As You Like It

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's "marriage" comedies in which love's complications end in recognition of the true identity of the lovers and celebration in marriage. This teacher's guide includes discussion questions, activities, and guidelines for teaching the play.
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Shakespeare's As You Like It

These activities draw upon and build students' background knowledge about the themes, events, and dramatic conventions used in the play. (Note: Consult other Teacher's Guides to Signet Classic editions of Shakespeare's plays; they contain ideas that can be adapted to prepare students to read this play.)

A. Building Background Knowledge through a Problem Situation
By getting students to think about the story they might tell if they were writing a romantic comedy, this activity prepares students for the conventions of comedy and dramatic action that they will find in Shakespeare's play. Give students the following problem to discuss and write about in small groups:

Where do writers get ideas for romantic comedies and how do they tell a story that makes us laugh and also, at times, learn a lesson about human behavior?

Brainstorm with students the titles of popular situation comedies on TV that have a strong romantic interest and have them choose their favorite from the list. Then ask students to imagine that they have been asked to write the next episode for this series. They will be paid a hundred thousand dollars if they write a funny and interesting script.

In small groups brainstorm possibilities for a script. After discussing the various choices, select one idea or story line and outline the plot. Each group should make a list including: who are the characters; what will happen; what is the conflict; what complications must be resolved; how will the conflict be resolved; what will be the overall feeling at the end of the story; what will the characters learn; how will they change or be changed by the events; what will the audience learn from observing the characters in action?

Make a story board, a series of sketches, with four to six scenes from the plot showing key episodes in the action. Each group will use the story board to outline the action for the class. The class can vote on their favorite story, telling what they liked about the plot, characters, or themes.

B. Building Background Knowledge through Internet Searches
The Internet offers a variety of resources for building background knowledge as preparation for reading Shakespeare's plays. One of the best sites to start with is Terry Gray's Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet ( The site offers "a complete annotated guide to the scholarly Shakespeare resources available on Internet." It includes links to Shakespeare's works, his life and times, theater, criticism, Renaissance studies, and teaching sites with activities and lesson plans. One category named "Other" also includes a variety of links which have resources that might be appealing to high school students, such as sites to send personalized Shakespearian greeting cards. The activities suggested here mainly draw upon links referenced in Mr. Gray's site.

Prereading activities:
1. An enjoyable way to get students in the mood to study Shakespeare is to have them send sonnets to each other. They can send emails or letters.

2. To introduce students to Shakespeare's life and times, have them consult the Summary Diagram of his timeline, A Shakespeare Timeline (, which relates events in Shakespeare's life with other historical and literary events. Students can choose one of the events in his life, place it in its historical context, and then gather details by following the relevant link on the timeline. Again, students can present these results either as written or verbal reports.

3. Develop background knowledge somewhat painlessly by having students take the quiz on Shakespeare and read the answers and related material at Are You Shakespearienced? ( Students could then be asked to orally report on a question and answer to the class. Quiz questions and background material include topics such as Shakespeare's language, his popularity, and the use of terms in some of his plays.

4. Many resources are available to explore Shakespeare's language:
a. Assign students to practice pronunciation of Shakespearian English using the audio drills located at Proper Elizabethan Accents ( This site also indicates common vocabulary words and forms of address.

b. Have students compare Old English, Middle English, and Shakespearian English at Are You Shakespearienced? ( Then have them listen to how Shakespearian English was pronounced at Shakespeare Audio's ( as they follow along in the text with Jacques' All the World's a Stage speech (2.7.140-166).

c. Once students are aware of some of the unique features of Shakespearian English, assign them to look for differences between Shakespearian usage and modern English as they read the first act of the play.

5. To get students to think about how Shakespeare's plays were produced, have them study the design of the Old Globe Theater at Shakespeare and the Globe ( Discuss with students how this design would affect the sets and how speeches were delivered. Have the artistically inclined construct drawings or actual models of the Globe based on the pictures and plans at this web site.

