Analysis

To help explore any scene in As You Like It, it’s important to ask questions about how it's written and why.

Shakespeare’s plays are driven by his characters and he chooses his words, structure and rhythm carefully to tell you things about their relationships or their mood. When looking at his language, ask yourself, like actors do: Why is the character saying this? Why are they doing this? What is their motive?

Just like detectives, we need to look for clues to help answer those questions. Below you can find some interrogation techniques we use to analyse text, introduced by the actors that use them. 

 

  • Analysing Jaques' language

    In As You Like It, many characters move from the artificial constraints and rules of the court to the chaotic freedom and mischief of the forest, where they disguise themselves, fall in love and change a lot. In Act 2 Scene 7, Duke Senior describes the forest (and the world) as a ‘wide and universal theatre’. This is the idea that Jaques takes as his starting point in his ‘seven ages of man’ speech, which is a famous description of all the stages that people go through from birth to death.

    In the next video, Mark Quartley shares some of the things he looks for to help him understand how a character is feeling in a monologue, and what it is they are trying to achieve with the words they are saying. The example he is using is from The Tempest but you can look for the same clues in As You Like It.

    What can you find by looking at the same things in what Jaques says?

    When a character is talking to the audience in a soliloquy they are usually open and honest in what they say. When a character has a monologue where other characters are on stage, they usually have reasons for saying what they are saying in order to create an effect or a change in the people who are listening to them.

    Below you can explore Jaques’ speech in Act 2 Scene 7. In this speech, Jaques is talking to Duke Senior and his followers. See if you can notice the things Mark tells us to look out for:

    • Imagery
    • Metre
    • Word choice
    Duke Senior
    Thou see’st we are not all alone unhappy:
    This wide and universal theatre
    Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
    Wherein we play in.
    Jaques
    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances,
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
    Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
    Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
    And shining morning face, creeping like snail
    Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
    Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
    Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
    Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
    Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
    Seeking the bubble reputation
    Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
    In fair round belly with good capon lined,
    With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
    Full of wise saws and modern instances.
    And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
    Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
    With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
    His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
    For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
    Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
    And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
    That ends this strange eventful history,
    Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
    With a bristling, stubbly beard like a leopard’s whiskers.
    Reputation is something so fragile that Jaques characterises it here as a bubble that might pop at the slightest touch.
    Chicken (technically a castrated cockerel).
    Wise sayings and everyday/relevant examples.
    Old man (in Italian commedia dell’arte, the character of a foolish old Venetian merchant).
    Without (a French word).

    Questions to consider

    • What are the key images that stand out for you in this scene? What visual pictures do they suggest in your mind and how does that help you imagine the mood of this moment in the play? How do these images relate to the overarching themes of the play?
    • How regular is the rhythm in this speech? Can you find lines in the scene where the normal rhythm is disturbed? What might those disturbances mean in relation to the content of the speech?
    • What do you notice about the verbs that the characters use in this scene? What do these verbs reveal about the human experience?
    • Can you find examples of alliteration and how do you think that alliteration helps the reader understand the key images and ideas contained within the speech?
    • Why do you think Jaques delivers this speech? What is he trying to achieve? Is he trying to impress Duke Senior? To entertain the group? To lighten the mood?

    Using Mark’s strategies, we’ve started to look at what the language Jaques uses in this monologue tells us about him as a character in this scene. See if you can complete the below grid and create four points which explain what this speech reveals about the character at this point in the play.

    Point

    Jaques’ mind works quickly and he is capable of taking an idea and elaborating the metaphor, creating a larger philosophical argument.

    Evidence

    Duke Senior: Thou see’st we are not all alone unhappy: / This wide and universal theatre / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in.
    Jaques: All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts, /His acts being seven ages.

