Q. To what extent is the Forest of Arden an ideal place? A. The Forest of Arden, at first glance, is a country life of arcadian contentment, rustic tranquillity, a ‘golden world’ in all its glory. A place to while away the hours like, ‘the old Robin Hood of England.’ And so is portrayed and backed up with the seemingly content Duke Senior and his merry men. Duke Senior praises the effects of Arden on him, stating its different virtues in the forms of a healer, a nurturer and a counsellor. Its effects on the people who come from the court are drastic if not almost instantaneous and bring out some unique aspect of their personality that is not yet known.
For Oliver and Duke Frederick, there is an almost impossible change for the better as Duke Frederick ‘is converted both from enterprise and from the world.’ Furthermore, the previously non-existent bond of brotherly love is created between Orlando and Oliver, which in turn leads to Oliver’s ‘conversion.’ In Rosalind’s case, the Forest provides a source of unimaginable freedom to express herself without the barriers of court conventions (though this may be the result of the disguise alone). It is the place where she can love Orlando without the strict rules and regulations that governed her previous residence.
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Likewise, Orlando is provided with an escape from his brother’s oppression where he can leisurely convey his love for Rosalind. On the contrary, the Forest can divert from the pastoral convention as you peer into its harsh realities and its ill-effects on its limited population. Duke senior’s opening speech was, in reality, an attempt to hearten his co-mates and brothers-in-exile. Although thinly veiled with heartening comments about the season’s ‘icy fang’ as a counsellor and the ‘churlish chidings of the winter’s wind’ as a sweet use of adversity, it remains that it is an icy fang and the winds do ‘bite and blow upon his body.’ Although the Forest of Arden does display salutary qualities regarding the characters’ outlooks and personalities, it is still a source of discomfort and physical pain, a ‘barren’ desert.
Another characteristic that is associated with Arden is its sense of camaraderie and an egalitarian society. Duke Senior’s court becomes a circle of brothers, where Oliver and Orlando become brothers once more, where Duke Frederick learns humility, but this is not completely. Hence, as we see an example of cruelty and neglect in Corin’s master. Moreover, Celia, a lively character in the play’s opening act, progressively loses her energy as she loses her friend (Rosalind) to forest follies.
The forest also comes across as primitive. The venison of the forest proves this. The ‘poor dappled fools’ are subject to the cruelty of the most primitive kind in their own dwellings. In conclusion, the Forest of Arden is, in fact, an ideal place for recuperation and introspection in the sense that many of the characters achieved transformations of sorts. However, it is seen (with a few exceptions) that the characters of the play are unwilling to stay in the forest when presented with the alternative of the court. Therefore, the forest may be ideal but is a short-lived ideal.