It is unknown when Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’ was first written but it is thought to have first been performed in the Globe theatre in 1599 and first published in 1623 in the First Folio. When writing ‘As you like it’, it was probable that Shakespeare created the character of Rosalind with the popular prose ‘Rosalynde’ by Thomas Lodge firmly in mind. However, whilst writing ‘As you like it’, Shakespeare was also heavily influenced by the pastoral and romantic traditions popular in plays and literature of the period.
Pastoral traditions typically depicted the countryside as an idyllic, natural, rural paradise, which brought out the good nature of all. The country was viewed as being wholly better than the unjust, unnatural, corrupt court, where evil-doers resided. The country, as represented in the pastoral romance tradition, was a “golden world” and a place of escape, populated by shepherds, shepherdesses and exiled high-ranking nobles disguised as simple country folk.
Similarly, the romance tradition prevalent in many of Shakespeare’s plays (including ‘As you like it’) presents love as an idealised, sexless act, which often involves a couple falling in love at first sight and eventually marrying, after overcoming many trials and tribulations. Subsequently, these two much loved traditions merged together to form the pastoral romance tradition, which is predominate throughout much of the play.
The pastoral romance tradition contains many features which can be seen in ‘As you like it’, such as lovesick shepherds, contemptuous shepherdesses (represented by the characters of Silvius and Phebe), forests and journeys (Orlando and Adam’s journey to Arden). In short, the pastoral romance tradition is present in ‘As you like it’ to fulfil the expectations of audiences of the time. Firstly, in act one, scene one the contrast between the court and the forest can be seen to be represented in the text by the brothers Oliver and Orlando, in terms of their personalities and their attitudes and actions towards others.
It can be said that the character of the treacherous and deceitful Oliver represents the court and that the attributes of the benevolent Orlando represent the forest. As early as line four, it can be seen that Orlando represents the forest as he experiences natural emotions- “There begins my sadness”-reflecting the natural state of the forest in which people are able to express their emotions freely and without limitations. Also, Orlando is rebellious (“mutiny against this servitude”), as are the rebels from the court who reside in the forest.
It can also be said that the forest rebels against and challenges the unnaturalness and falseness of the court. In the Cambridge Schools edition of ‘As you like it’ Orlando is represented as being naturally good (as is the forest) and only seizes his brother as a reaction to his violent outburst. In addition, Orlando does not believe himself to be superior to his servant Adam, considered by some to be lesser than himself, and refers to him in a friendly, informal tone- “This is it, Adam”. Similarly, the forest, unlike the court, welcomes everyone and judges no one.
However, Orlando is aware that he has been wronged by his elder brother- “Something that nature gave me, his countenance seems to take away from me”- suggesting that he has a sense of right and wrong, as do the people of the forest. In contrast, Oliver can be seen to represent the court as he undermines Orlando, as the court undermines the forest- “Mines my gentility”. Also, Oliver has a false sense of superiority (“Know you before whom, Sir? “), as the court is falsely thought to be superior to the forest.
Like the unnatural court, Oliver also experiences unnatural feelings towards his brother- “My soul…. hates nothing more than he”. Also, Oliver is unpleasant towards others, referring to his long-standing and faithful servant Adam as, “Old dog”, as well as being deceitful- he only reveals his true nature during a soliloquy. In addition, Oliver is sarcastic and mocking towards others (as the court mocks and belittles the forest) and does not realise his brother’s worth- “Marry, Sir, be better employed”- as the court does not realise or appreciate the true worth of the forest.
Furthermore, Oliver displays complete contempt towards others (particularly in his treatment of Adam), which can be seen to parallel the court dwellers contemptuous behaviour towards the forest folk. Certainly, Oliver’s ‘naturally’ cruel nature also reinforces the view that his behaviour represents the court, as does the formal and false way in which he addresses Orlando- “Sir”- which reflects the formality and falseness of the court. Further on in the text, Oliver projects his own characteristics (and ultimately those of the court) onto Orlando when he issues a false description of his younger brother and his feelings towards him to Charles-
“Almost with tears I speak it…. there is not one…. so villainous”. Finally, Oliver is portrayed as a treacherous liar during his soliloquy when he reveals that Orlando will not receive his share of their Father’s will, as he had previously promised him- “Give no thousand crowns either”. Secondly, the contrast between the court and the forest is also represented by the contrast between Oliver and Orlando in the 1978 BBC adaptation of ‘As you like it’.
For example, the play begins with Oliver sword fighting, hinting at his violent nature and indeed the violent nature of the court as portrayed in the text. Also, Oliver strikes Orlando across the face first prior to their physical fight, again portraying the violence of the court, which is later epitomised in the wrestling match. Even so, the text only states that Oliver, “Raises hand”, indicating that he may not have actually struck Orlando and that this scene is not true to the text.
However, these stage directions were inserted by the editor Rex Gibson (due to the fact that there were no original stage directions to indicate which brother began the violence). Therefore, this scene can be interpreted in a variety of ways and, if Oliver’s violent outburst began the physical fight between himself and his brother, it would portray him as being representative of the court, as described in the text to a greater extent. Also, if Oliver did initiate the physical violence, it would be in keeping with his cruel and violent behaviour in the rest of the play, and ultimately that of the court.
In addition, Oliver can also be seen to be representative of the court when he cruelly knocks Adam’s walking stick away from him in the BBC interpretation, showing the maliciousness of the court. Even so the text provides no indication that this incident is intended to occur but I believe that it further enhances the audiences negative perception of Oliver and, indeed, the court. Also, Oliver’s elaborate dress reflects the elaborateness and unnaturalness of the court- “Painted pomp” (Act two, scene one)- as opposed to the simplistic and natural forest.