As You Like It presents many views about the issue of love. The primary plot involves the love of Rosalind and Orlando, and several other characters in the play are either in or out of love. This provides the characters in the play the opportunity to wax philosophical about the subject, expressing views about the different types of love experienced not only by the characters, but also in life in general.
The first scene of the play introduces the concepts of brotherly love and the lack of it. Oliver is portrayed as a villain because he does not "love" his brother Orlando. Oliver has neglected his brother by refusing to educate him and by treating him as a servant. Thus we see that to be a proper older brother, one should care for and improve the status of one's younger siblings. As if all of this did not already violate what the love of a sibling is supposed to be, Oliver is also physically abusive to his brother and even plots Orlando's demise by spurring Charles against him. However, younger brothers can also be cruel, which is portrayed in the situation of the two dukes. Duke Frederick has deposed his older brother, Duke Senior, and has banished him—clearly not the act of a loving younger brother. Duke Frederick, like Oliver, is a villain because of his treatment of his brother and his niece. Thus Oliver and Duke Frederick are the antagonists of the play because they are first and foremost bad brothers.
Healthy sibling love is portrayed in the play through the relationship between Rosalind and Celia. Although technically only cousins, Rosalind and Celia have become as close as sisters during the overthrow of Duke Senior, and they show this in their dealings with each other in the first act. Celia mentions the first aspect of sibling love, putting the feelings of the sibling before one's own, in Act I, scene 2, when she tells Rosalind that she should be happy because Celia is happy, as she would have been had their situations been reversed. Orlando attempts to do this for Oliver at the end of the play when he is to marry Celia. Good siblings also sacrifice for one another. When Rosalind is banished in Act I, scene 3, Celia immediately volunteers to go with her, despite her ties to her father and the dangers that leaving home will present. This is in direct contrast to Oliver and Duke Frederick, who attempt to sacrifice their brothers instead of sacrificing for them. This issue of sacrificing for a sibling is a major aspect of the relationship, and Shakespeare demonstrates its importance throughout the play. In fact, it is only when Orlando somewhat reluctantly sacrifices his own life to save his brother from the lion that Oliver is converted, and becomes a good brother once again. After this event, Oliver is willing to sacrifice everything he owns to his brother so that he can stay with Aliena (Celia). Celia's sacrifice also allows the resolution of the play. Thus, good love between siblings helps to contribute to the successful conclusion of the play.
Another type of love in the play is that of a ruler for his people. . In Elizabethan sensibility, it is the duty of a monarch to act as a loving parent to her/his country. Duke Senior, when he was in power, loved his country well and was much loved in return. This is the reason why several lords come flocking to him in the Forest of Arden. He has acted as a good ruler and is eventually rewarded at the end of the play. Duke Frederick, by contrast, abuses his power and becomes a tyrant. Unlike Duke Senior, who has followers who will give up their comforts in the city to come live with him in the country, Duke Frederick can only motivate his subjects by threatening death and seizing property. The message here appears to be that because Duke Frederick does not know how to love his brother or his subjects, he can only maintain his power through tyranny. Only through the love of God is Duke Frederick converted, which leads him to relinquish the dukedom and the seized property. The dukedom is then returned to the ruler that truly loves it.
This love between monarch and subject is similar to...
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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Delights of Love
As You Like It spoofs many of the conventions of poetry and literature dealing with love, such as the idea that love is a disease that brings suffering and torment to the lover, or the assumption that the male lover is the slave or servant of his mistress. These ideas are central features of the courtly love tradition, which greatly influenced European literature for hundreds of years before Shakespeare’s time. In As You Like It, characters lament the suffering caused by their love, but these laments are all unconvincing and ridiculous. While Orlando’s metrically incompetent poems conform to the notion that he should “live and die [Rosalind’s] slave,” these sentiments are roundly ridiculed (III.ii.142). Even Silvius, the untutored shepherd, assumes the role of the tortured lover, asking his beloved Phoebe to notice “the wounds invisible / That love’s keen arrows make” (III.v.31–32). But Silvius’s request for Phoebe’s attention implies that the enslaved lover can loosen the chains of love and that all romantic wounds can be healed—otherwise, his request for notice would be pointless. In general, As You Like It breaks with the courtly love tradition by portraying love as a force for happiness and fulfillment and ridicules those who revel in their own suffering.
