The play moves from Duke Frederick’s court into the Forest of Arden, Shakespeare explores more fully the complexities of his major themes: the merits of country versus city life, and the delights and dismays of romantic love. The conversation between Touchstone and Corin provides interesting insight into the matter of city versus country living. Although Corin concedes the argument to Touchstone, calling the clown’s high but hollow rhetoric “too courtly . . . for me,” we note that Corin’s speech is much clearer and his logic more sound than Touchstone’s. Corin’s declaration that “[t]hose that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court” is not only sensible, it is also in keeping with the guiding philosophy of the play: that the world is full of contradictions that do not cancel one another out, but exist side by side. Corin’s willingness to rest, then, is not so much an admission of defeat as a recognition that court and country, along with the style and the substance that they respectively represent, must coexist.
As the argument between Touchstone and Corin plays out, we witness the repercussions of Orlando’s lovesickness. When characters fall in love in As You Like It, they invariably fall hard and fast, abandoning all reason in their desperate attempts to win the object of desire. Orlando is no exception, as the silly and unskilled poems he tacks on the trees make clear. Here, Orlando’s behavior accords with the Petrarchan model of romantic love (Petrarch is a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose lyrics elevate the woman he loves to an unattainable, semidivine status). Orlando’s behavior leads him to great folly and prompts Jaques’s sour declaration: “The worst fault you have is to be in love”. But, sour though it is, the sentiment is not Orlando’s alone. As Rosalind reads Orlando’s verses, she comments on their poor composition, but this shortcoming does not stop her from enjoying them. It is much to the play’s credit that it conceives of such irrational devotion as both a virtue and a vice. It is also the greatest testament of the depth of Rosalind’s character: only she is capacious and generous enough to welcome and thrive on such contradictions.
The play also adds an interesting twist on the stage convention of cross-dressing as Rosalind decides to use her disguise as Ganymede, in effect, to woo Orlando. The erotic possibilities here are nearly endless, considering that Rosalind dresses as a rather effeminate man and offers to provide Orlando with love lessons so that Orlando may win his beloved Rosalind. The complexities of the situation multiply when we consider that in Shakespeare’s era, Rosalind would have been played by a boy actor. As the audience watches a boy playing a woman who plays a man in order to win a man’s love, the neat borders of gender and sexuality become hopelessly muddled.