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As You Like It: The Presentation of the Theme’s of Love

‘As You Like It’ is written by William Shakespeare and is one of his most famous and successful plays. Love is a central theme, and Shakespeare uses many different styles and writing techniques to present it via the characters in the play; form and structure also contribute significantly to the presentation of love. Love comes in several different forms.

There is the romantic hero-heroine love between Rosalind and Orlando in which they fall in ‘love at first sight,’ woo and then they are married, unrequited love with Silvius and Phoebe, Touchstone and Audrey’s seductive love, family ties and love shared between Rosalind and Celia and Adam and Orlando. However, Rosalind and Orlando’s relationship is not a typical hero-heroine love; Shakespeare adds to it with Rosalind’s strong personality and humour in the relationship between Orlando and Ganymede (Rosalind’s Guise).

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The way that the two meet is traditional to a typical hero-heroine love, Rosalind is won over by Orlando’s good looks and masculinity at the wrestling match with the Court’s wrestler, Charles, they fall in love at ‘first sight,’ which is shown for the most part through the language used- Sir, you have wrestled well and overthrown more than your enemies’ ‘what passion hangs these weights upon my tongue?’, another traditional aspect of such a romance, perhaps Shakespeare is attempting to satire the conventions of love such as these in this comedy.

A new aspect came to light when Rosalind disguised a Ganymede persuades Orlando to ‘come every day to woo me.’ Orlando’s undeniable attraction to Rosalind while in her guise is surprising and humours the audience. Orlando steadily becomes intrigued by Ganymede’s offer to cure and test him of his love by wooing him as if he were Rosalind from his original hesitant attitude. He begins addressing Ganymede as a ‘pretty youth.’ He speaks in sentences filled with innuendo, for instance, ‘Fair youth, I would like I could make thee believe I love,’ ‘Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much,’ this perhaps shows that manipulation can be brought on by love.

Shakespeare portrays Rosalind in both a brutal and comical fashion, and with her wit and humour when conversing with Orlando and her love for him charms the audience. Her independence, intelligence, and dramatic irony of the situation she finds herself in with Orlando add another element to their relationship, making them unique from other characters in other plays that share love, like Romeo and Juliet. She reacts so ‘hopeless’ when Celia jests with her about Orlando, so much so that she is amusing with over-the-top statements like ‘he comes to kill my heart.’

Though they are a traditional hero and heroine, ladies and knights in love, the way Shakespeare presents them through the language makes them much more than stereotypical leading lovers. It is unconventional, and the complex ‘game’ that appears to take place between the two shows just how bewildering and mind-blowing love can develop into. Silvius and Phoebe are two lower-class peasants from the Forest of Arden; they exemplify unrequited love. However, Silvius is madly in love with Phoebe, and his declaration of love is highly romantic, ‘O thou didst never love so heartily’ and ‘Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?’

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He has such devotion and dedication to Phoebe, and the fact that his feelings are unrequited provokes our sympathy for him. Still, it is also to our amusement at the ridiculous things he desperately declares. “How many actions most ridiculous / Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy?” The great theme of unrequited love is not all that attracts us to these two characters. Phoebe’s unrequited infatuation with Rosalind adds another obstacle for Silvius to overcome, and this shows just how strange love can become. Phoebe herself is driven to behave in silly ways as Silvius has for her. Most amusing is Rosalind’s dismay at having a woman falling in love with her, ‘Why look you so upon me?’

The comedy of the situation is most ridiculous, to speak of after Oliver arrives in the Forest and Silvius repeatedly declares his love for Phoebe, who repeats such phrases for Ganymede. Orlando declares himself for Rosalind, and Rosalind impatiently insists that she does not want Phoebe. In this scene, the repetition and helplessness of love are really on show. The constant niceties, wooing, and obsession Silvius shows towards Phoebe bore her and led to resentment toward Silvius in return. Their relationship shows that unrequited love is an emotion that needs to be challenged constantly. It also shows human nature; no one wants what’s right in front of them; the more unattainable, the more attractive, people want the dream.

Touchstone and Audrey scarcely have what you could say is a romantic relationship like Rosalind and Orlando. Touchstone’s intentions for him and Audrey are straightforward. They do not even include a legitimate marriage ceremony, but in the end, turn out happily, ironically due to Jaques’s interference, which helps for once, ‘O Knowledge ill-habited worse than Jove in a thatched house’. The love between them is not as ‘charming’ as the others. Audrey is being taken advantage of somewhat and Touchstone, although admirable with regard to his treatment of Rosalind and Celia, is arrogant and a ‘show-off’ to the point of annoying.

Touchstones ‘courtly’ manner of speech ‘manipulate’ Audrey into accepting a variety of insults, ‘to cast away honesty upon a foul slut, were to put meat into an unclean dish’ and she is fooled by Touchstones ‘fake marriage’ that Oliver was to carry out. Audrey is better suited to fellow countryman, William, who like her, has a simple honest look on life and who truly loves her, contrary to Touchstone’s lesser ‘infatuation’ for her. This may be the most usual display of love as a man tries to seduce a passive and somewhat ‘weak’ woman.

This example of love is certainly a variation from the more idealized forms that are portrayed in by the other couples; it is based more on lust than romance and passionate love. Celia and Oliver are the last couples to meet. Their love is rather improbable, not because they fall for each other at first sight, but as Shakespeare offers us very little to do with the pair, it just appears to be ‘stuck’ in the end as a way of marrying off all the main characters. However, it does confirm Oliver’s repentance, and Celia gets a happy ending for herself after being such a loyal companion to Rosalind.

