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Themes

Transformation is a big deal in As You Like It. In the Forest of Arden, some characters literally transform themselves by cross-dressing, while others shrug off their city-slicker identities and live as rustic country-types. Physical transformations aren't the only big changes at work in the play's pastoral setting. Except for the endlessly melancholy Jaques, most characters undergo some sort of psychological or spiritual transformation in Arden. Often, these "conversions" are sudden and seemingly miraculous, as is the case with Duke Frederick and Oliver, who change their evil ways upon entering the woods.

At times, this theme allows Shakespeare to explore the nature of the theater, which requires actors to transform themselves on an ever-changing stage. At other times, the characters' physical and spiritual conversions allow Shakespeare to comment on humanity – we may be deeply flawed, but we are also capable of changing for the better.

Questions About Transformation

  1. Explain why Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves as "Ganymede" and "Aliena." 
  2. Why does Rosalind take such delight in continuing to play "Ganymede," even though she only needed the costume to get to the forest?
  3. Discuss how the Forest of Arden plays a role in the characters' various transformations throughout the play.
  4. At the play's end, we learn that Duke Frederick has experienced a sudden "conversion" and has decided to give up his power and return his dukedom to Duke Senior.  Discuss the overall impact of Duke Frederick's transformation.  How does it influence the plot?  What are the social consequences for other characters?   

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although Duke Frederick's and Oliver's "conversions" are sudden and improbable, Shakespeare seems to be making a larger, more important point: despite the fact that human beings are capable of cruelty and treachery, they are also capable of redemption.

The Forest of Arden is an important setting insofar as it is capable of transforming characters almost as soon as they enter the woods.

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