Paintings of William Shakespeare’s Plays 13: As You Like It

Margaret Gillies (1803–1887), Rosalind and Celia, 'But this is all for your father', 'As You Like It', Act I, Scene 3 (date not known), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

As You Like It has long been a favourite of William Shakespeare’s comedies, although most of us recall its most memorable lines without the context of its story. Its songs include Under the Greenwood tree, Blow, blow, thou winter wind, and It was a lover and his lass, which have achieved fame of their own. The famous line All the world’s a stage introduces a monologue which describes the seven ages of man, and much else in this play should be familiar.

It was most probably written in 1599-1600, and derives mainly from a prose story of Rosalynde first published a decade earlier. Much of it is set in the Forest of Arden, which might refer to woodland close to the playwright’s home in the heart of England, but is more likely to have been in France, near the modern Ardennes. It has proved sufficiently popular as to be quite extensively painted as well.

After the death of their father, Orlando the youngest son has been denied by his older brother Oliver the education due to him. Orlando is sent away by Oliver, who summons Charles the wrestler. He repeats the old news that the Duke is in enforced exile in the Forest of Arden, while his younger brother Frederick has taken over his court, where the Duke’s daughter Rosalind keeps company with Frederick’s daughter Celia. Oliver tells the wrestler to kill Orlando when wrestling with him tomorrow, then leaves to ensure that his brother takes part.

John William Waterhouse (1849–1917), Touchstone, The Jester (date not known), watercolour on card, 38.1 x 24.7 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

JW Waterhouse’s watercolour portrait of the jester Touchstone, in his undated The Jester is delightful, but non-narrative.

At court the following day, Celia and Rosalind are joined by Touchstone the jester. The two daughters try to dissuade Orlando from wrestling with Charles, but the men ignore them and start to fight. Orlando beats Charles, delighting the daughters.

Daniel Maclise (1806–1870), The Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’ (1854), oil on canvas, 129 x 177.1 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Daniel Maclise’s Wrestling Scene in ‘As You Like It’ from 1854 was commissioned by a landowner from Aylesford in Kent. It shows the wrestler on the left, as Orlando on the right prepares for their contest. The two daughters embrace one another in anxiety, and seated at the front is the jester.

Francis Hayman (1708–1776), Shakespearean Wrestling Scene from ‘As You Like It’ (c 1740-42), oil on canvas, 52.7 x 92.1 cm, The Tate Gallery, London. Wikimedia Commons.

Francis Hayman’s surprisingly early painting of the Shakespearean Wrestling Scene from ‘As You Like It’ from about 1740-42 shows the outcome, with Charles lying flat on his back and Orlando standing triumphant.

Rosalind gives Orlando her necklace, and he falls in love with her.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872–1945), The Pale Complexion of True Love (1898-99), oil on canvas, 71.4 x 91.8 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

The Pale Complexion of True Love (1898-99) was Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s first major painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1899. It shows Rosalind preparing to give Orlando her necklace as a symbolic prize for his wrestling.

However, Orlando is warned that he has incurred Frederick’s displeasure, and should get away from the usurper. When Rosalind tells Celia of her love for Orlando, she is banished from Frederick’s court. Celia, disguised as Aliena, and Rosalind, dressed as a man named Ganymede, plan to flee to Arden, for their own safety.

Margaret Gillies (1803–1887), Rosalind and Celia, ‘But this is all for your father’, ‘As You Like It’, Act I, Scene 3 (date not known), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Margaret Gillies’ undated painting of Rosalind and Celia is accompanied by the quotation “But this is all for your father”, and shows Rosalind and Celia embracing as they plan their flight from court.

In the Forest of Arden, the Duke is looking for his middle son Jaques, who was last seen lamenting over a wounded deer.

William Hodges (1744–1797), Jaques and the Wounded Stag: ‘As You Like It,’ Act II, Scene I (1790), oil on canvas, 92.1 x 123.2 cm, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

William Hodges’ Jaques and the Wounded Stag from 1790 shows this passing reference from the play.

Back in Frederick’s court, he realises the two daughters have fled in pursuit of Orlando, and summons Oliver to help in a search for them. Orlando is warned, and he too flees from Frederick and his brother.

Rosalind and Celia, in disguise and accompanied by Touchstone, arrive in the forest to overhear a shepherd, Silvius, lamenting his love for Phoebe; Silvius has put his cottage, land and livestock up for sale, and the two daughters decide to buy them from him.

John Pettie (1839-1893), Silvius and Phoebe (1872), media and dimensions not known, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, Aberdeen, Scotland. Wikimedia Commons.

