In a tiny French dukedom, a younger brother usurps his elder brother's throne. Duke Senior is banished to the Forest of Arden along with his faithful retainers, leaving his lovely daughter Rosalind behind to serve as a companion for the usurper's daughter, Celia. However, the outspoken Rosalind soon earns her uncle's wrath and is also condemned to exile. The two cousins decide to flee together and join Duke Senior in the forest. Meanwhile, a young nobleman, Orlando is thrown out of his home by his cruel older brother Oliver. He too finds his way into the forest. What follows is absolutely captivating and a typical Shakespearean comedy!
As You Like It was printed in the First Folio in 1623 though there is evidence to show that it was performed quite regularly after its presumed creation between 1598-1600. Though a very popular play and one that has been invariably brought to stage, As You Like It is not considered to be the finest of Shakespeare's works. George Bernard Shaw commented that it was devoid of the “high artistry” that marked the great playwright.
However, others like critic Harold Bloom have found Rosalind to be one of Shakespeare's great heroines. The complicated twists and turns in the plot, elaborate disguises and gender reversals, the importance of love and forgiveness, the contrast between court and forest and the antics of Touchstone, the Fool who accompanies Duke Senior to the forest all make this a delightful play to view and to read.
This is also one of Shakespeare's most musical plays. There are plenty of songs incorporated into the body of the play, adding to the rural charm of the pastoral landscape. “Under the Greenwood Tree,” “Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind” and “It was a Lover and his Lass” are some of the famous songs that feature in As You Like It.
The play is also famous for one of the most widely quoted passages in literature: “All the World's a Stage” spoken by the melancholy Jacques, who is Duke Senior's faithful lord and has vowed to stay with him throughout his troubles. The portrayals of the Seven Ages of Man, from birth till death is one of the immortal examples of Shakespeare's deep insight into the human condition.
As You Like It is indeed a delightful and charming play and one that will provide hours of entertaining reading!