As You Like It


William Shakespeare

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As You Like It: Style 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Shakespeare’s style in As You Like It is whimsical and witty, relying on his technical strengths to bring levity to the story of the banished heroes. Shakespeare’s use of humor in the form of puns, parody, and wordplay adds a sense of irreverence and gives the play mass appeal. Take Rosalind and Touchstone’s argument in Act III, Scene 2:

Rosalind, [as Ganymede]: Peace, you dull fool. I found [Orlando’s verses] on a tree.                     

Touchstone: Truly, the tree yields bad fruit.                                                                       

Rosalind, [as Ganymede]: I’ll graft it with you, and then I shall graft it with a medlar. Then it will be the earliest fruit i' th'                        country, for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar.     

Even in this (relatively) sharp exchange between the two friends, humor surfaces and cools the temperature of the scene. After Touchstone parodies Orlando’s poem about Rosalind, he asks her where she found them. She tells him to calm down (“Peace you, dull fool”) before revealing she found them hanging in the forest. Truly, Touchstone replies, the tree yields bad fruit—that is to say, these poems are terrible. Rosalind replies with a pun (“I’ll graft you it [the tree] with you, and then I shall graft it with / a medlar”). She likens the fool to a “medlar,” a pear tree that produces fruit that cannot be eaten until it begins to rot. “Medlar” was also slang for genitalia, a joke which surely would not have been lost on the audience.

At every turn in this scene, Shakespeare uses humor to undercut traditional romance and keep the audience engaged. Touchstone parodies Orlando’s sincere love poem, and Touchstone himself is then laid low by the equally clever Rosalind. Sophisticated and lowbrow jokes sit side by side (the parody of the pastoral tradition, the puns) and create a rich experience for the audience.