Analysis

  • Analyse Rosalind

    Rosalind makes a number of important choices throughout the course of the play which affect the action of the story, including her decision to dress as a young man called 'Ganymede' while travelling. Later on, once in the safety of the Forest of Arden, and having met Orlando again, she also makes the choice to remain in disguise in order to test him and his devotion to her.

    At this point, Rosalind could easily have revealed her true identity and reunited with the man she loves so it is important for an actor playing Rosalind, or anyone writing about her character, to ask:

    Why does Rosalind use her disguise to test Orlando?

    We’ve started to think below about some of the reasons she does this. See if you can complete the grid to make four points that could answer this question. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, as long as you can back it up! Looking at the following scenes might also help to collect evidence:

    • Act 3 Scene 2: Take a look at the way in which Rosalind introduces herself (as Ganymede) to Orlando when she meets him in the forest. Explore how cheeky and playful her language is and why you think she talks to him in this way.
    • Act 4 Scene 1: Examine the way in which Rosalind chides Orlando for his lateness and his behaviour in this scene. Why do you think she tells him off in this way? Would she be able to get to know him like this as a woman?
    • Act 4 Scene 1: Look at the way in which she uses the cover of her disguise to get Orlando to woo her. What do you think her motivation is for this? Why is it so effective? What does she learn about him through using her disguise?

    Point

    Rosalind feels safe in her disguise and doesn’t want to lose that safety just yet.

    Evidence

    ‘We’ll have a swashing and a martial outside, / As many other mannish cowards have / That do outface it with their semblances’ (Rosalind, 2:1)

    Explanation

    Both Rosalind and Celia are aware of the need to protect themselves on their dangerous voyage into the forest. They decide to disguise themselves so that they don’t attract any unwanted attention and so that they will look brave and courageous on the outside and Rosalind may still feel this protection is necessary, even when they have met Orlando. Here, Rosalind is pointing out that merely looking like you can defend yourself, even when you are a 'coward' inside, is a form of protection they might need.

    Point

    Rosalind's disguise is a clever way to test Orlando’s devotion to her.

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    Point

    She is in love with Orlando and under the cloak of the disguise she can get to know him better.

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    To think more about the character of Rosalind, read actor Katy Stephen's blog about her experiences rehearsing for the role.

  • Analyse Celia

    Celia and Rosalind begin the play as incredibly close friends but their banishment and journey into the forest, as well as Rosalind’s relationship with Orlando, changes their friendship. Celia is sometimes critical of Rosalind’s actions and her way of speaking about men and women.

    For an actor playing this role, or anyone writing about her character, it is important to ask:

    How does Celia’s relationship with Rosalind change, and why?

    We’ve started to think below about how Celia and Rosalind’s relationship develops across the play. See if you can complete the grid to make four points that could answer this question. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, as long as you can back it up! Looking at the following scenes might also help to collect evidence:

    • Act 1 Scene 2: Take a look at how Celia and Rosalind interact with each other early on in the play.
    • Act 3 Scene 2: Look at how Celia teases Rosalind when they discover Orlando’s verses in the woods.
    • Act 4 Scene 1: How does Celia treat Rosalind after she witnesses the way in which she talks to Orlando? What does Celia think of the things that Rosalind says about marriage and love?

    Point

    Celia and Rosalind are extremely close, despite the fact that their fathers have fought.

    Evidence

    ‘dearer than the natural bond of sisters’ (1:3)

    Explanation

    Multiple characters comment on how close Celia and Rosalind’s bond is, with ‘never two ladies loved as they do’ (1:1). They are cousins who have grown up together and love each other as sisters and best friends. Rosalind and Celia cannot bear to be separated and Duke Frederick admits that he allowed Rosalind to stay at the court for Celia’s sake, even though he banished Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior.

    Point

    Celia is prepared to disobey her father because she is so loyal to Rosalind.

