In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Touchstone says, “We that are true lovers run/ into strange capers; but as all is mortal in/ nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly” (2.4. ll. 55-57). This statement sums up the entire storyline in As You Like It. Many of the characters in the play fall in love with each other very quickly and in some cases, find themselves in strange situations. One of most interesting lines in the play comes from Jacques, the melancholy lord attending the banished Duke. When the Duke and Orlando meet for the first time in the forest, Jacques says, “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players:/ they have their exits and their entrances;/ and one man plays many parts” (2.7. ll. 140–143). Jacques’s speech is important because it enables the reader to see how the main characters play different roles within the play. As You Like It becomes a play within a play because some of the main characters, Phoebe, Oliver, and Rosalind in particular, establish different roles for themselves through their actions and their dialogues with other characters.
Phoebe is Silvius’s love interest. She dismisses him, however, by telling him that she does not love him and does not want to be with him. Even though Silvius professes his love for Phoebe, she quickly says, “Come not thou near me” (3.5. l. 33). Phoebe does not want to be around Silivius and tries to let him know as plainly as possible. She asserts
that even his company is not desired when she says, “Thy company, which erst was irksome to me,/ I will endure, and I’ll employ thee too” (3.5. l. 96–97). Phoebe listens as Ganymede attempts to persuade her to love Silivius. Phoebe falls in love with Ganymede instead, but tries to hide her feelings from Silvius by saying, “Think not I love him” (3.5. l. 109). She later reveals her love for Ganymede by writing him a letter. In the letter, Phoebe says, “Whiles you chide me, I did love” (3.5. l. 54). Phoebe is upset when she finds out that Ganymede has read the letter to others. Although she gets upset with Ganymede, Phoebe wants to marry him and forget about Silvius.
In the scenes with Phoebe, Silvius, and Ganymede, Phoebe plays the part of an innocent young maiden who feels she is being viciously criticized. She feels Ganymede has disrespected her when she says, “Youth, you have done me much ungentleness,/ To show the letter that I writ to you” (5.2. ll. 83–84). When Ganymede says to her “I see no more in you than in the ordinary/ Of nature’s sale-work…Sell when you can: you are not for all markets” (3.5. ll. 42-60), he attacks Phoebe’s beauty as being minimal in comparison to other women. The implication is that Phoebe should be happy that someone like Silvius finds her attractive and wants to be with her. Phoebe is still able to play her part well because she temporarily convinces Silvius that she does not have any feelings for Ganymede. She says, “There be some women, Silvius, had they mark’d him/ In parcels as I did, would have gone near/ to fall in love with him; but for my part,/ I love him not; and yet/ I have more cause to hate him than to love him”” (3.5. ll. 124-128).
Oliver is also an actor in As You Like It. He plays the part of an outsider because he initially keeps his identity a secret from Ganymede and Celia. Orlando sends Oliver to find Ganymede in the forest after he [Orlando] rescues Oliver from a lion’s attack. When he finally reaches Ganymede and Celia, Oliver tells them the story of how Orlando rescues him. He says, “Orlando did approach the man/ And found it was his brother, his elder brother” (4.3. ll. 120-
121). Orlando says that Orlando saves him after a brief struggle with the lion, despite the way he [Oliver] treats him at the castle. Oliver says that the lion “quickly fell before him [Orlando]: in which hurtling/ From miserable slumber I awaked” (4.3. ll. 133). It is not until after he goes through all the details of how Orlando saves him that Oliver reveals his identity. Before this point, however, Oliver is just a stranger Rosalind and Celia meet along their journey.
Rosalind ‘s character is most exemplary of an actor in a play. Rosalind and Celia choose to go to the forest in search of Rosalind’s father, the banished Duke. To protect them from possible danger that could happen because they are women, Rosalind suggests that she dresses up as a man. She says, “Because that I am more than common tall,/ That I did suit me all points like a man?…And therefore look you call me Ganymede” (1.3. ll. 117-127). From this point on, Rosalind is known as a young man by the name of Ganymede to anyone they meet during their journey into the forest.
Unlike Phoebe and Oliver, Rosalind has a second role; she plays the role of a magician. Rosalind “predicts” that Orlando will marry Rosalind so long as Phoebe gives up her desire to marry Ganymede and marry Silvius; however, this will take place after Celia agrees to marry Oliver. When Orlando questions Rosalind’s predictions, she says, “By my life, I do [say that these are true]; which I tender dearly, though I say I am a magician…for if you will be married to-morrow, you shall, and to Rosalind, if you will” (5.2. ll. 77-81).
Although Rosalind plays the part of Ganymede, there are several moments when she almost reveals her identity, or at least would like to reveal her identity and cannot. When she meets Oliver in the forest and believes that Orlando is injured or dead after seeing the napkin stained with blood, Rosalind swoons. When Celia asks Oliver to help Rosalind, he says, “Be of good cheer, youth: you a man! you lack a man’s heart” (4.3. l. 165). Rosalind then says, “i’ faith, I should have been a woman right” (4.3. l. 176-177). Rosalind almost reveals her identity
in an earlier scene when she speaks to Orlando. She makes Orlando promise to return to see her after he attends the Duke. When he agrees, she says, “that flattering tongue of yours won me” (4.1. ll. 187-188). Here, Rosalind refers to the first moment she met Orlando before his wrestling competition with Charles. She says to Celia, “I should have given him tears unto entreaties,/Ere he should thus have ventured” (1.2. ll. 250-251). Rosalind also tries to persuade Phoebe not to fall in love with her. She says, “I pray you, do not fall in love with me,/ For I am falser than vows made in wine:/ Besides, I like you not” (3.5. ll. 72-74). Again, Rosalind wants to reveal her identity but does not.
At the end of the play, all of the characters are paired with the lovers they want. Rosalind marries Orlando. Touchstone marries Audrey. Celia marries Oliver. Silvius marries Phoebe. Throughout the play, the characters end up in strange situations. For example, Phoebe ends up in love with Rosalind, not knowing that Rosalind is a woman. Orlando has to pretend that he is wooing Rosalind even though she appears to him as a man. Overall, the play does center around Touchstone’s argument that people who are in love will do silly things. As You Like It, not only portrays characters that are in love with one another, but it portrays characters who go outside their intended roles to create further tension and humor. Because As You Like It is a play within in the play, the characters should be viewed as humorous, multifaceted individuals.