Situational Irony

As You Like It


William Shakespeare

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As You Like It: Situational Irony 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Free from Peril:

In a moment of situational irony in Act 2, Scene 1, Duke Senior admits that he is safer in the Woods of Arden than he ever was in the court:

Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court? [...]
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
“This is no flattery. These are counselors
That feelingly persuade me of what I am.”   

Speaking to his followers, he says that “old custom” (experience) has taught them that a life in the woods is sweeter than one made up of luxuries or superficial pleasures (“painted pomp”). This is in part because the Duke and his lords are surrounded by Nature, rather than the treacherous courtiers they are used to (the “envious court”). The Duke sees the natural environment of Arden as an equalizer, one that humbles him and keeps him in touch with himself (“counselors that feelingly persuade me…”) . When the wind blows, for example, the Duke knows it is “no flattery,” but the same wind that blows upon everyone, royal or peasant. 

Ironically, the Duke feels safer among unpredictable natural forces and wild animals than he does around men he has known his whole life. At least, the Duke reasons, the natural world does not lie to you or betray you, as he has been betrayed by Duke Frederick. This moment of irony plays into the conflict between urban and rural lifestyles and mores throughout the play.  In As You Like It, traditional rules and customs of behavior are almost always relaxed outside of the court, especially in the countryside. The characters fear going into exile in part for this reason. However, in this scene, as throughout the play, this relaxation does not lead to misbehavior or cruelty; ironically, it allows the better nature of the characters to come out, and removes them from the toxic envy and jealousy of the court.