Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
As Orlando runs through the forest decorating every tree
with love poems for Rosalind, and as Silvius pines for Phoebe and
compares her cruel eyes to a murderer, we cannot help but notice
the importance of artifice to life in Ardenne. 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” (IV.i.
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. Indeed, Celia’s words in Act I, scenes ii and iii echo the protestations of lovers. But to assume that Celia or Rosalind possesses a sexual identity as clearly defined as our modern understandings of heterosexual or homosexual would be to work against the play’s celebration of a range of intimacies and sexual possibilities.
The other kind of homoeroticism within the play arises from Rosalind’s cross-dressing. Everybody, male and female, seems to love Ganymede, the beautiful boy who looks like a woman because he is really Rosalind in disguise. The name Rosalind chooses for her alter ego, Ganymede, traditionally belonged to a beautiful boy who became one of Jove’s lovers, and the name carries strong homosexual connotations. 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 real male, Silvius.
In drawing on the motif of homoeroticism, As You Like It is influenced by the pastoral tradition, which typically contains elements of same-sex love. In the Forest of Ardenne, 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.
As You Like It abounds in banishment. Some characters have been forcibly removed or threatened from their homes, such as Duke Senior, Rosalind, and Orlando. Some have voluntarily abandoned their positions out of a sense of rightness, such as Senior’s loyal band of lords, Celia, and the noble servant Adam. It is, then, rather remarkable that the play ends with four marriages—a ceremony that unites individuals into couples and ushers these couples into the community. The community that sings and dances its way through Ardenne at the close of Act V, scene iv, is the same community that will return to the dukedom in order to rule and be ruled. This event, where the poor dance in the company of royalty, suggests a utopian world in which wrongs can be righted and hurts healed. The sense of restoration with which the play ends depends upon the formation of a community of exiles in politics and love coming together to soothe their various wounds.