What is the Pastoral element do you find in “As You Like It”?

What is the Pastoral element do you find in “As You Like It”?
Or, “As You Like It” as a Pastoral Comedy.


Answer: Shakespeare‘s As You Like It is based on a work entitled Rosalinde written by Thomas Lodge. The play is often categorized as a pastoral comedy. The term pastoral refers to the life of the shepherds or rural folk and their ways of living, manners and customs. However, pastoral poetry does not reflect the realities of country life and that from its beginning it created an imaginary landscape which was actually a projection of the poet‘s feelings and ideas. Hence the word ‘pastoral‘ came to be identified with an ideal space representing innocence, peace, philosophic contemplation. Theocritus‘ Idylls and Virgil‘s Eclogues are two of the great examples of ancient pastoral poetry, which constructed rural life in this way.

No doubt, Sidney and Spenser employed the pastoral in diverse and complex ways in their narratives. But it is also true that they followed the conventions closely. They saw the pastoral as an alternative mode of life. The shepherds who inhabited their rural landscape were metaphors or lovers, scholar poets and aristocrats in exile. Their primary concern is not the real rustics, even introduced, but the courtiers who led a shepherd-like existence. This article makes an attempt to show the note of criticism of the pastoral life in Shakespeare‘s As You Like It . N.P. The conflict between the court and the country runs throughout the play. The pastoral poet argues in favour of rural life as against the court. At the same time he uses the pastoral space as a device for the restoration of the norm, i.e. life as lived in the courts. As You Like It is structured on this kind of exile-and-return pattern. The main action of the play takes place in Arden which is set off against the court of Duke Frederick.

Duke Senior banished by his brother enters the forest of Arden and begins to admire it. Similarly Orlando, the male protagonist of the play also runs away from the city and begins his pastoral romance in Arden. But the exiled aristocrats do not shed their courtly manners and behavior. Loyalties are strengthened. Orlando is recognized by the Duke (senior) as the son of one of his favorite courtiers. An alternative court begins to function in the midst of Arden. So the Usurper Frederick fears the gathering of men of great worth and decides to invade the forest. But he also comes under the pastoral influence and is convinced to end his illegitimate rule.

Life in Arden is free from the .painted pomp. and flattery of the court. It is simple and natural –hard but sweet. Duke Senior goes to Arden to seek peace, freedom, and serenity in the midst of natural sights and sounds. Here he finds:

. . . . Tongues in trees, books in running brooks
sermons in stones and good in everything..

In fact, everyone comes to Arden as if it is a green refuge from all other trouble and complications of court life .Rosalind and Celia come to it, and Touchstone follows them. To them, life at the court was one of slavery, of inhibitions. The forest of Arden seems to them a symbol of liberty. So Celia says:

Now go we in content
To liberty and not to banishment.

All the major characters are associated with woodland life. The heroine buys the estate of shepherd and takes to the life of a shepherd in the major part of the play. It is as a disguised shepherd that Rosalind appears in her best wit and intelligence and triumphs over all in the forest. In Silvius and Phebe, Shakespeare introduces some real shepherds and shepherdesses, and this enhances the pastoral charm of the play. However, the sylvan life is faithfully represented by the kind, old shepherd, Corin who claims:

Sir I am a true labourer. I earn that I eat, get that I wear; owe no man hate,
envy no man‘s happiness . . . .

The spirit of the true pastoral-carefree abandonment and gaiety -animates all the major characters, in spite of their apparent adversity. Happiness comes to all who come here. The forest of Arden embodies the freedom of spirit and it allows people to be themselves to make choices that determine their roles ,functions, and relations with each other rather than having these forced on them. Thus Rosalind and Orlando get each other. Chance stumbles Oliver into a lucky marriage and he gains the goodwill of his brother. The Duke is restored to his original possession.

This is the pastoral world of the play, which transforms discord into harmony and morally corrupt human beings into paragons of human conduct. There is great deal of truth in this imaginary resolution of social-familial conflict. But a close analysis of the play will demonstrate an uneasiness or dissatisfactionwith the pastoral on the part of the dramatist. In fact, As you like it is not merely a pastoral romance. It is also an ironical commentary on pastoral life -a commentary that works itself out through Rosalind‘s humour, the cynicism of Jaques, the pungent humour of Touchstone, and the sentimental exaggeration of the Silvius -Phebe episode. Rosalind has to struggle against the pastoral lovers-silvius and Phebe. Silivius is the victim of love-sickness. He is blind to all the defects of Phebe in the goodness of devotion. But Phebe is cold to him and turns her attention to Rosalind disguised as Ganymede.

Pastoral Comedy

Thus the dramatist makes a dig at these lovers, for sentimentalism is not laudable. Touchstone likes to have a fling at these lovers. But he goes a step further. He woos the rustic Audrey and, with folly, he frightens away his rival William. His marriage is a satire on the pastoral marriage because while others fall in love with beauty, he with ugliness. Touchstone delivers a lecture on the theme of pastoral life which he dislikes. Finding himself in Arden he feels:

Ay, now am I in Arden, the more fool I. when I was at home I was in a better place , but travelers must be content

Touchstone reminds that there are such things as domestic comfort in the court, later in Act III, scene ii, he criticizes the shepherd‘s life.

The pastoral convention allows the exiled aristocrats to criticize the court for its violence and corruption. This criticism is based on the illusion that the banished lords are shepherds this illusion in As You Like It breaks down when we realize that the so-called shepherds are courtiers of the court they pretend to criticized. Jacques points out that the natural life in Arden is as cruel and unnatural as the other. It is because here also men usurp the forest from the deer and kill them in their native dwelling place.

Analyzing the theme of Orlando‘s wooing of the disguised Rosalind , J.C Maxwell observes: This theme not only provides continuity, it is also the occasion for the most subtle version of the ironic treatment of pastoral convention with particular reference to love.

Rosalind is aware of the sentimental excess to which lovers are exposed. It is in this strain that she is making deliberately fun of those classical lovers like Leander and Troilus. In her attempt to test her lover‘s depth of passion for her, she employs such parodies and ironic views of lovers.

Shakespeare has achieved a rare indictment on the pastoral and on the limitation of the pastoral convention of the day. In Corin Shakespeare provides us which a touchstone to test the pastoral. Corin‘s attitude to love is that of sane man. He has been in love and can still guess what it is like, but now he has forgotten all the details. How little he belongs to Arcadia may be discovered from Sidney whose shepherd went on piping as though he should never be old.

The Forest has done its work-it has educated some, repaired fraternal relationships, brought the lovers to a fuller awareness of their own feelings. Now, they can return to what will be, we sense, a much better and fuller life in the court.