All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...
A comedy by William Shakespeare
. Like many of his lighter plays, this one focuses on young love, comic misunderstandings, and good ol' fashioned cross-dressing.
Duke Senior has been usurped by his brother, Frederick. He flees to a paradise-like forest called "The Forest of Arden," along with some servants and friends. His daughter, Rosalind, stays behind; she is the best friend of Frederick's daughter, Celia, and so he tolerates her— for a while. Orlando, a young nobleman, sees Rosalind and instantly falls in love, but his older brother, Oliver, casts him out of his home. He, too, flees to the forest.
Eventually, Frederick becomes agitated with Rosalind, and she escapes to the woods with Celia and the court clown, Touchstone. To protect themselves, they don disguises— Celia dresses as a woman called Aliena, and Rosalind pretends to be a man named Ganymede. They meet up with the servants of the true Duke (including a very depressed and depressing man called Jaques), who takes them in.
The majority of the plot is spent on the romances. Orlando, still in love with Rosalind, hangs love notes for her on the trees in the woods. Rosalind, equally in love with Orlando but still disguised as a man, encourages him to pursue her. Phebe, a shepherdess, falls in love with Ganymede, and she in turn is loved by Silvius, a shepherd. Even Touchstone the Clown has a woman he's pursuing.
Eventually, due to a mixture of cunning plots and Deus ex Machina
, the tangled love triangles are sorted out and Oliver and Frederick mend their ways, returning power to their brothers. The play ends with four
marriages, and everyone returns happily to the duchy— except melancholy Jaques, who joins a monastery.
The plot is closely based on the novel Rosalynde; or, Euphues' Golden Legacy
by Thomas Lodge, published 1590.
The play has been adapted on film Sir Laurence Olivier's in 1936 (it was his first Shakespeare film adaptation) and another Film was made by Kenneth Branagh
, which reset the play in Meiji Japan.
- Adaptation Expansion: Of Thomas Lodge's novella Rosalynde, which contained the plot and most of the main characters, albeit with different names. Touchstone, Jaques and Audrey were all created by Shakespeare himself, as was the semi-subplot involving them.
- Afraid of Blood: Rosalind passes out seeing a handkerchief with the wounded Orlando's blood on it.
- Subverted in that she's not upset about the blood itself so much as the fact that it's her beloved Orlando's blood. This is lampshaded by Celia, who can't really explain the situation to Oliver because he still thinks Rosalind's a boy.
Oliver: Many will swoon when they do look on blood.
Celia: There is more in it.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys:
Phebe: Sweet youth, I pray you, chide a year together;
I had rather hear you chide than this man woo.
- Ambiguously Gay: Le Beau is sometimes played like this: See Have a Gay Old Time below.
- Arcadia: The Forest of Arden. Ringing any bells?
- Well, it's a real place in France. Known as the Ardennes nowadays.
- There is also a Forest of Arden in England that was just outside Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-on-Avon. In fact, Shakespeare's mother was born Mary Arden. Her family had taken their name from the forest. No doubt Shakespeare combined elements of all these for the play.
- As You Know: One of the more famous examples. "As I remember, Adam..."
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Rosalind
- Author Avatar: Some have suggested William, the character who appears only to give Touchstone a chance to make fun of him. He has the same name as the author and was likely played by him (as Shakespeare was an actor in his own company) as well. A bit of Self-Deprecation, painting himself as a foolish yokel.
- Badass Boast: Touchstone telling William "I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways".
- Bifauxnen: Rosalind again. She gives Viola a run for her money.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Oliver de Boys, before his Heel-Face Turn, says of his brother Orlando:
I hope I shall see an end of him; for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he. Yet he's gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved, and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised.
- In other words, "Orlando is truly a good guy, and I want him dead for no good reason." (The subtext may suggest jealousy as a possible motive.)
- Canon Foreigner: Jaques (who actually is a foreigner in the story), Touchstone and the characters in his subplot (Audrey, Oliver Mar-Text and William), and Amiens.
- Comic Role Play: Orlando practice his declaration of love to Rosalind on Ganymede, who is (of course) Rosalind in disguise.
- Coupled Couples: Brothers Orlando and Oliver falling for cousins Rosalind and Celia.
- Deadpan Snarker: The melancholy Jacques gets a lot of lines befitting one of these, but the delivery (of course) depends on the actor.
- Touchstone, too.
- Rosalind has a few good one-liners:
Touchstone: Well, if I don't keep up my rank-
Rosalind: ...you'll lose your smell.
- Death by Adaptation: Any production that implies Adam's death (such as the 1996 Royal Shakespeare Company production).
- Deus ex Machina: Oliver repents his ways and reunites with Orlando because Orlando saves him from a conveniently placed lion. Riiight.
