Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 2
Orlando has problems that are quite different from his brother's. Oliver must find Orlando; Orlando would like to seek Rosalind if he could, but since he cannot, he has been spending his days hanging love poems on trees and carving the name "Rosalind" onto trees. As a result, when this scene opens, Orlando is about to decorate more trees in this manner when Corin and Touchstone enter. They begin to discuss the relative merits of the life in the country and at court but are interrupted by Rosalind (still disguised as Ganymede), who comes in reading one of the poems. "From the east to western Ind," she reads, "No jewel is like Rosalind." Touchstone is not impressed, and so he parodies the "false gallop" of the verse with a poem of his own.
Celia joins them, reading yet another love poem, and orders Touchstone and Corin to leave them to themselves. Celia intimates to Rosalind that she knows who the writer of the poems is, and Rosalind begs to be told. Upon hearing that it is Orlando who has probably written the poems, she asks so many questions that Celia cannot find time to answer them all, but Celia does tell Rosalind that she saw the poet in a forester's garb, lying "under a tree, like a dropped acorn." At that moment, Orlando and Jaques enter. They spend a few minutes verbally sparring (calling one another "Signior Love" and "Monsieur Melancholy"), and then Jaques takes his leave.
The lovers now confront one another, but Orlando does not, of course, realize that he is speaking to Rosalind in disguise, and so she resolves to "speak to him like a saucy lackey and under that habit play the knave with him." Thus she gaily banters with him about such subjects as time, women, and a certain lovesick youth who haunts the forest carving the name "Rosalind" on tree trunks. Orlando freely confesses that it is he who is that lovesick fellow, and "Ganymede" generously offers to "cure" Orlando of his love-sickness: Orlando must pretend that young Ganymede is the fair Rosalind, and Orlando must visit Ganymede's cottage daily to court Ganymede, who will impersonate Rosalind. Like a goodhearted comrade, Ganymede promises his friend Orlando that he will cure him of his lunacy. He will show Orlando just how silly women are; Orlando consents. "With all my heart, good youth," he tells Ganymede, he will attempt the cure while Ganymede will, like a coquette "like him, now loathe him; then entertain him, then forswear him; now weep for him, then spit at him." But Ganymede insists that Orlando must steel himself for the cure; he tells Orlando that he must not call him "good youth." "Nay . . . call me Rosalind," Ganymede orders. Once more, the lovesick Orlando agrees.
Orlando's hanging his verses in the trees reflects a commonplace convention in the pastoral genre of Elizabethan writers. Another convention of the time was to carve verses or names into the bark of trees. Here, Shakespeare is satirizing these conventions.
Later, in the encounter between Corin and Touchstone, it is interesting to note that Corin uses the respectful and formal words "master" and "you" in addressing the clown, while Touchstone condescendingly says "shepherd" and uses the familiar pronoun "thou." Each is amused by the other's quick mind — Touchstone is admired because of his wit, and Corin is admired because of his rustic answers. Neither takes the other too seriously, however.
The role of Corin, one might note, is included as a foil to Silvius. Corin is a real shepherd who knows something about sheep — that is, about shearing and herding; in addition, he has some difficulty expressing himself, much like William and Audrey, who also are representatives of true country life. Yet his thoughts, while very often seeming "homely," are shrewd. In contrast, Silvius (and later Phebe, also) is a representative from the pastoral genre of literature. He is dressed like a shepherd, and he wanders about all the day talking of love, but he knows nothing of tending sheep. Shakespeare uses this contrast, obviously, to point out the difference between the two shepherds and, more important, to satirize the precious, romantic idealism of the pastoral genre.
Also associated with this, there is a set of contrasts in Touchstone's poem and Orlando's poetry. Touchstone's poem is in a realistic vein, and it satirizes the romantic notions of Orlando's poetry. At that time, a great many love poems were composed, and many of them were as amateurishly bad as Orlando's.
Many, of course, were worse.
The pact between Rosalind (Ganymede) and Orlando leads to some of the most humorous moments in the play. This dramatic gimmick was not original with Shakespeare (it was borrowed from Thomas Lodge's novel Rosalynde), but Shakespeare embellished it and complicated it with disguises, and, from the first production, it was a sure-fire success with Elizabethan audiences, who always enjoyed intricate plots and intrigue. Here, the heroine finds herself in a position to hear her lover extol her virtues and his love for her without his being aware of her identity. The dramatic irony is a touch of brilliance.