Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 4
After we left Orlando and Adam hurrying toward the Forest of Arden in the last scene, we now meet a trio of weary travelers — Rosalind, dressed as a young man, and Celia, and Touchstone; they have finally reached the forest. As they pause to rest, a young shepherd, Silvius, enters, solemnly describing his unrequited love for Phebe to his friend Corin. So distraught by love is Silvius that he suddenly breaks off his conversation and runs away, crying "O Phebe, Phebe, Phebe!" Touchstone now hails Corin in a preposterously superior manner, but Rosalind intervenes and courteously requests food and shelter. Corin explains that he is not his own master: he merely serves another. His landlord, he explains, plans to sell his cottage, his flocks, and his pasturage to Silvius, who is so preoccupied with Phebe that he "little cares for buying any thing." Rosalind quickly commissions Corin to make the purchase on behalf of Celia and herself, and they ask Corin to stay on, at a better wage, as their own shepherd.
The opening exposition in this scene establishes the setting for the audience. Touchstone's remark, "When I was at home, I was in a better place," focuses immediately on the theme of town life versus country life. It also reflects Touchstone's realistic outlook, a viewpoint of his which is used throughout the play as a contrast to the romantic notions of the other characters. For example, note his speech in this scene where he remembers a romance of his own (lines 46-56). Most likely, it never happened at all, but it is humorously amusing. His kissing a club, his thinking of a cow's teats when he took his beloved's hands, and his wooing a "peacod" — all of these are too preposterous for us to fully believe, yet his boastful speech is a perfect contrast to the pastoral notions of Silvius, while at the same time it is a clever parody on the romantic notions of Rosalind. Additionally, in giving two cods (peapods) to his mistress (an Elizabethan term for sweetheart), Touchstone parodies Rosalind's giving a necklace to Orlando, and, at the same time, he satirizes Silvius' concept of pastoral love. And of historical note here, it is of interest that lovers in those days would often risk tearing a peacod from the vine without accidentally tearing it open. If successful, they would give it to their beloved as a sign of faithful devotion. Touchstone, in using the peacod to represent his love, foreshadows Orlando's use of Ganymede in place of Rosalind as a representative of his love.
Finally, perhaps we should mention Rosalind's purchase of a sheepstead; this bit of business brings a bit of realism to an otherwise unrealistic play. We are surprised at the quick financial transaction. It is broad comedy, whether or not Shakespeare meant it to be, and it is always a source of laughter.