Liking and Likeness in As You Like It

The title of Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, immediately suggests that the notion of liking and likeness will be a central theme. We find that who we like is based on a person’s similarity to other people we like. Identifying a likeness of qualities between people helps us establish who we like.

The play is full of both dichotomies and likenesses. We see the dichotomy between the country and the court and the famous analogy between the world and the theatrical stage. The main characters of the play each correspond to another with either inverted or similar qualities: Duke Senior is banished while Duke Frederick has come to power, Orlando is the moral and chivalrous son of Sir Rowland de Boys and Oliver is the aggressive and ungenerous son. Other characters are more similar, and their likenesses shape their relationships. Celia and Rosalind refer to each other throughout the play as doubles or reflections of themselves.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “like” has two potential meanings when used as a verb: to compare and to find pleasing. The analogies we see in the play and how characters determine who they like, ultimately resolve the two meanings of the word like into one. One first goes through a process of comparison and then establishes what pleases them to determine who they like. Shakespeare emphasizes that when determining whom we like, we value whom that person is similar to over familial or other sorts of affiliations.

After Rosalind quickly falls in love with Orlando, Rosalind asks Celia to join her in loving him. Rosalind explains that she has fallen into such a strong liking with Orlando because, “The Duke my father lov’d his father dearly” (1, 3, 29). But Celia retorts, “By this kind of chase, I should hate him, for my father/hated his father dearly; yet I hate not Orlando” (1, 3, 31-32). While Rosalind first suggests her sentiments simply mirror those of her father, Celia points out that neither like nor hatred is inherited. Rosalind ultimately asks that Celia not echo her father’s sentiments, but instead she should love Orlando because Celia is a reflection of her.

This mirrored quality between Celia and Rosalind is seen again when Celia explains to her father, Duke Frederick, why Rosalind should be allowed to stay in the court. “But now I know her,” Celia tells her father about her relationship with Rosalind, “If she be a traitor,/Why, so am I. We still have slept together,/Rose at an instant, learn’d, play’d, eat together/ And whereso’er we went, like Juno’s swans,/Still we wend coupled and inseparable” (1, 3, 70-74). Celia asks Duke Frederick to love Rosalind because Rosalind is a reflection of her.

When Adam decides to leave with Orlando, we see again that there is a further reasoning that is involved in determining our allegiances beyond assuming a father and child’s likeness. Adam speaks to Orlando about Oliver but does not know how to call Oliver: “Your brother—no, no brother, yet the son/(Yet not the son, I will not call him son)/Of him I was about to call his father” (2, 3, 19-21). Adam regrets having to compare the brothers Orlando and Oliver and is distressed by referring to Oliver as Sir Rowland’s son, the master he so respected. While Oliver is technically Adam’s master now, Orlando is more like Sir Rowland than Oliver. Adam likes Orlando because he values the likeness between Orlando and Sir Rowland. Because of this likeness and liking, Adam flees with Orlando into the woods.

Likeness breeds liking. In turn, liking can breed likeness, as we imitate those we admire. We like people because of who they are similar to (ourselves or otherwise) and we choose to mimic or “double” the people that we like.