    Explanation

    Shakespeare has Jaques complete the Duke’s line: 'Wherein we play in’ with ‘All the world’s a stage’. This is a shared line which completes the iambic pentameter and shows how fast Jaques’ mind works. He is taking up the Duke’s half-finished idea and completing it. He goes on to use a mixture of perfect iambic pentameter lines with lines containing feminine endings or even as many as thirteen syllables, describing the different facets of the human experience through the ‘seven ages’.

    Point

    Jaques reminds us how fragile life is.

    Evidence

    ‘Then a soldier, / Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, / Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, / Seeking the bubble reputation / Even in the cannon's mouth.’

    Explanation

    Shakespeare uses suspension at the end of the line: ‘cannon’s mouth’ to emphasise how fragile and elusive ‘reputation’ is to a soldier who hasn’t earned it. The placement of the word ‘reputation’ at the end of the line creates a missing beat in the iambic pentameter. This allows the word to hang in the air like a fragile, floating bubble before being pierced by the image of the ‘cannon’s mouth’ on the following line.

    Point

    Jaques uses his vibrant imagination to compare life to the theatre.

    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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    Point Click text to edit

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    To see some different approaches to this speech, watch this video showing RSC actors performing different lines, including a section in British Sign Language.

  • Analysing the language of love

    The lovers in the play represent different types of love and have very different relationships with each other. For instance, Touchstone’s interest in Audrey seems like it’s mainly physical, while the audience gets to see Orlando and Rosalind move from traditional ‘love at first sight’ to a deeper attachment. You can explore these different relationships by looking at the language that the lovers use.

    From Touchstone wishing that his love Audrey was more ‘poetical’ to Orlando hanging his love poetry in the trees, many of the characters recognise that language plays an important role in the forming of relationships. As Jaques says, ‘All the world’s a stage’, so love in the play becomes part of that performance.

    In this performance of Act 4 Scene 1, Orlando is talking to the person he thinks is Ganymede as if they were his love, Rosalind. Which, of course, she is!

    What can you learn by looking at the way Rosalind and Orlando talk to each other in Act 4 Scene 1?

    Look at the extract from the scene you have just watched. See if you can notice these language features:

    • Wordplay
    • Questions and Answers
    • Different line lengths

    You can look for a range of language features in any of the lovers' conversations to see the different ways the characters talk about love, and to see how those relationships change in the play.

    Rosalind
    Am not I your Rosalind?
    Orlando
    I take some joy to say you are, because I would be talking of her.
    Rosalind
    Well, in her person, I say I will not have you.
    Orlando
    Then, in mine own person, I die.
    Rosalind

    No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and being taken with the cramp was drowned. And the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos'. But these are all lies: men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

    Orlando
    I would not have my right Rosalind of this mind, for I protest her frown might kill me.
    Rosalind
    By this hand, it will not kill a fly. But come, now I will be your Rosalind in a more coming-on disposition. And ask me what you will, I will grant it.
    Orlando
    Then love me, Rosalind.
    Rosalind
    Yes, faith, will I, Fridays and Saturdays and all.
    Orlando
    And wilt thou have me?
    Rosalind
    Ay, and twenty such.
    Orlando
    What sayest thou?
    Rosalind
    Are you not good?
    Orlando
    I hope so.
    Rosalind
    Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand, Orlando. What do you say, sister?
    Orlando
    Pray thee marry us.
    Celia
    I cannot say the words.
    Rosalind
    You must begin, 'Will you, Orlando —'
    Celia
    Go to. Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?
    Orlando
    I will.
    Rosalind
    Ay, but when?
    Orlando
    Why now, as fast as she can marry us.
    Rosalind
    Then you must say 'I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.'
    Orlando
    I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.
    Rosalind
    I might ask you for your commission, but I do take thee, Orlando, for my husband. There's a girl goes before the priest, and certainly a woman's thought runs before her actions.
    Orlando
    So do all thoughts: they are winged.
    Rosalind
    Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her.
    Orlando
    Forever and a day.
    Rosalind
    Say 'a day' without the 'ever'.

