Oliver, who has been unable to locate Orlando, reports to Duke Frederick at court. The duke chastises him for his failure and commands him to find Orlando within a year’s time or else forfeit the whole of his property. Frederick turns Oliver out to search for Orlando and seizes his lands and worldly goods until Orlando is delivered to court.
Orlando runs through the Forest of Ardenne, mad with love. He hangs poems that he has composed in Rosalind’s honor on every tree, hoping that passersby will see her “virtue witnessed everywhere” (III.ii.
Rosalind enters, disguised as Ganymede. She reads one of Orlando’s poems, which compares her to a priceless jewel. Touchstone mocks the verse, claiming that he could easily churn out a comparable succession of rhymes. He does so with couplets that liken Rosalind to a cat in heat, a thorny rose, and a prostitute who is transported to the pillory on a cart. Rosalind rebukes Touchstone for his meddling. Just then, Celia enters disguised as the shepherdess Aliena. She, too, has found one of Orlando’s verses and reads it aloud. The women agree that the verses are terribly written, yet Rosalind is eager to learn the identity of their author. Celia teases her friend, hesitating to reveal this secret until Rosalind is nearly insane with anticipation. When Celia admits that Orlando has penned the poems, Rosalind can hardly believe it. Like a smitten schoolgirl, she asks a dozen questions about her intended lover, wanting to know everything from where he is to what he looks like.
As Celia does her best to answer these questions, despite Rosalind’s incessant interruptions, Orlando and Jaques enter. Hiding, the women eavesdrop on their conversation. Orlando and Jaques clearly do not care for one another’s company and exchange a series of barbed insults. Jaques dislikes Orlando’s sentimental love, declaring it the worst possible fault, while Orlando scoffs at Jaques’s melancholy. Eager to part, Jaques walks off into the forest, leaving Orlando alone. Rosalind decides to confront Orlando. She approaches him as the young man Ganymede, and speaks of a man that has been carving the name Rosalind on the trees. Orlando insists that he is the man so “love-shaked” and begs her for a “remedy” (III.ii.
In Act III, as the play moves from Duke Frederick’s court into the Forest of Ardenne, Shakespeare explores more fully the complexities of his major themes: the merits of country versus city life, and the delights and dismays of romantic love. The conversation between Touchstone and Corin in Act III, scene ii provides interesting insight into the matter of city versus country living. Although Corin concedes the argument to Touchstone, calling the clown’s high but hollow rhetoric “too courtly . . . for me,” we note that Corin’s speech is much clearer and his logic more sound than Touchstone’s (III.ii.
As the argument between Touchstone and Corin plays out, we witness the repercussions of Orlando’s lovesickness. When characters fall in love in As You Like It, they invariably fall hard and fast, abandoning all reason in their desperate attempts to win the object of desire. Orlando is no exception, as the silly and unskilled poems he tacks on the trees make clear. Here, Orlando’s behavior accords with the Petrarchan model of romantic love (Petrarch is a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose lyrics elevate the woman he loves to an unattainable, semidivine status). Orlando’s behavior leads him to great folly and prompts Jaques’s sour declaration: “The worst fault you have is to be in love” (III.ii.
The play also adds an interesting twist on the stage convention of cross-dressing as Rosalind decides to use her disguise as Ganymede, in effect, to woo Orlando. The erotic possibilities here are nearly endless, considering that Rosalind dresses as a rather effeminate man and offers to provide Orlando with love lessons so that Orlando may win his beloved Rosalind. The complexities of the situation multiply when we consider that in Shakespeare’s era, Rosalind would have been played by a boy actor. As the audience watches a boy playing a woman who plays a man in order to win a man’s love, the neat borders of gender and sexuality become hopelessly muddled.