Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


When Orlando begins to decorate the forest with his overwrought love poems, we cannot help but notice the importance of artifice to life in Arden. Phoebe decries such artificiality when she laments that her eyes lack the power to do the devoted shepherd any real harm, and Rosalind similarly puts a stop to Orlando’s romantic fussing when she reminds him that “[m]en have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” (4.1.112–13). Although Rosalind is susceptible to the contrivances of romantic love, she does her best to move herself and others toward a more realistic understanding of love. Knowing that the excitement of the first days of courtship will wane, Rosalind cautions against any love that attempts to sustain itself on artifice alone. In addition to artifice in love, As You Like It also draws attention to its own artifice as a play. Jaques introduces the theme, already clichéd by Shakespeare’s time, that “[a]ll the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (2.7.146–47). Rosalind echoes this theme in the epilogue, where she returns the audience to reality by stripping away not only the artifice of Arden, but of her character as well.


Like many of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, As You Like It explores different kinds of love between members of the same sex. Celia and Rosalind, for instance, are extremely close friends—almost sisters—and the profound intimacy of their relationship seems at times more intense than that of ordinary friends. Homoeroticism also arises in relation to Rosalind’s cross-dressing. The name Rosalind chooses for her alter ego, Ganymede, references the beautiful boy who became Jove’s cupbearer and homosexual love object. Everybody, male and female, seems to love Ganymede. Even though Orlando is supposed to be in love with Rosalind, he seems to enjoy the idea of acting out his romance with the beautiful, young boy Ganymede—almost as if a boy who looks like the woman he loves is even more appealing than the woman herself. Phoebe, too, is more attracted to the feminine Ganymede than to the more masculine Silvius. In the Forest of Arden, as in pastoral literature, homoerotic relationships are not necessarily antithetical to heterosexual couplings, as modern readers tend to assume. Instead, homosexual and heterosexual love exist on a continuum across which, as the title of the play suggests, one can move as one likes.


Nearly every aspect of As You Like It is structured through oppositions. Perhaps the most obvious opposition is that between the city and the country, which marks the play’s investment in the pastoral tradition. But many other oppositions feature prominently. Some of these oppositions exist between characters, such as the good brothers (Orlando, Duke Senior) versus the bad brothers (Oliver, Duke Frederick), or the witty fool (Touchstone) versus the foolish wit (Jaques), or even the immature youth (Silvius) versus the experienced elder (Corin). Other oppositions are thematic, such as nature versus nurture, desire versus disgust, love versus lust, and so on. Touchstone offers an amusing reflection on such oppositions in his spoof of philosophy as a mode of thinking that simply reduces everything to contrary ideas that can’t be reconciled: “As [the shepherd’s life] is a spare life, look you, it fits my humor well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach” (3.2.19–21). Ultimately, though, the play’s motif of oppositions does suggest the possibility of—indeed the need for—reconciliation and balance. Whenever presented with two extremes, As You Like It presents the middle path as best.