“As You Like It,” written by William Shakespeare, is often classified as a pastoral comedy, a genre that idealizes rural life and contrasts it with the corruption and complexity of city or court life. This play exemplifies the characteristics of pastoral literature through its setting, themes, and characters.
Setting in a Rural Utopia: The most significant element of a pastoral work is its setting, typically in a beautiful, idealized countryside. In “As You Like It,” the Forest of Arden serves as this pastoral setting. The forest is depicted as a place of natural beauty and simplicity, a stark contrast to the deceitful and politically complex life at court.
Escape and Transformation: The play focuses on characters fleeing the corruption and troubles of court life for the simplicity and honesty of life in the countryside. This move to a rural setting allows for self-discovery and transformation. For example, Duke Senior finds solace and a more authentic existence in the Forest of Arden, away from the intrigue of court life.
Romantic Entanglements and Resolution: As in many pastoral works, “As You Like It” features romantic themes, with various characters falling in and out of love. The forest acts as a backdrop for these romantic escapades and misunderstandings, which are ultimately resolved in a series of marriages, a typical conclusion for a comedy.
Social Critique and Idealism: The play uses the pastoral setting to critique social norms and hierarchies. Characters like Jaques provide a critical view of society, while the pastoral life in the forest is depicted as more egalitarian and free. This contrast serves to highlight the flaws and artificiality of court life.
Use of Pastoral Characters: Traditional pastoral characters such as shepherds appear in the play, embodying the idealized simplicity and honesty of rural life. The interaction between these characters and the nobles in disguise blurs social boundaries and explores the nature of happiness and contentment.
Comic Elements: True to its classification as a comedy, “As You Like It” contains many humorous situations, witty dialogue, and playful disguises. The pastoral setting provides a lighthearted and whimsical backdrop for these comedic elements.
In summary, “As You Like It” is a quintessential pastoral comedy that uses its rural setting not only as a scenic backdrop but also as a means to explore themes of love, transformation, social critique, and the contrast between rural innocence and courtly sophistication.