As You Like It

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scenes iii–v

Although Silvius and Phoebe’s and Touchstone and Audrey’s are two very different kinds of love relationships, taken together they form a complete satire of the two major influences on the play—-pastoralism and courtly love. In pastoral literature, city dwellers take to the country in order to commune with and learn valuable lessons from its inhabitants. Audrey represents a truly rural individual, uncorrupted by the politics of court life, but she is, in all respects, far from ideal. In her supreme want of intelligence, Audrey shows the absurd unreality of the pastoral ideal of eloquent shepherds and shepherdesses. Silvius aspires to such eloquence and nearly achieves it, and his poetic plea for Phoebe’s mercy conforms to the conventions of the distraught but always lyrically precise lover. But Phoebe exposes the absurdity of Silvius’s lines by dragging romance into the harsh, unforgiving light of reality. When taken literally, his insistence that his lover’s eyes are his “executioner” (III.v.3) seems hopelessly lame when Phoebe demands, “Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee” (III.v.20).

If Audrey and Touchstone’s and Phoebe and Silvius’s relationships stand at opposite ends of the romance continuum, then -Rosalind, in her courtship of Orlando, struggles to find a more livable middle ground. Although Phoebe wisely points out the literal flaws in Silvius’s verse, she cannot help falling into the same trap herself regarding Ganymede. In the entire play, only Rosalind can appreciate both the ideal and the real. Although she possesses the unflinching vision required to chastise Phoebe for her cruelty and Silvius for his blindness to it, she cannot help but indulge in the absurdity of romantic love, allowing herself to have a fit over Orlando’s tardiness. This inconsistency may explain why Rosalind is such a seductive, winning character: in her ability to experience and appreciate all emotions, she appeals to everyone.