Shakespeare’s Sources As You Like It

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The Pastoral As You Like It

Continuing my series of blogs on Shakespeare’s sources I turn my attention this week to As You Like It. Shakespeare’s main source for this play was a pastoral romance written by Thomas Lodge, published in 1590, called Rosalynde . Interestingly an introductory remark in Lodge’s text is “If you like it, so”, and this seems like an obvious inspiration for Shakespeare’s title. From Lodge Shakespeare borrowed the characters of Rosalynde, Celia, Phebe, Corin, and Silvius, but invented the characters of Touchstone, Jaques, Amiens, Audrey, and Le Beau to facilitate a parody of the conventional pastoral romance.

In many ways Shakespeare alters the plot of Lodge’s romance very little. Rosalynde  was very popular, onto its third edition by the time Shakespeare adapted it, so one imagines Shakespeare didn’t want to tamper with it too much. But he did make changes which would improve its theatricality.  One of Shakespeare’s particular gifts as a writer is his ability to pack a lot of information into opening scenes and speeches of plays thus avoiding the need for lengthy and possibly dull explanations. Shakespeare shows this talent particularly well in his adaptation of Lodge for As You Like It. In Lodge’s romance there is long section devoted to Rosader’s quarrel with his wicked brother which becomes wonderfully compacted in Shakespeare’s description of Orlando’s anger at his brother Oliver’s mistreatment of him which opens the play.



As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion
bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns,
and, as thou sayest, charged my brother, on his
blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my
sadness. My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and
report speaks goldenly of his profit: for my part,
he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more
properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you
that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that
differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses
are bred better; for, besides that they are fair
with their feeding, they are taught their manage,
and to that end riders dearly hired: but I, his
brother, gain nothing under him but growth; for the
which his animals on his dunghills are as much
bound to him as I….


Interestingly however in his compaction of the story Shakespeare omits the brother’s motivation for supressing Ortlando so. It is possible that Shakespeare thought that his audience would be so familiar with Lodge’s work that they would bring with them the back story that he omits. But here, for the less well read audience is an extract from Lodge’s explanation of the  ill treatment of Rosader from the point of view of his wicked brother Saladyne.


“Let him know little, so shall he not be able to execute much: suppress his wits with a base estate, and though he be a gentleman by nature, yet form him anew, and make him a peasant by nurture: so shalt thou keep him as a slave, and reign thyself sole lord over all thy father’s possessions.”

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Robert Catesby

    et in Arcadia ego  – this puzzling even mysterious phrase is the key to this very beautiful play of Shakespeare.
    The play is not Mozartian it is Beethovenesque because it celebrates the dance and the harmony despite discord in the whole of life and the universe.
    The play counterpoises a corrupt court and a fresh, life affirming forest  – art and nature, action and contemplation  – the ancient dualitities.
    Juvenal had condemned a corrupt imperial Rome. Tacitus speaks of…..
    ” per urbem etiam quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque…”
    ( the capital where from every corner all things sleaze ridden and shameful ooze together and come into vogue ).
    Jaques is the descendant of these harsh critics  – whom the Duke reproaches that he sins in chiding sin.
    Jacques says he attacks vices not individuals but its clear he looks to some far off golden age of happiness and good  – et in Arcadia ego.
    I too lived in Arcadia  – or I too have known innocence, I too have known a happy, idyllic, care free existence  – carrying with it the knowledge that we now no longer live in that innocent world. Even in Eden there was a hidden knowledge, a dangerous forbidden knowledge  – et in Arcadia ego – the forest dwellers know there is a corrupt world outside the forest but it is this world of everyday reality to which they return.

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