Touchstone and Audrey wander through the forest discussing their postponed marriage. Audrey claims that the priest was qualified to perform the ceremony, regardless of Jaques’s opinion. Switching topics, Touchstone mentions that there is a youth in the forest who loves Audrey. Just then, William, the youth in question, appears. Touchstone asks William if he is witty, and William responds that he is. Touchstone then asks if William is in love with Audrey. Again, the young man responds affirmatively. When Touchstone asks William if he is educated, William admits that he is not, and Touchstone sets out to teach him a lesson. “[T]o have is to have,” he says, meaning that Audrey, to whom he is engaged, is not available to other men (V.i.37). He orders William to leave, employing an exhaustive list of synonyms so that the simple lad is sure to understand him. William exits, just as Corin enters to fetch the couple on Rosalind’s behalf.Read a translation of Act V, scene i →
Orlando finds it hard to believe that Oliver has fallen so quickly and so completely in love with Aliena. Oliver vows that he has and pledges to turn over the entirety of his father’s estate to Orlando once he and Aliena are married. Orlando gives his consent and orders a wedding prepared for the following day. Oliver leaves just as Rosalind, still disguised as Ganymede, arrives. Orlando confesses that though he is happy to see his brother in love, he is also pained to be without his Rosalind. Rosalind asks—with a hint of a sexual double entendre—if Ganymede cannot fill Rosalind’s place, and Orlando admits that he has tired of wooing a young man in his lover’s stead. Assuring Orlando that she can work magic, Rosalind promises that he will marry as he desires when Oliver takes Aliena for a bride. Just then, Phoebe and Silvius appear. Phoebe accuses Ganymede of “ungentleness,” and Rosalind encourages her to devote her attentions to Silvius (V.i.67). The lovers take turns professing their various loves until Rosalind tells them to stop howling like “Irish wolves against the moon” (V.i.101–102). She promises that Ganymede will marry Phoebe on the following day if Ganymede will ever marry a woman and makes everyone promise to meet the next day at the wedding. They all agree. The group parts until Oliver’s wedding.Read a translation of Act V, scene ii →
Touchstone looks forward to his marriage to Audrey on the following day. Audrey admits her excitement as well, but she hopes that her desire to be married does not compromise her chastity. The couple meets two of Duke Senior’s pages. Touchstone, in a good mood, asks for a song. The pages oblige, singing of springtime and the blossoming of love. When the song ends, Touchstone claims that the song made little sense and that the music was out of tune. The pages disagree, but Touchstone is unmoved by their arguments: to him, the song was hopelessly foolish.Read a translation of Act V, scene iii →
In the encounter between Touchstone and William, the sophistication of the court overwhelms the simplicity and ignorance of the country. But though Touchstone clearly defeats William in the country boy’s attempt to win Audrey, his performance strikes us as farcical rather than triumphant. Touchstone may not be as ignorant as the uneducated country boy, but his inflated rhetoric makes him appear the more foolish of the two. Touchstone dazzles William with his city wit, for the lad lacks the means to see the ridiculousness of Touchstone’s threats. But, to audiences watching Touchstone’s tirade, the style and sophistication of the city may lose its luster.
In Act V, scene iii, Touchstone goes on to deflate the spiritually idealized brand of love. As the duke’s pages sing a ballad that compares love to springtime, indulging every cliché from sweet lovers to trilling birds, Touchstone dismisses the song as senseless. His criticism recalls Rosalind’s dismissal of literature’s greatest lovers in Act IV, scene i, but it fails to convince. Whereas Rosalind’s criticism seems imbued with a wide-ranging and generous understanding of the world, Touchstone’s opinion seems narrow and begrudging. Although Touchstone is fundamentally correct in denying that love and budding springtime are one and the same, he remains blind to the song’s undeniable beauty. Spring may not, in truth, be only a matter of “green cornfield[s]” and a “hey ding-a-ding ding,” but the song captures something of the truth—the nonsense, irrationality, and sheer beauty of being in love (V.iii.16–18). One cannot expect Touchstone to see this splendor, given his rather myopic focus on the mechanics of sex. Again, his insight is most valuable as a contrast to that of Rosalind, who could well enjoy the page’s song even as she absorbs its silliness.
Quick, irrational love is contagious in the Forest of Ardenne, as evidenced by Oliver’s head-over-heels involvement with the disguised Celia. At court, Oliver would have no cause to notice, let alone fall in love with, a common shepherdess, but in Ardenne the injustices of class are cast aside for the sake of romance. Oliver’s happy union brings about a swift end to Rosalind’s game: she cannot stand to see her beloved Orlando jealous and unhappy, and so determines to hang up Ganymede’s trousers. Her plan is quite clear as she strikes a marriage bargain with Phoebe, and we see the inevitability of a slew of weddings on the horizon. Some critics condemn the play at this point for what they see as a return to the normative social order that it has, thus far, delighted in subverting. As the close of the final act draws near, it is no surprise that the boys end up with the girls, and that life at court resumes, presumably, with its rigid class structures in place—in short, that all returns to normal.