As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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As You Like It | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Rosalind and Celia, disguised as Ganymede and Aliena, await Orlando, who is once again late. Celia scoffs that he must be taking a nap. Silvius then enters, bearing the letter that Phoebe has written to Ganymede (Rosalind). He warns her that the letter may be angry, and as she reads it Rosalind seems to confirm this. "She says I am not fair, that I lack manners." Rosalind reads but then accuses Silvius of writing the letter himself, which he denies. Rosalind claims that a woman could not write such a rude letter and reads it aloud to him. The letter gushes sentiments of love, which Rosalind purposely misinterprets as insults against herself. The end of Phoebe's letter is unmistakable, however; she writes plainly that Silvius has no idea of her love and claims that she will die if her love is denied. She instructs Ganymede to send an answer in reply by Silvius.

"Alas, poor shepherd," says Celia, but Rosalind maintains that he deserves none since he continues to pursue disdainful Phoebe. "Wilt thou love such a woman?" she demands of Silvius, but nonetheless gives him a message to take back to Phoebe. "If she love me, I charge her to love thee; if she will not, I will never have her unless thou entreat for her." Silvius departs bearing the message, and in comes Oliver, unknown to the women. He asks for directions to their own cottage. Celia obliges but mentions that no one is home. Oliver guesses by their looks that it is they he seeks, which Celia confirms. He reveals that he has been sent by Orlando "to that youth he calls his Rosalind," with a bloody handkerchief.

Oliver tells the tale of how the cloth came to be bloodied. While traversing the forest, Orlando came upon a beggar sleeping under a tree. A snake had wrapped itself around the man's neck; when Orlando appeared it slithered away under a bush. Under the same bush lay a hungry lioness, waiting to pounce. Orlando discovered that the beggar was his older brother. Twice he turned to leave, but his kindness won out over desire for revenge, and he fought off the lioness to save his brother's life. Both women ask if Oliver is that brother, and he admits humbly that he is. He then recounts how he and Orlando exchanged stories and cried together, and how Orlando had brought him to Duke Senior. There he saw the blood on Orlando's arm, where the lioness had wounded him, and at last Orlando fainted, crying out for Rosalind. When he awoke he sent Oliver to relay the news, lest Ganymede think Orlando had broken his promise. At this news Rosalind faints. She comes to quickly and passes it off as playacting, but Oliver suspects otherwise. Celia escorts Rosalind home, concerned for her, while Oliver returns to Orlando.

Analysis

The theme of love takes center stage in this scene, while the theme of court versus country plays a secondary role. Self-serving Phoebe has sent a love letter to Ganymede, letting Silvius imagine that the missive contains only words of anger. This is the type of action one would expect at the court rather than in the country, proving that it isn't just courtiers who deceive. To add insult to injury, Phoebe has asked loyal Silvius to deliver the letter and to bring back an answer. This could be viewed as sheer deviousness, or it could be seen as one of those foolish actions that young lovers are apt to indulge in (such as Silvius himself praised in Act 2, Scene 4). One might ask why Phoebe simply doesn't tell Silvius the truth, but telling him previously that she doesn't love him did nothing to deter him. Perhaps she is actually hoping to be found out, a discovery that might at last rid her of Silvius's unwanted attention. The reader would probably not be blamed for labeling Phoebe a manipulative liar and Silvius an overly trusting, masochistic rube. It should have been clear to Silvius in Act 3, Scene 5 that Phoebe had been swept off her feet by Ganymede, but he ignored the obvious clues because doing supported his own hopes. The contrast between Phoebe and Silvius and the other lovers in the play is noticeable; for example, Rosalind and Orlando share a mutual love, unlike Silvius's one-sided love for Phoebe. This is yet another aspect of the theme of love that Shakespeare challenges the audience to consider.

Rosalind's treatment of Silvius is not much kinder than Phoebe's; she toys with him by misrepresenting the letter's contents and blames him for loving such a deceitful woman. Still, despite her declaration that he deserves no pity, Rosalind's actions do show sympathy. She tries to persuade Phoebe to transfer her love to the smitten shepherd in the message she sends to the shepherdess.

As often happens in Shakespeare's plays, the plot then turns on a completely unexpected event that blindsides the characters: the incident of Oliver and the wild beasts, a scene that also serves as the climax of the story. The events that befall the characters have all been leading up to this moment: Rosalind and Orlando falling in love, their separate exiles to the forest, their finding each other once again (albeit with Rosalind in disguise), and then Oliver's exile to the forest all contribute to this climax, when the fates of the three characters intersect and their future changes. The scene serves to "flip the switch" of the plot, leaving behind the rising action and now barreling toward its inevitably happy conclusion. Plus it's also just plain exciting for the audience. Orlando must have been amazed to find his brother in the forest, while Oliver must have been astonished that Orlando saved him. Most certainly, Rosalind was shocked to hear of Orlando's injury—and her dramatic dead faint almost gives away her own deception. Oliver lets it slide without pressing the matter, but Rosalind's disguise seems to be unraveling quickly at this point.

The far-fetched story of Orlando's encounter with the snake and the lion is rather symbolic. Oliver has been a snake to his brother, refusing to give Orlando the gentleman's education that is rightfully his and even planning to murder him in his sleep. In a fitting comeuppance Oliver is threatened by a snake in the forest. The snake slithers away upon Orlando's arrival, a foreshadowing of the change in character that the audience will soon see in Oliver, who gives up his devious ways after the encounter and turns over a new leaf, both with his brother and in life. The second animal that lies in wait for Oliver is a lion, a symbol of strength and power. In a role reversal it is now Orlando that has the power over Oliver. Oliver is weak, and Orlando has the strength to save him, but Orlando can also walk away from the situation if he chooses to do so. This scene provides Orlando an opportunity to further prove the goodness of his character: despite all the terrible things that Oliver has done to him, Orlando chooses the path of honor and fights for his brother's life. His noble actions make such a deep impression on Oliver that he changes his life completely, ashamed of what his character was before and determined to start anew. He is transformed—redeemed from villainy by this key event in the story.

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