As You Like It Love Theme Analysis Essay

Love In "As You Like It" By William Shakespeare

In the timeless masterpiece "As You Like It," William Shakespeare covers a wide range of serious topics, while still keeping a light-hearted, comedic tone about the majority of the play. One topic that is obviously touched upon in the play is the major theme of different faces of love. In his depiction of the four couples (Orlando and Rosalind, Silvius and Phebe, Oliver and Celia, and Touchstone and Audrey) Shakespeare offers four differing perspectives on love and its many aspects.

The first type of love is the most poetic and romantic of the play. It is the dream of love at first sight, and that two different people are meant for each other and none else. This blooms purely through Oliver and Celia toward the end, but is mostly shown through the young love of Orlando and Rosalind. It shows many peoples vision not necessarily of what love is, but what love should be. Orlando and Rosalind see each other, and although they both are smitten with each other, Orlando is unable to even speak to Rosalind for his nerves have rendered him speechless. After Rosalind leaves the room Orlando to wonder, "What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue? I cannot speak to her, yet she urged conference." (94) However, neither Rosalind nor Orlando truly know what love is, and it is shown through Orlando's sub-par poetry. Not until much later does his love for Rosalind fully blossom into a much more mature attitude towards the woman he loves than at the beginning of the play. Only when this happens does Rosalind truly realize how much she loves Orlando, rather than just being taken with desire, and they are married.

Of course a similar circumstance is shown through the love of Oliver and Celia, although the love Oliver and Celia have for each other is very different from the love Orlando and Rosalind hold. The love Oliver finds for Celia comes at around the same time that he also discovers love for his brother that he has for so long resented and despised. However, he sees the light and feels bad when he realizes that his brother loves him and was willing to risk his own life in order to save his brother who had wronged him earlier. Very soon after he also experiences love at first sight, and decides to marry Celia, Rosalind's cousin. It is not until he is able to see the good in others, however, such as his brother, that he finds true love in another, and it just happens to be the best friend and cousin of the woman whom his brother loves so dearly.

The second most touched upon type of love in the play is the tortured agonistic love...

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Love in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
2.1 Audrey and Touchstone
2.2 Phoebe and Silvius
2.3 Celia and Oliver
2.4 Rosalind and Orlando
2.5 A Comparison of the couples

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

William Shakespeare’s As You Like It portrays love and marriage in a comical, amusing manner. The play represents passionate love on the one hand, as well as disguised, blind and even manipulated love on the other hand.

Love as a state of being is omnipresent throughout As You Like It. As the play’s major theme, love is illustrated essentially by eight characters who all marry at the end of the play. However, As You Like It cannot be interpreted as a typical love story. In fact, only one twosome, namely Rosalind and Orlando, illustrates a relationship of true love which ends in a happy, mutually agreeable marriage. By falling in love at first sight, they symbolize the typical Shakespearean romantic lovers whose love overcomes any obstacles. The other couples in the play, however, seem to pursue rather different goals. Audrey and Touchstone simply wish to act on their sexual desire, which they cleverly hide behind marriage in order to prevent any “Vorwurf der Unzucht”[1] – a serious matter in Elizabethan times. Phoebe and Silvius are both in love, though not reciprocally. Silvius does love Phoebe; she, however, falls in love with Ganymede and is merely tricked into committing herself to Silvius. Celia and Oliver are simply following the lead of Rosalind and Orlando, but seem to strive for companionship rather than passion or true love.

Shakespeare illustrates four different kinds of love in As You Like It in a humorous way. He demonstrates that love and marriage do not necessarily have to go hand in hand and adds comical aspects of love by turning some characters into fools. In this way, Shakespeare builds on the Elizabethan assumptions about love as a sickness, but still validates it as a valuable aspect of a happy marriage.

In this paper, I will examine the aspect of love in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. More precisely, I will first analyze the attitude towards love in general terms in Elizabethan times and determine how it is commonly understood by the characters. Next, I will investigate the four couples in the play individually, starting with Audrey and Touchstone, then Phoebe and Silvius followed by Celia and Oliver, and lastly Rosalind and Orlando. Finally, I will compare these four couples with each other and will explore how their views on love and marriage coincide and/or differ. Lastly, I will shortly summarize the characteristics of love in As You Like It.

2. Love in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It

In the Elizabethan era, being in love had a bad reputation. People considered love as foolish and believed that being in love would actually affect “die geistige Verfassung de[r] verliebten Menschen”[2], resulting in people’s “absonderliche[s] und ‚komische[s]’ Verhalten”[3]. The state of being in love was frequently described as an illness. Compared to the plague, ‘love-sickness’ was understood to be transmitted through vapors by means of contact with the eyes of a ‘love infected’ person causing actual sickness.[4]

Several characters in As You Like It exemplify this general negative attitude towards love at that time. Rosalind alludes to it as “madness”[5] that needs to be “cured”[6]. Both Silvius and Touchstone speak of love as “folly”[7], confirming that being in love turns people into fools. Jaques argues that “[t]he worst fault you [can] have is to be in love”[8], since no one would seek foolishness or even illness by choice.

