'As You Like It' Themes: Love

As You Like It - The Mock Marriage of Orlando and Rosalind. Painting by Deverell Walter Howard (1853)
Public Domain

The theme of love in As You Like It is central to the play, and nearly every scene makes reference to it in one way or another.

Shakespeare utilizes a range of different perceptions and presentations of love in As You Like It; everything from the bawdy love of the lower class characters to the courtly love of the nobles.

Types of Love in As You Like It

  • Romantic and courtly love
  • Bawdy, sexual love
  • Sisterly and brotherly love
  • Fatherly love
  • Unrequited love

Romantic and Courtly Love

This is demonstrated in the central relationship between Rosalind and Orlando. The characters fall in love quickly and their love is articulated in love poetry and in carvings on trees. It is a gentlemanly love but is fraught with barriers needing to be overcome. This kind of love is undermined by Touchstone who describes this type of love as dishonest; “the truest poetry is the most feigning”. (Act 3, Scene 2).

Orlando has to overcome many obstacles in order to be married; his love is tested by Rosalind and proved to be genuine. However, Rosalind and Orlando only met a couple of times without the disguise of Ganymede. It is hard to say, therefore, whether they truly know one another.

Rosalind is not unrealistic, and although she enjoys the wooing side of romantic love, she is aware that it is not necessarily genuine, which is why she tests Orlando’s love for her. Romantic love is not enough for Rosalind she needs to know that it is deeper than that.

Bawdy Sexual Love

Touchstone and Audrey act as a foil to Rosalind and Orlando’s characters. They are cynical about romantic love and their relationship is based more on the physical side of love; “Sluttishness may come hereafter” (Act 3, Scene 2).

At first, they are happy to be married straight away under a tree, which reflects their primitive desires. They have no barriers to overcome they just want to get on with it there and then. Touchstone even says that this would give him an excuse to leave; “…not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife” (Act 3, Scene 2). Touchstone is uncomplimentary about Audrey’s looks but loves her for her honesty.

The audience is given the opportunity to decide which kind of love is more honest. Courtly love could be seen as superficial, based on manners and appearance as opposed to bawdy love which is presented as cynical and base but truthful.

Sisterly and Brotherly Love

This is clearly evident between Celia and Rosalind as Celia abandons her home and privileges to join Rosalind in the forest. The pair is not actually sisters but support each other unconditionally.

Brotherly love is severely lacking at the beginning of As You Like It. Oliver hates his brother Orlando and wants him dead. Duke Frederick has banished his brother Duke Senior and usurped his dukedom.

However, to an extent, this love is restored in that Oliver has a miraculous change of heart when Orlando bravely saves him from being savaged by a lioness and Duke Frederick disappears to contemplate religion after speaking to a holy man, offering Duke Senior his restored dukedom.

It appears that the forest is responsible for the change of character in both of the evil brothers (Oliver and Duke Frederick). On entering the forest both the Duke and Oliver have a change of heart. Perhaps the forest itself offers a challenge the men need, in terms of proving their manliness, which was not apparent in the court. The beasts and the necessity to hunt possibly replaces the need to attack family members?

Fatherly Love

Duke Frederick loves his daughter Celia and has indulged her in that he has allowed Rosalind to stay. When he has a change of heart and wants to banish Rosalind he does it for his daughter Celia, Believing that Rosalind overshadows his own daughter in that she is taller and more beautiful. He also believes that people will look unfavorably on him and his daughter for banishing Rosalind’s.

Celia rejects her father’s attempts at loyalty and leaves him to join Rosalind in the forest. His love is somewhat unrequited due to his wrong-doing. Duke Senior loves Rosalind but fails to recognize her when she is in disguise as Ganymede – they cannot be particularly close as a result. Rosalind preferred to stay in court with Celia than to join her father in the forest.

Unrequited Love

As discussed, Duke Frederick’s love for his daughter is somewhat unrequited. However, the main characters who represent this category of love are Silvius and Phoebe and Phoebe and Ganymede.

Silvius follows Phoebe around like a love-sick puppy and she scorns him, the more she scorns him the more he loves her.

These characters also act as a foil to Rosalind and Orlando – the more Orlando speaks lovingly of Rosalind the more she loves him. The pairing of Silvius and Phoebe at the end of the play is perhaps the least satisfying in that Phoebe is only marrying Silvius because she has agreed to on rejecting Ganymede. This is therefore not necessarily a match made in heaven.

Ganymede does not love Phoebe because she is a woman and on discovering Ganymede is a woman Phoebe rejects her suggesting that she only loved Ganymede on a superficial level. Silvius is happy to marry Phoebe but the same cannot be said for her. William’s love for Audrey is also unrequited.

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Jamieson, Lee. "'As You Like It' Themes: Love." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/as-you-like-it-themes-love-2984635. Jamieson, Lee. (2023, April 5). 'As You Like It' Themes: Love. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/as-you-like-it-themes-love-2984635 Jamieson, Lee. "'As You Like It' Themes: Love." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/as-you-like-it-themes-love-2984635 (accessed May 29, 2023).