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The Variety of Love Relationships in Shakespeare

The Variety of Love Relationships in Shakespeare's As You Like It
One of the main concerns of man throughout the centuries has
probably been to define the concept of love and to understand the
complexities that govern love relationships among people. William
Shakespeare seems to have been fully aware of the need and
interest in love, since his work transcends time and place. Love is
the central concern in As You Like It. This comedy presents different
attitudes towards love, which may be derived from the conversations
among its characters and from the romantic attachments portrayed
in it. By comparing the different love relations in the play, one may
further appreciate important facts about the concept of love.
Moreover, love is also depicted as the force that rules over all kinds
of human ties other than the romantic ones, namely familial bonds
and friendship. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the concept
of love portrayed in As You Like It, and to explore the different
varieties of love relationships among its characters.
A reading of As You Like It may lead us to an understanding
of the concept of love as embodying different ideas, which might be
observed through the characters of the play. These ideas, love's
wealth, love's truth, and love's order, are expressed in the
characters' perceptions of love and in the way they relate to one
One of the interpretations attributed to the concept of love in
this comedy, and often portrayed in Shakespeare's plays, is that of
love as a kind of richness, as a commercial enterprise in which men
and women trade. Under this light, the bond beaten lovers gains a
mercantilistic value and may thus be regarded as a kind of contract
in which the parties are entitled to actions such as giving and
gaining, investing and losing, possessing and being possessed. The
idea of love's wealth may be perceived in Silvius's declaration of love
for Phebe when he implies that Phebe's rejection of his love makes
him a man in 'poverty'. He also refers to love as a 'plenteous crop'
and as a 'harvest' that men reap, and he declares that his feelings
for Phebe are such that he would be able to 'live upon' the slightest
demonstration of affection from her, even if it were a simple smile.
This association of love with commerce is further expressed by
Sylvius later on in the play, when he explains what to love is and
implies that love involves 'giving'; the giving of faith, service, duty,
observance, and humbleness. Although his love for Phebe is
unrequited, he seems to feel something of love's wealth as he hints
at being aware of the fact that, in love matters, 'giving' is the key to
'gaining'. In fact, Silvius never abandons his struggle to win over
Phebe's affection, not even at the realization that it is only he who is
constantly 'investing' and 'losing'. Even more, Phebe, Rosalind, and
Orlando seem to accept Silvius's view on love, as they all reply to his
speech claiming they feel in the same manner towards their lovers.
Perhaps the most straightforward example of the idea of
love's wealth may be observed in Rosalind's words to Phebe when
she urges her to accept Silvius's love:
' But, mistress, know yourself; down on your knees
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love;
For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can. You are not for all markets.
Cry the man mercy, love him, take his offer;' (III, v, 58-61)
Rosalind is urging Phebe to wake up to the realities of the world in
which she lives and to abandon the sentimental dream in which she
has locked herself. Thus, she speaks of love as a merchandise to be
sold in the 'love market', and persuades the shepherdess to face the
fact that Silvius's offer of love is, indeed, a good deal.
Another aspect of the concept of love explored in As You
Like It is that of 'truthfulness'. In order for love to be real, it must
necessarily be based on truth. This comedy portrays the idea of true
love by questioning the quickness with which the characters fall in
love. In fact, the four couples in the play fall in love at first sight, at
the sudden recognition of outward beauty or some kind of admirable
virtue in one another, and whether their love is true or not is ground
for discussion throughout the play. The underlying judgement
against infatuation being true love is that the lovers' recognition of
outer beauty or virtue is not always proof of inner beauty of
personality and soul. In other words, appearances may not be
enough evidence of real love. When Orlando asks Oliver if it is
possible that just by seeing Aliena (Celia) Oliver should love her, he
is precisely questioning whether love at first sight is true love or not.
In the same way, Celia is critical about Rosalind's pangs of love for
Orlando, whom she has met so recently in a wrestling match.
The idea of love's truth is also hinted when Phebe feels infatuated at
the mere sight of Ganymede, Rosalind in male disguise. In fact,
Phebe falls in love with Rosalind's (Ganymede) outer appearance,
for she is completely unaware of Ganymede's true identity.