Even though love was clearly associated with negative feelings in Elizabethan times and thus in the play itself, there are eight characters in As You Like It (Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver, Phoebe and Silvius, and Audrey and Touchstone) who all marry at the end of the play. Hence, love – despite all its negative connotations – still seems to be desirable. By taking a closer look, however, it becomes apparent that the four marriages are not all motivated by true love. In fact, only one couple marries out of pure love. The other three couples have different motives for their marriage, such as security, companionship, and even sexual desire. Shakespeare contrasts these different ideas of love and purposes of marriage with each other: he portrays true love and its sickness on the one hand and a loveless marriage for practical or sexual reasons on the other hand.

2.1 Audrey and Touchstone

Audrey and Touchstone display the couple that is least motivated by true love. They never mention being in love, not even liking each other, at any time in As You Like It.

When they first appear together, Touchstone is already wooing Audrey (“am I the man yet?”[9] ) However, it soon becomes clear that Touchstone is not flattering Audrey for romantic reasons. On the one hand, he scoffs at love and people being in love (“true lovers run into strange capers”[10] ). He seems to be quite conscious of how ridiculous and foolish love can be and would therefore avoid falling in love on any terms. On the other hand, Touchstone calls Audrey “a foul slut were to put good meat into an unclean dish”[11], suggesting that she is not only plain and unattractive, but also a woman with a great number of lovers. This, as a matter of course, is not an appealing characteristic for an honest man seeking true love, which is also confirmed by Touchstone himself when he refers to Audrey as a woman “that no man else will”[12].

Despite Audrey’s unattractiveness and Touchstone’s attitude towards love, he soon declares his intentions: “I will marry thee”[13]. In fact, he has already prepared the wedding by organizing a priest who has agreed to marry them instantly (“I have been with Sir Oliver Martext […] who hath promised […] to couple us”[14] ). In addition to Touchstone’s earlier offenses, there is evidently no passion, no romance, no declarations of love, not even compliments of any kind between Audrey and Touchstone – yet Touchstone insists on marrying Audrey, in fact, as soon as possible. In the Elizabethan era, people ought to be married before engaging sexually in order to prevent accusations of “Unkeuschheit und Lasterhaftigkeit”[15]. Touchstone seems to be well aware of that (“[w]e must be married, or we must live in bawdry”[16] ) and therefore suggests the wedding soon after meeting Audrey.

Jaques comments on exactly these Elizabethan norms and remarks on the couple’s lecherous thoughts. He asks Touchstone whether he really wants to marry Audrey straight away, “under a bush”[17], comparing him to a “beggar”[18]. Jaques apparently does not approve of Audrey and Touchstone’s bawdy engagement and advises them to consult a “good priest”[19] in order to learn the true purpose of marriage, that is to say, actual love (“[g]et you to church, and have a good priest that can tell you what marriage is”[20] ). Obviously having very different intentions than romantic matrimony, Touchstone persists in keeping his previous plan of a hasty marriage since it would be “better to be married of him [Sir Oliver Martext] than of another”[21]. Touchstone obviously seeks “not being well married”[22] and admits he already has plans to leave Audrey soon after the wedding, meaning, after consummating the union (“it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife”[23] ). Audrey, even though she does not actually contribute to the wedding plans, seems to agree with Touchstone confirming that “the priest was good enough”[24]. By preferring the priest who would marry them ‘badly’ and instantly, Audrey acknowledges her sexual desire as well. She might, just like Touchstone, think about leaving him as well. However, she definitely seeks sexual desire – just like her ‘fiancé’.

Later on in the play, it becomes apparent how lustful Audrey and Touchstone actually are, when they cannot wait for their wedding day, or rather the day when they finally can act on their sexual desires. Touchstone notices that “[t]omorrow is the joyful day”[25], while Audrey joins in, admitting she “desire[s] it with all [her] heart”[26]. There are enough suggestions that Audrey and Touchstone do not actually love each other but instead strive for societal permission to have sex. It seems natural that their marriage will not be a happy or even faithful one, just as it will probably not last long. In their point of view, marriage is merely the required approval to finally have sexual intercourse, but on no account true love.

