Course Hero Logo

As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "As You Like It Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 July 2017. Web. 7 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, July 13). As You Like It Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 7, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "As You Like It Study Guide." July 13, 2017. Accessed June 7, 2023.


Course Hero, "As You Like It Study Guide," July 13, 2017, accessed June 7, 2023,

As You Like It | Symbols



In Act 2, Scene 1 Duke Senior proposes a deer hunt, as the party needs food. "And yet it irks me," he says, that "the poor dappled fools,/Being native burghers of this desert city,/Should in their own confines with forked heads/Have their round haunches gored." Here he compares the Forest of Arden to a city and the deer to its native inhabitants. Duke Senior and his men are interlopers who hunt them, leaving the deer no peace or sense of security in their own home. Duke Senior's first lord then describes coming upon Jaques in the forest, weeping over an injured deer that was not cleanly killed by a hunter's arrow. The first lord relates how Jaques had explored this same metaphor even further, damning the hunters as "usurpers" and "tyrants." The deer in this scene symbolizes the injustice of usurpers like Duke Frederick, who has taken over lands that are not rightly his. In a broader sense Jaques disapproves of the whole system by which common people, who should be free to live in peace and security, are subjugated to the dictates of the ruling class. The deer in the scene has been injured, but the hunter has not come to put it out of its misery; in much the same way the actions of rulers may harm their subjects, and the rulers may not even notice or care.


The horns or antlers of animals are mentioned many times during the play and are a symbol of cuckolding, or of a man being cheated on by his wife. This was a common joke or concern of the time, and it frequently appears in Shakespeare's works. Cuckoldry was considered almost a universal condition of marriage, an opinion that Touchstone supports in his speech in Act 3, Scene 3. A man's horns, he says, are "the dowry of his wife," implying that all married women will cheat. Even so he views being married and cheated on as better than not being married at all: "As a walled town is worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a married man more honorable than the bare brow of a bachelor." And again in Act 4, Scene 1 Orlando and Rosalind in the role of Ganymede argue when Orlando shows up an hour late for their meeting. Rosalind comments that she would as soon be "wooed of a snail." She then explains that he "brings his destiny with him ... horns, which such as you are fain to be beholding to your wives for."

Forest of Arden

The Forest of Arden in As You Like It is an idyllic place that borders on the mythical, much like Duke Senior and his followers are compared to Robin Hood and his band of merry men. It has a feeling of unreality, of being a world apart. It is an impermanent refuge, a place where characters dwell temporarily and are permanently changed by the experience. In this regard the forest is a symbol of personal transformation. There is a freedom of action and thought in the forest that is not present in courtly life, which is heavy with rules and expectations. The forest provides a safe space away from the dangers of court for the characters to strip away the habits and beliefs that no longer serve and to create new lives better suited to the people they've become (or want to become). It is also a place where life reverts to the basics (kill or starve; find shelter or freeze), which brings out the true personalities of those who experience it.

In the end most of characters depart the forest. Jaques and Duke Frederick are two that remain. Duke Frederick is at the beginning of his personal transformation, having suddenly converted into a religious man at the edge of the forest. His time of exploration is just getting started, and so he intends to dwell in the forest. For Jaques, delving into the nature of humanity is an ongoing quest, and he finds more food for thought in the forest than in the court at this point in his life. He chooses to follow Duke Frederick, for "out of these convertites/There is much matter to be heard and learned" (Act 5, Scene 4).

The Snake and the Lion

In Act 4, Scene 3 Orlando comes upon his exhausted, ragged brother Oliver sleeping under a tree. A snake is wrapped around his neck, ready to strike. Much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, there is a snake in paradise, and it's Oliver in the Forest of Arden. Oliver has been a snake to his brother, barring him from a gentleman's education and even plotting to kill him. Upon seeing Orlando, the snake slithers away. The snake, which represents Oliver's dishonorable character, flees when Orlando appears on the scene; it is no match for Orlando, just as Oliver's dishonor cannot triumph over Orlando's honor.

Orlando then spots a lion lying in wait to pounce on his brother. As Oliver tells it, "Twice did he turn his back" to leave, "But kindness, nobler ever than revenge,/And nature, stronger than his just occasion,/Made him give battle to the lioness." The lion symbolizes strength and power; Orlando is now in the position of power and can decide his brother's fate rather than the other way around. Instead of making the same choice Oliver did to see his brother dead, Orlando takes the high road. Although Orlando has been unfairly victimized by his snakelike brother, he cannot stand by while Oliver's life is threatened. His honor and humanity take over, calling him to action. His choice to fight the lion and save his brother strongly emphasizes the differences in their personalities.

It is Orlando's intervention that sparks the conversion in Oliver and changes him into a new man. Orlando not only saves Oliver from the wild animals, he saves Oliver from himself and the horrible person he has become. Oliver awakens to an entirely new life, thanks to his brother's noble actions. Orlando again comes away with scars, but the battle has at last been won, and he will now receive his just reward: all the lands and wealth his brother possesses, which Oliver gives over to him voluntarily in renouncing his previous life.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about As You Like It? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!