As You Like It

Presumed to have been written in 1599 and registered a year later at the Stationer’s Office on the 4th of August, 1600, and first published in the 1623 First Folio (F1). However, Charlton Ogburn places this play alongside “Love’s Labours Lost”, “King Henry IVth”, (Parts 1 & 2), “Henry Vth”, “A Comedy of Errors”, “Titus Andronicus” and “Julius Caesar” (Cairncross). A year later Thomas Lodge publishes his own “Rosalynde” which is thought to have been an inspiration for Shakespeare’s play when actually it was the other way round. This would have been around the same time that Lord Burghley was suggesting the marriage of Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton to the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, Elizabeth Vere which never found fruit leaving Shakespeare’s patron to pay a fine of £5,000 for his rejection of the suit.

In Act II of As You Like It, we have a reference to a popular song of the time entitled “Under the Greenwood Tree” sung by Amiens.

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Jacques calls for more song and music thus:
Who doth ambition shun
All together here
And loves to live i’ the sun,
Seeking the food he eats
And pleased with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Finally, we are requested to listen to the final verse of this song, sung and supposedly composed by Jacques himself:
Thus it goes:–
If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease,
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame:
Here shall he see
Gross fools as he,
An if he will come to me.

The musical entertainment continues into Act II, scene 7 just after Jacques’ well-known commentary on the world as stage and the Seven Ages of Man, his cousin Amiens sings:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember’d not.
Heigh-ho! sing, & c.

This is followed in Act IV, scene 2 by a traditional hunting song in which four men as foresters celebrate the prowess of the man who killed the deer:

What shall he have that kill’d the deer?
His leather skin and horns to wear.
Then sing him home;
(The rest shall bear this burden)
Take thou no scorn to wear the horn;
It was a crest ere thou wast born:
Thy father’s father wore it,
And thy father bore it:
The horn, the horn, the lusty horn
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.

Thomas Lodge’s version places the scene somewhere on the borders of France, Luxembourg and Belgium (Ardennes) although a woodland with a similar name did and still exists in Merrie England north of Stratford-on-Avon. It is a place more familiar to pagans and somewhat uncouth to those of a gentile disposition. With great panache Shakespeare also introduces the colourful and dramatic character of “Touchstone”, whose stage name incidentally became synonymous with a black or grey, flint-like material used for testing the purity of gold and silver. Its main allegorical theme is the “Seven Ages of Man” with its all its attendant virtues and follies.
Many medieval treatises on the subject of astrology provided a schema divisible by seven based on the average human life span with a series of corresponding life stages or Seven Ages of Man attributed to planetary influences (7 x 9 year periods = 63 years which was an average life-span in those days);

  • 1) Infant (Moon-Silver)
  • 2) Child (Mercury-Quicksilver)
  • 3) Youth (Venus-Copper)
  • 4) Adult (Mars-Iron)
  • 5) Maturity (Jupiter-Tin)
  • 6) Old Age (Saturn-Lead)
  • 7) Decrepitude (Fixed Stars-Amalgam)

A poem written in alliterative verse, the “Parliament of the Three Ages” is thought to have been produced in the N. Midlands around 1370-90. It describes an allegorical debate between Youth, Middle Age and Old Age. Renaissance symbolism concerned with the computation of numbers entailed numerous schemes describing man’s life, for example the walls or the four corners of a room might be compared to the four seasons birth, growth, maturity, and death. The ceiling might represent the domain of heaven and the floor the domain of Earth. Each season would be divided into three months or symbolic sub-stages so that the entire scheme paralleled the life of man within a scheme of 12 months. The lifespan envisaged here would therefore have been 72 years, with each season representing 18 years and each sub-stage of the life experience being exactly 6 years. The magic number 72 has been mentioned previously in other contexts within the work of William Shakespeare potentially as ciphers and for encryption but can also correspond numerically to geomantic features as has been discovered at the Stonehenge monument where 72 divided by 9 = 8 cardinal directions. Similarly, the founder of “Neo-Platonism” Plotinus arranged his philosophical treatise into 6 Enneads to give the number 54 (72×9=648÷12=54). This is the play with the now almost famous quotation;

