As You Like It


William Shakespeare

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As You Like It: Genre 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Explanation and Analysis:

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Seventeen of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven recognized plays are comedies, including classics like The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespearean comedy is almost its own genre, full of specific conventions and themes that can be found across the corpus of Shakespeare’s work. 

Thematic elements found across the comedies include love, courtship, and reconciliation. These comedies often follow the development of a romance between two characters who meet during the play and end up marrying. Common tropes of Shakespeare’s comedies include disguises, mistaken identities, conflict within families, wise fools, and intelligent servants. The dialogue often employs puns and clever wordplay, and the plot often relies on dramatic irony. 

Unlike its Greek and Roman predecessors, Shakespeare’s comedies don't participate in explicit political satire or commentary. Even social commentary within Shakespeare’s plays is often couched in a foreign setting (e.g., a play may be technically set in Italy, while exploring English social issues). It is worth noting that the British government censored theater significantly during the 16th century (the practice was only formally abolished in 1968). The process of censoring plays would be written into law in 1737. Before this, in Shakespeare’s time, censorship was enforced on an ad-hoc basis by the Master of Revels (a court official). It’s possible this disincentivized Shakespeare from deviating from romance plots in his comic works, and softening or partially obscuring their social commentary. 

As You Like It is also a satirical play, mocking the conventions of romance as depicted in literature. In fact, As You Like It borrows its plot and many of its characters from the play Rosalynde, a romance written in 1590 by Thomas Lodge. Lodge was an Elizabethan playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare’s  (his Scillaes Metamorphosis was a major influence on Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis). Shakespeare’s decision to consciously base this play on a contemporary reflects his desire to comment on and satirize traditional romance. Likewise, the play’s many mocking references to the tropes of “courtly love,” which emphasized chivalry, suffering, and self-sacrifice as core aspects of romance, also reflect Shakespeare’s interest in moving past obvious or obsolete ideas of love in this play. 

As You Like It is also a pastoral play, meaning it is set in an idyllic physical location (the forest), and features common tropes of the genre (shepherds, singing country folk, debates about the nature of love). Shakespeare satirizes these at length through the character of Touchstone, who mocks and bests the shepherds in their arguments about life and love