C. Studying Genre: Characteristics of Shakespearian Comedies
1. Since As You Like It is unlikely to be the first Shakespearian play students will read, spend some time reviewing the other plays students know. In small groups have students list titles of Shakespearean plays they remember. Ask them to organize them according to categories: tragedy, comedy, history, other. Have students develop a definition for each type of play based on what they remember about the plays they have listed. List the key characteristics of each type of play. If students have listed a play that doesn't fit one of these categories, what elements of each does it contain? What might they call one of these hybrid plays? Refer students to p. xvii of the Signet Classic edition for a complete listing of Shakespeare's plays.

2. Show clips from at least two movie versions of Shakespeare's plays, one a comedy and one a tragedy; for example, Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet. Ask students to identify the characteristics of comedy and tragedy based on the action and language in these films. Ask students to free write and then discuss how comedy and tragedy are different, especially in the overall mood and impact of the play.

3. To prepare to read the play and imagine the actions which could accompany the script, ask students to read the description and examine the picture of an Elizabethan theater on pp. xxvi--xxxiii. As a project, students could prepare a model or a poster-sized drawing of the theater. Groups of students could be assigned the first two scenes of the play. Keeping in mind the design of the stage and the limitations of lighting and space, students should work out the placement of the actors for the scene. How will they avoid having an empty stage or having actors bump into each other? Where will exits and entrances occur? What characters will be on stage? Would they have more characters than the ones who have speaking roles? What visual elements would they use to catch and keep the audience's attention?

4. Show clips from several popular TV situation comedies. Ask students to identify the plot, character, and theme in each of these shows. Discuss what common conventions writers tend to use when writing comedy, such as mistaken identity, disguise, complications arising when characters do not know important information. Students could be assigned to watch a complete TV show of 30 minutes for homework and to bring a list to class of what they observed the next day. In class organize their observations according to conventions used by writers for plot, characters, themes.

5. Some students might want to read "The Source of As You Like It" to discover how Shakespeare used and changed his sources to create a comedy. Students should read the essay on pp. 107-110 and make two lists: The Source and Shakespeare's adaptation. Discuss why Shakespeare changed the original. What were his motives? What effect was he striving to create? Make and display a chart of students' responses. As students read the play, return to their speculations about the impact Shakespeare is seeking. They can revise their ideas according to the new information they learn as they read the play.

D. Initial Exploration of Themes

Nature of Love

1. Have students think about their ideal love relationship.

Have them write the word "love" in the center of a circle and then brainstorm all the qualities of love on lines going out from the circle. This is called a cluster web or a visual web. Next have students create a class web about love; remind them to think about all kinds of experiences of love--such as love between parents/children, friends, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend.

Ask students to write a two or three sentence description of true love on large index cards. Post these on a "True Love" bulletin board.

Bring in two weeks' worth of newspapers. Have pairs of students go through the papers to find examples of "true love" in the stories and columns. Have small groups of four share their stories and choose one story to share with the class. These clippings can be pasted on construction paper and added to the bulletin board. Student's definitions of love and the newspaper stories can be used as a touchstone by which to judge the character's actions in the play.

2. Who are famous lovers in history? Give students a list of famous historical lovers: Antony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine, Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh, Heloise and Peter Abelard, Elizabeth and Robert Browning. Send students on a Web search to get the main facts about the biographies of each pair of lovers and what happened in their relationship. Ask students to draw a picture of the couple with captions that best explain their relationship.

3. Who are famous literary lovers? Give students a list of famous lovers from literature: Dido and Aeneas, Penelope and Odysseus, Tristan and Isolt, Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, Jane Eyre and Rochester, Heathcliff and Catherine (teachers should add other pairs of lovers that students may have encountered in the literature curriculum). Send students on a web search to identify the lovers and their story. Ask students to draw a picture of the lovers with a caption that explains their relationship.

After completing numbers 2 and 3, ask students to list the characteristics of each love relationship. Compare notes as a group and describe two or three different types of love that are presented by the stories of the love relationships of both historical and literary persons.

