As You Like It by William Shakespeare Act 2 Summary

As You Like It by William Shakespeare Menu

Scene 2.1 – In the Forest of Arden.

In the Forest of Arden, the banished Duke Senior is enjoying his outdoor life, and rapturously describes to his men how much freer they are living outdoors than they were when they lived at court. Apparently, not even the cold winter wind bothers Duke Senior, for it reminds him that he is really alive and only human; he seems to find books of instruction and moral sermons everywhere in the natural world, learning from the trees, stones and brooks.
The suggestion that the men go and hunt deer reminds one of the lords of something he saw earlier in the day, when the melancholy Jacques — one of the Duke’s men, who is always sympathizing with the forest animals and seeing metaphors in everything – saw a deer which had been shot, and began crying out of sympathy for it. When another herd of deer ran by without paying attention to the injured one, Jacques grew angry and began comparing the deer to human beings, who always ignore those in need, and to the Duke’s men themselves, who have come to the forest and begun preying upon the helpless deer. The Duke, who is always very amused by Jacques’ mournful talkativeness, tells his men to bring him to where Jacques is so he can entertain himself by listening to Jacques talk.

Scene 2.2 – In Duke Frederick’s palace.

Rosalind and Celia have disappeared overnight, along with Touchstone the clown, and Duke Frederick angrily interrogates his servants. No one knows where they might have gone, but one of Rosalind and Celia’s servants has reported that she heard the two girls talking admiringly about young Orlando. One lord suggests that they may be hiding out somewhere with him. Duke Frederick decides to summon Orlando’s older brother Oliver and force him to help search out the runaways.

Scene 2.3 – At the door of Oliver’s house.

Orlando has returned from Duke Frederick’s palace to Oliver’s home, but at the door his trusty old manservant, Adam, warns him away: Oliver has heard Orlando widely praised for his victory at the wrestling matches, and, inflamed with hate, Oliver plans to burn Orlando alive in his room this very night. Adam assures Orlando that if he enters the house, he will never leave again – he has overheard Oliver vowing to kill Orlando one way or another. The penniless Orlando is at a loss as to where to go, but Adam offers him his own money – the wages he has saved since he was a young boy. Furthermore, he asks Orlando to let Adam come with him as his servant: though he is nearly eighty, he assures Orlando he is still strong. Orlando thanks Adam for his selflessness, and with Adam’s five hundred crowns – the money he has saved – they leave together to seek out some lowly, safe place to live.

Scene 2.4 – In the Forest of Arden.

Exhausted in body and spirit, Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone – the two girls in disguise as “Ganymede” and “Aliena” – have arrived in the Forest of Arden. While they are debating what to do, two poor shepherds happen to walk by, deep in conversation. One of them, Silvius, is hopelessly in love with a girl named Phoebe, who proudly scorns him. Although the older shepherd, Corin, tries to give him advice, Silvius rejects it all, for he is sure that Corin has never been in love as deeply as he himself is. Listening to their slightly ridiculous conversation, Rosalind is reminded of her own lovelorn state – for she herself is in love with Orlando – and even Touchstone remembers some amorous adventures from his younger days.
Silvius wanders off, sighing, and Rosalind (still in the male persona of “Ganymede”) hails Corin to ask if there is any place in the forest where she and her friends can buy food or shelter. Corin answers that he cannot offer them much, for the flocks he watches are all for sale, as are their grazing fields and the little shepherd’s cottage. Rosalind suggests that they give Corin the money to buy the house, fields, and flocks on their behalf, so she, Celia, and Touchstone can set up housekeeping as shepherds. Corin agrees, and the three go off with him to look over the house and fields.

Scene 2.5 – In the Forest of Arden.

Jacques, Duke Senior’s melancholy and poetic follower, and another of the Duke’s men, named Amiens, are singing in the forest to amuse themselves. Or, rather, Amiens is singing, and Jacques is begging him to keep on singing more songs. Amiens points out that the songs just make Jacques unhappy, but Jacques – who likes being unhappy – says he will thank the songs for doing that. Amiens sings two short verses of a song, about the pleasures of living outdoors, and Jacques adds a verse of his own invention, in which he suggests that the Duke’s men and anyone else who chooses to live outdoors is a stubborn fool. This last contains a nonsense word – “ducdame” – repeated several times in the chorus.
Amiens, who is preparing the Duke’s daily outdoor feast, reminds Jacques that the Duke has been looking for him all day, but Jacques responds crisply that he has been avoiding the Duke all day; the Duke always wants to draw him into an argument, but Jacques prefers to think his own thoughts in silence. Amiens gives up, and while Jacques goes off to take a nap, Amiens summons the Duke to his meal.

Scene 2.6 – In the Forest of Arden.

Orlando and his servant Adam have reached the Forest of Arden, but old Adam has grown very weak. Saying he is about to die for lack of food, he collapses to the ground. Alarmed, Orlando drags him to shelter, begging him to hold on to his strength for a little while longer and promising to find food for them both.

Scene 2.7 – In the Forest of Arden.

Duke Senior, sitting down to his outdoor feast, complains that he cannot find Jacques anywhere. But suddenly Jacques rushes into the clearing, laughing and unusually cheerful. Jacques explains merrily that he has met a “fool” in the woods, who entertained him by making morbid puns about the passing of time and the inevitable death of all mortals – just the sort of jokes Jacques likes. (Since Jacques says the fool told him that he used to live at court, it’s clear that this person must be Touchstone, who we know is now in Arden Forest.)
Jacques demands that Duke Senior give him a motley coat (the patchwork costume which court fools and clowns traditionally wore in the Renaissance). Duke Senior promises to give him one. But Jacques now also demands the traditional prerogative of court clowns: the freedom to say whatever he wants and to poke fun at his social superiors. Duke Senior does not agree to this, sharply reminding Jacques that Jacques himself was a decadent sinner when he lived at court, and that he would be hypocritical to condemn other people. But Jacques argues that everyone is a hypocrite, and that if he names no names while describing the sins he observes in others, no one would ever be able to complain that he was talking about them without exposing themselves.
This increasingly abstract argument is suddenly interrupted when Orlando leaps into the clearing, sword drawn, demanding that the Duke’s party hand over their food to him. But when Duke Senior politely invites him to sit down and share their meal, Orlando apologizes for his rude conduct, explaining his desperate plight and begging the Duke to take mercy on him. The Duke promises Orlando all the food he needs, and Orlando goes off to find old Adam and bring him to the banquet table. When the Duke comments that Orlando’s situation forces him to remember that other people in the world besides himself are unhappy, Jacques responds with his (now famous) speech about the “seven ages of man,” in which he declares that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He goes on to describe the different ages that humans go through – from infant and schoolboy, to lover and soldier, to middle-aged “justice,” to old man, and back into senile second childhood – winding up with a morbid vision of an extreme old age which has lost the ability to see, eat, taste, or experience anything at all.
Orlando returns with Adam, and the Duke invites them both to eat with him; meanwhile, Amiens sings a song to entertain the company. After the meal, the Duke invites Orlando and Adam back to his cavern headquarters to tell him about their troubles. He reminds Orlando that he was a close friend to Orlando’s father, Sir Rowland de Bois, and says he will make Orlando and Adam welcome in the forest.