Therefore, as Rosalind discovers Phebe's feelings for her, she warns
the young shepherdess not to fall in love with her for she may be
deceived by appearances. Although this incident with male disguise
seems to be meant as a humorous element in the story, it may
further aim at passing judgement on the kind of love that perceives
beauty in appearances only.
Closely related to the ideal of love's truth is the concept of '
selflessness'. Some of the characters in As You Like It demonstrate
that being selfless reflects true love for another person. Orlando is
one of the characters in whom the selfless part of love may be seen.
When Orlando and Adam are wandering in the forest of Arden, the
old servant tells his young master that he has no more strength to
continue, for he is weak and hungry. He begs Orlando to continue
the journey on his own and to leave him die there. However, Orlando
does not abandon his faithful servant for he truly loves him. Risking
his own life, he sets out in search for food, showing how selfless his
love for Adam is. When he finally finds the Duke and his followers,
who are having a feast, he is offered some food and, in spite of his
own hunger, he refuses to take it until Adam has been provided first.
This shows that Orlando is putting Adam's life before his own, a clear
manifestation of true and selfless love.
Orlando further demonstrates his selfless love for another person
when, walking through the forest, he suddenly sees his hateful
brother, Oliver, sleeping under a tree and threatened by the attack of
a hungry lioness. Even though he considers the possibility of leaving
Oliver to his own fate, his kindness makes him overcome his desire
of revenge and he chooses to save his life by giving battle to the
beast at great risk to his own life. Another character who further
exemplifies the selfless aspect of true love is Celia, the daughter of
the usurping Duke Frederick. Not only does she tell of her love for
her cousin Rosalind, but she also proves it through action when she
voluntarily decides to follow her into exile leaving all privileges and
comforts of civilized life behind.
In As You Like It, the ideal of love's truth is further associated
with another characteristic of human behavior: 'faithfulness'. Fidelity,
constancy, and unswerving allegiance characterize the behavior of
some of the characters in the play towards those precious to their
affections. Their attitude implies that another essential component of
love is loyalty. In the opening scene of the play, Charles, the
wrestler, tells Oliver:
'There's no news at the court, sir, but the old
News: that is, the old Duke is banished by his younger
Brother, the new Duke, and three or four loving lords
Have put themselves into voluntary exile with him,
Whose land and revenues enrich the new Duke;
Therefore he gives them good leave to wander.' ( I,i , 93-99 )
The fact that some lords have joined the old Duke into exile in the
forest of Arden exemplifies the true nature of their constant love for
him. They remain loyal to their lord, even at the expense of losing
their possessions at the hand of the usurping Duke Frederick.
The way in which Adam behaves towards Orlando is another
demonstration of true and faithful friendship. Having been Sir Roland
de Boys' servant Adam remains faithful to his master's memory and
will by choosing Orlando as his new master. The loyal servant gives
up his life savings, which he had planned to use in his old age, and
hands them over to Orlando in exchange of being allowed to remain
by his side and follow him into exile. This is a clear proof of Adam's
deep loyalty to his master.
Shakespeare also shows the faithful aspect of love in the
character of Orlando. Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, is very
disappointed when Orlando is an hour late for their meeting and
thus, she decides to instruct him on the manners of a true lover by
pretending to be his Rosalind. Later on in the story, Orlando is
seriously wounded by a lioness when he saves his brother's life, and
this incident prevents him from attending an arranged meeting with
Ganymede (Rosalind). However, Orlando is determined to keep his
promise somehow and therefore sends Ganymede a bloody
handkerchief as proof of the circumstances which have prevented
him from going himself. Although Rosalind and Orlando are playing a
game and thus, he seems to be keeping to the rules, Orlando's
behavior may also be interpreted as his desire to demonstrate
Ganymede (Rosalind) that he can be a loyal lover even under harsh
circumstances. In fact, as Rosalind learns the news, she cannot help
feeling satisfied at Orlando's display of commitment.
