"All the world's a stage/ And all the men and women merely players" (2.7.9). So says Jaques, just one of many characters played by actors performing on a literal stage in As You Like It. Shakespeare is famous for his self-referential drama and As You Like It takes every opportunity to remind us of the theatrical nature of human life.
The play also explores other related art forms—love poetry, licensed "fooling," dancing, and singing. These performances are clearly meant to entertain the audience, but Shakespeare also considers the nuances of the kinds of art that come naturally to us, such as writing poetry for a lover, singing a song to cheer up a friend, or even donning a disguise while "play-acting." Art isn't always just a mirror of life; in the best cases, it's the stuff of life itself.
Questions About Art and Culture
- Orlando is a pretty dramatic lover—he makes outrageous declarations about Rosalind's beauty and tags up the forest with a bunch of cheesy love poetry about his girl. Is it possible to read Orlando's lovesickness as a kind of "performance"?
- How would you characterize Orlando's poetry? How do the other characters respond to it? What is it that makes Orlando's verses so bad?
- Discuss how Shakespeare self-consciously reminds us that we are a theater audience throughout the play.
- Shakespeare uses songs throughout the play to break up the talking and to provide spectacle. What kinds of functions do the songs serve in As You Like It? Do they serve any real purpose or does the play suffer from the movie-musical problem of people bursting awkwardly into song?
Chew on This
When Rosalind disguises herself as "Ganymede," we're reminded of the circumstances of Shakespeare's "transvestite" theater, whereby actors played the roles of women characters, who sometimes cross-dressed (as is the case with Rosalind/Ganymede).
As You Like It critiques the genre of Petrarchan poetry, even while Shakespeare the poet/playwright participates in it.