C.L. Barber says that ‘As You Like It’ is one of the sweetest and sunniest comedies of Shakespeare. Cheralton observes that it is satirical and realistic, other critics have said that it is a pastoral comedy. According to Nicoll, “a comedy ends on a note of tinkling of marital bliss. A Shakespearean comedy is different from classical comedy in which society is justified and individual is held up to ridicule so that he may conform to the social standards. Let us take the example of ‘As You Like It’. It is at once romantic ad realistic, critical and poetic, rational and imitative allowing individual freedom and justifying society. It is flexible and accomodating. It ends on a note of forgiveness. A note of reconciliation is affected between Oliver and Orlando, the senior Duke and his younger brother, Fredrick in the end. The comedy begins through a fissure in the courtly order but it ends on a note of resolution. The characters assume their normal routine. Orlando is united with Rosalind, Oliver with Celia, Silvius with Phebe and Touchtone with Audrey. After their adolescent love-making, it is expected that these pairs of lovers will lead a mature, balanced and suitable life.
Romantic comedy is a comedy that suggests a variety of senses and means. Jonson and other playwrights have written realistic and satirical comedies. These comedies have ugly and harsh realities of life. But a romantic comedy creates imagination. Laughter, in realistic comedy, is directed as the follies of characters designated by another term: ‘comedy of manners’. In these comedies we laugh at characters and we find them in ourselves. Here the attitude is more sympathetic than criticism. We understand the characters and not judge them. Shakespeare demands greater involvement in his characters. The focus is on the individual and individual alone.
We can call it a romantic because it concerns with love, youth, happiness and marriage. Music makes us experienced, emotional and imaginative. It has sense of gaiety and spirit of joy. As a romantic comedy, it has loose structure also.
In ‘As You Like It’ Shakespeare takes different aspects of love between lovers and between the friends. Shakespeare has borrowed the cliché of “love at first sight” from Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’ (“whoever loved who loved not at first sight”). Rosalind is banished by her uncle. She comes to the forest of Arden. Here all lovers are united. Before this, when Orlando fights a wrestling match, Rosalind is one of the onlookers. Spontaneously she offers him a gold chain as a token of her appreciation. This is the symbol of love at first sight. In doing so, she hands over her heart to him. In the forest of Arden, their love reaches at the climax. Rosalind points out the symptoms of a traditional lover and defines Orlando’s asserting that he is truly in love with her:
“A sunken eye you have not
A pale cheek you have not.”
When orlando boasts that if he does not meet her, he would die, Rosalind says: “From time to time men have died but not of love”. Another realistic and satitrical note is struck by Rosalind when she says,
“Men are April when they woo,
December when they wed.
Women are May when they are maids,
But sky changes when they are wives.”
Sometimes we find Orlando as a conventional lover. He writes love poems but they lack “feeling”. It is bad poetry and invites the reader to laugh at the form of rhetoric. He carves Rosalind’s name on the trees. All these things reveal Orlando as a conventional lover. Then their marriage takes place in the forest. Rosalind describes how Celia fell in love with Oliver at first sight: “No sooner they must but they saw/ no sooner they saw but they fell in love with each other”.
Shakespeare has presented the love of the pastoral characters. Phebe is a pastoral nymph unwilling to surrender to her lover Silvius who makes obsequies. He complains to Rosalind about her harsh treatment. Phebe on the other hand, falls in love with Rosalind disguised as Genymede.
The love of Touchstone, with Audrey is a kind of satire on love and marriage. Touchstone does not seek to marry a genuine priest, for in that case it will not be easy for him to divorce his wife. Through Touchstone and Audrey, Shakespeare presents some kind of physical love. Touchstone is too much interested in physical relationship. Shakespeare avoids the games of love like seduction or physical love. Even Touchstone is interested but Shakespeare does not develop this love.
Love experience in the play is happy and good challenge because no restriction is from the outward. The story ends on a note of rational explanation. It does not injure the expectations of the reader. The atmosphere in the forest is interesting. It is something more than romantic comedy. The play reflects Shakespeare’s ability, a certain attachment is there. Here romantic means highly sentimental and artificial. It is not only Orlando, who is mocked. The pastoral love and sensual is also mocked here. Rosalind mocks at romantic love. She is very frequently suggesting that infidelity is a challenge that lovers must accept. Her cynicism can be understood when we think that she speaks for Shakespeare. The writer insists on the reality of love. Phebe is in love Genymede. But Shakespeare does not want the settlement as Jonson or other playwrights. In this sense, it is philosophical too; Silvius and Phebe are highly sentimental characters. Touchstone and Audrey present sensual love. They are cynical, physical and sentimental both in words and actions. Marriage has a strange kind of value for Touchstone when he says: “Faithless wife is better that no wife.” Audrey too does not escape from the criticism of writer. She scores the good villain, Oliver and Celia present sudden love. Celia shows herself to practical, resourceful, even emotional and becomes a rash woman till this happens. Curing of Orlando by Rosalind is healthy and real relationship, which comes to existence and accepts the reality of love. The pair of Orlando and Rosalind has personified the refined love, true love and pure view of love. They also reinforce the idea that is romantic. This pair has stability and maturity of love. High romanticism is when Rosalind feels difficult to part from Orlando even for two hours. Then Silvius uses love conceits and these have been used by dramatist to expose the unnaturalness of pastoral love.
To conclude, it may be said that a Shakespearean comedy is a complex irreducible to one level of meaning and is aimed at nature and society, lower classes and upper classes, individual and society; contemplation and action; cynicism and love; satire and spontaneity. In fact, it is as wide and varied as the modern sensibility. It does not give a picture of untainted joy, which verges on the border of melancholy and resignation. It is tolerant, human, liberal and is definite experience contributing to the art of living boarding on common sense and outlook.