As You Like It, a pastoral comedy by Shakespeare, believed to be written in 1599 or early 1600 was first published in the First Folio in 1623.Pastoral literature features the idyllic life of the countryside, often among shepherds, as a romanticized contrast to the corruption and formalities of court life. The simple life outside of the city is painted as an environment of leisure, conversation, and deep thought. Within the pastoral drama, the protagonist flees the confines of the court, takes refuge in the countryside, and then returns to the city. The time spent in the “outskirts” allows the main character to see the world differently, learn about themselves and the world around them, and often undergo a transformation. The Forest of Arden plays an important role in As You Like It and the pastoral tradition, distinguishing between the strict rules of court life and a place that simultaneously represents banishment and liberty. The forest is an archetypal location used to signify the wild unknown, a place of freedom, or a space in which magic and transformation can occur. The Forest of Arden is first described when Charles tells Oliver of Duke Senior’s banishment:
They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world. (Charles, 1.1)
In this description Charles references both the tale of Robin Hood and the mythological and idyllic “golden age” of years past that involved relaxation and everlasting spring time, painting the forest in a positive and gentle light. The main characters see Arden as an escape from forced civilties and pretentious manners, a place where free will can be exercised and the restrictions of court are null and void. This can be seen in Celia’s words, when she and Rosalind are preparing to flee the courts. She declares:
Now go we in content
To liberty, and not to banishment.
(Celia, act 1, scene 3)
Celia puts a positive spin on banishment, seeing it as an opportunity for freedom from the
tyranny of court life. Act II of As You Like It opens in the Forest of Arden, calling it a place
“exempt from public haunt.” The play follows several characters disconnected from society on their individual journeys to regain a place of belonging. The sense of disharmony in the play is unmistakably a result of the corruption in the court, the setting where the main characters are supposed to belong. Though, the characters enter Arden at times of distress, either through banishment, escape or in the case of Jacques and Touchstone who came to Arden on their own accord, they are all there to revive that sense of individual identity which they seem disconnected from in their daily lives. Corruption in the court is identified through the family breakdowns that have occurred.
When the court of Duke Senior moved with him to Arden during his banishment, the sense of loyalty and belonging rose in the backdrop of the play. The only characters who did not fall under the human characteristic of brotherhood and affinity were the two brothers Oliver and Duke Frederick, who in the initial half of the play were insecure of their own brothers and their popularity and lived with an innate fear of being succumbed to their subordinates. Hence, The banishment of Duke Senior sets the play in motion, in Arden he confesses that he’s at a better place away from his corrupted court and pretentious courtiers. And open heartedly accepts all the people who come under him, unconsciously forming an alliance in the forest which came in stark contrast of the court held by his brother Duke Frederick. Entry into the forest is a remarkable crossing of the threshold by each character, because they act in contrast to their earlier identities and take up roles which they deem fit for survival in the forest. The journey to Arden is an arduous one- Celia, Touchstone and Rosalind are exhausted and Adam almost faints with hunger- but once there the pleasure and satisfaction are immediate.
Orlando in order to save his starving companion, Adam braves the party of Duke Senior to procure food and this event leads him to be introduced to the Duke, who later takes up the ideal image of a fatherly figure for him, which he soo longed to see in his brother, Oliver. This relation helps him put in perspective the priorities of life, having solved one problem of substituting a missing image of an elder in his life, the want of love and the accession to wealth are taken care of. It’s as if nature is putting all things in its right place. Hence, the subdued Orlando who was tongue-tied in front of the fair Rosalind and powerless at his City home, finds a voice and character in the novel. But, it should be kept in mind that no identity is false identity. Each adopted identity is part of a phase of transition in the life of human beings. The transient characteristic of identity keeps alive the justified fluidity in identity. This change identity was one of the main reason which enabled Orlando to restore the accepted order in the play, by marrying Rosalind and becoming the lawful male heir of Duke Senior. Similarly on one hand, Rosalind’s transformation is the most remarkable and most noticeable as it is external as well as internal. Her disguise differs from Celia’s because while Celia suggests they besmirch their faces with umber to hide their beauty as a safety measure, Rosalind decides to take on another persona, to become someone else. The decision to adopt the role of a male character by Rosalind, clearly states that the feminine character would have been at a disadvantage be it at court or in the forest of Arden had she retained her original identity. Therefore, the adoption of Ganymede by Rosalind is a conscious act of shedding off of the conventionalities of a maiden of her times, intrinsically, and adopting the shades of a male character in her mannerisms as well as appearance. This change in her led to the pacing of the play and fully putting it in the merciful hands of a woman dressed as a man, who was not only pulling the strings of the other characters but also forming a contrast to her earlier confused and nonvocal self at the court of her uncle, Duke Frederick. The affect of her appearance is evident on her as soon as she enters Arden, when she speaks to a tired Celia:
I could find in my heart to disgrace my man’s
apparel and to cry like a woman. But I must comfort the
weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show
itself courageous to petticoat,therefore courage, good Aliena.
(Rosalind, Act 2, scene 4, 3-7)
On the other hand, the daring and outspoken Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick, who openly opposed her father in his own court and sided by her cousin Rosalind and even gave the idea of escaping to the forest of Arden, was unable to keep up with her identity in the same forest she referred to as liberating. When Rosalind bargains to buy the Sheepcote, Celia envision it to the long term house for them both:
I like this place,
And willingly could waste my time in it
(Act 2, Scene 4, 92-93)
And we’ll men thy wages.
(To Corin, Act 2, Scene 4, 92)
It cannot be said whether her true character came out in Arden and the one in court was a false one, or vice versa. It can be understood better if we accept the fact that, in Arden, away from her father’s court Celia finally dared to indulge in her true wants, the want of a settled ideal life where she can handle her own household. What makes these noticeable transformations remarkable is that these other identities already resided within each person but had been so far suppressed. Arden gives them space and freedom to emerge and blossom. Though, Celia’s speeches shorten as compared to the ones in court, the change is Celia is less dramatic than that of Rosalind but no less significant.
However, the two characters who are unable to feel the liberating effect of the forest are
Jacques and Touchstone. Even the Duke Frederick and Oliver change upon entering the
ideal/neutral alternate,environmental space of Arden which is a contrast to their strife torn real world. Touchstone and Jacques are unable to show alternate selves is maybe because they have carefully and consciously constructed the identities that they display to those around them. Touchstone is thought of as the Fool- his character is predetermine and fixed. Being a fool is his job, hence he decides how he acts and disbands all armoury of pretentious mannerisms because he has the virtue of being the court fool who has the license to say what he wants to and behave however he likes to. Similarly Jacques, has deliberately donned a persona – that of a melancholy philosopher. He has created a role for himself and has become adept at performing it well. Therefore, both these characters have formed identities which lie in the society but are parted from it corrupted hegemonic system, and hence giving them the license to critique the society while functioning within it. Arden is seen as the place for transition, but the characters already residing in Arden do not noticeably experience change in their identity maybe because they have lived in the forest and no change could be expected of them in their own place of residence. But, apart from that, in the end when all characters are united and a justifiable end is given by Shakespeare, it can only be assumed whether the characters take back Arden with them or restore a new order in the court because Rosalind when once sheds her manly appearance, submits to her father and her husband.