Outside a place in France, we meet Orlando, a young nobleman, loudly complaining to his old servant Adam: His older brother Oliver has been oppressing him since their father died, keeping him in poverty and making him work like an animal. He has sent their middle brother, Jacques, to school, but Orlando is not given any opportunities. Orlando vows to win his own fortune, and will start by challenging the famous wrestler of the ruling Duke in the matches which will be held the next day.
The wrestler, Charles, visits Orlando's cruel brother Oliver later that day. Oliver learns the latest news: The old Duke, Duke Senior, has been overthrown by his wicked younger brother, Duke Frederick. Duke Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden, where he lives outdoors with his noblemen, like Robin Hood. However, his daughter Rosalind remains in Duke Frederick's court, due to her close relationship with her cousin Celia - Duke Frederick's daughter. Oliver asks Charles not to go easy on Orlando in the matches the next day, but instead to try to kill him.
The next day, at Duke Frederick's court, Celia tries to comfort the dejected Rosalind, who misses her father. At the wrestling matches, Orlando makes a huge impression on Celia and Rosalind when he challenges and defeats Charles. Although only able to speak a few words to each other, Rosalind and Orlando fall in love. However, when Duke Frederick finds out that Orlando is the son of an old enemy, he refuses to give him the promised reward. The frustrated Orlando returns home, only to be warned by his loyal servant Adam that Oliver is determined to kill him. Supplied with Adam's life savings, the two set off for the Forest of Arden, hoping to find and join Duke Senior.
Meanwhile, Duke Frederick - angered by Rosalind's popularity among his people - has banished her from his palace. The steadfast Celia proposes to Rosalind that they flee together to the Forest of Arden, to join Rosalind's father, Duke Senior. To make their journey safer, Celia disguises herself as a peasant girl and renames herself "Aliena," while the tall, quick-spoken Rosalind dresses up as a boy and renames herself "Ganymede." For added safety, they take along Touchstone the clown, Duke Frederick's court jester, who is loyal to Celia.
Rosalind/"Ganymede," Celia/"Aliena," and Touchstone arrive in Arden Forest safe but exhausted. They quickly meet the locals, who include a shepherd named Silvius, lovesick for a haughty shepherdess called Phoebe, and an elderly shepherd named Corin. From Corin, "Ganymede" and "Aliena" buy a cottage and a flock of sheep, and set up housekeeping as shepherds.
We are introduced to Duke Senior and his men, who live a simple, cheerful life in the Arden Forest. Among his men is the constantly dejected Jacques, who is always moping about something (much to everyone else's amusement). Sitting down to their customary afternoon meal, the Duke and his men are suddenly interrupted by the sword-waving Orlando. He has reached Arden Forest with Adam, now dying of hunger, and demands food from Duke Senior at swordpoint. When the Duke calmly welcomes him, Orlando apologizes for his rash behavior, and he and Adam are absorbed into the forest community.
Meanwhile, Duke Frederick has discovered Rosalind and Celia's disappearance, as well as Orlando's flight from his own home. Enraged, he summons Orlando's brother Oliver and banishes him, telling him not to return until he can find and produce his brother and the missing women.
In the Forest of Arden, the locals have discovered that someone has been hanging rather badly-written love poetry in the branches of the trees. Celia discovers that the writer is none other than Orlando, who has arrived in Arden and is distributing poems proclaiming his love of Rosalind. Rosalind, who has become known to the locals in her male person of "Ganymede," decides to approach Orlando in her male disguise and become close to him. As "Ganymede," she catches his eye and intrigues him with her wit. Then she proposes a strange game: to cure him of his lovesickness for the absent "Rosalind," Orlando should pretend that the boy "Ganymede" is actually Rosalind, and pay court to "her" just as if she were really his beloved. Orlando agrees to try this peculiar remedy, and agrees to come by every day to woo "Ganymede"/"Rosalind."