John Pettie’s Silvius and Phoebe from 1872 shows Phoebe rejecting Silvius’s pledges of love.

As the Duke and his entourage are about to eat, Jaques joins them, then Orlando arrives demanding food for himself and his ailing servant. The Duke welcomes them, and they eat together.

Robert Smirke (1752-1845), The Seven Ages of Man: The Lover, ‘As You Like It,’ II, vii (1798-1801), oil on panel, 38.1 x 50.5 cm, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT. Wikimedia Commons.

It’s here that Shakespeare launches into his account of the seven ages of man, which Robert Smirke painted as a series between 1798-1801. Sadly most have since lost their original look and turned very dark. The best of them now is this showing the Lover.

Frederick confiscates Oliver’s property until he returns with his brother Orlando. Meanwhile, Rosalind and Celia find love poems that Orlando is busy pinning on the trees in the forest.

Henry Nelson O’Neil (1817-1880), Rosalind, As You Like It (1856), oil on panel, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Henry Nelson O’Neil’s portrait of Rosalind from 1856 shows her reading one of those many love letters.

Rosalind, dressed as a man, challenges Orlando over his poems, and offers to cure him of his love in daily sessions with her posing as his lover. Touchstone lusts after the goatherd Audrey, but Jaques persuades him to postpone their wedding.

Collier, John, 1850-1934; Touchstone and Audrey
John Collier (1850-1934), Touchstone and Audrey (date not known), media and dimensions not known, Southwark Art Collection, London. Wikimedia Commons.

John Collier’s undated painting of Touchstone and Audrey catches the jester in one of his more serious moments, as he is wooing the simple Audrey.

When Orlando fails to meet Rosalind (posing as Ganymede), she goes to see Silvius being rejected again by Phoebe, and admonishes the shepherdess, who promptly falls in love with Ganymede. When Orlando arrives late, Rosalind ticks him off, and tells him some home truths about married couples. Celia then acts as the priest in a pretend betrothal ceremony. Orlando is only allowed to leave them after she has lectured him about punctuality.

Walter Deverell (1827–1854), As You Like It – Act IV Scene I – Rosalind Tutoring Orlando in the Ceremony of Marriage or The Mock Marriage of Orlando and Rosalind (1845-50), oil on canvas, 59.7 x 50.2 cm, Birmingham Museums Trust, Birmingham, England. Wikimedia Commons.

Walter Deverell’s painting of 1845-50 shows Rosalind Tutoring Orlando in the Ceremony of Marriage, although Rosalind still looks very womanly when she should be dressed as Ganymede.

When she is next waiting for her appointment with Orlando, Rosalind (as Ganymede) receives a love letter to her from Phoebe. She sends its bearer, Silvius, away with her scornful response. Oliver arrives carrying a bloody cloth for Ganymede, evidence that his brother Orlando had saved him from an attack by a lioness and so won his loyalty, and providing the excuse for Orlando’s absence, as he had been wounded in the arm. Rosalind faints at the sight of the blood.

William Hamilton (1751–1801), Rosalind, Oliver and Celia (Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 4, Scene 6) (1791), hand-coloured etching and engraving by James Birchall, 31 x 38 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

William Hamilton’s Rosalind, Oliver and Celia is a hand-coloured etching and engraving made by James Birchall from the original painting. This shows Oliver handing over the bloody cloth, and Rosalind fainting as a result.

Oliver tells Orlando that he has fallen in love with Aliena (Celia in disguise), that they intend to marry immediately, and he returns Orlando his usurped inheritance so that he can remain living a pastoral life in Arden with his bride. Oliver goes to prepare to marry before the Duke the following day, then Rosalind (still as Ganymede) arrives and promises Orlando that he too will be able to marry his love tomorrow. When Phoebe and Silvius arrive, Rosalind tells all three to dress in their best clothes in the morning, and to meet her so she can get them married by magic.

The next day they all appear before the Duke and his entourage, Rosalind still in disguise as Ganymede. After summarising the multiple marriages to take place, the couples prepare themselves while Touchstone entertains the court. Then the god Hymen leads Rosalind (in her womanly clothes again) and Orlando to be wed first. Phoebe renounces her claim to the hand of Ganymede and marries Silvius, followed by Oliver and Celia, and Touchstone with Audrey.

Jaques announces that Frederick has undergone religious conversion and become a hermit, allowing the Duke to be restored at last. Following a rustic dance, the play closes with Rosalind delivering an epilogue about love.


Wikipedia on Shakespeare’s play.
Full text at Project Gutenberg.

Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells (eds) (2015) The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, 2nd edn, Oxford UP. ISBN 978 0 19 870873 5.