| Perhaps the best-loved of Shakespeare's comedies, this play is aptly titled: it can be taken "as you like it," enjoyed for its philosophy, its cynical wit, or its heroine Rosalind, whose leading characteristics are intelligence and love.
Rosalind, the daughter of a deposed French Duke, has fallen in love with Orlando, who turns out to be the son of an old friend of her father's. She is then banished by the Duke's wicked brother and usurper of his domain, and Orlando must escape with his servant Adam. Separately they flee to the forest of Arden, where social distinctions are suspended. The play moves brilliantly between the perspectives of city and country, experience and innocence, sorrow and gaiety, realism and romance. It is a pastoral comedy, lighthearted and filled with touches of parody and satire.
Rosalind disguises herself as a boy to test the attitudes of the other exiles, all variously in love. Jacques is the thinker posed in melancholy, enthralled by the life that he pretends to dismiss. Touchstone, a court jester by profession and a cynic by nature, is a more dangerous antagonist to love, persuaded as he is that love is always a mask for appetite. Deft with words and quick to corrupt their meanings, he plans to marry the unlettered shepherdess Audrey. But Jacques and Touchstone both surrender their affections when confronted by Rosalind's clarity of mind and spirit.
Even Orlando, the true lover, needs Rosalind to educate him about the truth of his feelings. She is very happy to oblige him, under the restraint of her disguise as a boy who then pretends to be a girl. Like a sentimental lover, Orlando protests that he will die if Rosalind will not have him, and she protests in turn: "But these are all lies: men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love." This is both realism and romance, impossible to separate -- the recognition that love is less than life and that it might be more. In the end, Rosalind teaches everyone around her that the absurdity of love is an essential part of sanity.
(Dan Myerson - Fandex Family Field Guides)