Orlando is reading what appears to be his own poetry from a piece of paper in his hand. The poem is overly sentimental and alludes to the Queen of Night, the huntress Diana, describes the moon as a pale sphere in the sky, and includes a resolve to post poems about Rosalind on every tree in the forest. Having finished reading the poem in his hand, Orlando runs off to continue posting the verses all about the forest.
Touchstone and Corin enter, with Corin asking Touchstone whether he likes the shepherd’s life. The fool answers in the affirmative, but then proceeds to equivocate, saying such things as, “in respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life.” When asked if he has any philosophy of his own, Corin responds with a list of obvious facts of the world, expressed in dull-witted fashion, such as, “the more one sickens the worse at ease he is” and “a great case of night is lack of the sun.”
While Touchstone says things that make him sound wise but are in fact nonsensical, Corin says things that make him sound simple but are perfectly logical. The contrast between their modes of speech indicate the larger differences between the two characters, in terms of their natural settings—court vs. country—and professions—clown vs. shepherd.
Touchstone calls Corin damned for never having lived in court; he reasons that Corin has not learned good manners and must therefore have wicked manners and that wickedness is sin. Touchstone and Corin proceed to banter about the suitableness of court manners in the country and country manners in the court, and specifically about the possibility of shepherds adopting the practice of kissing each other’s hands. Corin says that he is content to lead a simple life and care for his ewes and lambs. Even this, Touchstone critiques, declaring it a sin to make a living off of the forced “copulation of cattle.”
The contrast between city life and country life, and between Touchstone and Corin as representatives of those two locales is increasingly developed here. The two men try to determine whether there are good reasons for court manners to remain in court, and country manners to remain in the country. Yet in transposing the idea of kissing hands from courtly folk to shepherds, and in focusing on the idea that farming is in fact the “forced copulation of cattle,” all that they succeed in doing is making both court and country look ridiculous.
Rosalind, dressed as Ganymede, enters, reading one of Orlando’s poems that she has pulled from a tree and is holding in her hands. Touchstone, hearing the poem, tries to compete with its rhymes and so improvises a series of six senseless and poorly metered couplets about Rosalind. Touchstone insults then insults the original poems, to which Rosalind takes offense.
The audience knows who has written the tree poems, while Rosalind remains unaware, creating a level of dramatic irony. Touchstones purposely bad poetry about Rosalind is no worse than Orlando’s love poetry about her. And yet, Rosalind takes offense at Touchstone’s insults of the love poetry because it is love poetry, about her. Rosalind’s taste takes a back seat when it comes to love, and being loved.
Celia enters, reading another of Orlando’s tree poems, which describes Rosalind as the synthesis of all the best features of Helen, Cleopatra, Atalanta, and Lucretia. At Celia’s request, Touchstone walks away with Corin to leave Celia and Rosalind alone. Celia tells Rosalind that she knows who is behind these badly written poems. Rosalind is impatient to know, and Celia teases her, declaring the man “wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful,” and then finally revealing him to be Orlando. Rosalind is very excited by this news and asks many questions about Celia’s discovery of his identity.
The overwhelming power of love to push lovers into an extreme and ridiculous view of their beloved is here on display, as Orlando compares Rosalind to famed beauties of history and myth. Rosalind, however, does not note this as strange; she’s just excited that the man she loves also loves her.
Celia recounts having found Orlando under a tree, dressed like a hunter. Rosalind comments that Orlando is dressed that way because he has come to kill her heart. Then she pardons herself for her constant interruptions by explaining that she is a woman, and, like all women, must speak when she thinks.
Rosalind’s comment about women is at once potentially denigrating, but also humorous, given that she says it while dressed as a man.
Orlando and Jaques enter, bickering. Jaques insults Rosalind’s name, and tells Orlando that being in love is the worst fault. He says that he had been looking for a fool when he came across Orlando, and Orlando tells him to look in the brook to see the fool he was looking for, but Jaques catches on to the trick (that he will simply see himself in the brook). When the two men part, Jaques calls Orlando “Signor Love,” and Orlando calls Jaques “Monsieur Melancholy.”
Jaques is trying, without much success, to act upon his ambition of becoming a fool. Yet Orlando seems to see through Jaques instantly—to see that Jaques is himself actually a fool, and not in the sense of being a professional fool. Jaques farewell comment to Orlando indicates Orlando’s foolishness in love; but Orlando’s response indicates Jaques’ foolishness in melancholy.
Rosalind (still disguised as Ganymede) approaches Orlando and asks what time it is. When he answers that he doesn’t know because there is no clock, Rosalind quips that a lover would serve just as well to tell the time, because a true lover sighs on the minute and groans on the hour.
The hijinks about gender roles and identity begins in earnest here, as Orlando discusses love with what he thinks is a man but is actually not only a woman but his beloved! It’s ironic that Rosalind is speaking abstractly about love to Orlando, given that he does not recognize her as his own object of love. It’s also ironic that she is making fun of lovers, as just moments ago she couldn’t stop herself from interrupting Celia while she was talking about Orlando. Though this does suggest that Rosalind has some control over herself when in love, unlike all the other lovers in the play.
Orlando doubts that Rosalind, who he takes for a country shepherd, could have acquired her manner of speaking in the countryside, but she claims to have had an articulate and religious uncle. She then thanks God that she is not a woman, in light of all the womanly evils her uncle used to speak of.
In these remarks, Rosalind pretends that she does not bear two qualities that, in fact, distinctly characterize her: her royal upbringing, and her femininity.
Rosalind mentions the poems on the trees and expresses her desire to meet and advise the love-swept poet who’s posted them. Orlando admits to being the very poet. Though Rosalind (as Ganymede) at first pretends to express doubts that Orlando is truly in love (just to hear Orlando's declarations of love for Rosalind), she then pretends to be convinced and offers to try curing him of his lunatic love. She tells Orlando that he must imagine her (or him, rather, as she is dressed as Ganymede) as his mistress and woo her, while she acts moody, shallow, and undesirable. This method, she claims, has succeeded before in driving a man in a similar position out of mad love into pure madness, and finally into monastic retreat.
This establishes what will become a major plot point for the rest of the play— Rosalind’s romantic education of Orlando. In this exchange, as in future exchanges, Rosalind shows off her wit and cleverness, and she does so both to build Orlando (who, remember, was left uneducated by Oliver) into a suitable lover for her (at least to some extent shifting him from “natural” to “courtly”), while also allowing herself to play the role of beloved by pretending to be a man who is playing that role. The symbolism of Rosalind’s chosen name of Ganymede, associated as that mythological name is with homosexuality, how ratchets up a notch as “Ganymede” now pretends to be a woman in love.
Orlando agrees to try her method, which begins with calling her by the name Rosalind.
Orlando thinks that he is calling a man named Ganymede “Rosalind,” when in fact Rosalind is pretending to be Ganymede who is pretending to be Rosalind. Incidentally, it's also worth remembering that in Shakespeare's time all actors were male, so in this scene you actually have a male actor pretending to be Rosalind, pretending to be Ganymede, pretending to be Rosalind.