In the encounter between Touchstone and William, the sophistication of the court overwhelms the simplicity and ignorance of the country. But though Touchstone clearly defeats William in the country boy’s attempt to win Audrey, his performance strikes us as farcical rather than triumphant. Touchstone may not be as ignorant as the uneducated country boy, but his inflated rhetoric makes him appear the more foolish of the two. Touchstone dazzles William with his city wit, for the lad lacks the means to see the ridiculousness of Touchstone’s threats. But, to audiences watching Touchstone’s tirade, the style and sophistication of the city may lose its luster.
Touchstone goes on to deflate the spiritually idealized brand of love. As the duke’s pages sing a ballad that compares love to springtime, indulging every cliché from sweet lovers to trilling birds, Touchstone dismisses the song as senseless. His criticism recalls Rosalind’s dismissal of literature’s greatest lovers, but it fails to convince. Whereas Rosalind’s criticism seems imbued with a wide-ranging and generous understanding of the world, Touchstone’s opinion seems narrow and begrudging.Quick, irrational love is contagious in the Forest of Arden, as evidenced by Oliver’s head-over-heels involvement with the disguised Celia. At court, Oliver would have no cause to notice, let alone fall in love with, a common shepherdess, but in Arden the injustices of class are cast aside for the sake of romance. Oliver’s happy union brings about a swift end to Rosalind’s game: she cannot stand to see her beloved Orlando jealous and unhappy, and so determines to hang up Ganymede’s trousers. Her plan is quite clear as she strikes a marriage bargain with Phoebe, and we see the inevitability of a slew of weddings on the horizon. Some critics condemn the play at this point for what they see as a return to the normative social order that it has, thus far, delighted in subverting. As the close of the final act draws near, it is no surprise that the boys end up with the girls, and that life at court resumes, presumably, with its rigid class structures in place—in short, that all returns to normal.