Summary: Act 2, Scene 1

The banished Duke Senior expounds on the wonders of life in the forest. He tells his associates that he prefers forest dwelling to the “painted pomp” of courtly existence (2.1.3). He reminds them that their existence in Arden is free from danger and that their greatest worry there is nothing worse than the cold winter wind. The woods provide Duke Senior with everything he needs, from conversation to education to spiritual edification, for he “[f]inds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything” (2.1.16–17). Lord Amiens agrees with him. The duke suggests that they hunt for some venison, but he cannot help but mourn the fate of the deer, who are violently slaughtered on their native turf. One lord announces that the melancholy lord Jaques has seconded this observation. Jaques has even gone so far as to declare Senior guiltier of usurpation than his loveless brother, Duke Frederick. Duke Senior, in good humor, asks one of his men to bring him to Jaques, because arguing with him is such fun.

Read a translation of Act 2, Scene 1.

Summary: Act 2, Scene 2

Back at court, Duke Frederick is enraged to discover the disappearances of Celia, Rosalind, and Touchstone. He cannot believe that the three could leave court without anyone’s notice. One attending lord reports that Celia’s gentlewoman overheard Celia and Rosalind complimenting Orlando, and she speculates that wherever the women are, Orlando is likely to be with them. Frederick seizes on this information and commands that Oliver be recruited to find his brother.

Read a translation of Act 2, Scene 2.

Summary: Act 2, Scene 3

Orlando returns to his former home, where the servant Adam greets him. News of the young man’s victory over Charles precedes him, and Adam worries that Orlando’s strength and bravery will be the keys to his downfall. Adam begs Orlando not to enter Oliver’s house. He reports that Oliver, having learned of Orlando’s triumph, plans to burn down the place where Orlando sleeps with the intention of killing him. “Abhor it,” Adam warns, “fear it, do not enter it” (2.3.29). Orlando wonders about his fate, speculating that without a home, he may be destined to eke out a living as a common highway robber. Adam suggests that the two of them take to the road with his modest life’s savings. Touched by Adam’s constant service, Orlando agrees.

Read a translation of Act 2, Scene 3.

Summary: Act 2, Scene 4

Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone arrive, safe but exhausted, in the Forest of Arden. The three sit down to rest, but before long they are interrupted by two shepherds: young Silvius and old Corin. The shepherds are so wrapped up in their conversation about Silvius’s hopeless love and devotion to the shepherdess Phoebe that they don’t notice the three travelers. Corin, who claims to have loved a thousand times, tries to advise Silvius, but the young man, maintaining that his companion could not possibly understand the depth of his feelings, wanders off. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone approach Corin and ask where they might find a place to rest. When Corin admits that his master’s modest holdings are up for sale, Rosalind and Celia decide to buy the property.

Read a translation of Act 2, Scene 4.

Analysis: Act 2, Scenes 1–4

The tradition of pastoral literature conventionally posits that the abundance and leisure of country living provides a healing respite from the stress and pressure of the city. If act 1 presented a view of “city” life at court, act 2 introduces us to the Forest of Arden, which Duke Senior presents as an approximation of the pastoral ideal: “Are not these woods / More free from peril than the envious court? / Here we feel not the penalty of Adam” (2.1.3–5). With these lines, the duke celebrates the freedom offered by the woods, which he implicitly likens to the biblical Garden of Eden. Despite having been exiled from his own court, Duke Senior feels paradoxically as though he’s returned to the original Paradise from which God exiled Adam (and Eve). Yet it should be noted that Arden is also an imaginative echo of Arcadia, the famed pastoral landscape of classical antiquity. Known for its perpetual summer and roaming poet-shepherds, Arcadia is the kind of place where, as is the case here, the cold winter wind only ever appears in poems and songs. The Forest of Arden is thus a fantastical place whose very name represents an amalgamation of Arcadia and Eden.

Although we haven’t officially met Jaques yet, his reputation precedes him in the opening scene of act 2. Jaques is a perpetual melancholic who evidently finds some pleasure in brooding. Here, his melancholy is reported by an unnamed lord, who offers a compelling account of how Jaques essentially luxuriates in his grief related to the killing of innocent deer. Struck by the suffering of one particular animal, Jaques is reported to have claimed that Duke Senior is guiltier of usurpation than his crown-robbing brother, Duke Frederick. According to Jaques, wherever humans go, they bring with them the possibility of the very perils that make life in the “envious court” so unbearable (2.1.4). None of Duke Senior’s courtiers disagrees with Jaques, but the melancholy lord’s criticism lacks real sting. Duke Senior sees Jaques’s melancholy as a form of entertainment. Indeed, the extreme nature of Jaques’s mood prompts Senior to declare amusingly, “I love to cope him in these sullen fits” (2.1.71). In a comedy that celebrates the complexity and the range of human emotions, it remains to be seen what role a melancholy figure like Jaques, with his tendency to “moralize” everything “into a thousand similes” (2.1.46–47), will ultimately play.

With the introduction of Silvius, As You Like It begins to explore the theme related to the delights and foolishness of love. Unlike Rosalind, who is equipped with enough wit to recognize the silliness of her sudden devotion to Orlando, Silvius is powerless in his attraction to Phoebe. In his laments to Corin in act 2, scene 4, he presents himself as love’s only true victim, and he implies that no one has ever loved as he loves Phoebe. Although Rosalind at first sees the shepherd’s predicament as being curiously close to her own, she soon comes to share Touchstone’s observation on the necessary foolishness of being in love. As he watches Silvius call out to the absent Phoebe, Touchstone says, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly” (2.4.53–55). Touchstone fulfills the conventional role of the Fool, one whose wise-cracking wit often reveals surprising wisdom. Here, his witty speech introduces two key ideas for the rest of the play: first, that everything in the natural world is temporary, and second, that every lover naturally behaves like a fool.