The main themes of “As You Like It” are the pastoral ideal and the ideal of romantic love. Forest of Aden is the primary setting where these themes develop. Nature serves as a refuge from society where we can find solutions to injustice and unhappiness. This play is a comedy and thus has a happy ending but it is not a fairy tail. Shakespeare highlights the difference between reality and illusion. Rosalind embodies the sensibility, the humor and the kind of love that leads to a happy, harmonious living. She brings the plot to a resolution when four contrasting romances end in marriage. The focus of the play is her romance with Orlando.
Rosalind wants to find a lover without losing her sense of self in the process. Rosalind answers the questions about love, which arise during the play. She is a lovesick maiden and yet she remains an intelligent, witty, and strong character. Rosalind is also a good judge of character. She sees through Jaque’s seemingly deep thoughts and recognizes the wisdom of clown Touchstone. Furthermore, she cleverly uses her disguise to get to know Orlando and educate him about love.
From henceforth I will, coz, and devise sports.
Let me see, what think you of falling in love?
Her words indicate that Rosalind is ready to face the danger of falling in love. She infers that her father would approve of Orlando because her father approved of his father Sir Rowland. Their meeting reveals a vulnerable side of the Rosalind as she gives him a chain, says, “Gentleman, wear this for me” and waits for him to continue the conversation.
In Act Shakespeare draws parallels between Rosalind’s relationship with Celia and Orlando’s relationship with Adam. When Duke Fredrick banishes his niece from the court, Celia makes a quick decision to go to the Forest of Aden with her cousin and to look for her uncle. This illustrates the degree if love and loyalty between them. Orlando’s elder brother Oliver denies him education. When Orlando is leaving for the forest Adam wants to go with him to serve and protect him.
Master, go on, and I will follow thee
To the last gasp with truth and loyalty?
Yet fortune cannot recompense me better
Than to die well and not my master’s debtor. (2.4. 70-75)
Soon after entering the Forest of Arden Rosalind discovers love poems that Orlando hang on the trees. She loses self-control as she reads them one after another. When she finds out that Celia has seen Orlando she is very excited and cannot stop asking her questions, “What did he when you thou saw’st him? What said he? How looked he?” (3.2. 218-20) For a brief period of time, she becomes a victim of infatuation like those she scorns. She is betrayed by something she feels and finds it difficult to admit the truth in love. Shakespeare thus illustrates that she is not ideal, that she has flaws like all other human being.
Rosalind’s clever idea to dress up as Ganymede enables her to have a double identity, which will give her the opportunity to test Orlando’s love. Her disguise probably prevents their immediate marriage. “I will speak to him like a saucy lackey and under that habit play the knave with him.” (3.2.292-93) She does not however merely play games, Rosalind she teaches Orlando how to love her. He must keep his promises and respect her thereby proving that his love is real. She takes a cynical view of romantic love to tease Orlando. Rosalind begins to tire of acting after the momentary drop of her guise when she faints at seeing Orlando’s bloody handkerchief. When Orlando proves himself to Ganymede and saves the life of his brother Rosalind is ready to make a commitment to him. She does not dispose of her disguise until then because she realizes that only time will show if they are really in love. Time refines their passion for one another.
Rosalind is a philosopher Rosalind like Jaque. Her practical love-filled perceptions of the world contrast with his cynical views. Jaque likes to disagree with everyone else. Both Orlando and Rosalind challenge his ideas. In the third act Jaque tried to persuade Orlando that loving Rosalind is not worth his while.
Jaque. “The worst fault you have is to be in love.”
Rosalind tells Jaque that he is sad and melancholy because he chooses to stay detached from the real life she says: “Fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s? I had rather fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad.” Thus Jaque loses in this brief exchange.
Touchstone is the fool whom Rosalind would prefer to Jaque. She understands his wisdom: “You speak’st wiser than thou art ware of.” Touchstone tells her a story about being in love with a girl. He gave the girl something and said “wear these for my sake”, which are almost the same words that Rosalind said to Orlando in the beginning of the play.
The love between Orlando and Rosalind is portrayed as superior to other romances, which are more earthy. Touchstone and Audrey’s romance represents physical passion. He wants to marry her out of church so that the marriage would be invalid. Silvius who is hopelessly in love with Pheobe, represents pastoral love The diversity of characters’ romantic sentiment creates a balance in the play and makes one appreciate their silliness, spirituality and extremities. Compared to Silvius’ silly infatuation, Orlando’s is more of a courtly lovesickness.
Rosalind outshines everyone else in the play with her intelligence, wit and depth of feeling. Her humanity and sense of fun make her the ideal romantic heroine. She seems to be centuries ahead of her time. She is a woman who is absolutely the master of her own destiny and she remains in control most of the time. Shakespeare has created an almost ideal heroine who brings the play to its conclusion.