Belonging in As You Like It
Our most fundamental unit of belonging is the family, then the wide community followed by the state and the global community. In primitive societies, the most extreme form of punishment was exclusion, ostracism, banishment, exiling or excommunication from the mainstream group as it generally meant death from starvation or attack. In more pluralistic societies we survive by finding other support groups.
The use of the second person “You” in the title demonstrates the inclusive respect the composer gives us as we can choose whether we wish to make “It” belong to us just as some characters choose exile to living in a repressive scare mongering court.
The characters of the play
Shakespeare uses Contrast or Juxtaposition to illustrate the difference between a severe harsh society and a welcoming and trusting one.
As You Like It begins with Orlando resentful of his mistreatment by his first born brother who denies him his rightful inheritance and eventually banishes him from the family. Mean time we turn to the nation state where a younger brother, Frederick has usurped the throne and exiled the legitimate ruler, his older brother, Duke Senior. Later Frederick also banishes Rosalind from his court. All three become outsiders who seek refuge in the forest of Ardens and live like Robin Hood.
A lot of people are banished in As You Like It. Some characters go forcibly, threatened from their homes, such as Duke Senior, Rosalind, and Orlando. Some have voluntarily abandoned their positions out of a sense of loyalty and rightness, such as Senior’s loyal band of lords, Celia, and the noble servant Adam. It is, then, rather remarkable that the play ends with four marriages—a ceremony that unites individuals into couples and ushers these couples into the community. The community that sings and dances its way through Ardenne at the close of Act V, scene iv, is the same community that will return to the dukedom in order to rule and be ruled. This event, where the poor dance in the company of royalty, suggests a utopian world in which wrongs can be righted and hurts healed. The sense of reconciliation and restoration with which the play ends depends upon the formation of a community of exiles in politics and love coming together to soothe their various wounds.
True treasure is found in a community in which we are known, accepted, and valued as flawed-yet-gifted contributors to the welfare of the whole. Such community is rooted in common interests, respectful of its traditions, hopeful about its future, committed to mutual support, trust and doing justice. Communities of this kind rely on an assumption that we help one another, loving our neighbours as ourselves.
This is best shown when Orlando unselfishly helps Oliver’s distress and transforming into a caring compliant member of the forest exiles.
In the second plot Duke Frederick also becomes converted by a religious man, abandons his attempt to capture all the exiles and retreats from world into religious life, restoring the crown and all lands to the ones he had banished. Order has been restored.
While Belonging is an important ingredient in our well being and happiness, there are times when solitude and privacy are vital for reflection and sorting out the complications of life. This own time gives us the independence and individuality we require to be unique and true to ourselves. This is illustrated by an exchange between Jaques and Orlando:
Jaques: I thank you for your company, but, good faith, I had as lief have
been myself alone.
Orlando: And so had I; but yet, for fashion sake, I thank you too for your
Jaques: God-buy-you; let's meet as little as we can.
Orlando: I do desire we may be better strangers. (III. ii. 252 – 256)
The characters of the play
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