    Questions to consider

  • What can we learn about Orlando and Rosalind’s relationship from this part of Act 4 Scene 1? Ask yourself:
    • How do you think Orlando and Rosalind feel about each other at this point in the play?
    • What do you think Orlando feels about Ganymede?
    • What effect does the repetition of their names have in this scene?
    • Who has the most control in the scene? Do you think this matters to their relationship?

    Now that we have started to look at Orlando and Rosalind’s language in this scene, see if you can complete the grid below and finish the four points which explain what this scene reveals about their relationship with each other.

    Point

    Orlando is a 'Romantic'.

    Evidence

    ‘I would not have my right Rosalind of this mind, for I protest her frown might kill me.’

    Explanation

    In this scene, Shakespeare gives Orlando language that is typical of the ‘Romantic Tradition’, a type of romantic writing that was popular in European literature for a long time before Shakespeare was writing. Although this scene is written in prose, Orlando’s earlier love poetry is also part of this tradition, suggesting he is aware of what is expected from a lover and is performing this role while he is in the forest.

    Point

    Rosalind wants to make sure that Orlando’s declarations of love are real, not just exaggerations, and uses her disguise as Ganymede to test him.

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here

    Point

    Shakespeare creates humour out of the audience knowing Ganymede is Rosalind in disguise.

    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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    Point Click text to edit

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  • Analysing the imagery

    As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, there are lots of types of imagery used in As You Like It. It’s a great idea to keep a list of the key quotes and imagery used in each act.

    Here are three types of imagery that come up a lot in As You Like It:

    Hunting Imagery

    • There are lots of references to hunting throughout As You Like It, specifically to deer. In Act 2 Scene 1 Duke Senior even seems to express how sorry he is to kill the ‘poor dappled fools’ and calls them ‘native’ to the forest. This mirrors the way in which his own brother invaded and took over his court, but acknowledges that the forest is a natural space that they are disrupting. In this same scene, Jaques also refers to the deer hunters as ‘usurpers’, which further reinforces this.
    • Hunting deer was often seen as an act of rebellion at the time Shakespeare was writing, as all deer in the forests were officially the property of the Queen in 1599 when As You Like It is believed to have been written. Killing and hunting in order to survive therefore makes Duke Senior appear as an ‘outlaw’ figure. Shakespeare is rumoured to have poached deer himself on an estate near his home in Stratford-upon-Avon and so would have been very familiar with the rules and regulations.
    • In Act 4, after a successful hunt, they dress a lord in antlers to present him to the Duke. In this moment they also sing a song about ‘the lusty horn’ which refers to how unfaithful women are. Antlers and horns are often used as symbols for a cuckold, meaning someone whose wife is unfaithful to them. How might these meanings relate to the themes of the play?

    Nature imagery

    • Parallels between Eden and the Forest of Arden are drawn throughout the play but are particularly evident in Act 4 Scene 3 when Oliver recounts his journey through the forest, where he is attacked by a snake and then by a lion. Both creatures are referred to as ‘her’ and he is rescued from them by Orlando, who forgives him.
    • In the Forest of Arden, Shakespeare explores the pastoral ideal, which suggests that a life in nature is much more free and pleasant than life in an urban or city environment. There are lots of recurring images that suggest the natural world restores people and is good for their wellbeing and personal growth, suggesting a balance between both worlds.

    Theatre/Role Play Imagery

    • In Jaques’ speech, ‘All the world’s a stage’, the character likens life to a performance. In this speech Jaques calls people ‘merely players’, before relaying the phases one person might go through in life. While melodramatic, this speech echoes the idea of performance that is found throughout the play, including in Rosalind’s ‘game’ with Orlando and the false wedding Celia presides over.
    • Duke Senior describes the world as a ‘wide and universal theatre’ in Act 2, saying that there are more awful situations and ‘woeful pageants’ in the world than the small ‘scene’ a person finds themselves in. This sense of perspective is still viewed in theatrical terms and the whole play uses this awareness of form.

