition: becoming a fool. Duke Senior laughs it off. Foolish, cynical, and wayward, Jaques doesn’t have what it takes.

Orlando crashes the duke’s party. Sword drawn, he demands their food. Nobody takes the robbery too seriously. Jaques quips sarcastically. Duke Senior politely reprimands Orlando’s rude overreaction. Try asking nicely, he suggests. Suddenly self-aware, Orlando blushes. He explains apologetically that the wild forest has made him on edge. Generous Senior offers the young man to share their food – and he rushes off to retrieve Adam.

Time for Jaques to shine. Rather cynically, he likens life to a theater. Like actors, humanity is not in control of life, but forced to live out predetermined roles. Each act of life is predictable and disenchanting. And for what? Eventually, in old age, everyone is destined to reach the terror and loneliness of “second childishness.”

Old age has certainly made Adam helpless. But luckily, he’s not alone. Orlando gallantly carries Adam to the duke’s court. As Adam regains his strength, Amiens plays music and Senior gets better acquainted with his new guest. On hearing he is de Boys’ son, the duke warmly welcomes him into his care. He and Sir Rowland were close friends.

As You Like It Act 3 Summary

Act 3, Scene 1

Back at the rotten court, Duke Frederick’s rounded up Oliver. Orlando’s gone missing and the duke’s convinced that Oliver’s in on it. Oliver tries to tell Frederick the truth – he hates his brother too! But the duke mistrusts him. He orders Oliver to find wherever Orlando’s hiding and drag him back for Frederick to deal with. Fail and he’ll seize all Oliver’s estate, leaving him destitute. Oliver has been overpowered by a bully bigger than himself. He goes to seek out and betray his youngest brother.

Act 3, Scene 2

In a fit of love (or insanity), Orlando gallops through the forest nailing love poetry for Rosalind on every tree.

As he skips off, Corin and Touchstone debate which is better: life in the country or the court. Pompous Touchstone turns his nose up at the unsophisticated country. Days are tedious here, he complains, and the people dim-witted and unmannerly. Corin’s no philosopher. But without pretentious language, he argues that the simple life has made him honest; given him commonsense and homespun wisdom.

Rosalind saunters in. She’s found a mysterious poem. Giddily, she reads it aloud. The verse is amateurish and clumsy. Touchstone mocks it with his own, bawdy version. Celia chuckles. She knows something Rosalind would sorely like to know: the author’s name. Teasing her, Celia withholds the name until Rosalind is bursting with curiosity. It’s Orlando!

Who should appear but the poet himself! Orlando is bickering with Jaques. The airy “Signior Love” and cynical “Monsieur Melancholy” can’t bear each other.

Rosalind’s imagination is racing. She invents a plan to test Orlando’s suitability as a lover. With Jaques gone, she greets Orlando as Ganymede. The youth is quickly drawn to her sharp wit. She mocks the lunacy of love that has driven some poor fool to carve Rosalind’s name in the trees. Sheepishly, Orlando confesses to being that man. Rosalind proposes to cure Orlando of his love-madness with a kind of game. She will play the role of Rosalind. Orlando must woo her, call her Rosalind – and she will be so fickle and moody that he will swear off his love. Orlando is intrigued and accepts.

Act 3, Scene 3

Love is in the air and Touchstone’s not getting left out. He’s met and wooed a lover of his own in Arden, Audrey, a country bumpkin. They’re an ill-matched pair. Most of Touchstone’s wit flies right over her head. She’s childlike and unrefined. Touchstone admits he doesn’t have much hope for the longevity of the match. Nevertheless, he calls Sir Oliver Martext, an inept country vicar, to marry them right away. Jaques (who has been watching, amused, from a distance) convinces Touchstone he ought to marry in a church with a more capable vicar. They agree to delay the wedding and leave Sir Oliver rather stumped.

Act 3, Scene 4

Orlando is late to meet Rosalind, and she’s grown impatient. Like the moody lover she is, she flips back and forth between feeling betrayed and infatuated. In good humor, Celia plays second fiddle to each of these mood changes. Briefly, Rosalind recounts meeting her father, Duke Senior, here. Not even he could see through her disguise. Corin comes in. He invites the pair to watch Silvius profess his love to Phebe. Rosalind decides to help Silvius in his suit of love.

Act 3, Scene 5

The audience of three watches Phebe scorn poor Silvius. Over and again, she brutally rejects the heartbroken shepherd.

Rosalind intervenes. She chastises Phebe for being so cruel to Silvius when she’s so ugly. Insulting Phebe seems to be the way to win her heart: she falls madly in love with “Ganymede”. Rosalind’s insults (“inky brows”, “black silk hair”, “bugle eyeballs”) only turn Phebe on even more! She quickly becomes the very thing she mocked: a foolish lover entranced with her beloved. Realizing the mess she’s made, Rosalind earnestly pleads with Phebe not to fall in love with her.

When Rosalind leaves, Phebe conceals her new infatuation from Silvius. She asks him to deliver a letter deriding Ganymede for calling her those names. Silvius agrees. (To be honest, the shepherd’s just happy she’s paying him some attention).

As You Like It Act 4 Summary

Act 4, Scene 1

Now Jaques and Ganymede suss each other out. Rosalind soon figures out that he’s depressing company, and he shuffles off.

