As You Like It is perhaps the best of Shakespeare’s comedies to stage outdoors. Freedom and nature’s ability to renew the human spirit are elements in this play where characters flee oppression and the artificiality of court life to find peace of mind, self-knowledge and true love in the Forest of Arden.
Love is a theme in the play and different types of lovers are illustrated. Rosalind and Orlando represent true love, built on friendship; while Oliver, when reformed from his initial cruel behaviour is able to fall for Celia, and the earthy jester Touchstone weds the simple country girl Audrey.
Forgiveness and restitution are also key motifs.
The young hero Orlando is driven from home by his older brother Oliver who has treated him like a slave and cheated him out of his inheritance. In the forest, Orlando saves Oliver from a crouching lion and is himself wounded. The brothers are then reconciled.
The good Duke Senior was driven from his lands by his usurping brother Ferdinand and has been living with his loyal supporters in the forest, like Robin Hood. At the end of the play, inspired by a holy man Ferdinand restores all that he stole and retires to live and meditate in a cave.
Town and country life are compared wittily, when the runaway courtiers encounter the local shepherds.
All’s well that ends well. The goddess of marriage, Hymen closes the play with a blessing on the couples, there is music and a joyful dance.
Written about 1599 to early 1600, As You Like It is notable for its poetic and telling language.
Another feature of As You Like It is the number of songs that it presents. There are more songs in this play than in any other of Shakespeare’s plays.
As You Like It was even turned into a musical in 2007 and has been staged and filmed in many ways. Kenneth Branagh even set the play in 19th century Japan.
The part of Rosalind, who disguises herself as the youth Ganymede, is one of Shakespeare’s great female roles. She is witty and optimistic, a good foil for the pessimistic, melancholy Jaques.
Rae-Marie Leggott plays Rosalind, a part interpreted once by Edith Evans and more recently by Helen Mirren. Marlene Robinson, a veteran of Penticton Chamber Theatre’s Shakespeare productions, plays Celia, Rosalind’s cousin and bosom friend who follows her into exile.
Orlando is young Tyler Fowler, an up-and-coming talent studying theatre at the University of Victoria.
In Summerland, the play will be shown on Aug. 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Park.
Admission is by donation.