- Also, Fredrick just suddenly has a change of heart, goes religious, and gives the duchy back to the Duke? All offstage? Due to a previously unmentioned THIRD brother? (Note: some productions cut out the third brother and give his lines to Le Beau, the main courtier instead)
- A literal example; at the end of the play Hymen, the Greek God of Marriage, arrives with Rosalind to sort out the four couples once and for all, and give his blessing to their marriages.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Touchstone's threatened punishment to William for daring to like Audrey:
"...abandon the society of this female, or, clown, thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest; or, to wit I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage: I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction; I will o'errun thee with policy; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways
: therefore tremble and depart!"
- Dramatic Irony: Rosalind's Recursive Crossdressing
- Easy Evangelism: See Deus ex Machina.
- The Eeyore: Jaques spends essentially every moment on stage being either doleful or snarky.
- Evil Twin: When, as often occurs, the good and evil Dukes are played by the same actor.
- Four Terms Fallacy: Used by Touchstone to prove that Corin is going to hell because he never went to court.
Why, if thou never wast at court, thou never sawest good manners; if thou never sawest good manners, then thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd.
- Genre Savvy: Rosalind is unimpressed when Orlando trots out Petrarchan cliches.
- Get Thee to a Nunnery: The meaning of touchstone's speech punning on "hour" takes on a quite different meaning once you realize that in Elizabethan English, hour and whore were homophones.
'Thus we may see,' quoth he, 'how the world wags:
'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe note ,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.'
- Ghibli Hills
- Grumpy Bear: Jaques is a pre-Nietzsche Nietzsche Wannabe stuck in a pastoral comedy.
- Have a Gay Old Time
- Heel-Face Turn: Oliver and Frederick
- Heel-Faith Turn: Frederick (off-stage) decides to give up the duchy after talking to an old cleric and finding religion.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rosalind and Celia.
- The Jester: Touchstone. Lampshaded by Jaques when he reveals that he plans on becoming "a fool" as well—he'd love to be able to criticize everyone and everything without retribution!
- Love at First Sight: A major theme.
- Played straight with Oliver and Celia.
- Toyed with when it comes to Rosalind and Orlando; they're both fairly smitten the first time they meet, but she feels the need to test the truth of his feelings with an elaborate deception.
- Subverted with Phebe. She originally spurns Silvius and falls for "Ganymede" right away, but when it becomes obvious that isn't going to work, it's Silvius' unswerving devotion that wins the day.
- Love Letter Lunacy: Hanging love notes on every tree in the forest.
- Manly Tears: Apparently, Orlando and Oliver really turned on the waterworks after the latter's conversion:
When from the first to last betwixt us two
Tears our recountments had most kindly bathed...
- Meaningful Name: Celia deliberately uses one of these as her alias ("Aliena" means "the estranged one"), as she wants her name to be "something that hath a reference to [her] state". Rosalind's 'Ganymede' comes from the mythological cupbearer/lover of Zeus, and given that Orlando is Sweet on Polly Oliver...
- Men Don't Cry: Referenced several times by Celia and Rosalind. Rosalind's disguised as a man, so crying wouldn't "become" her.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Whether you think that Arden is meant to be the British Forest of Arden or the Ardennes, neither have wild lions.
- Mistaken Identity
- Morton's Fork: Touchstone's attempt to argue for unchastity. (In a beautiful woman, chastity would be "honey as a sauce to sugar", while in an unattractive one, it is "good meat in an unclean dish".)
- Nature Lover: Or so they profess in exile.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Touchstone, in the finest tradition of Shakespeare's clowns.
- Old Retainer: Adam (to Orlando).
- One Steve Limit: Avoided— Oliver the brother and Oliver the priest; melancholy Jaques and Orlando's brother Jaques.
- Only Sane Man: Oliver Mar-text, the country priest, comes off this way, although he only has one appearance and very few lines. He provides the punchline at the end of the scene when he's all set to marry Touchstone and Audrey, but they decide to ditch him (on Jaques' advice) and exit the scene singing and dancing:
'Tis no matter. Ne'er a fantastical knave of them all shall flout me out of my calling.
- Person as Verb: "She Phebes me."
- Pungeon Master: Touchstone.
- Rags to Royalty
- Recursive Crossdressing
- Self-Deprecation: In the epilogue, Rosalind says that it is "neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play".
- Spared by the Adaptation: In Rosalynde, the usurping Duke is killed in an epic forest battle at the end, much to the sorrow of his daughter. In keeping with the happy ending of a comedy, he merely converts offstage in As You Like It.
- Stalker with a Crush: Half the cast can be played this way to one extent or another.
- Stylistic Suck: Orlando's poetry, to a certain extent. It's not terrible, but it's definitely amateurish (at least compared to what Shakespeare was capable of writing), and, as Touchstone points out, it's way too easy to parody.
- Sweet on Polly Oliver: Orlando and Phobe have no idea that "Ganymede" is a girl.
- Triang Relations: Orlando and Rosalind are in love, but Rosalind is pretending to be a boy, and Phoebe has a crush on said boy, and Silvius is in love with her... Resolved when Rosalind reveals herself to be a girl.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Rosalind.