    Duke Senior
    Come, shall we go and kill us venison?
    And yet it irks me the poor dappled fools,
    Being native burghers of this desert city,
    Should in their own confines with forkèd heads
    Have their round haunches gored.
    1 Lord
    Indeed, my lord,
    The melancholy Jaques grieves at that,
    And in that kind swears you do more usurp
    Than doth your brother that hath banished you.
    Today my Lord of Amiens and myself
    Did steal behind him as he lay along
    Under an oak whose antique root peeps out
    Upon the brook that brawls along this wood,
    To the which place a poor sequestered stag
    That from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt,
    Did come to languish; and indeed, my lord,
    The wretched animal heaved forth such groans
    That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat
    Almost to bursting, and the big round tears
    Coursed one another down his innocent nose
    In piteous chase: and thus the hairy fool
    Much markèd of the melancholy Jaques,
    Stood on th'extremest verge of the swift brook,
    Augmenting it with tears.

    Thinking about Act 2 Scene 1 we’ve started to look at hunting imagery and how it is often a metaphor for other themes in the play.

    Read the short extract from the scene and see if you can complete the grid, finishing four points which explain how the hunting imagery and language tells us more about Duke Senior and Jaques.

    Point

    Jaques thinks Duke Frederick has upset the court by banishing Duke Senior.

    Evidence

    ‘a poor sequester'd stag, / That from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt, / Did come to languish’

    Explanation

    Shakespeare uses hunting imagery to illustrate how Duke Frederick has disturbed the world of the court in usurping his brother just like hunters disturb the natural world. The lord says Jaques grieved the death of the deer, which suggests he feels sad about Duke Senior’s banishment as both acts are examples of people taking what is not rightfully theirs.

    Point

    Jaques and the injured stag are both presented as sad and wounded figures.

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here

    Point

    Duke Senior feels some sympathy with the animals he hunts.

    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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    Point Click text to edit

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    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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  • Analysing the themes

    As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, there are lots of themes that appear in As You Like It. It’s a great idea to keep a list of key quotes and themes in each act.

    Here are three themes that can be seen in As You Like It and are useful to look out for:

    Theme of leadership

    • Although Duke Senior has been banished by his brother, he still comes across as a strong leader. Many noblemen follow him into the forest, and even Frederick realises that he is the rightful ruler at the end of the play: ‘His crown bequeathing to his banished brother, / And all their lands restored to them again / That were with him exiled.’ (5:4).
    • Duke Frederick seems like a weaker leader than his brother, telling Orlando to leave because of who his father is, and then banishing Rosalind because she reminds people too much of her father, Duke Senior. Although she has done nothing against him, he calls her a traitor and says ‘I trust thee not’, as if she is a threat to his power. Can you find other moments in the play when Duke Frederick seems weaker than his brother?
    • In some versions of the play, including our 2019 production, the same person plays both of the dukes, wearing court clothes for Duke Frederick and often rags or animal skins for Duke Senior. What does this choice suggest about the two men?
    • Are there any other strong leaders in the play? Does Rosalind show strong leadership, either when dressed as herself or when she is playing Ganymede?

    Theme of relationships

    • There are many romantic relationships in the play, but one of the strongest relationships is the bond between Celia and Rosalind. Early on in the story, it is described how ‘never two ladies loved as they do’ and Celia is willing to go into the forest with her cousin when Rosalind is banished. Does their relationship seem as strong as the play goes on, particularly when the two are disguised as Ganymede and Aliena?
    • Often in Shakespeare’s plays, the lovers talk in poetic verse, yet the two main lovers in As You Like It, Orlando and Rosalind, mainly talk in prose. In fact, the love poetry Orlando writes about Rosalind is badly written and mocked by the characters who read it. For example, the rhyming couplet of ‘Her worth, being mounted on the wind, / Through all the world bears Rosalind’ (3:2). As Touchstone talks about the language of love being a lie, how do you think we are meant to feel about the different lovers in the play, and can you tell anything about their relationships from the type of language they use to talk to each other? Which of the romantic relationships do you think will last?
    • There are other important relationships throughout As You Like It, including between pairs of brothers and between fathers and their children. Which relationships are the strongest in the play, and what evidence can you find to support your thoughts?