2.2 Phoebe and Silvius

The two shepherds Phoebe and Silvius exemplify a one-sided love in As You Like It. While Silvius is completely in love with Phoebe, symbolizing the “pale complexion of true love”[27], Phoebe claims to only feel hate for him, responding to him with “scorn and proud disdain”[28]. Silvius illustrates the foolish lover Elizabethans described as love-sick. From the moment he appears in the play, he is completely in love with Phoebe. In fact, his “grief in love”[29] for Phoebe is already demonstrated within his very first expression: “O Corin, that thou knew’st how I do love her!”[30] Phoebe, on the other hand, does not return Silvius’s love in any way. Instead, she “frown[s] on [him] with all [her] heart”[31] and even wishes to “kill”[32] him. In the course of the play, it soon becomes apparent how much – or rather, how desperately – Silvius is in love with Phoebe. Not only does he allow her to “insult”[33] him and “play false strains upon [him]”[34], he even lets her “make [him] an instrument”[35] when he brings her love letters to Ganymede, his ‘rival’. Silvius, invariably abandoning common sense, has “turned into the extremity of love”[36].

However, even though Phoebe does not return Silvius’s affection (“[c]ome not thou near me”[37] ), Silvius insists on loving her – even if “many actions most ridiculous”[38] make him precisely the foolish lover Elizabethan society mocked. Silvius therefore realizes he is behaving unreasonable, yet he does not necessarily associate being in love with negative aspects. He claims that love does induce ridiculous behavior (“[i]f thou rememberest not the slightest folly [t]hat ever love did make thee run into, [t]hou hast not loved”[39] ), but love has positive characteristics as well, such as “passion”[40], “adoration”[41], “faith and service”[42]. He does not give up his love for Phoebe just because she does not return it.

Throughout the entire play, Phoebe rejects Silvius’s love, although she is obviously “not for all markets”[43]. Ironically, she is the one who eventually falls in love “at first sight”[44] – but with Ganymede. The disguised Rosalind is not quite able to make Phoebe appreciate “a good man’s love”[45] or to make her “love him [Silvius]”[46]. However, she manages, by means of her disguise, to convince Phoebe “to wed this shepherd [Silvius]”[47]. For that one instant, Phoebe demonstrates not only how easily one can fall in love, but also how being in love does induce foolish behavior, as she agrees to marry the man she claims to hate if she cannot marry the ‘man’ she thinks she loves. Phoebe, who had formerly scorned Silvius for being in love, ultimately becomes ‘infected’ herself, realizes what love is all about and adopts the same love-struck attitude as Silvius.


[1] Mollenhauer, Sabine. Die Repräsentation von Geschlechterrollen in W. Shakespeares Dramen: Der Beitrag moralisch-didaktischer Traktate in der elisabethanischen und jakobäischen Zeit. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2011. 393.

[2] Mollenhauer, 433.

[3] Mollenhauer, 433.

[4] Biewer, Carolin. Die Sprache der Liebe in Shakespeares Komödien: Eine Semantik und Pragmatik der Leidenschaft. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2006. 177.

[5] Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Ed. Alan Brissenden. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 3.2.381.

[6] Shakespeare, 3.2.384.

[7] Shakespeare, 2.4.31; 2.4.52.

[8] Shakespeare, 3.2.273.

[9] Shakespeare, 3.3.2.

[10] Shakespeare, 2.4.50-51.

[11] Shakespeare, 3.3.31-32.

[12] Shakespeare, 5.4.58.

[13] Shakespeare, 3.3.37.

[14] Shakespeare, 3.3.37-40.

[15] Mollenhauer, 393.

[16] Shakespeare, 3.3.87.

[17] Shakespeare, 3.3.76.

[18] Shakespeare, 3.3.76.

[19] Shakespeare, 3.3.77.

[20] Shakespeare, 3.3.76-78.

[21] Shakespeare, 3.3.81-82.

[22] Shakespeare, 3.3.83.

[23] Shakespeare, 3.3.83-84.

[24] Shakespeare, 5.1.3.

[25] Shakespeare, 5.3.1.

[26] Shakespeare, 5.3.3.

[27] Shakespeare, 3.4.48.

[28] Shakespeare, 3.4.49.

[29] Shakespeare, 3.5.88.

[30] Shakespeare, 2.4.20.

[31] Shakespeare, 3.5.15.

[32] Shakespeare, 3.5.16.

[33] Shakespeare, 3.5.37.

[34] Shakespeare, 4.3.69.

[35] Shakespeare, 4.3.68-69.

[36] Shakespeare, 4.3.24.

[37] Shakespeare, 3.5.33.

[38] Shakespeare, 2.4.27.

[39] Shakespeare, 2.4.31-33.

[40] Shakespeare, 5.2.90.

[41] Shakespeare, 5.2.91.

[42] Shakespeare, 5.2.84.

[43] Shakespeare, 3.5.61.

[44] Shakespeare, 3.5.83.

[45] Shakespeare, 3.5.59.

[46] Shakespeare, 5.2.77.

[47] Shakespeare, 5.4.22.

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