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

As You Like It is an allegory in plot or parallel characterisation of the Wars of the Roses in Britain and the Wars of Religion in France, with a cameo reference to the story of Cain & Abel from Biblical sources and perhaps in some ways the play was modelled on the lives of the Bacon family fortunes. When Sir Nicholas Bacon, Keeper of the Queen’s Great Seal, died he left his fortunes to his eldest son Anthony which left Francis with little or no money. As a spymaster Anthony Bacon travelled abroad and spent most of his time in France and Navarre, whose King, the future Henry IVth of France became his friend. He enjoyed the friendship of many Huguenots but was involved in a sexual scandal and accused and arrested on charges of sodomy with a page, although the French King eventually secured his release. There are several connections in this play to the ideas and life of the French Philosopher Michel de Montaigne, as well as to Thomas Moore’s own philosophical thesis “Utopia”. Incidentally, the latter personage having written an unfinished history of Richard III, which might have been an historical source for Shakespeare’s own play on the subject.
Similarly, in Elizabethan dramas the temporal power of kings and nobles alike is usually expressed in 4 dramatic movements or modes, namely; protasis, where the events and characters are introduced to the audience, epitasis, when the plot begins to thicken, catastasis, where the action is heightened and catharsis, the final revelation or denouement. This is especially true in Richard IIIrd but it is a type of dramatic framework employed in many of Shakespeare’s plays. The underlying structure of the historical dramas begins with Edward III, who was the seventh of the Plantagenet Kings. He had twelve legitimate children, of whom there were five sons that inherited titles, property and estates which they in turn passed on to their offspring. Edward’s generosity to his family is well recorded and he used this as an effective means of governing the entire kingdom. His eldest son, (The Black Prince) died before him and as a result the crown went to the 10 year old prince Richard (II) when he died. Like his successor Edward IVth, Richard II reigned for some 22 years (a magical number in royal dynasties) although he was surrounded by a greedy and powerful coterie of uncles and cousins. As a child he was submissive but as an adult he was a formidable tyrant who exercised brutal vengeance on all of his enemies. When his uncle (John of Gaunt) died however he seized his estates in Lancaster that rightly belonged to the then exiled Henry Bolingbroke, who, on his return later became Henry IVth. Richard was in turn deposed by Henry, imprisoned and was then probably secretly killed.
The play describes the inherent socio-political duality of ruling plutocratic Dukes (Duke Senior & Duke Frederick), one apparently good, the other bad and that in their offspring (Orlando & Oliver), again good and bad and the gentile objects of their affections (Rosalind & Celia). The resolution of the Wars of the Roses between the Royal House of Lancaster and that Royal House of York, like that of the conflicts between these two French Dukes lay in an amicable marriage that would eventually unite the two warring families, and this basic idea is also reflected in Shakespeare’s play Romeo & Juliet.

The Foundations of a Kingdom

A local ruler, the Duke Senior has a disagreement with his younger brother Duke Frederick, he then hears of a plot hatched by Oliver to kill a member of his court, namely Orlando in a friendly wrestling competition. The exiled Duke and his lords have voluntarily retired into the forest in a bid to escape the pretensions, schemes, death plots and mean-spirited attitude of his younger usurper brother. His daughter Rosalind remains due to the intercession of her cousin Celia, the daughter of the reigning Duke. A certain lord, Sir Rowland de Boys has three sons, the youngest Orlando is harshly treated by his elder brethren (Oliver) and demanding his due respect and inheritance comes into severe conflict with his family. In scene II a wrestling match between Orlando and a wrestler is witnessed by Rosalind and Celia where Orlando comes out the victor thereby earning their admiration. Somewhat enamoured of the young man Rosalind offers him a chain as a token of her admiration and affection. However, despite his bravado Orlando is forced to leave the court, then the usurping Duke decides to banish his niece Rosalind, who disguised as a young man (Ganymede) joins the other exiles in the forest accompanied by Celia. The court jester Touchstone is also introduced and he too accompanies the ladies into the company of the “outlaws”. They overhear a shepherd (Silvius), in conversation with Corin who describes his undying love for a certain Phebe. Meanwhile, the fool Touchstone has a chance encounter with Jacques, the son of the exiled Duke de Boys and Orlando hears from an aged servant, Adam that his brother Oliver plans to set fire to his lodging. Furious at the disappearance into the forest of Rosalind and Celia the Duke Frederick instructs Oliver to bring back Orlando, dead or alive. While the aged Adam relates the tale of the 7 Ages of Man, the shepherds exchange banter with Touchstone and Orlando writes love-poems which he hangs from the branches of trees. These are discovered by Rosalind, still in disguise accompanied by Celia and then Orlando enters the scene with his companion Jacques. Orlando explains to Ganymede that he is in love with a certain Rosalind, and suggests a suitable “cure” for his forlorn dis-ease. Still keeping up the pretence of being a young man she instructs him to pretend that she is Rosalind and to engage in an entreaty of love that will disclose whether he is a suitable partner for Rosalind, the object of his desire. Orlando agrees to play this game while Touchstone cynically pursues a country wench, Audrey who willingly accepts his offer of marriage.
The old shepherd, Corin then shows Rosalind the enactment of the love story between Silvius and the proud, disdainful shepherdess Phebe. Naturally, Ganymede rebukes Phebe for her contempt of the shepherd but Phebe is herself somewhat enamoured of Ganymede’s feisty approach. In act IV we have Ganymede talking to Jacques, when Orlando enters, somewhat late for his appointment which previously arranged has been designed to hone his wooing of the fair Rosalind. The tutor Ganymede then instructs Orlando to pretend that Celia is a priest and that the hour has arrived for the proposal of marriage. However, Orlando then hurriedly takes his leave for a dinner appointment with the Duke. The final act describes Touchstone in rhetorical style ousting Audrey’s rival suitor, William and Oliver confessing to Orlando that he has fallen madly in love with Celia. Uncharacteristically Oliver offers him his father’s estate and then makes arrangements to marry Celia. All these marriage arrangements make the bachelor Orlando feel somewhat at a loss and he confides his deep sorrow to Ganymede, she then tells Orlando that she knows a magician who can enable him to marry Rosalind. At which point Silvius and Phebe enter in a round of teasing and supplication. Eventually, Rosalind appears at the Duke’s court in her feminine attire, is reunited with her father and reveals to Orlando her true identity. In the almost fairy tale finale eight different characters are paired off together and imminent doom or disaster is finally averted. Then the God of Marriage, Hymen is instructed to marry all three pairs (3 x 2 =6) of couples together. The act closes with a dramatic declaration by Jacques de Boys that Duke Frederick, while on his way to seize Duke Senior from his forest hide-out met an old hermit who oversaw his conversion as a penitent. He then declares that the old Duke has been reinstated as the reigning lord of the region while the evil Frederick has taken holy orders and withdrawn from the world.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


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