4. Read one of the courtly love romances: a story from King Arthur's court by Chretien de Troyes or the Lais of Marie de France which explore the relationship between a lady and her lover. "Guigemar" is a good example from Marie de France in which the lover moves from a disdain for love through a recognition of its power, eventually forming a loving relationship with the woman. (The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby, Penguin Classics.) Students can analyze the nature of love presented in the story, distinguishing between romantic and real love. They can identify conventions of love stories that continue to be used in popular media to tell love stories today.

5. Explore Shakespeare's ideas about love by reading several of his love sonnets, such as 22, 25, and 116. Sonnet 147 presents a darker view of love. Students can contrast the view of love in sonnets 116 and 147 as a prereading activity and then look for these various views of love as they read the play.

Nature versus Fortune

1. Give students a copy of these lines spoken by Orlando from the opening scene of the play:
...he [Oliver, his older brother] keeps me rustically at home or, to speak more properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth that differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better, for, besides that they are fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage, and to that end riders dearly hired; but I, his brother, gain nothing under him but growth.... (Act I, i, 6-14).

Ask students to write freely about Orlando's complaint. What is he saying? Why is he upset? After students write, discuss the lines as a class. What expectations does Orlando have about the type of education which he deserves? What does he imply about his nature as a gentleman? What does he think is the difference between himself and men who are not born as gentlemen? This discussion may lead to a study of the social history of Elizabethan England. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents (1996), by Russ McDonald, offers primary documents describing family life and social structure of the time. Choose several excerpts that describe the social class system. Compare these writings to what Orlando has to say about his station in life.

2. Is the idea popular today that people are born with a certain fixed nature and no amount of education will change the person? Brainstorm in groups of three common assumptions about the relative importance of nature (birth and social class) versus education. This exercise may lead to a discussion of the purpose of education. In what ways do schools prepare students for life in society? How do schools work to instill common behaviors and values? Do public schools eliminate social class distinctions? This discussion may go in several directions depending on the background and interest of students. Tie this discussion into the play, by asking students why Orlando is upset that Oliver has not sent him to school and is not preparing him for his role in society?

1. When Rosalind and Celia run away to the Forest of Arden, they decide they must go in disguise in order to protect themselves. Brainstorm with students all the possible uses of disguise. Then make a second list of the positive and negative effects of using disguise. Ask students: what can you do in disguise that you cannot do in your real appearance? When is disguise useful; when is it devious?

2. Think about some famous examples of the use of disguise. Students may be familiar with several examples from literature, such as when Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar when he returns to his home to confront the suitors who have been abusing the hospitality of his home or when Huck Finn dresses as a girl to hide his identity. Students can also think about popular action characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, or Zorro. Why does a person use disguise? What does he/she gain? What are the dangers of disguise?

Woman's Nature
1. There are descriptions of the nature of women throughout the play spoken by both the female and male characters suggesting there is an essential difference between the two genders. To explore students' ideas ask them to free write on this topic: is there an essential difference between men and women? What is the nature of this difference? If there isn't a difference, why is it commonly assumed that there is a difference? After writing, have a general discussion about gender expectations. Ask students to speculate where and why some expectations emerged. For instance, when do students think the idea emerged that women couldn't work as hard as men? How much work did a woman do in the middle ages, during the industrial revolution, in modern America? Is there an idea that upper class women are less strong than lower class women? What do these notions tell us about how social class and concepts of human nature are intertwined?

2. Read the section from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1929) in which she imagines that Shakespeare has a talented sister, named Judith, who also wants to see the world and use her talents. Then discuss what were the expectations and possibilities for women in the Elizabethan age? Consider if you were a daughter of a noble family in the sixteenth century. Would you receive a university education? What were your life expectations? What if you didn't want to do what was expected? What choices did you have?

