Rosalind makes good on her promise to “make all this matter even,” that is, to smooth out the remaining romantic entanglements. Both Duke Senior and Orlando seem to have discovered Rosalind’s game by this time, and, indeed, Orlando might well have known Ganymede’s true identity from the start: “My lord, the first time that I ever saw him, / Methought he was a brother to your daughter”. That Rosalind’s identity is known before she reveals it does nothing to undermine the charm of her spell. On the contrary, her lover would not be any less willing than the audience to play along with her charms.
Rosalind’s love for Orlando requires the blessing of marriage in order to have currency in the world beyond the forest. Adam as Hymen, by his own declaration, is not of the forest but “of every town,” and it is to town that the lovers will now return. This movement should not be read as a simple victory of city over country, especially when we consider that one location necessitates the other: only a respite in the country could mend what civilization had broken. Although As You Like It draws discernable lines between the merits of town and country, heterosexual and homosexual unions, artifice and nature, youth and age, and idealism and realism, it refuses to take a definitive stand on any issue. Rather, the play insists on the complexity of life by allowing for the crossing of such boundaries. The characters’ delight in transcending these boundaries suggests a utopia where human existence is no less joyous for all its absurdities and hardships, and one where all that has been broken can, to some degree, be rebuilt. The play’s hopeful vision is one in which not everyone can or will share, as the implacable Jaques makes clear, but it is one to which most of us are only too delighted to cling.
The Epilogue, in which one of the actors remains onstage after the play has ended, was a standard part of many plays in Elizabethan times. An epilogue proves a convenient way to tie up loose ends, to distill the thematic concerns of the play into a neat speech, and to ask the audience for applause. But Shakespeare explodes the conventions of the form when he allows Rosalind to take the stage. Not only has Rosalind dropped her disguise as Ganymede, but the boy actor playing Rosalind lets slip the mask of Rosalind. When he solicits the approval of the men in the audience, he says, “If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me”. The dizzying intermingling of homosexual and heterosexual affections that govern a man pretending to be woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in the hopes of seducing a man reiterates the play’s celebration of the wonderful complexities of human life.