A further idea underlying the concept of love in As You Like It
is the view of love as order. Elizabethans believed in a natural order
of the Universe designed by God, in which people and things were
ranked and arranged following a hierarchical chain. In the same way,
it was also believed that such an order had to govern the love
relationships among people. This ideal of love's order is the view of
love which dominates As You Like It, expressed by the lack of order
in the relationships among the characters, and eventually, in its
The play begins with a scene in which Orlando complains to Adam
about the poor treatment he receives from his brother and guardian,
Oliver, who deprives him of the place he deserves as a brother,
treating him as an animal and keeping him almost in servitude. Not
only has Oliver denied him proper education and his share of their
fortune, but he has also gone against the will of their father that he
should provide for his younger brother. Adam who, seeing Oliver and
Orlando quarreling, begs them be in agreement, further implies the
lack of harmony between the brothers. This picture is a clear
example of disorder in a family, in which the natural harmony that
should exist between brothers is disrupted, as well as the respect
and obedience of a son towards his father. Moreover, Oliver even
attempts at Orlando's life on two occasions. When Oliver learns that
his brother is going to prove himself as a professional wrestler at
court, he incites Charles the wrestler, Orlando's adversary in the
coming match, to kill him in their contest. Oliver's desire to put an
end to his brother's life is made evident again when Duke Frederick
urges him to kill Orlando in exchange of lands and revenue. Oliver
greedily accepts the deal drawn by an overreaching ambition for
wealth and power, once again disturbing the natural order that
should rule over familial bonds.
This image of disorder within a family is further exemplified in Celia's
behavior towards her cousin Rosalind and in Duke Frederick's
attitude towards his own brother, the banished duke. When Celia
follows Rosalind into exile, she fails to comply with the natural
obedience and loyalty she should devote to her own father. Added to
this, in speaking of her love for Rosalind, Celia claims that her love
for her dear cousin is so noble that she would even take Rosalind's
father as her own. Celia's denial of her own father is a further sign of
disarray in the natural order established by God. In the same
manner, Duke Frederick usurps his brother's place in society as well
as his fortune, and forces him to go into exile in the Forest of Arden.
This depicts not only disorder in society but also between brothers.
Duke Frederick's greediness seems to be more powerful than the tie
that binds him and his brother together.
Lack of order may also be seen in the way the pairs of lovers in the
forest of Arden relate to one another. As soon as the action of the
play moves into the forest, a series of conflicts develop in relation to
the couples, indicating disruption of love's order. Rosalind is
suspicious of the true nature of Orlando's love for her and, therefore,
she sets out to find out whether his devotion to her is sincere. Also,
Phebe rejects Silvius's love out of haughtiness, causing deep
suffering to her suitor. Furthermore, Touchstone does not intend to
marry Audrey properly, for he is not really serious about his marriage
to her. Thus, he asks Sir Oliver Martext, an inept priest, to preside
over the wedding ceremony. Indeed, the clown is in haste to get
married in order to fulfill his sexual needs.
Nevertheless, as the story proceeds, all the conflicts are solved and
love's order is gradually restored. Orlando saves his brother's life
from the claws of a hungry lioness, putting an end to the hatred they
professed for one another. Duke Frederick suddenly restores the
dukedom to the banished Duke, as well as his possessions, and
decides to lead a solitary life as a priest in the forest of Arden.
Moreover, Phebe finally gives in to Silvius's love leaving aside her air
of superiority, and Touchstone takes Jaques' advice to join the other
couples in the wedding ceremony and be properly married. Rosalind
and Orlando's conflict is also given a resolution as they eventually
find assurance in their mutual love.
The ideal of love's order is fully celebrated at the end of the play,
when all the couples, including Celia and Oliver who fall in love at
the very end of the story, happily join in marriage. At this point enters
Hymen, the god of marriage, who says:
'Then there is mirth in heaven
When earthly things made even
Atone together.' (V, iv, 106-108)
Hymen's words imply that the restoration of love's order on earth
through the marriages is reflected in the joy of heaven, linking earthly
and heavenly harmony.
As might be concluded from the evidence presented so far,
As You Like It is a comedy about love. Through its characters and
their love relationships we may understand, at least partially, what
the concept of love entails. Moreover, it might be said that the play
also comments on different varieties of love.
One variety of love portrayed in this comedy is romantic love,
the romantic literary ideal which became popular in the Middle Ages.
