Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

As You Like It

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



Duke Frederick threatens Oliver — he wants Orlando back “dead or living” (III.i.6), or Oliver can consider himself banished and all his properties seized. So not even villains can cooperate back in the court scene. It’s ironic that when Oliver protests, “I never lov’d my brother in my life” (III.i.14), Frederick thinks even less of him for not getting along with his brother — something the Duke is also most guilty of.


Orlando has had food, so now he’s tacking love poems dedicated to Rosalind all over the forest and carving graffiti in the bark.

Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love,
And thou, thrice-crowned queen of night, survey
With thy chaste eye, from the pale sphere above,
Thy huntress’ name that my full life doth sway.
O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character,
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witness’d every where.
Run, run, Orlando, carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she.

Pantextuality. It’s rather insane.

Touchstone equivocates about country life with Corin the shepherd but seems to prefer the court.

Why, if thou never wast at court, thou never saw’st good manners; if thou never saw’st good manners, then thy manners must be wicked, and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd. (III.ii.40-44)

Corin responds,

Not a whit, Touchstone. Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is more mockable at the court. You told me you salute not at the court but you kiss your hands; that courtesy would be uncleanly if courtiers were shepherds. (III.ii.45-51).

Corin is realistic about shepherding, and punctures courtly and pastoral pretentions both, somewhat more passively than Ignoto in his response to Marlowe’s “Come Live with Me.”

Sir, I am a true laborer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness, glad of other men’s good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck. (III.ii.73-77)

“It is one of the tersest and one of the finest ‘creeds’ to be found anywhere in Shakespeare, at the farthest possible remove from Touchstone’s own” (Goddard, I 287). Touchstone suggests that relying on the breeding of one’s livestock is a form of pimping for a living.

[A “touchstone” is “a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold and silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed by the metal” (qtd. in Goddard, I 290). “Not precious itself, it reveals preciousness in what touches it” (Goddard, I 290). The word has come to mean “any criterion or standard against which the qualities of something may be tested” (Asimov 563). Many feel that Touchstone’s wit finally is barren and unadmirable while Rosalind’s, by contrast, comes off humane and well. Farber sees Touchstone functioning much like the forest itself, a personification whereby other characters confront themselves (449).]

Rosalind enters, reading one of the poems she snatched off a tree. Touchstone mocks it, showing he can rhyme on the woman’s name forever too. “This is the very false gallop of verses; why do you infect yourself with them?” (III.ii.113-114). He is completely dismissive, but although they seem contrived, Rosalind gives them the benefit of the doubt and is charmed. Celia enters reading another poem, and the women wittily critique the texts; even Rosalind acknowledges the technical shortcomings: “Ay, but the feet were lame, and could not bear themselves without the verse, and therefore stood lamely in the verse” (III.ii.169-171). Celia indicates she knows who the poet is, and Rosalind is anxious to know: “dost thou think, though I am caparison’d like a man, I have a doublet and hose in my disposition?” (III.ii.194-196). Celia hints, “he hath but a little beard” (III.ii.208) (making some Oxfordians suspect that the couple, allegorically, is Elizabeth and Alençon). Celia confirms to Rosalind that the would-be poet is Orlando, and Rosalind bombards her with questions, fretting about her man’s apparel.

Orlando himself enters with Jaques, and these two display an intrinsic antipathy, Orlando politely saying, “I do desire we may be better strangers” (III.ii.258). Jaques remarks, “I pray you mar no more trees with writing love-songs in their barks” (III.ii.259-260), and that he doesn’t like the name Rosalind. “There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christen’d” (III.ii.266-267). The two banter further briefly, and “Jaques’ questions and answers sound studied and affected, Orlando’s spontaneous and sincere (Goddard, I 284). In general, Orlando’s words have “the ring of the true modesty and true wisdom that only true love imparts” (Goddard, I 284). Jaques, disgusted, and Orlando part company.

Mention of a reflecting pool may bring to mind the Narcissus story, which applies potentially in that in addition to other characters’ issues, Orlando is “on the verge of being more in love with the idea of himself as a lover than with any real, nonfictional Rosalind” (Farber 447). That Jaques would see the reflection of a “cipher” refers to a zero (as an insult) or an “O” as in Oxford (Ogburn and Ogburn 462).

Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede) strikes up a witty exchange about Time with Orlando. She presents herself as brother to a shepherdess — Celia, as Aliena — and explains why her own accent is “finer” than it should be: “an old religious uncle of mine taught me to speak” (III.ii.343-344). Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding is credited with the English translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Rosalind points out that Orlando is not sufficiently disheveled to indicate true love. She arranges ultimately to have Orlando visit each day so that they may debate the topic of love. She claims her position is that “Love is merely a madness” (III.ii.400). Orlando will have to defend himself as a true lover, not just a poser. In fact, the plan is that he’ll pretend to woo her as if she were Rosalind, and he must call her by that name. In this way, she can see if there is real substance or just courtly show to his professed love, and in the process also educate him. “Thus the love between the two is rehearsed in the kingdom of the imagination, where all true love begins, before any attempt is made to bring it down to the level of everyday life, a situation that permits both lovers to speak … boldly [and] innocently” (Goddard, I 292). Rosalind also “criticizes love from within its realm” (Bloom 211) — so she is given a perspective that will be legitimate instead of overinvolved or too distanced. [The “whimsical gender gymnastics” (Carey 268) are even more complex than sure-fire contemporary comedy of the Victor/Victoria or The Birdcage sort.]