Court Life Versus Natural Life

1. Engage students in creative imaging. Ask them to close their eyes or simply to focus and relax. Here is a possible script to use: You are going back in time to 1590. You are living in a manor house in the English countryside, about twenty miles from London where the Queen is in court. Your father is a nobleman, and he plans to take you to the court to meet the queen and other nobles. You have heard your father talk about the court, and you are excited to see it for yourself. You wake to hear the morning birds and are greeted by your personal maid who helps you dress in your finest clothing. You begin to think about the day ahead. What will you do or say when you get to the court? Who do you think you will meet? Suddenly your father calls you to join him for breakfast so you can start on the journey. Describe what you saw in your daydream.

Ask students to share their impressions of court life. What ideas do they have about court life in the sixteenth century? Write their ideas on chart paper.

Then show a clip from Shakespeare in Love where the young woman goes to the court to be introduced to Queen Elizabeth and meet her future husband. After viewing the film, ask students to add to their chart. Discuss how the lives of common people would differ from the lives of the aristocrats. Discuss why Shakespeare focuses on the lives of the well-to-do in his plays? Do playwrights today focus on the same social class?

2. Think about the political arena today. What do you think it is like to be in politics? If you were in the Senate or House of Representatives, what would be some of your activities? How would your life be different from that of other citizens? What might happen to your thinking as a result of living in the capital? Would it be important to return to your home district from time to time? Why?

3. Consider the advantages of living in a city versus the advantages of living in the country. With a partner label two columns and make a list of the benefits of each type of life. Then as a group discuss what type of life you would prefer if you could make a choice and why.

4. Read the selection from Henry Thoreau's Walden where he describes leaving the town for the country. What were his reasons for choosing to live in the country? Why did he think the benefits of country living would outweigh the benefits of city life?

E. Studying Shakespeare's Language

1. Blank Verse
Although Shakespeare often used couplets, he more frequently employed unrhymed blank verse, a regular pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. Say aloud the ten syllables that follow, stressing each "dah":da DAH da DAH da DAH da DAH da DAH. (In order to create this pattern, Shakespeare had to carefully consider the placement of each stress in the line. He would have to rearrange words in order to achieve the regular pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables that he desired.)

Read the section on poetry in "Shakespeare: An Overview" by Sylvan Barnet (pp. xl-xliii). In this section Barnet shows how Shakespeare uses blank verse with variations. After reading and discussing this section, find examples of blank verse that use the five different techniques Barnet describes.

2. Syntax
Some difficulties with Shakespearean language stem from the complex syntax used to create poetic effects. Choose some lines from the play. Rearrange the words to more usual word order and take the embedded phrases and clauses and turn them into simple sentences. Add, change, or omit some of the words. For example:
Act I, i, 4-6
Orlando: My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and report speaks goldenly of his profit.

Act I, i, 124-126
Charles: Your brother is but young and tender, and for your love I would be loath to foil him, as I must for my own honor if he come in.

3. Lyric songs
Since lovers often express their feelings in lyrics, this play has many examples of songs and verses written in honor of love. Look at these examples. Notice the refrains, use of repetition, and contrived rhymes. Examples are: Act II, v, 1-7; Act II, v, 34-40; Act II, vii, 174-190; Act III, ii, 88-95. Then look at counter-examples, the poetry of the melancholy Jaques and the fool Touchstone: Act II, 5, 45-51 and Act III, ii, 100-112. Compare two of these poems to see how the parody uses the same poetic elements. Explain what causes the different effects in the two types of poems.

4. Repartee
Jaques and Touchstone engage in clever wordplay which entertains their listeners as they teach them to examine their foolish notions. Examine several of these speeches to identify the use of repetition, puns, and connotation vs. denotation.
For example, what is Touchstone's meaning in his conversation with the shepherd Corin? Does he like the rural life or not? What is Shakespeare's message to his audience?

Touchstone: "Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my humor well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach." (III, ii, 13-21)

Examine the encounter between Rosalind and Jaques in Act 4, scene i. Does Jaques successfully defend his decision to live as a melancholy person or does Rosalind outwit him? What is your reaction to Jaques' speech:
"I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation, nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness." (IV, i, 10-19)

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