It seems unlikely that Celia would fall for a villain, even a repented one, but ‘As You Like It’ is a comedy, and she does, and I think that their marriage is needed if not just for the humorous ending of the play where there is a mass wedding. As well as romantic and passionate loves, there are also family love relationships, such as those shared between Oliver and Orlando and Rosalind and Celia. Oliver and Orlando have been fighting each other emotionally all through the play, and Shakespeare introduces us to this sibling rivalry right from the very first scene;

  • Oliver: [Raising his hand] ‘What, boy!’
  • Orlando: [Seizing his brother] 1Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this.’
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Oliver deprived Orlando ‘you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding me from all gentleman-like qualities’ and he ‘gained nothing under him but growth,’ Oliver refuses to treat Orlando as his brother and treats him more as if he were a servant, they show no ‘brotherly’ love between them. Oliver even goes so far as to asks Charles, the court’s wrestler too, ‘use thy discretion: I had as life thou didst break his neck as his finger,’ kill Orlando when they wrestle.

However, in the end, after it all, they still have compassion and love for each other. When Oliver comes to the Forest of Arden and is almost attacked by a lioness, blood conquers all, so to speak, and although Orlando is hesitant at first, he risks his own life to save his brother, even after how he’s treated him all these years ‘Twice did he turn his back and purposed so, But kindness, nobler ever than revenge, And nature, stronger than his just occasion, Made him give battle to the lioness.’ Oliver has now seen the error of his ways, so to speak and a love forms between the brothers.

Rosalind and Celia also share a family bond. However, they are close from the very beginning, more like sisters than cousins. They share an all-absorbing, adolescent friendship and a sisterly love, and when Rosalind is banished, Celia is devastated, their bond is so strong that she leaves the court with her- ‘Shall we be sundered, shall we part, sweet girl? No, it my father fin another heir!/ For by this heaven, now at our sorrows pale, say what thou canst, ill go along with thee’ She talks of the great grief she would be in without her ‘sweet coz’ Rosalind; this is also an example of their extreme loyalty to each other, Celia is willing to leave everything, including her father.

Their love is based on friendship and is the only relationship that does not break at some point during the play or become lowered by jealously or neglect; this could be due to the lack of sexual attraction to each other, which complicates a lot if not all of the passionate, romantic relationships in the play and being female they do not have masculine ego’s and male pride, which can also complicate matters like in Orlando’s and Oliver’s relationship at the beginning. Rosalind and Celia share the most uncomplicated and untainted love in the play.

The Forest of Arden represents nature and pastoral form, which Shakespeare also uses to present the theme of love. In the Forest we witness warmth and generosity in addition to ethics; however, in the Court, we observe deceit, prejudice and hostility. This is unusual as one would expect the hostility and such to come from the Forest and the sophistication to be at home in the Court.

The rural setting allowed the urban courtiers to find freedom and if the courtiers had remained in the Court then Touchstone would have never met Audrey, Celia would never have fallen in love with Oliver and Orlando and Oliver would probably have never reconciled, Rosalind and Orlando may have never got together and married, the fact that the love prospers in the Forest of Arden leads me to believe that Shakespeare is making a connection between nature and love and that when people are bound by the society they will not experience love in its rawest and most true form, and to do so properly one must be taken back to the basics, for instance, to the Forest of Arden.

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The structure of the play is also extremely significant in the presentation of love, In the opening scenes which take place in the Court there is a lot of hostility particularly between Oliver and Orlando and many relationships are being broken up ‘most friendship is feigning’; Rosalind and her father Duke Senior, who is banished to the Forest of Arden, Celia and her father Duke Frederick, who banishes Rosalind also, and Celia go with her, Rosalind and Orlando, who meet but are separated when Rosalind goes to the Forest, Oliver and Orlando, who have a broken relationship already but are physically separated from each other.

As we follow the characters to the Forest of Arden we witness the reformation of relationships; love is perused and new love is found, Orlando goes in search of his love Rosalind, Touchstone and Audrey begin a relationship, Silvius tries to win over Phoebe, Phoebe’s attraction to Rosalind’s guise, Ganymede, Touchstone’s lustful romance he finds with a country girl, Audrey and William, the countryman’s love for Audrey and finally Celia and Oliver. Through structure, Shakespeare manages to further connect nature and the prosper of love finding its way.

In Conclusion, Shakespeare manages to successfully present many different forms of love by using language, structure and form and by combining humour, conventional and unconventional behaviour and serious matters. In the final scenes Shakespeare purposely does not tie up all loose ends, I think this helps to show just how complex a human emotion such as love is; it cannot be given a simple one-sentence definition, it comes in many different forms as I have gone through in this essay and that love is so full of contradiction that it cant be fully resolved, for instance, Silvius and Phoebe now have a marriage based on friendship regardless of how infatuated he is by her, Touchstone and Audrey have a relationship based on lust, which is sure to burn out eventually are it not?

And even Orlando and Rosalind have a marriage that is a result of many deceptions. Rosalind’s epilogue is complex and unusual, but it ends the play well, we as an audience are left feeling that there may be no such notion as pure love. ‘My way is to conjure you/to like as much of this play as you can’ This line alone implies that love is down to our own view and interpretation of it, it allows you to see love ‘as you like it’, hence the title, and that such an intricate emotion is open to much interpretation.

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As You Like It: The Presentation of the Theme's of Love. (2021, Sep 29). Retrieved January 30, 2023, from