Perhaps central to the play is Orlando’s linguistic progress. Initially,

Orlando’s failure of language in love, however adorably adolescent, is in part a sign that he does not yet understand what it is to be a lover. From his tongue-tied inability to speak he progresses to a kind of “literary” love, from silence to writing, hanging his poems on trees in the forest, fulfilling in a comically literal way Duke Senior’s prophecy of sermons in the stones and books in the running brooks…. Orlando’s poetic love is rather solipsistic, though again not without its charm…. Orlando needs to be brought into direct contact with Rosalind, to stop thinking of her as some idealized, unreal lady, and instead to recognize her particular qualities of generosity and wit. He needs to speak to her rather than about her. (Farber 457)


In contrast to the contrived but relatively rational approach in the end of the previous scene, here we see Touchstone suddenly planning to wed Audrey, an extremely dull-witted country lass whom Touchstone wishes were “poetical” (III.iii.16). Not only does she not get his jokes, she doesn’t even know basic words in several instances. This is just lust, and “we see Touchstone at his moral nadir” (Goddard, I 288).

“I am here with thee and thy goats as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths” (III.iii.7-9), puns Touchstone cleverly, since besides the goats/Goths echo, the word “capricious” comes from the Latin “caper,” meaning goat (Asimov 570). This moment may indeed refer to Oxford’s banishment from court.

Touchstone has already arranged for the local vicar to show up and marry them. A witness is needed to give away the bride, and Jaques comes out of hiding to do so, but actually ends up undermining the wedding by convincing Touchstone that a better priest is needed. But Touchstone, who it’s clear doesn’t take any of this very seriously, explains, “I were better to be married of him than of another, for he is not like to marry me well; and not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife” (III.iii.90-94). But Touchstone travels off with Jaques to be “counselled.”

A side note: one of Touchstone’s comments has traditionally been taken to contain a historical allusion:

When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. (III.iii.12-15)

This complaint that not being appreciated resembles the feeling of receiving an exorbitant bill for dining in a crummy place has been taken as a reference to the murder of Christopher Marlowe in 1593 who was stabbed in the eye, supposedly during a brawl in a tavern over the bill. [But Marlowe and his murderer, Ingram Frizer, and the others there at the house all day long were all “member[s] of Walsingham’s royal Secret Service, the CIA of Elizabethan England,” and the presence of “Walsingham’s other thugs” suggests this was “a state-ordered execution” (Bloom 219-220).]


Orlando hasn’t shown up, so Rosalind is crushed. Celia is nonchalant and actually functions with Rosalind in the same way Rosalind functions with Orlando — she keeps her more or less grounded among the flights of love ecstasies in which Rosalind wants to indulge. Discussion of Orlando’s hair being “of the dissembling color,” “Something browner than Judas’s” (III.iv.7-8) may be another Oxford self-reference. As “for his verity in love,” Celia thinks he’s “a worm-eaten nut” (III.iv.23-24). She adds, “O, that’s a brave man! he writes brave verses, speaks brave words, swears brave oaths, and breaks them bravely” (III.iv.40-42). Corin then enters and announces some entertainment: the lovelorn Silvius and the disdainful Phebe are meeting.


Silvius tries wooing the scornful country girl, Phebe. First, Phebe provides some common sense by cynically puncturing the Petrarchan pretensions that a disdainful glance from her eyes could actually “kill” the adoring Sylvius. He remarks that she’d understand if she ever were stricken with love’s fancy.

At that moment, significantly, Rosalind comes forward. She chides Phebe for her haughtiness, so that momentarily we might think that she sides with Sylvius and abject courtly love. The rustic Phebe is suddenly smitten with “Ganymede.” Zany mix-up! Why? Possibly no “male” has ever had the nerve to stand up to her (consider the men she has probably encountered so far — all doting Sylviuses?) as an equal. It’s not that Rosalind disapproves of Phebe’s rejection of Sylvius per se, it’s that Sylvius’ doting has had the effect that Phebe thinks herself much better than she is. (It sounds harsh but it’s just true.) “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets” (III.v.60). The love rhetoric taken seriously gives people pretensions — they lose their true sense of “self.”

Realizing that Phebe is in pursuit, Rosalind bids a hasty retreat. Afterwards, Phebe further talks herself into believing she’s in love with “Ganymede,” saying,

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
“Who ever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight?”

The “Dead shepherd” is almost always taken to mean Marlowe again, whom she quotes (from Hero and Leander), showing that anyone can rationalize any whim under the suspiciously malleable term “love.” However, the elder Ogburns make an interesting case that Oxford intended a reference not to Marlowe (after 1593) but to Philip Sidney (464).

Phebe is infected with idiotic love notions she uses to justify this latest unfounded experience. At one nice moment, among the catalogue of Ganymede’s features, Phebe mentions,

The best thing in him
Is his complexion….

This is telling: she is raving about a superficial matter, but even more damning about her comprehension, the best thing “in” him? Inner qualities ought to include honorability, compassion, sense of humor — but appearance? She remembers how insulting Ganymede was towards her and resolves to write back a taunting letter to Ganymede. At least that what she tells Sylvius.

Act IV