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    Point

    When Rosalind woos Orlando in the Forest of Arden under the guise of ‘Ganymede’, Celia disapproves of Rosalind’s behaviour, creating some tension between them.

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  • Analyse Orlando

    Orlando is instantly besotted with Rosalind when he sees her at the wrestling match in Act 1. He is so desperately in love with her that he writes poetry addressed to her, which he pins on the trees in the Forest of Arden.

    Given how enamoured he is with Rosalind, a key question to ask is:

    How does Orlando feel about Ganymede and why does he agree to meet him?

    We’ve started to think below about Orlando’s opinion of Ganymede and why he might agree to go along with Rosalind’s disguise and her game. See if you can complete the grid to make four points that could answer this question. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, as long as you can back it up! Looking at the following scenes might also help to collect evidence:

    • Act 3 Scene 2: Take a look at how Orlando responds when he first meets Ganymede in the forest.
    • Act 4 Scene 1: Examine how willingly Orlando plays along with Rosalind’s wooing game in this scene.
    • Act 5 Scene 2: Explore how openly Orlando continues to declare his love for Rosalind in Ganymede’s presence.

    Point

    Orlando is instantly intrigued by Ganymede, asking him lots of questions.

    Evidence

    ‘What would you?’
    ‘Who ambles time withal?’
    ‘Who doth he gallop withal?’
    ‘Where dwell you pretty youth?’ (3:2)

    Explanation

    When they meet in the woods, Rosalind, as Ganymede, approaches Orlando and leaps into making confident declarations about the nature of time and the habits of a ‘true lover’. Orlando is evidently curious and starts challenging Ganymede to expand on his opinions and assertions, before moving on to find out more personal information about him.

    Point

    Orlando seizes the opportunity to try and prove the strength of his love for Rosalind.

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    Point

    He enjoys playing along with the game and is happy to pretend to marry Rosalind.

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  • Analyse Oliver

    Oliver and Orlando’s relationship undergoes an enormous transformation through the play. At first they despise each other and Oliver treats Orlando really badly, forcing him to live in poverty. However, by the end of the play they are reconciled and Orlando has forgiven Oliver for that treatment. This is an enormous change for an actor to get their head around in order to be able to play the role of Oliver, so one important question to ask is:

    Why does Oliver stop hating Orlando and join him?

    Below we have started to take a closer look at the development of their relationship. See if you can complete the grid to make four points that could answer this key question. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not, as long as you can back it up! Looking at the following scenes might also help to collect evidence:

    • Act 1 Scene 1: Take a look at how Orlando describes his treatment by Oliver and how this differs from the way Oliver treats their brother Jaques.
    • Act 4 Scene 3: Look at the change in Oliver’s language as he leaves the court and enters the Forest of Arden. How does he describe the dangerous incident in the forest? How does he explain that his feelings have changed?
    • Act 5 Scene 2: Explore the way in which Oliver discusses his love for ‘Aliena’ (Celia) with his brother and how this has changed his outlook on the world.

    Point

    At the start of the play Oliver despises Orlando and there seems to be no chance of them becoming friends.

    Evidence

    Orlando says that Oliver ‘bars me the place of brother’ (1:1)
    ‘I hope I shall see an end of him; for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he’ (Oliver, 1:1)

    Explanation

    There are multiple accounts of the terrible relationship between these two brothers. The play opens with Orlando discussing the stark difference in the way that Oliver treats Jaques and himself. The tension increases when Oliver admits that he would happily see Orlando killed, although admits that he has no particular reason for hating him as much as he does.

    Point

    In the forest Orlando saves Oliver’s life, which prompts Oliver to feel gratitude towards his brother and see him in a new light.

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    Point

    Oliver’s new-found love for Celia transforms him into a more generous, kinder character.

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Teacher Notes

For each of the characters on this page we’ve asked some central questions. These are great questions to explore with students in mind maps, or as class debates.

The following activities will also help you explore the characters even further with students.

Oliver and Orlando (2019)

This activity takes approximately 30 minutes.