Reading Shakespeare's As You Like It
Reading Shakespeare's As You Like It

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Reading Shakespeare's As You Like It

2.3 Passage 3: Hymen’s resolution

In this activity you will be analysing a third type of Shakespearean writing. This passage is in verse, like the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech you read earlier, but it is verse of a different kind, with a different atmosphere.

Activity 3

The third passage, from Act 5, Scene 4, comes from the very end of the play and involves the pairing off of four couples:

  • the play’s two main characters, Rosalind and Orlando
  • Rosalind’s cousin Celia and Orlando’s brother Oliver
  • the jester Touchstone and a country woman, Audrey
  • the shepherd and shepherdess Silvius and Phoebe

Rosalind has spent time in the play disguised as the young man ‘Ganymede’; her real identity unknown both to her father, Duke Senior, and her ardent admirer, Orlando. Unfortunately, the shepherdess Phoebe has fallen in love with ‘Ganymede’, scorning the young shepherd Silvius. Celia, too, has been in disguise, as the countrywoman ‘Aliena’. Shortly before this extract, ‘Ganymede’ has promised to put all things right and extracts promises in turn from the group: The Duke promises that he will allow Orlando to marry Rosalind if she appears and Phoebe promises that if she can’t marry ‘Ganymede’ she will marry Silvius. In the passage you are about to read, Rosalind produces a coup de théâtre – she makes an entry dressed like a woman, along with Celia and Hymen, the classical god of marriage.

As you read the extract, make some notes on the following questions:

  • What is the tone of this extract?
  • How does it differ from the tone of the previous two extracts?

When you have finished, click ‘Reveal discussion’.

The numbered footnotes in the extract below can be accessed by clicking here: Passage 3 footnotes [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . If you would like to view text and footnotes together, you can do so on the Internet Shakespeare Editions website (lines 2683-2725, with notes indicated by the green underlining).


Then is there mirth67 in heaven,

When earthly things made even68

Atone together69.                                  

Good duke, receive thy daughter;

Hymen from heaven brought her,

Yea, brought her hither,

That thou mightst join her hand with his,

Whose heart70 within his bosom is.                  


[To the Duke]

To you I give myself, for I am yours.

[To Orlando]

To you I give myself, for I am yours.


If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter.


If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind.


If sight and shape be true,

Why then, my love adieu!


[To the Duke]

I’ll have no father, if you be not he.

[To Orlando]

I’ll have no husband, if you be not he;

[To Phoebe]

Nor ne’er wed woman, if you be not she.


Peace, ho! I bar71 confusion.

‘Tis I must make conclusion

Of these most strange events.

Here’s eight that must take hands

To join in Hymen’s bands,

If truth holds true contents72.

[To Orlando and Rosalind]

You and you no cross shall part73.

[To Oliver and Celia]

You and you are heart in heart.

[To Phoebe]

You to his love must accord74                          

Or have a woman to your lord75.          

[To Touchstone and Audrey]

You and you are sure together76                       

As the winter to foul weather.

[To All]

Whiles77 a wedlock hymn we sing,      

Feed yourselves with questioning,

That reason wonder may diminish78,

How thus we met, and these things finish.


Wedding is great Juno’s79 crown,

O blessèd bond of board80 and bed!

‘Tis Hymen peoples every town;

High81 wedlock then be honourèd.

Honour, high honour and renown

To Hymen, god of every town!


[To Celia]

O my dear niece, welcome thou art to me!

Even daughter82, welcome, in no less degree.


[To Silvius]

I will not eat my word83, now thou art mine;

Thy faith my fancy to thee doth combine84.



We seem to enter a different world in this extract. Unlike Touchstone and Corin’s rollicking dialogue, it is in verse, but verse with a very different atmosphere from that of Jaques’s ‘seven ages of man’ speech. If you compare this passage with ‘All the world’s a stage’, you will notice that, as well as rhyming and including shorter lines, it is made up of lines with clear endings. The sense does not run over from one line to the next (a feature known as f) as it does at moments such as Jaques’s ‘a world too wide [new line] For his shrunk shank’. Instead, each line seems rather grandly separate: ‘Wedding is great Juno’s crown. [new line] O blessèd bond of board and bed!’ The harmonious, ritualistic feeling of the passage is accentuated by the focus on generalisation and abstraction rather than the sorts of vivid and specific pictures Jaques and (more fleetingly) Corin and Touchstone conjure up (a baby being sick, spectacles on the nose of an old man, copulating sheep, sweaty hands . . .). Also contributing to this effect are the many moments of alliteration (the use of words beginning with the same letter) – ‘blessèd’, ‘bond’, ‘board’ and ‘bed’, for example – and by the many parallels in the language (‘If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter’ / ‘If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind’; ‘You and you no cross shall part’ / ‘You and you are heart in heart’).

