What happens in As You Like It

As You Like It is chock-full of naughtiness. Just think about that title. Yes, the play does look at real-life love vs. what we imagine love is supposed to be like. It examines the myth that rural life is simpler than city life. It pokes fun at poetry and defies convention by giving one of its finest speeches to a side character. But oh my word, nobody in this play can keep their pants on. This month on What Happens in Shakespeare, let’s find out what still gets us all bothered after 400 years.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “Desperate Housewives in Forest of Arden. MORAL: U can always get a guy by pretending to be a boy.”

What happens in As You Like It

In France, Sir Rowland de Bois has died, leaving two sons, Oliver and Orlando.

Duke Frederick has banished his brother Duke Senior, who now lives in the Forest of Arden. Frederick allowed Senior’s daughter Rosalind to remain at court with Frederick’s daughter Celia, since the two are inseparable friends. Or possibly more. Their dialog is thick with passion even for Shakespeare, and there’s basically nothing safe for work about Shakespeare.

Oliver hates Orlando and will not give him access to the usual advantages the younger son of a nobleman expects. Oliver schemes to get Orlando killed in a wrestling match, but Orlando wins the match. Rosalind and Celia are spectators. Rosalind embarrasses herself by revealing her instant attraction to the hunky but intellectually inferior Orlando.

Frederick becomes angry with Rosalind for no reason and banishes her. Celia decides to run away with her. They leave for the Forest of Arden. Even though they’re taking the court jester Touchstone with them, Rosalind decides they need the protection of a man, so she dresses as one in a move that is not queer at all. She changes her name to Ganymede. Celia adopts the name Aliena.

At the same time, Orlando runs away to the Forest of Arden. Oliver failed to get him killed the first time, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be so lucky again. Orlando meets Duke Senior, who knew Orlando’s father and takes him in.

Rosalind and Celia meet shepherds in the forest, including the humble Silvius, who is in unrequited love with the somewhat sharper-witted Phebe.

There is a subplot with Touchstone and a sad man named Jacques.

Orlando, who is smitten with Rosalind, writes terrible love poetry and sticks it on trees.

Rosalind and Celia (“Ganymede” and “Aliena”) meet Orlando in the forest. “Ganymede” convinces Orlando to treat “him” as Rosalind and practice his seduction moves without the actual Rosalind present. These love lessons become sweet misery for Rosalind, but Orlando enjoys himself rather more than you would expect a completely heterosexual man to.

Frederick sends Oliver into the forest to look for Celia and Rosalind.

Orlando rescues Oliver from a lion in the forest. Yes, a lion. In a forest in France. The brothers reconcile their differences.

Oliver tells the story to Celia and Rosalind. Oliver and Celia fall helplessly in love.

Phebe, the shepherd woman, has fallen in love with “Ganymede.” Rosalind does some verbal sleight of hand to convince her to redirect her affection toward Silvius in the event that Ganymede is not available to marry any woman.

Rosalind and her father, Senior, are reunited.

Rosalind marries Orlando. Celia marries Oliver. Phebe marries Silvius. And there’s a fourth: Touchstone, the clown, marries Audrey, another shepherd woman.

Frederick has a religious conversion and decides to live a spiritual life away from the world with Jacques (and what could be more wholesome than two men living out their lives in the woods together?). Senior’s lands and title are returned to him. Everybody who doesn’t already live in the forest goes home.


For more about As You Like It, this month I recommend the excellent Folgerpedia by the Folger Shakespeare Library.