The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It

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The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It - Pastoral literature primarily establishes a contrast between life in the city and life in the country, and suggests that the intense concerns of court life can be rectified by a brief foray into nature. The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It

The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It - The neat and convenient division between town and country allows characters the distance required to contemplate criticize and reform city life. “As You Like It” certainly acknowledges this convention: urban life, as governed by the likes of Duke Frederick and Oliver, is plagued with injustices, and the Forest of Ardenne allows Duke Senior, Rosalind, Orlando, and the rest not only to escape oppression but to build the foundation of a more loving and just society. The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It

The Pastoral Setting of As You Like It - But Shakespeare does not content himself with criticizing the court and romanticizing the country. Instead, he trains a careful-and comic-eye on the entire pastoral tradition. Although Shakespeare’s urban sophisticates find solace in Ardenne and manage to heal the wounds inflicted on them by vengeful dukes and unfair customs, the green world they encounter is not a paradise.

Central to the pastoral vision of “As You Like It” is the setting in the Forest of Ardenne, especially the contrast between it and the ducal court. In the former, there is a powerful political presence which creates dangers. Deception lurks behind many actions, brothers have secret agendas against their brothers, and people have to answer to the arbitrary demands of power.

In the Forest of Ardenne, however, life is very different. For one thing, there is no urgency to the agenda. There are no clocks in the forest, and for the exiled courtiers there is no regular work. They are free to roam around the forest, prompted by their own desires. There is plenty of food to eat, so the communal hunt takes care of their physical needs. That and the absence of a complex political hierarchy creates a much stronger sense of communal equality hearkening back the mythical good old days. The exiled Duke himself attests to the advantages of living far from the court, free of the deceits of flattery and double dealing and welcomes Orlando to the feast without suspicion.

And, most important here, especially in comparison with the history plays, is the importance of singing. “As You Like It” is full of songs-not performances by professional court musicians, but impromptu group singing which expresses better than anything else the spontaneous joy these people derive from life in the Forest and the joy they give back to others. The songs indicate clearly the way in which in the Forest people can shape their actions to their moods-a situation totally unlike the court where one has to consider one's actions much more carefully.

Hence, the Forest of Ardenne provides for the exiled courtiers an important freedom to experiment with their lives, to discover things about themselves. In the Forest people can talk openly with whoever they might happen to meet on a stroll through the trees, and that might be anyone, given that in the Forest no one owns any particular territory (there are no rooms, palaces, roads-unlike the court where there is a preoccupation with property) and thus one might well meet and have to deal with a person whom one would never get close to in the court (that can have comic results, of course, as Touchstone's conversations with Audrey and William demonstrate). In the Forest life is, as I have observed, lived more immediately in the moment with whatever life presents at the moment. Such an approach to life is impossible in the politically charged world of the court.

That freedom makes possible Rosalind's transformation and her taking charge of the courtship and makes an interesting contrast between Rosalind and Viola (in Twelfth Night)-the latter is not nearly so free to take charge, because she is still operating in a social environment with a clear structure of authority, which she has to respect. Hence, the fortunate outcome of that play relies upon her patience and luck far more in the case of Rosalind, who is the driving force in her courtship (Viola's desires very nearly are unfulfilled).

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