The Spectrum of Love: Nature and Convention in As You Like It

Paul A. Cantor, “The Spectrum of Love: Nature and Convention in As You Like It,” in Souls With Longing, eds. Dobski and Gish, 5386


As You Like It is the prototypical Shakespearean romantic comedy in its structure. The play begins in a world of sterile and deadening convention, with the older generation tyrranizing over the younger. The oppressed characters must flee to a more natural world, which takes the form of a forest, much as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Released through their encounter with nature from the stranglehold of convention, the youthful characters are able to work out their problems. In particular, they manage to free themselves from the false conceptions of love that have inherited from society, thereby making possible a set of four marriages at the end of the play. This resolution prepares the way for the characters to return to civilization and be reintegrated into society. Thus, the plot of As You Like It allows Shakespeare to examine the rival claims of nature and convention, of primitivism and civilization, of the country and the court. In literary terms, this process takes the form of interrogating a long-standing literary convention, the pastoral ideal. As always in dramatizing a clash of forces, Shakespeare does not simply opt for one side over the other.

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