Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Orlando and Rosalind both live in places where they are denied their rightful power.
Initially, Orlando and Rosalind are both uneasy, but they're settled in some way. Orlando knows he'd like to rebel against his brother, but he's not sure how or where he'd go. Rosalind misses her father, but has a warm "home" with her cousin.
Banishment! Orlando runs away to the forest with Adam, while Rosalind has dressed as a man and has also run off to the forest with Celia.
After winning the wrestling match, Orlando finds out from the family servant, Adam, that his brother Oliver is plotting his murder. Rosalind too finds her uncle much displeased after the match—he turns her out with very little explanation. Orlando and Adam head to the forest in despair, while Rosalind and Celia see their escape as liberation, not banishment. Unbeknown to each other, Rosalind and Orlando run away to the same forest. Still, it seems all around that old lives and loves must be left behind. We have yet to see whether old lives can be repaired or reconciled within the forest.
Rosalind maintains her cross-dress to interview Orlando, who doesn't suspect her. They meet and court, sort of.
Rosalind and Celia keep it together in the forest until Orlando shows up, at which point Rosalind is giddy with the possibility that love (or a big crush) hasn't been lost to her after all. She teases Orlando, while in disguise as Rosalind/Ganymede, and gets him to woo her. She can be rash and terrible at these times, but she also begins to fall in love with Orlando more deeply. This would be great, except there's a strange tension in his courting, mostly because he thinks she's a man.
Oliver arrives with a bloody handkerchief for "Rosalind." Rosalind/Ganymede faints, potentially blowing his/her disguise.
We thought Orlando was just full of youthful foolishness! Now a strange man arrives with a handkerchief full of Orlando's blood and a loving message for "Rosalind." Anybody's reaction to that would be intense—but Rosalind's is especially telling. Orlando faced immediate danger with immense bravery, forcing Rosalind to react honestly. When she faints, it's not play-acting or affectation—she realizes that Orlando is a man, not a plaything, and most importantly, that he's a man she really cares for.
Rosalind/Ganymede promises to straighten out the impossible situation—she'll help each unhappy lover to find a perfect match.
Rosalind has to come clean to Orlando about her little farce and hopes that he will still love her. (We feel suspense, because we don't know if he will.) She also has to please all the other characters, which won't be easy. She's got to skirt around Phoebe being in love with her, the lack of love between Phoebe and Silvius, and the possibility that Orlando might not accept her because of her systematic lying to him for nearly all the time they've known each other. It seems that whatever way Rosalind resolves this, she'll alienate somebody. (Remember that Audrey and Touchstone and Oliver and Celia are already happy couples, which means the comedy fulfilled its happy couple requisite, so we might not get any more. GASP!)
Rosalind arrives (as herself) on the wedding day, along with Celia and Hymen.
Thankfully, Rosalind didn't have to resolve anything. She just brought in the goddess of marriage to do it for her. Hymen casually explains everything away, and insists that everyone get married in the next few minutes. Besides, no one can refuse a goddess. Also Jaques, the missing de Boys brother, comes in with some other denouement-y news that the bad Duke Frederick is now good and repentant, and everyone can have their titles and wealth back upon returning to the court.
Everyone parties merrily, mostly; we all sit down to a hearty Epilogue.
The play could have easily ended with everyone living happily ever after—but that would undermine the fact that the entire play has been about different ways to live and think about life. Shakespeare couldn't really end with everyone happily in love when half the play was spent mocking romance. While the dancing fools are making a happy spectacle, Jaques's departure is a little reminder that there's more than one way to skin a cat—or end a play. Shakespeare reemphasizes this in the epilogue. Depending on how it's played, the layers of Rosalind's character (and the actor who plays her) can cast a gloss—or a shadow—over the entire experience.