ENGL 339: Shakespeare
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

As You Like It: Study Questions

1) What are the two main settings of the play? What symbolic functions do they have? Where are most characters happiest? Why do the inhabitants of the forest go back to the city at the end of the play? Is "reality" affected by the characters' sojourn in the idealized "Green World" of the forest? Compare/contrast with A Midsummer Night's Dream.

2) Definition: a dramatic foil is a minor character who resembles or is in parallel circumstances to a central figure in the play. Foils are similar enough to the main character(s) to provide a useful basis of comparison, but different enough that the comparison is meaningful: they enhance our understanding of the main character's personality traits or actions. Which characters in As You Like It function as foils to which other characters? What does the comparison of these parallel characters (or sets of characters) bring to our understanding of the play as a whole?

3) In I.i. we learn that two sets of brothers are in a state of contention. What causes their quarrels and hatred? Why is Rosalind banished? Why does Celia go with her? Is their behavior "natural"? Note use of the words "nature," "natural" and "unnatural" (and instances of "unnatural" behavior) throughout the play. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It ends with multiple weddings. Consider the symbolic function of the final celebration.  What initial conflicts are harmoniously resolved by the marriages? What breaches are healed? Is love the "natural" antidote to "unnatural" hatred?

4) Consider the various depiction(s) of love represented by Rosalind and Orlando (the central couple) and their foils, Phebe and Silvius, Touchstone and Audrey, and Celia and Oliver. How does Orlando show he is in love? What kind of lover is he? (realistic, idealistic, sad, silly, etc.?) How does Rosalind react to his behavior? Why does "Ganymede" tell Orlando he needs a "love-cure"? What traits does Orlando share with Silvius? Why does Phebe reject Silvius? Why (other than the obvious reason!) does Rosalind reject Phebe? What kind of love is Touchstone most interested in? Why does he choose Audrey? Are they well matched? And what about Celia and Oliver? Keep in mind that women's parts were played by men in Shakespeare's time. What humor is derived from the sexual ambiguity of Rosalind/Ganymede's interaction with Orlando and Phebe? (For a similar case of gender-bending, compare Viola/Cesario in Twelfth Night.)

5) Until the multiple weddings with which it ends, As You Like It does not follow the conventional plotline of a romantic comedy, which typically involves the ups and down of a couple working toward a mutual acknowledgement of affection while tormented by uncertainty concerning the other's affections.  By contrast, in As You Like It, Rosalind learns that Orlando loves her early in the play. So why doesn't the story end there? (Since it is likely that her father would approve their marriage, why doesn't she reveal herself to Orlando and to Duke Senior immediately?) What is the purpose of her continued testing of Orlando? How does Rosalind differ from a conventional romantic heroine? Who is in control of the love story between Orlando and Rosalind? Why might Shakespeare have given Rosalind the play's epilogue? Compare/contrast Rosalind with Puck, who delivers the Epilogue of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  To what extend are they analogous?  How do they differ?

6) Jaques is a conventional stereotype of the melancholic in Renaissance literature, a thoughtful, moral, serious type with a satiric wit and a tendency to moroseness (Hamlet is another famous melancholic figure). How does Jaques relate to Duke Senior, to Orlando, and to Rosalind? Touchstone represents another Shakespearean convention: the court jester as wise Fool, who speaks truth through apparently nonsensical utterances (like Feste in Twelfth Night or the Fool in King Lear). Why is Touchstone's role so attractive to Jaques?

7) Note the way in which Shakespeare plays with pastoral conventions. Is the pastoral life meant to seem ideal? Why or why not? While clearly a pastoral comedy, As You Like It still has much in common with Shakespeare's "romantic comedies" -- not just the prominent role played by love and love relationships, but the presence of fantastic, magical or improbable elements. What magical or fantastic events occur in the play (although the fantastical elements are less pronounced than in A Midsummer Night's Dream)?

8) As You Like It is a very talky play. After Act I, not much actually happens (a violation of conventional plot structure), but the characters talk incessantly. To what extent is As You Like It a play aboutlanguage? Note in particular conversations or statements concerning language:  how ideas are, can or should be expressed; a given character's difficulty in understanding language (or in being understood); the tension between literal and figurative speech; the importance of saying what one means. Note also the presence of several poetic debates (another conventional feature of pastoral poetry). What does Shakespeare seem to be saying by this emphasis on language? Is there a connection with what Rosalind wants to teach Orlando?

Click here for information on Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Comedy

Click here for information on Comedy and on Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies

Click here for A Midsummer Night's Dream Study Questions

Contents of this and all linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1996-20014

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