Reality and Romance in William Shakespeare's "As You Like It"

  • The multidimensional world of As you like It.
  • The conflicting world of reality and romance in As you like It.

  • The Court versus Arden in As you like It.

  “Though the ultimate world of Shakespeare’s comedy is romantic, poetic and imaginative, it is by no means unsubstantial and fantastic” – H. B. Charlton.

            In fact, the union of fantasy and realism is a peculiar characteristic of the comic world of Shakespeare. Though the world of his comedies is highly romantic and visionary, it is not cut off from the world of reality. Though the background and atmosphere are romantic, they are all built on the solid rock of realism. Shakespeare’s As You like It is a perfect blend of this singularity – a fusion of reality and romance, of courtly life and pastoral life of Arden, of actuality and imagination. As You like It is a juxtaposition of such variegated elements of life. The many-sided world in As You like It abounds in love making, gaiety, singing, wit, humour, pranks, harmless jesting, serenity, earnestness, and even pathos. It is the picture gallery of lovers, wise men, fools, pessimists, optimists, simpleton, escapists, materialists, conspirators, singers and many such.

The plot of the play simply sets forth the absurd world of materialism where bond of love and cordiality is captivated by the cruel conspiracy and vile intrigue. Firstly, at the court Duke Senior who is the rightful owner of the dukedom is banished by his the rightful owner of the dukedom is banished by his own brother Duke Fredrick. The Senior Duke is now living at Arden with his peers. The other conspiracy we meet is at the hand of Oliver to his brother, Orlando. Oliver instigates Charles, the court Wrestler to teach his brother a lesson. Even, both in the courtly life as well as in the farmer’s family the jealousy, covetousness and hypocrisy loom large. Fredrick banishes his niece too, being jealous about the beauty and fame of Rosalind. Oliver also wants death of his brother at the hand of Charles. Although Orlando wins at Charles’ and also bows his love arrow at Rosalind, he fails at winning his brother’s heart or Fredrick’s sympathy. Accompanied by poor Adam he also leaves his home to find peace at somewhere.
            The luxury, sophistication, formality, hypocrisy and double – dealing of the court are now replaced by the simplicity, spontaneity, frankness and fair dealing of the Forest of Arden in the next half of the story. The banished Duke, the deprived Orland, and the suffering Rosalind all escape to this land where selfishness, ambition and envy have been left behind, and been replaced by leisure, camaraderie, fellow feeling and love. The Wrestler Charles gives his evidence that the exiled Duke and the self exited lords live ‘like the Old Robin hood of England. They say that many young gentlemen flock to him every day and fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world. The exiled Duke himself muses:

            “And this our life, exempt from public haunt
            Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks
            Sermons in stones and good in everything.”

Rosalind also decides to live in a cottage fenced with Olive trees and Celia reclines in the shades of trees.

            This far from this material world of ‘sick hurry and divided aims’, the beautiful and romantic forest of Arden becomes a favourite haunt for love. Their merry note plays unto the sweet birds’ throat. Alike the dreamland in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the magic Island in The Tempest or Illyria in Twelfth Night Arden is saturated by love and love pairs. The amourous lovers in the scene are Rosalind-Orlando, Celia-Oliver, Phebe-Silvius, and Audrey-Touchstone etc. Though love comes to fruition and comedy ends with the ringing of marriage bells, Arden is not exempt from the penalty of Adam. Winter’s rough weather, the seasons’ differences, the icy fig and churlish chilling of the winter’s wind invade Arden as often as they do the ordinary land of mortals. In fact, the Arden is never given a refuse for man’s ultimate dwelling. Rather, Arden is not as truly appealing as it appears. Shakespeare himself has some extend criticized the pastoral love and all such designs. It is through Jacques and Touchstone he pokes fun at human absurdities.

         The World of Shakespeare’s As You like It is a balanced isthmus of actuality and romance. The drama ends happily with a sense of gratification and fulfillment. All causes of estrangement, suspicion jealousy, hostility, and annoyance of material world melt away in the true light of tolerance, forgiveness and virtue in Arden. It is this combination of human condition which makes As You like It at the highest level.  
            Ardhendu De