As You Like It is obsessed with the nature of love and desire. In the play, Shakespeare demonstrates over and over again how love can make people do some pretty risky and foolish things. In particular, the play spends a lot of time critiquing the artificiality of "courtly" romance and reminds us of the silliness of assuming the clichéd pose of a "Petrarchan lover"—something that involves a lot of dramatic sighing, sadness, and frustration over an unattainable girl (check out "Characters: Orlando" for more on that).
As a Shakespearean comedy, As You Like It steadily works its way toward marriage (four of 'em!). Yet, the play is more than a little anxious about what happens after a couple gets hitched. Shakespeare raises the possibility that heterosexual unions aren't everything they're cracked up to be—hence, the numerous cuckold jokes that suggest all men (regardless of age and social status) are destined to be cheated on by unfaithful wives. To complicate matters further, the play also explores the possibilities of same-sex desire between Phoebe and Rosalind, Rosalind and Celia, and "Ganymede" and Orlando.
Questions About Love
- Discuss the possible reasons why Rosalind stays in her "Ganymede" disguise so Orlando can practice wooing her. (Why doesn't she reveal her identity so the couple can get hitched right away and live happily after?)
- Using specific examples from the play, explain how As You Like It critiques the artificiality of "Petrarchan" love. (FYI: Petrarch was a 14th-century Italian poet whose sonnets were all the rage in Shakespeare's 16th- and 17th-century England. In his love sonnets, Petrarch wrote about a snobby, unattainable mistress named "Laura" who went around stomping on men's hearts. A "Petrarchan lover," then, is a guy who mopes around, sighing dramatically, moaning about the fact that his crush wants nothing to do with him, and reciting cheesy poetry about a girl who's got eyes like stars and lips like luscious cherries, and who fills men with icy-fire.)
- How does Shakespeare use Rosalind's "Ganymede" disguise to explore the possibilities of same-sex desire?
- The play seems to have two competing attitudes about (heterosexual) marriage. On the one hand, it suggests that nuptials are the desired outcome of falling in love. (Why else would the play's "happily ever after" ending involve four marriages?) On the other hand, the play is full of jokes about men who have been cheated on by their wives, which suggests that marriage is a risky union. How can we account for these two incompatible attitudes? Is there any possible way to reconcile them? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Rosalind remains in her "Ganymede" disguise longer than necessary in order to teach Orlando to be a better boyfriend/husband.
Though four couples get hitched at the end of the play, Shakespeare doesn't intend us to view this as a "happily ever after" for all of them.