Shakespeare’s As You Like It, like his other comedies, begins by dispatching one or more characters to unfamiliar turf where old uses (customs) no longer apply. The comedies feature disguises (often a nubile female clad in page’s garb), mistaken identities and recognition scenes, love at first sight (usually more than one instance), exchanges of love tokens, and multiple marriages involving two or three distinct social levels--all proclaiming the theme so splendidly articulated by Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Thus, as one might expect, at the end of act 1, Rosalind and Celia, in disguise, leave the court for the Forest of Arden.
Unlike Shakespeare’s other comedies, though, As You Like It frequently appears alongside Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar and Sidney’s Arcadia as examples of pastoral literature, popular in England from Spenser to Milton. Sometimes Shakespeare’s source, Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde, is included. Commentaries on Shakespeare’s debt to Lodge regularly describe a reduction of romance/adventure and a heightening of pastoral conventions—without identifying those conventions.
Pastoral literature originated with Theocritus’s Bucolics. In Eclogues Virgil introduces Arcadia, the symbolic location of any pastoral, idyllic, bucolic paradise inhabited by peaceful shepherds living a simple, happy life. Pastoral, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “of shepherds”; appropriately, the genre features shepherds—cowherds if the work is bucolic (from Greek for “cowherd”).
Lodge composed Rosalynde as a pastoral romance. Shakespeare followed his model closely, but omitted the violence. In Shakespeare’s version Oliver hates Orlando for his handsomeness and kindness, not for his property as in Lodge’s version. Frederick exiles Rosalind for the same reasons, not because he actually suspects her of treason. Lodge provided a limb-from-limb execution for the usurping king, while Shakespeare’s...