In William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, the theme of “belonging” – especially the idea of being part of a supportive group or community -- is a particularly important motif. This theme is emphasized throughout the play in a number of different ways, including the following:
- Oliver de Boys tries to have his own brother, Orlando, killed in a wrestling match at court. The court should ideally function as a community in which all good persons have a secure place and to which they all belong, but Oliver betrays that ideal. At this court, Orlando has no chance to feel a strong sense of belonging to a virtuous community.
- At court, Orlando meets Rosalind, whose own father has been deposed as duke and who has had to flee the court, the community of which he should ideally be the leader. The former duke, then, also a lacks a sense of belonging – at least at the court he once headed.
- Rosalind herself is banished from the corrupt court – a banishment that prevents her from belonging to that community but that gives her the chance to belong, later, to a much better and more virtuous community in the forest of Arden.
- Celia, daughter of the usurping duke, decides to accompany her friend, Rosalind, into the forest. She thus sacrifices her privileged position at the corrupt court because she senses that she “belongs” more with Rosalind than with her father and his courtiers.
- Touchstone, the fool, also leaves the corrupt court, thus sacrificing any possibility of “belonging” there (of being part of that community).
- The banished duke has established a small, virtuous community in the forest to which many of the other characters will soon belong. They will feel far more comfortable belonging to this community than they felt at the court of the usurping duke.
- Orlando, in particular, feels a strong sense of “belonging” to the new community in the forest.
- Eventually, Orlando’s own formerly evil brother, Oliver, feels a sense of belonging with the community in the forest, and he also feels a strong sense of belonging thanks to his new love for (and eventual union with) Celia. Their pairing is just one of several such romantic matches in the play, in which lovers express a strong sense of belonging to (and with) one another. Marriage, in fact, ultimately becomes one of the new symbols of joyful belonging at the conclusion of the play, as Hymen emphasizes in the final scene:
Wedding is great Juno's crown;
O blessed bond of board and bed!
'Tis Hymen peoples every town;
High wedlock then be honoured.
Honour, high honour, and renown,
To Hymen, god of every town!
The word “bond” here, in particular, helps emphasize the theme of belonging.
Ultimately, the play shows that virtue is essential to any true sense of "belonging." Evil, pride, and egotism inevitably result in a strong sense of isolation from everything and everyone that matters most.
Rosalind - The daughter of Duke Senior, she remains at court even though her father has been banished because of her loyalty to her cousin Celia. Eventually Duke Frederick banishes her too and Celia in loyalty leaves with her indicating they belong to each other. Rosalind is intelligent, reflective and articulate and makes some of the most observant comments in the play.
“can one desire too much of a good thing”? IV. i. 118.
Consider the opposing points of view posed by Oscar Wilde
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.
Her view on marriage:
“[m]aids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives” (IV.i.141–143)
Rosalind is eventually banished from the paranoid usurper’s court because he fears her popularity threatens his rule. Celia, the daughter of Frederick, loyally accompanies her.
She adopts a new name and male disguise, Ganymede, Jove’s page or Zeus’s cup bearer, noted for bi-s*xuality and homos*sexual relationships. Dressed as a man she commands more respect than as a woman.
Orlando is the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Bois and younger brother of Oliver. His inheritance has been swindled by his elder brother and he too is banished and finds refuge in Ardenne Forest where he finds acceptance, comfort and support. He has fallen madly in love with Rosalind and later not recognising her in disguise, laments his longing for her.
He and Jaques have long running derisory repartees.
Jaques should seek out a fool who wanders about the forest:
“He is drowned in the brook. Look but in, and you shall see him,” (III.ii.262–263) meaning that Jaques will see a fool in his own reflection .
Jaques - A faithful lord who accompanies Duke Senior into exile in the Forest of Ardenne. A rather droll, cynical philosopher who expresses some of the most profound and memorable passages, especially the lengthy observations of life in the Seven Ages of Man.
While he is a loyal servant of Duke Senior, he does not appear to welcome the company of others as this exchange between Jaques and Orlando illustrates:
Jaques: I thank you for your company, but, good faith, I had as lief have
been myself alone.
Orlando: And so had I; but yet, for fashion sake, I thank you too for your
Jaques: God-buy-you; let's meet as little as we can.
Orlando: I do desire we may be better strangers. (III. ii. 252 – 256)
Duke Senior - The father of Rosalind and the rightful ruler of the dukedom in which the play is set. An exemplar figure who accepts his lot stoically and forms a new accepting community in an idyllic Ardenne forest that eventually attracts most of the outcasts of the court and eventually becomes powerful enough to be restored to legitimate power.
Celia - The daughter of Duke Frederick and Rosalind’s dearest friend who remains loyal after her father banishes Rosalind from the court. She adopts the name Aliena, Italian and Latin for stranger or Alien.
Duke Frederick - The younger brother of Duke Senior and usurper of his throne. He is a threatened ruler, who governs through fear, banishing most of the court because he fails to trust anyone.
Within these ten days if that thou be'st found
So near our public court as twenty miles,
Thou diest for it. I. iii. 45 - 48
Touchstone - A clown in Duke Frederick’s court who accompanies Rosalind and Celia in their flight to Ardenne.
Oliver - The oldest son of Sir Rowland de Bois and sole inheritor of the de Bois estate.
Silvius - A young, suffering shepherd, who is desperately in love with the disdainful Phoebe.
Lord Amiens - A faithful lord who accompanies Duke Senior into exile in the Forest of Ardenne.
Charles - A professional wrestler in Duke Frederick’s court who is overthrown by Orlando..
Adam - The elderly former servant of Sir Rowland de Bois.
Sir Rowland de Bois - The father of Oliver and Orlando, friend of Duke Senior, and enemy of Duke Frederick.
Corin - A shepherd. Corin attempts to counsel his friend Silvius in the ways of love, but Silvius refuses to listen. He represents self-sufficiency.
“Sir, I am a true labourer. I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm; and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.”
Audrey - A simpleminded goatherd who agrees to marry Touchstone.
William - A young country boy who is in love with Audrey.
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