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As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
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
His acts being seven ages...
Jaques, 2.7

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 after she falls in love with Orlando, who is the son of one of Frederick's enemies. He banishes Rosalind, who flees 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. Phoebe, 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 by Sir Laurence Olivier in 1936 (it was his first Shakespeare film adaptation) and another film was made in 2006 by Kenneth Branagh, which reset the play among British expatriates 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:
    Phoebe: 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, complete with the requisite collection of shepherds and shepherdesses.
  • 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.
  • Cain and Abel: Oliver is initially consumed with murderous hatred for his younger brother Orlando.
  • 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.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Oliver de Boys, before his Heel–Face Turn, has a speech about his brother Orlando which boils down to "Orlando is truly a good guy, and I want him dead for no good reason." (The subtext may suggest jealousy as a possible motive.)
    Oliver: 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.''
  • 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.
    • Rosalind has a few good one-liners:
      Touchstone: Nay, if I keep not my rank—
      Rosalind: Thou losest thy old 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.
    • Fredrick suddenly has a change of heart, goes religious, and gives the duchy back to the Duke. All offstage. Due to a third brother of Oliver and Orlando who's only been mentioned once at the very beginning of the play, in a line that's often cut.note 
    • 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:
    Touchstone: ...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
  • Easily Forgiven: Oliver plans to kill Orlando by burning him alive. This detracts somewhat from the credibility of his later Heel–Face Turn.
  • 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.
    Touchstone: 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.
  • 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.'
    • Ganymede, Rosalind's name when she was disguised as a man, was the name of the Greek god Zeus' male lover. It was basically the Renaissance equivalent of uke.
  • Ghibli Hills
  • Have a Gay Old Time
    Le Beau (to Orlando): Sir! Fare thee well. Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire much love and knowledge of you.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: For the first act, you have quite a serious plot about a young man domineered by his villanous brother and a fair lady separated from her dad by her uncle; that gets fastly forgotten when all the main characters arrive the forest, where they play develops into a light pastoral comedy.
  • 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.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: In the 2006 film adaption, Orlando falls for Rosalind who is played by Bryce Dallas Howard.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rosalind and Celia.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Referenced by Touchstone.
    The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
  • 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 Phoebe. 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.
  • Love Triangle: 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.
  • 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 Vegetation: Rosalind finds one of Orlando's poems under a palm tree. Whether you think that Arden is meant to be the British Forest of Arden or the Ardennes, neither have naturally occurring palm trees.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Or 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.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: The three sons of Rowland de Bois, in order of appearance: the gentle-natured Orlando (nice), his abusive older brother Oliver (mean) and Jacques (in-between by default simply because we don't find out much about him.)
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Touchstone, in the finest tradition of Shakespeare's clowns.
  • Old Retainer: Adam (to Orlando).
  • One Head Taller: Rosalind is said by Orlando to stand "just as high as my heart" — though it could be a poetic way of confessing his love for her and not a description of her height.
  • 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.
  • Painful Rhyme: Some of Orlando's poems have to use a long i in Rosalind to make the rhymes work, which Touchstone and Celia scoff at.
  • Person as Verb: "She Phoebes me."
  • Pungeon Master: Touchstone.
  • 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.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Rosalind chooses a male disguise because she’s tall for a woman, and Orlando certainly thinks she’s beautiful.
  • 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 Phoebe have no idea that "Ganymede" is a girl.
  • Turn to Religion: After hearing that the villain has undergone a Heel–Faith Turn, the rather capricious Jaques decides on a whim to find him and join him in whatever his new religion is. The play ends before we learn if he actually follows through, however.
  • Tsundere: Some productions have genderswapped Jaques. The resulting lines come off as intensely Tsundere toward everyone.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Rosalind.
  • Your Mom: The subtext of Charles' taunt to Orlando before the wrestling match.
    Where is this young gallant who so desires to lie with his Mother Earth?