Shakespeare splits the action of As You Like It across two major locations : an unspecified 16th century French court and the mythical Forest of Arden.
Despite being born in England and living there for the duration of his life, Shakespeare set a number of his plays in Italy, France, and other European nations. Shakespeare himself never went overseas, which is perhaps why Frederick’s court is so underdeveloped as a setting. However, Shakespeare would have been familiar with French culture through the large Huguenot expatriate community in London in this period, as well as the frequent tourism between France and the city of London, which brought a number of French people into the capital regularly. Much of his audience would be familiar with (at least very rudimentary) French culture and language.
Shakespeare’s desire to set plays in foreign locations often reflected an interest in creating an escapist experience for the audience. Given the romantic elements and themes of the play (runaway royalty, secret disguises, a forbidden love which conquers all), this familiar-yet-foreign landscape allows his audience to buy into the fantasy presented. It is worth noting that there is a real Forest of Arden in England, close to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and raised. There is also a forest in France called the Ardenne Forest.
The Forest of Arden in this play represents a place free from social constraint, norms, and expectations. In the forest, no one can recognize Duke Senior as a duke, or Celia as a lady, or even Rosalind as a woman. These aristocrats befriend and impersonate shepherds and shepherdesses, women dress as men, and marriages are made for love rather than profit. In this way, the forest represents an ideal of freedom and changeability, in which the play’s participants are able to choose their identities and determine the direction of their lives without outside interference.