Celia speaks to the curative powers of love in her introductory scene with Rosalind, in which she implores her cousin to allow “the full weight” of her love to push aside Rosalind’s unhappy thoughts (I.ii.6). As soon as Rosalind takes to Ardenne, she displays her own copious knowledge of the ways of love. Disguised as Ganymede, she tutors Orlando in how to be a more attentive and caring lover, counsels Silvius against prostrating himself for the sake of the all-too-human Phoebe, and scolds Phoebe for her arrogance in playing the shepherd’s disdainful love object. When Rosalind famously insists that “[m]en have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love,” she argues against the notion that love concerns the perfect, mythic, or unattainable (IV.i.91–92). Unlike Jaques and Touchstone, both of whom have keen eyes and biting tongues trained on the follies of romance, Rosalind does not mean to disparage love. On the contrary, she seeks to teach a version of love that not only can survive in the real world, but can bring delight as well. By the end of the play, having successfully orchestrated four marriages and ensured the happy and peaceful return of a more just government, Rosalind proves that love is a source of incomparable delight.
The Malleability of the Human Experience
In Act II, scene vii, Jaques philosophizes on the stages of human life: man passes from infancy into boyhood; becomes a lover, a soldier, and a wise civic leader; and then, year by year, becomes a bit more foolish until he is returned to his “second childishness and mere oblivion” (II.vii.164). Jaques’s speech remains an eloquent commentary on how quickly and thoroughly human beings can change, and, indeed, do change in As You Like It. Whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, those who enter the Forest of Ardenne are often remarkably different when they leave. The most dramatic and unmistakable change, of course, occurs when Rosalind assumes the disguise of Ganymede. As a young man, Rosalind demonstrates how vulnerable to change men and women truly are. Orlando, of course, is putty in her hands; more impressive, however, is her ability to manipulate Phoebe’s affections, which move from Ganymede to the once despised Silvius with amazing speed.
In As You Like It, Shakespeare dispenses with the time--consuming and often hard-won processes involved in change. The characters do not struggle to become more pliant—their changes are instantaneous. Oliver, for instance, learns to love both his brother Orlando and a disguised Celia within moments of setting foot in the forest. Furthermore, the vengeful and ambitious Duke Frederick abandons all thoughts of fratricide after a single conversation with a religious old man. Certainly, these transformations have much to do with the restorative, almost magical effects of life in the forest, but the consequences of the changes also matter in the real world: the government that rules the French duchy, for example, will be more just under the rightful ruler Duke Senior, while the class structures inherent in court life promise to be somewhat less rigid after the courtiers sojourn in the forest. These social reforms are a clear improvement and result from the more private reforms of the play’s characters. As You Like It not only insists that people can and do change, but also celebrates their ability to change for the better.
City Life Versus Country Life
Pastoral literature thrives on the contrast between life in the city and life in the country. Often, it suggests that the oppressions of the city can be remedied by a trip into the country’s therapeutic woods and fields, and that a person’s sense of balance and rightness can be restored by conversations with uncorrupted shepherds and shepherdesses. This type of restoration, in turn, enables one to return to the city a better person, capable of making the most of urban life. Although Shakespeare tests the bounds of these conventions—his shepherdess Audrey, for instance, is neither articulate nor pure—he begins As You Like It by establishing the city/country dichotomy on which the pastoral mood depends. In Act I, scene i, Orlando rails against the injustices of life with Oliver and complains that he “know[s] no wise remedy how to avoid it” (I.i.20–21). Later in that scene, as Charles relates the whereabouts of Duke Senior and his followers, the remedy is clear: “in the forest of Ardenne . . . many young gentlemen . . . fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world” (I.i.99–103). Indeed, many are healed in the forest—the lovesick are coupled with their lovers and the usurped duke returns to his throne—but Shakespeare reminds us that life in Ardenne is a temporary affair. As the characters prepare to return to life at court, the play does not laud country over city or vice versa, but instead suggests a delicate and necessary balance between the two. The simplicity of the forest provides shelter from the strains of the court, but it also creates the need for urban style and sophistication: one would not do, or even matter, without the other.
More main ideas from As You Like It