    Theme of transformation

    • Rosalind and Celia believe they have to transform themselves before they enter the forest, because ‘Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.’ (1:3). Celia’s disguise is to make herself look poor and dirty, while Rosalind decides to pretend to be a man, as she is ‘more than common tall’. Even though she has been banished, Rosalind still has her pride, choosing the name of Ganymede because ‘I’ll have no worse a name than Jove’s own page’.
    • While Rosalind seems to become more excited as they plan to move into the forest, Celia's reponse to what name she will take is more subdued: ‘Something that hath a reference to my state: / No longer Celia, but Aliena.’ (1:3), which means ‘stranger’. Why do you think Celia might find her transformation more difficult that Rosalind?
    • Duke Senior and the men who have followed him are also transformed by their move from the court to the forest and the Duke even jokes about transformation when he cannot find Jaques: ‘I think he be transformed into a beast, / For I can nowhere find him like a man.’ (2:7). Although he and his merry men are restored to the court by the end of the play, are there advantages to the transformation they experienced and the lives they built in the forest?

    Rosalind
    'From the east to western Ind,
    No jewel is like Rosalind.
    Her worth, being mounted on the wind,
    Through all the world bears Rosalind.
    All the pictures fairest lined
    Are but black to Rosalind.
    Let no face be kept in mind
    But the fair of Rosalind.'
    Touchstone
    I'll rhyme you so eight hours together, dinners and suppers and sleeping-hours excepted. It is the right butter-woman's rank to market.
    Rosalind
    Out, fool!
    Touchstone
    For a taste:
    If a hart do lack a hind,
    Let him seek out Rosalind.
    If the cat will after kind,
    So be sure will Rosalind.
    Winter garments must be lined,
    So must slender Rosalind.
    They that reap must sheaf and bind,
    Then to cart with Rosalind.
    Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,
    Such a nut is Rosalind.
    He that sweetest rose will find
    Must find love's prick and Rosalind.
    This is the very false gallop of verses. Why do you infect yourself with them?
    Rosalind
    Peace, you dull fool! I found them on a tree.
    Touchstone
    Truly the tree yields bad fruit.

    We’ve started thinking about the way prose and verse are used in As You Like It and what this might tell us about the theme of relationships.

    Read the extract from Act 3 Scene 2 and take a look at the way Rosalind and Touchstone react to Orlando’s poetry. See if you can complete the grid and finish four points which explore what this scene tells us about the relationships in the play

    Point

    It is hard to take Orlando’s expressions of love seriously because of how badly written his poetry is.

    Evidence

    ‘All the pictures fairest lined / Are but black to Rosalind.’

    Explanation

    Although poetic verse is often spoken by lovers in Shakespeare’s plays, Orlando’s verse seems like a parody of this because of the awkward rhyming couplets he uses. It is one example of how Shakespeare undermines romance and romantic language in the play, despite it ending with multiple weddings.

    Point

    Touchstone has no time for Orlando’s poetry or the courtly love tradition it represents.

    Evidence Select an option

    Explanation Click text to edit

    Enter your explanation here

    Point

    Touchstone mocks the romantic poetry by creating his own rhyming couplets about Rosalind.

    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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    Point Click text to edit

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    Evidence Click text to edit

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    Explanation Click text to edit

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Teacher Notes

A fun way to get students to think about Touchstone’s wit and his mockery of the romantic tradition in Orlando’s poetry is to ask them to write their own rhyming couplets in the same style, using their own name instead of Rosalind.

You could also ask students to see if they could write the couplets sincerely, as Orlando did, and then compare their two sets of verses.