As You Like It Introduction
In A Nutshell
Cross-dressing women, a professional "fool," and mass weddings galore. No, this isn't another episode of Maury; it's Shakespeare's classic comedy, As You Like It.
1599, though, was a particularly awesome year for our favorite dramatist. Aside from penning As You Like It, he also whipped up a few other plays—Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry V. You might have heard of them.
Oh yeah, did we mention that Shakespeare's theater company, the Lord Chamberlain's men, also built the Globe Theater that year? For those who aren't familiar, the Globe is pretty much the most famous theater of all time.
In other words, by the time As You Like It hit the Elizabethan stage, Shakespeare was at the height of his productivity and was a true master of his craft. It was also around that time that he wrote what many consider to be his greatest achievement, Hamlet. Impressive, don't you think?
As You Like It features one of the most famous passages in all of Western literature: "All the world's a stage,/ and all the men and women merely players." Although the idea was already a cliché by the time Shakespeare wrote these lines, the passage pretty much sums up As You Like It, a drama in which playacting and fantasy are the names of the game.
In the play, a girl runs away from her wicked uncle and winds up in the Forest of Arden, where she traipses around disguised as a saucy young boy. When she bumps into her crush in the middle of the forest, she convinces him to participate in an imaginary courtship that ends in marriage. Because it features a cross-dressing heroine whose gutsy disguise challenges traditional ideas about gender, it's safe to say that As You Like It was way ahead of its time.
Over the years, As You Like It has been a consistent crowd-pleaser. In fact, literature scholar Harold Bloom ranks As You Like It (along with Twelfth Night) as his favorite Shakespeare play for "sheer pleasure." And remember the movie She's the Man? Yep, it's basically a modern-day interpretation of this same play. Mind. Blown.
Why Should I Care?
According to the title of As You Like It, Shakespeare doesn't particularly mind if you care about his play or not. And even if you do care about it, Shakespeare invites you decide for yourself why the play matters and what it means. (Hmm. Why does this sound so familiar? Oh, we know. Here at Shmoop, we've been trying to tell you this all along.)
In fact, finding your own meaning is the whole point of As You Like It, a play that debates a giant laundry list of philosophical questions but never comes down on one side or the other:
- What's the meaning of love?
- Is the world really "like a stage"?
- Is life better in the country or the court?
- Are gender roles fixed or fluid?
- What is it that drives sexual attraction?
Because most of the characters spend their time running around the forest offering multiple (and incompatible) answers to said questions, As You Like It presents several points of view, but never actually takes any sides (except for maybe Rosalind's, which you can read more about by going to the "Characters" section).
In other words, life is this or that depending on how you look at it—and how you look at it is your prerogative. Also, how you live your life is your prerogative. If, for example, you want to cross-dress and run away to the forest like Rosalind, go right ahead. If you want to spend all your time in a cave (like Jaques) while your friends are out having fun, that's your choice. Seriously.
Shakespeare reminds us that no two people choose the same path—and that's OK. Yes, we've all heard "different strokes for different folks," but while you were busy embracing all the colors of the rainbow, Shakespearean literature was making the point in a far more eloquent manner and with 90% less eye-rolling.
We think the takeaway from As You Like It is best put in the words of a different great poet—Dr. Seuss: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
So go ahead, wear your multi-colored toe-socks and dye your hair pink; as Sheryl Crow once said: If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.