Physical costumes and disguises appear over and over in As You Like It. Orlando disguises himself in order to wrestle Charles, instigating his future banishment ; Celia disguises herself as a shepherdess and captures the interest of Oliver. Rosalind takes love and fate into her own hands by disguising herself as a man and giving Orlando lessons in love. All of these instances of disguise help Shakespeare explore positive aspects of the theme of deception throughout the play.
Deception often works against the characters in this play. Oliver deceives Charles into wrestling his brother; Frederick deceives the court and receives his brother’s title. But when disguises are incorporated, deception works to a positive end: it allows certain positive inner qualities of the characters to surface. Consider the Duke’s reaction to Orlando’s disguise in Act I, Scene 2:
I would thou hadst been son to some man else.
The world esteemed thy father honorable,
But I did find him still mine enemy.
Thou shouldst have better pleased me with this deed
Hadst thou descended from another house.
But fare thee well.
Orlando would not have been able to show his strength in Frederick’s court under his real identity, nor his courage and grace under duress (all of the qualities which win over Rosalind). Because he has undertaken the wrestling match in disguise, not even the Duke, the sworn enemy of his father, can deny Orlando’s positive qualities (“Thou shouldst have better pleased me”). These disguises help the characters see beyond family name, blood feuds, and unassuming appearances to judge one another by their actions.
Equally, disguises protect vulnerable interiorities from danger or exposure. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando at first sight; Oliver falls in love with Celia instantly. Through their disguises as a shepherd and shepherdess respectively, Rosalind and Celia can explore these new, sudden connections without fear of getting carried away too quickly. As Ganymede and Aliena, the two slowly learn who these men are before committing to them.