According to the courtly love tradition a lover worships his lady and
serves her, suffers all sorts of indignities for her sake, and thinks only
of her. He must be loyal to her for life, no matter how badly she
treats him, or how much he suffers for unrequited love. A true lover
never ceases to adore his lady, and when he speaks of her he only
uses poetic language and style. These conventions of courtly love
are clearly exemplified in As You Like It in the romantic attachment
of Silvius and Phebe. When Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone arrive
in the forest of Arden they meet Silvius and Corin, an old shepherd,
who are engaged in a conversation about love. Corin is advising his
friend on how to treat the woman he loves. However, Silvius doubts
the old shepherd's authority in such matters, for although Corin
admits having been drawn into acts of madness for the sake of love
during his youth, he cannot recall any of them. Silvius clearly
manifests that if Corin has forgotten even the most insignificant detail
of the actions love made him run into, then he has never been truly
in love. Even more, Silvius also explains that a true lover never
ceases to adore his lady in speech, even if this moves his listener to
discomfort, and further explains that sincere love may drive a lover to
interrupt a conversation out of passion. To prove this last point,
Silvius suddenly interrupts his speech passionately crying the name
of Phebe, his beloved, several times.
Silvius reflects the behavior of the courtly lover, who is capable of the
most foolish actions for the sake of his beloved, and who suffers the
pangs of unrequited love and the abrupt separation from his lady.
His only concern is love and, although he is uneducated, his
language is lofty, poetic, and artificial when he speaks in praise of
Phebe. Indeed, both Phebe and Silvius speak in elaborate verse in
order to comply with the courtly love conventions. In their courtship,
Silvius praises her virtues and begs for the slightest sign of affection,
and Phebe scorns and rejects him all along. This romantic and
artificial attitude towards love was often portrayed in pastoral
romantic literature, and Silvius an Phebe were names often given to
the lovers in such genre. Thus, it may be said that Silvius and Phebe
represent stock characters, the typical characters in pastoral
romances who acted out the conventions of the courtly love tradition.
It may further be argued that As You Like It presents a parody of
romantic love, achieved mainly through the character of Touchstone,
who constantly mocks Silvius's behavior. When Silvius speaks of the
follies a lover may run into, Touchstone, who is more practical rather
than romantic, humorously mocks him by listing the foolish actions
he has been capable of out of love. He even claims having once
kissed the udders of a cow just because his beloved had milked
Some of conventions of romantic love are also acted out, at
least at a certain point, by other characters in the comedy. As
mentioned before, all four couples fall in love at first sight, an
unavoidable tradition in the romantic ideal. Rosalind and Orlando
feel infatuated when they first see each other. Later, Orlando
continues his courtship in the manner of a courtly lover, writing love
poems in praise of Rosalind and feeling lovesick for being separated
from her. Despite the fact that Orlando has seen Rosalind only once
before, he quickly adopts her as the object of his adoration and
devotion. Rosalind, for her part, adopts the same attitude and goes
into exile with the image of Orlando as the perfect lover, enough
reason to feel lovesick. Celia and Oliver also fall in love at first sight,
and although very little can be seen about the nature of their love, for
it is not so clearly analysed in the play, they soon join the other
couples in the wedding ceremony.
Another type of love explored in As You Like It is that which
represents the opposite view to the romantic ideal, namely, sexual
love. In this variety of love, exemplified in the couple of Touchstone
and Audrey, the main concern is sexual fulfillment. Due to his
sarcastic and practical nature, Touchstone never speaks about love
seriously and when he seems to be doing so, he is just parodying
the conventions of romantic love. Indeed, he only comments on
marriage as being the socially acceptable means to satisfy physical
desires. He compares marriage to the mating of animals
'As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his
curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires;
and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling.' (III, iii, 72-74)
Touchstone's instinctive view of marriage is further strengthen at the
end of the play by Jacques, who, seeing Touchstone and Audrey
about to get married, claims that another flood must be coming, for
all animals are pairing off. Moreover, Touchstone regards the
'beloved' as an object that does not need to be beautiful, honest, or
well bred, but only willing to fulfill his physical needs. Therefore, he
chooses to marry the plain Audrey, an earthly country lass who
cannot even understand simple English. Touchstone's feelings for
her are so unromantic that when Jacques urges him to be married by
an appropriate priest, other than Sir Oliver Martext, he explains that
he would rather be not so well married so that then it would be easier
for him to leave his wife.