The solemnity of the moment is summed up in the stage direction: ‘Enter Hymen, Rosalind, and Celia. Still Musicke’ (Shakespeare, 1623, p. 206). We’ve quoted here from the first printed edition (in the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare’s works) to show how modern editors tidy up and interpret the ambiguous evidence of performance practices in the early printed editions. (You can read the Folio text for yourself by going to the Bodleian First Folio website.Our text of the play identifies any stage directions that have been added to the Folio text by putting them in square brackets.) One of the modern editors of the play, Michael Hattaway, has the music coming first, before the entry of Rosalind and Celia; he notes that ‘it seems appropriate that music should accompany the masque-like entrance, rather than coming after it’ (Shakespeare, 2009, p. 208). The word ‘Still’ in this context in Shakespeare’s day meant ‘soft’ or ‘quiet’. Try to imagine an actor dressed in classical Roman costume, while subdued music sounds around him, ushering in the newly restored dukes’ daughters in the costumes they wore at the opening of the play. Hattaway refers to another genre: masques were a fashionable form at this time. They were formal, courtly entertainments that used elaborate costuming and stage effects; they often featured classical gods entering to settle human squabbles – in his late play The Tempest, Shakespeare incorporated a masque that features classical goddesses. In As You Like It, Hymen is what is known, in the Latin phrase, as a deus ex machina: a god who intervenes to resolve an impasse at the end of the plot of a play. The Roman poet Horace provided an influential treatment of this idea in his Ars Poetica, or ‘The Art of Poetry’. This ancient work of literary advice was widely cited during the Renaissance because of the enormous prestige of Roman literature generally and Horace in particular. Shakespeare would have studied him at school; two characters in his early tragedy Titus Andronicus refer to doing this (Bate, 1994, p. 20). Shakespeare would therefore have realised that As You Like It lightly plays against Horace’s warning: ‘Don’t let a god intervene unless the dénouement requires/such a solution’ (Rudd, 1979, p. 195). Hymen comes from a different literary world from Rosalind and the shepherds, which is precisely why Horace warns against this sort of supernatural device. Introducing a god necessarily stretches an audience’s credulity. Why then did Shakespeare do it? The answer to this is contained in the rest of the extract: As You Like It follows the ancient comic convention of ending with the marriage of its young protagonists (Miola, 2000, p. 72). This is easy enough in the case of Celia and Oliver (who meet and fall immediately in love towards the end of the play [reported in Act 5, Scene 2]) and even in the earthy romance of Audrey and Touchstone (Act 3, Scene 3), but requires more effort in the cases of Rosalind and Orlando and Phoebe and Silvius because of the confusions set in train by Rosalind’s disguise as a boy. Hymen stresses (in the categorical way typical of gods) that it is his job to ‘make conclusion/Of these most strange events’ and then in his song asserts the social value of marriage: ‘‘Tis Hymen peoples every town’.

The continuation of the human race demands the somewhat arbitrary marrying off of Phoebe to Silvius as well as the love match of Rosalind and Orlando. Note that there is no possibility of a union between Rosalind and Phoebe: ‘You to his love must accord,/Or have a woman to your lord’ (emphases added). Hymen is the god of heterosexual orthodoxy. This is hardly fair on Phoebe, who nevertheless fulfils the promise she has made: ‘I will not eat my word now thou art mine’. I don’t think we’re supposed to see this as a wholly satisfactory conclusion – perhaps not even for Silvius, who must trust that the marriage he has longed for will link Phoebe’s ‘fancy’ to his ‘faith’ as effortlessly as she does in her final line. But it is one which is in keeping with almost all Shakespeare comedies: by the end, the main characters tend to marry one another, more or less gladly. In this respect, the four weddings in As You Like It are a microcosm of the marriages that close Shakespeare plays as varied as The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure.

Reading and thinking about these three passages will have given you some pointers about what sort of play As You Like It is, as well as a sense of the variety of its moods. You may well think that your investigation has gone some way to substantiate Michael Hattaway’s view that As You Like It resists any ‘monolithic meaning’ through the range of signals it gives its audience (Shakespeare, 2009, p. 4). In the next section, you will look at the heart of the play: the romance between Rosalind and Orlando.


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