Summary: Act 3, Scene 3

Touchstone and a goatherd named Audrey wander through the forest, while Jaques follows behind them, eavesdropping. Touchstone laments that the gods have not made Audrey “poetical” (3.3.15). Were she a lover of poetry, she would appreciate the falsehoods of which all lovers are guilty and would be dishonest, a quality that Touchstone prefers she possess. His reason for encouraging her dishonesty is that having beauty and honesty together is too much of a good thing—it is “to have honey a sauce to sugar” (3.3.29–30). Nevertheless, Touchstone has arranged to have Sir Oliver Martext, a vicar from a nearby village, marry him and Audrey in the forest. Oliver Martext arrives to perform the wedding ceremony and insists that someone “give the woman” so that the ceremony is “lawful” (3.3.66–67, 70). Jaques offers his services but convinces Touchstone that he should marry in a proper church. Touchstone counters that a nonchurch wedding will make for an ill marriage and that an ill marriage will make it easier for him to abandon his wife, but in the end he acquiesces. Jaques, Touchstone, and Audrey leave the rather bewildered vicar alone in the forest.

Read a translation of Act 3, Scene 3.

Summary: Act 3, Scene 4

Orlando has failed to show up for his morning appointment with Ganymede, the disguised Rosalind, and she is so distraught she wants desperately to weep. Rosalind compares Orlando’s hair to that of the infamous betrayer of Christ, Judas. Celia insists that Orlando’s hair is browner than Judas’s, and Rosalind agrees, slowly convincing herself that her lover is no traitor. Celia, however, suggests that in matters of love, there is little truth in Orlando. A lover’s oath, Celia reasons, is of no more account than that of a barkeep.

Corin enters and interrupts the women’s conversation. He explains that the young shepherd, Silvius, whose complaints about the tribulations of love Rosalind and Celia witnessed earlier, has decided to woo and win Phoebe. Corin invites the women to see the “pageant” of a hopeless lover and the scornful object of his desire, and Rosalind heads off to see the scene play out (3.4.51). Indeed, she determines to do more than watch—she plans to intervene in the affair.

Read a translation of Act 3, Scene 4.

Summary: Act 3, Scene 5

Silvius has confessed his love to Phoebe, but his words fall on hostile ears. As the scene opens, he pleads with her not to reject him so bitterly, lest she prove worse than the “common executioner,” who has enough decency to ask forgiveness of those he kills (3.5.3). Rosalind and Celia, both still disguised, enter along with Corin to watch Phoebe’s cruel response. Phoebe mocks Silvius’s hyperbolic language, asking why he fails to drop dead if her eyes are the murderers he claims them to be. Silvius assures her that the wounds of love are invisible, but Phoebe insists that the shepherd mustn’t approach her again until she too can feel these invisible wounds.

Rosalind then steps out from her hiding place and begins to berate Phoebe, proclaiming that the shepherdess is no great beauty and should consider herself lucky to win Silvius’s love. Confronted by what appears to be a handsome young man who treats her as harshly as she treats Silvius, Phoebe instantly falls in love with Ganymede. Rosalind, realizing this infatuation, mocks Phoebe further. Rosalind and Celia depart, and Phoebe employs Silvius, who can talk so well of love, to help her pursue Ganymede. Phoebe claims that she does not love Ganymede and wonders why she failed to defend herself against such criticism. She determines to write him “a very taunting letter,” and orders Silvius to deliver it (3.5.144).

Read a translation of  Act 3, Scene 5.

Analysis: Act 3, Scenes 3–5

Although we learn of the romance between Audrey and Touchstone rather late in the game, the relationship is important to the play for many reasons. First, it produces laughs because of the incongruities between the two lovers. Touchstone delights in wordplay. He obsesses over words, wrings multiple—and often bawdy—meanings from them, and usually ends up tangling himself and others in them. That he chooses to wed Audrey, a simple goatherd who fails to comprehend the most basic vocabulary—the words “features,” “poetical,” and “foul” are all beyond her grasp—ensures the laughable absurdity of their exchange. Indeed, the play offers few moments more outrageous than Audrey’s declaration of virtue: “I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul” (3.3.37–38).

In addition to humor, the rustic romance between Audrey and Touchstone also provides a pointed contrast with the flowery, verbose love of Silvius for Phoebe or Orlando for Rosalind. Whereas Phoebe and Silvius are caught up in the poetics of love—with the man in agonizing pursuit of an unattainable but, to his mind, perfect lover—the attraction between Touchstone and Audrey is far from idealized. Indeed, if Audrey cannot grasp the meaning of the word “poetical,” there is little hope that she will be able to fulfill the part dictated to her by literary convention. Ideals have little to do with Touchstone’s affections for Audrey. When explaining his decision to marry Audrey to Jaques, Touchstone says, “As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires” (3.3.79–81). Here, Touchstone equates his sexual desire to various restraining devices for animals. Sexual gratification, or “nibbling,” to use Touchstone’s word, will keep his otherwise untamed passions in check (3.3.81).

Although the love relationships between Silvius and Phoebe and Touchstone and Audrey are of two very different kinds, taken together they form a complete satire of the two major influences on the play: pastoralism and courtly love. In pastoral literature, city dwellers take to the country to commune with and learn valuable lessons from its inhabitants. Audrey represents a truly rural individual, uncorrupted by the politics of court life, but she is, in all respects, far from ideal. In her supreme want of intelligence, Audrey shows the absurd unreality of the pastoral ideal of eloquent shepherds and shepherdesses. Silvius aspires to such eloquence and nearly achieves it, and his poetic plea for Phoebe’s mercy conforms to the conventions of the distraught but always lyrically precise lover. But Phoebe exposes the absurdity of Silvius’s lines by dragging romance into the harsh, unforgiving light of reality. When taken literally, his insistence that his lover’s eyes are his “executioner” (3.5.3) seems hopelessly ineffectual when Phoebe demands, “Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee” (3.5.21).

If Audrey and Touchstone’s and Phoebe and Silvius’s relationships stand at opposite ends of the romance continuum, then Rosalind, in her courtship of Orlando, struggles to find a more livable middle ground. In the entire play, only Rosalind can appreciate both the real and the ideal. She possesses the clarity of vision and unflinching resolve required to chastise Phoebe for her cruelty and Silvius for his blindness to it. Yet at the same time, she cannot help but indulge in the absurdity of romantic love, allowing herself to become upset over Orlando’s tardiness. This inconsistency may explain why Rosalind is such a seductive, winning character: in her ability to experience and appreciate all emotions, she appeals to everyone.