Pastoral Elements in The Play As You Like It

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Introduction

      Pastoral is an urban form. Theocritus was the father of this kind of poetry. In Renaissance when the classical literature was revived, the pastoral convention became a symbol of an ideal state of society where simplicity, innocence and happiness should reign. The golden age became synonymous with the pastoral era. People, dissatisfied with the present conditions, found it sweet to imagine the perfection of the happy past. Thus it became a heaven for those living the artificial sophisticated life in the cities. It became the literary point of view. It became a fashion to glorify the life of simple shepherds.

     “It is written by civilized and learned poets who see a poignant contrast between the artificiality of their own way of life end the natural simplicity of the country man. They do riot of course, wish to change places with the countryman and undertake his rude toil, or exchange their own refinement for his simplicity: but they are aware of the serious considerations involved in the comparison. The shepherd, who appears to the townsman’s eye to enjoy an idyllic life meditating and playing on his pipe has always typified rustic simplicity and wisdom.”

      Most of the Elizabethan poets, dramatists and story writers were writing pastorals. But Shakespeare excels all of them. “As You Like It does for the Elizabethan drama what the long string of pastoral poets Spenser and Sidney, Lodge and Greene, Drayton and Browne, and the rest, had already done, or were still to do, for Elizabethan lyric.”

Pastoral Convention in As You Like It

      You Like It is a pastoral drama. Plenty of pastoral features are there in the play. Rosalind and Celia are disguised as shepherds and shepherdesses. In the guise, they spend their days leisurely. They while away their time in talking and wooing. Then there are genuine shepherd and shepherdess Silvius and Phebe whose only job in life is to woo. They have the golden age before them. The background is the natural sceneries where love can run smoothly. The Forest of Arden is a dreamland where everything is ideal, happy and congenial.

      The senousness and range of Shakespeare’s exploration of pastoral attitude, in You Like It, is shown by the fact that when he came to twine together the various traditions of pastoral he did not forget this one: the conversation piece between Touchstone and the aged Corin.”

      Numerous oppositions in As You Like It reveal Shakespeare's partiality toward the pastoral rustic life of Arden forest to life at court. At Duke Frederick's court, disorder holds sway. The deterioration of political authority is the most obvious form of disorder, for Duke Frederick has unlawfully seized Duke Senior's kingdom. This political degeneration is compounded by a more personal disorder, since the dukes are also brothers at odds with each other. This conflict is also underscored by the antagonistic relationship of two other brothers at the court, Oliver and Orlando. Arden forest offers a sense of pure, spiritual order in contrast to the corrupt condition of Duke Frederick's court. Indeed, Duke Senior, who introduces the audience to the forest, immediately establishes the realm as a haven from the court, which he refers to as a place of "painted pomp and as "envious" - that is, a place where people covet what others have - in opposition to the virtual absence of both private property and social position in the wild.

      Meanwhile, for those fleeing the court, the journey to the forest is long and difficult; when the characters arrive they are physically exhausted and hungry. The harsh experience of returning to nature acts as a stripping process, however, laying bare the characters' virtuous natures calloused by court life. Some characters, like Orlando and Rosalind, need little improvement and find in Arden a liberation from the oppression they have endured at court. Others, such as Oliver and Duke Frederick, approach the forest with malicious intent only to undergo a complete spiritual reformation. Arden is thus a morally pure realm whose special curative powers purge and renew the forest dwellers, granting them a self-awareness that they will ultimately use to restore order at court.

Shepherds and Shepherdesses

      The life in the forest of Arden centers round the shepherds, disguised as well as genuine. Rosalind and Celia have disguised themselves as shepherd and shepherdess and pass their lives like the simple rustic man and maiden. They have bought a cottage and a farm and live with the fanners. Then there are Silvius and Phebe. They are genuine rustic shepherds and shepherdess and repeat the romantic element.

The Pastoral Background

      All those, who are exiled take refuge in the forest of Arden. In the pastoral life of the forest there lies purifying and healing power. It provides a relief for those tormented in the court life. It promotes a kind of escaping for, at least, a temporary period. But “even though the escape is only brief or temporary, during that period we have the means of experiencing the pristine virtues of innocence, simplicity and unsophisticated, candid relations between people. Our moral and spiritual natures, are revived and refreshed, and we are better prepared to come back to the rude realities of the actual life around us.

      The pastoral setting of sheepcote and forest glade has a freshness about it. It is like the wood in A Midsummer Night’s Dream a healing place. Truth and recognition are to be found there. Like Prospero on the island, in The Tempest, the Duke and his followers have spent a life of meditation. They have been in contact with the simple scheme of things. There are no supernatural beings in this forest but there are many customs and rituals. One such custom is the ceremony of dressing up the successful hunter in the horns and skin of the animal, and bringing him to the Duke. This reminds us of the deeds of Robin Hood.

Golden Age

      Shakespeare’s As You Like It has created a world of such beauty as can be attainable only in the golden age. He has created a dreamland in the forest of Arden where we feel to be happy. We feel to be there in this forest. Such peace and happiness were possible only in a pastoral world where shepherdesses used to play on the flutes, and roamed and gossiped and loved.

Yet It is Not the Perfect Pastoralism

      We have the pastoral convention in the play. But it is not only pastoral life. The play is also a criticism of pastoral elements. Nicoll says, “The play is a pastoral yet it ridicules pastoralism; once more we move delicately among the world of human convention, of reality and of the ideal” Shakespeare has used the pastoral convention. But he was not going to, please the Elizabethans without any reservations as Lodge and others did. J.D. Wilson rightly observes: “But, while the forest is a triumph of dramatic scene painting and the play as a whole the very distillation of pastoral romance, the more judicious among Shakespeare’s audience would not miss the view of mockery that runs throughout”. In this connection John Wain has said, “Pastoral was a form much enjoyed by the Elizabethans, and Shakespeare would have pleased his audience if he had adopted its conventions without criticism or reservation, as Lodge had done in Rosalynde, the novel which gave him his basic story. In fact, of course, he gave them something more complex: an entertainment which at the same time revelled in pastoral and quizzed it.” The pastoral sceneries are there in the forest of Arden. But the Duke and his followers leave the forest as Prospero left the island. They abandon the forest and go back to their life at the court. Their dreams realized, they wake to the reality of life. This certainly is the play’s comment on the value of the pastoral. The pastoral life is not all happy. Silvius is jilted by Phebe. Touchstone, like a rustic, marries a slut Their life is humdrum matter of fact. There is no embroidery in such pastoral life. And there is not only Touchstone. There is Jaques too. And there are others too in other plays. They always return to the real life. The pastoral is a fantasy which cannot sustain for long. You Like It is Shakespeare’s Arcadia, his escape play, it is also Shakespeare’s Criticism of Arcadia and escapes literature.

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