A further variety of love portrayed in this comedy is that of balanced
love, the middle ground between sexual love and romantic love.
Such a type of love is best exemplified by Rosalind and Orlando's
attachment. Although this pair of lovers falls in love in the romantic
tradition, and Orlando courts Rosalind in the same fashion, their
relationship gradually matures, transcending the more spiritual and
idealized aspects of romantic love. Although Rosalind enjoys the
romantic side of her feelings for Orlando, she nevertheless questions
the true nature of this kind of love. She wishes their love to be totally
fulfilled and she recognizes that in order to achieve this, lovers
should not follow only the dictates of the heart but also prove their
love to be honest and well intentioned. Thus, feeling assured of her
true love for Orlando, Rosalind decides to test whether his love for
her is corresponded in the same manner. In order to do so, she
plays a game with him in which, disguised as Ganymede, she offers
Orlando to give him a cure for love. She tells him that she will play
the part of his beloved Rosalind so that he can court her, and in this
way, he will realize that his love for her is not true love, but mere
infatuation. Orlando accepts the challenge and, as the story
develops and many proofs are successfully passed, Rosalind
becomes aware that, indeed, his love for her is noble.
This rational view of love is further exemplified in the play in
the character of Celia. Completely inexperienced in matters of love,
she adopts a critical position when Rosalind is lovesick for Orlando.
She claims she is unable to understand how her spirits can be so
weary, how she can possibly be so heartily sighing and wooing when
she has known Orlando so briefly. However, later on in the story her
own behavior moves closer to the romantic ideal, when she suddenly
falls in love with Oliver.
In a very subtle and, at the same time, humorous manner,
love between members of the same sex is also hinted at in As You
Like It. In spite of the horror with which homosexual love was
regarded in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare skillfully manages to
present this type of love as a further variety among the many other
types analyzed so far. This is achieved through the character of
Rosalind disguised as Ganymede. Phebe , unaware of Ganymede's
true identity, openly confesses her love for him in a love letter.
Orlando, too, seems to feel somehow attracted to Ganymede. After
being wounded by a lioness, his main worry is that he will not be
able to attend the meeting with Ganymede. Like a true lover, he
does not desire to let him/her down, and thus sends Oliver with a
bloody handkerchief as proof of his physical incapacity to keep his
promise. Moreover, before Ganymede reveals his true identity,
Orlando admits that the young page reminds him of his beloved
Rosalind. Therefore, through a wonderful use of dramatic irony and
the introduction of a disguised character, the idea of same-sex love
is slightly referred to.
Finally, As You Like It also draws attention to friendship as
another variety of love. Love as friendship, frequently portrayed in
Renaissance fiction as the ideal relationship between two men, is
depicted in this comedy in the ideal relationship of Celia and
Rosalind. The unconditional devotion they profess for one another
can be seen, for example, in Celia's voluntarily joining Rosalind into
exile, and in Rosalind's remaining faithful to Celia despite the wicked
actions of her father. Their friendship is so ideal and powerful that, at
times, they even betray the loyalty they should devote to members of
their own family. It is because they regard each other as sisters that,
when threatened by difficulties, their bond is strengthened rather
than weakened.
As You Like It is, perhaps, Shakespeare's most wonderful
comedy dealing with the theme of love. In fact, the play may be read
as a series of debates on the nature of love and as a comment on
the various forms that love may take. Thus, the underlying message
in As You Like It is that love cannot be attributed a unique or
universal meaning but rather, as the title of the play suggests, that it
may be whatever lovers like it to be.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the concept of love portrayed
in Shakespeare's As You Like It, and to examine the love
relationships in it. Through a careful observation of the characters'
perceptions about love, and of the way they engage in love
relationships, we may conclude that the concept of love may be
attributed different meanings, depending on individual and personal
beliefs. Our conclusion may be derived from the various types of
comic relations: familial, sexual, romantic, and friendship.
Works Cited and Consulted
Howard, Jean E., "Intoduction to As You Like It." The Norton
Shakespeare Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et.al. New York: W. W. Norton
& Company, 1997.
Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 1997.
Sparknotes. As You Like It, by William Shakespeare. 8 Nov. 2004