Meanwhile, other people are also suffering the pangs of love: Touchstone has met a female goatherd named Audrey whom he is determined to marry, if only he can find a good priest. The local vicar, Sir Oliver Martext, is uneducated and incompetent - as Jacques points out. Elsewhere in the forest, Silvius is trying to court the proud shepherdess Phoebe, who continues to reject him. The old shepherd Corin brings Rosalind/"Ganymede" and Celia/"Aliena" to watch this spectacle, but the outspoken "Ganymede"/Rosalind bursts out of hiding to order Phoebe not to be so full of herself. However, Phoebe unexpectedly falls in love with this beautiful young "man"! Now everything is really in a tangle.
The next day, Orlando comes as usual to "Ganymede's" house to court "him." In her disguise, Rosalind teaches him the ways of love, and even has Celia stage a mock wedding between Orlando and "Ganymede." When Orlando is late in returning, Silvius brings "Ganymede" a love letter from Phoebe, which Rosalind/"Ganymede" rejects. Just as Silvius is leaving, someone unexpected appears: Orlando's brother Oliver, who is carrying a handkerchief stained with blood! He tells a complicated story, explaining how he has been looking for Orlando for a long time, and how Orlando has just saved his life after he was attacked by a lion in the forest. He goes on to say sincerely that he, Oliver, has had a change of heart and regrets his cruelty to Orlando. The wounded Orlando has sent Oliver with the handkerchief to explain to "Ganymede" why he was late for their appointment. Rosalind/"Ganymede", overwhelmed by the blood and by her fear for Orlando, finally faints.
Elsewhere in Arden, Touchstone is forced to defend his claim to Audrey against another young man, named William; but through intimidation and superior force of puns, Touchstone drives him away. Meanwhile, Oliver and Orlando have become friends again - and Oliver and Celia/"Aliena" have fallen in love, planning to be married the very next day! Orlando and "Ganymede" discuss this privately, and, seeing that their courtship game is wearing thin, Rosalind/"Ganymede" grows serious: "Ganymede" tells Orlando that he knows some magic, and that he can summon the real Rosalind to "Aliena" and Oliver's wedding tomorrow, where Orlando can ask her to marry him if he wishes.
They are interrupted by Phoebe, who is very angry at "Ganymede" for his reception of her love letter, and by Silvius. Rosalind/"Ganymede" promises Phoebe that he will marry her tomorrow if he ever marries a woman, but that if Phoebe herself rejects him for some reason, she must marry Silvius instead. Phoebe agrees to this. "Ganymede" then promises both Orlando and Duke Senior that he will procure Rosalind the next day if Orlando will agree to marry her and Duke Senior will agree to let Orlando be her husband. Puzzled, they promise this, and, making everyone swear to gather then, "Ganymede" sends them all home.
The next day, everyone gathers in the forest at the appointed time, including Touchstone and Audrey, who also plan to be married today. Rosalind/"Ganymede" promises them he will now produce the mysterious Rosalind, and she and Celia/"Aliena" head out of sight together. When they reappear, they have both removed their disguises! Orlando and Duke Senior joyfully recognize Celia and Rosalind, and Phoebe, realizing that she has been tricked, resigns herself to marrying Silvius. The god Hymen - Greco-Roman god of marriage - descends from heaven, and marries the four couples: Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Phoebe and Silvius, and Touchstone and Audrey.
Suddenly, another unexpected guest arrives - Jacques de Boys, Orlando and Oliver's third brother! He has come to announce that Duke Frederick, who was about to storm Arden Forest with a large army in order to capture his brother, has been converted to religion by a wise man he met on the way, and has decided to become a monk and return the kingdom and crown to Duke Senior. Duke Senior's melancholy courtier, Jacques, is intrigued by this story, and announces his intention to become a monk as well. Duke Senior orders his musicians to strike up a tune to celebrate the multiple weddings, and, after a dance and a light-hearted epilogue (or final speech) which Rosalind addresses to the audience, the play ends happily.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 2.1, 2.2, 2.3
Scenes 2.4, 2.5, and 2.6
Scenes 4.2 and 4.3
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scenes 5.3 and 5.4