Better late than never, Orlando arrives. Rosalind scolds his tardiness. No true lover, she says, would show up his beloved like this! The two banter back and forth wittily, “Ganymede” playing the part of Rosalind and Celia watching. She tests Orlando by playing different shades of Rosalind. First, she’s hard-to-get Rosalind. At every one of Orlando’s advances, she mocks his folly and rejects him. Next, she’s more of an eager Rosalind. She accepts his love and even gets a reluctant Celia to play a priest about to marry them. Suddenly, Rosalind switches key again. This time she warns Orlando that women transform after marriage. Rosalind will be moody, intolerable, unfaithful, she predicts. But Orlando stays committed to Rosalind.

Orlando leaves to serve the duke at dinner. Celia scolds her for talking badly about women, but all Rosalind can think of is her love. She gushes about Orlando.

Act 4, Scene 2

Jaques is still wandering around the forest. A forester has killed a deer and Jaques tells him to bring it in its glory to the duke. They sing about horns and cuckoldry.

Act 4, Scene 3

Elsewhere, Silvius delivers Phebe’s letter to Rosalind. Don’t shoot the messenger, he warns. Phebe wrote with such a fury that it must be slanderous. But it’s a love confession for Ganymede, teeming with sickly sweet clichés. Despite Rosalind’s efforts, Silvius realizes the bitter truth. His beloved has fallen for Ganymede. The latter sends him off to tell Phebe that Ganymede will never love her until she loves Silvius.

Of all people, Oliver comes through the forest to ask for directions to the sheep cottage. He bats eyelashes with Celia (owner of the cottage, he assumes). To Rosalind, he gives a napkin red with Orlando’s blood and an apology for being late. She’s distraught.

Oliver explains. While going through the forest, Orlando stumbled upon his eldest brother, sleeping beneath a tree. A snake had curled itself around his neck and was about to strike, but when Orlando came near, it slithered away. The story gets wilder. Next, a lioness stalked the sleeping Oliver. Given the fact that his brother tried to kill him, Orlando nearly left his brother to die. But before the lion could strike, his better nature took over, and he fought away the wild animal.

Orlando’s selflessness moved Oliver profoundly. Instantly he repented of his evil deeds and reconciled with his brother.

But what of the blood? In the kerfuffle, the lion wounded Orlando. He led Oliver to the duke and sent his brother to excuse himself from Ganymede, before fainting. It’s all too much for Rosalind. She faints herself! After she revives, Oliver is suspicious of her “woman’s heart”.

As You Like It Act 5 Summary

Act 5, Scene 1

Audrey is tired of waiting for her wedding to Touchstone. The fool comforts her; it won’t be long now. He also confronts her about William, a young man who is in love with her as well. (This doesn’t bode well for their marriage).

The man in question enters, hoping to woo Audrey. He is an inarticulate countryman, befuddled by Touchstone’s witty speech. The court jester finally lays claim to Audrey and tells William to depart.

Act 5, Scene 2

Arden Forest has worked magic on Oliver. For one, turns out he’s fallen in love – with Aliena! Second, his hatred for Orlando has softened into love. To rectify the wrongs of the past, he bestows Sir Rowland’s property and estate to his youngest brother. He will purge himself of the wicked court and live a simple shepherd’s life here in the country, with Aliena at his side.

He leaves and Rosalind comes in. She catches up on the gossip with Orlando – Aliena and Oliver, who would have thought? Of course, Orlando is happy for his brother. But he longs to be with his true love, too. Ganymede’s game just isn’t cutting it.

Time to set things right. Rosalind claims to be a magician. Tomorrow, she promises, at Aliena and Oliver’s wedding, she will conjure up Rosalind for Orlando to wed once and for all.

But there’s one last mess left to clean up too. Phebe clamors in, chasing after Ganymede with starry eyes. Not far behind, Silvius chases after Phebe. And Orlando still sighs after Rosalind.

Rosalind takes charge. She declares she will solve all the lovers’ problems the next day. Orlando will wed his Rosalind. Silvius will have his Phebe. And Phebe must promise to settle for Silvius if she finds she loses interested in Ganymede by tomorrow.

Act 5, Scene 3

In a brief interlude, Touchstone and Audrey anticipate their coming wedding day. Duke Senior’s pages sing a love song dedicated to the couple. Touchstone rejects it for being too lovey-dovey. (Not a great sign before the wedding).

Act 5, Scene 4

Before the weddings take place, Duke Senior and Orlando wonder whether Ganymede will really be able to pull this feat off. They remark on how similar he looks to Rosalind – he could really pass as her brother.

In a wedding masque, Hymen, the god of marriage enters. He presents Celia and reveals – Rosalind! Both Duke Senior and Orlando are overjoyed to reunite with her. Phebe realizes that Ganymede was really Rosalind all along. She consents to marry Silvius instead. Hymen joins their hands and marries the four couples all at once.

Out of nowhere, Jaques de Boys (the middle brother) interrupts the party with news. Duke Frederick has grown impatient with Oliver’s delay. Earlier that day, he charged into Arden to do the deed himself and kill Senior as well. But something miraculous happened. Passing by, an old priest converted his soul. Frederick repented of his past sins and decided to leave his dukedom behind, giving up his life to religious devotion. All his lands and his title will now be rightfully restored to his exiled brother, Duke Senior. The party rejoices. Senior orders celebrations and vows to bestow a kingdom to Orlando.

One more loose end: Jaques is tickled by the idea of religion. He decides to join Frederick and glean whatever wisdom he can from his holy life.

In an epilogue, Rosalind ties up the play to a close. She blesses women for loving men; men for loving women; and bids the audience farewell.

Kathryn is a teacher and writer from Cape Town, South Africa. In her spare time, she likes to run far distances, consume cat videos, and pretend she’s on ‘The Great British Bake Off’.