Forest of Arden in As Vow Like It, is primarily intended by the dramatist to afford a happy contrast to the kind of life from which these people were banished. That is to say, the highly sophisticated and artificial life of the court and palace is contrasted with the idyllic and natural life of the forest of Arden. Obviously, therefore, we find in the life of this forest all the opposites of luxurious and artificial life. As one of the forest dwellers puts it:
“Here we find no enemy but winter and rough weather.”
That is the significance of the forest life. Far from the madding crowd of ignoble life, the Duke and his trustworthy followers live in the shady
haunts of the forest of Arden, a life which is simple, innocent, and frugal. This life is ideal and Arcadian; its wants are few and they are easily satisfied. There is neither the occasion nor the inclination to be malicious or enviable. Everyone is happily disposed towards his fellow beings on account of the commonality of interest and misfortune which, far from making them miserable gives them, good schooling in the art of a happy life. Indeed, there is truth in the noble sentiments of the Senior Duke who, in a passage of extraordinary poetic beauty praises and commends a life of sorrow and misfortune. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” he says ; and one is reminded of the similar sentiments which one of Browning’s, characters expresses in a famous passage where he says,
“Be our joys three parts pain. Strive, and hold cheaf the strain!”
Hunting is the principal occupation of the dwellers of the forest because it offers them both the food and the pastime which keep their life fruitfully engaged. Music comes as a divine relief from the boredom of their life, and this is expressed in the several, simple songs with which the scenes of the forest of Arden are interspersed. Further, we are presented with the spectacle of the real dwellers of the forest of Arden in the person of the shepherds and shepherdesses, the proud and disdainful Phebe, the humble and passionate Silvius, the simple and unsophisticated. Audrey and the unlettered preacher and priest, Sir William Martext. All these characters afford us a glimpse into the life of the forest and countryside as distinguished from urban and artificial life. To this realistic portraiture of country, manners is added, as a relief and contrast, the dramatic and romantic episodes in which Rosalind and Celia, dressed in disguise, play an entertaining role. This life is made yet more pleasurable and entertaining by the sallies of Touchstone
which give expression to his inexhaustible and irrepressible wit and humour. Such a varied fare presented in the life of the forest of Arden cannot but be pleasing and instructive.
Finally, however, our appreciation of the forest of Arden cannot be full and just unless we observe what view the dramatist himself seems to entertain in regard to such ideal life. Shakespeare is eminently sane in his responses to life and its varied aspects. An ideal writer would have indulged in the unconditional praise of such a happy life, but Shakespeare justly weighs the merits and demerits of the woodland life and estimates its place in real life. He makes Touchstone his own mouthpiece in this connection and makes him admit that the forest life with all its attractions has yet its own limitations in the scheme of a full and mature experience. To conclude with Touchstone’s words about Forest of Arden-
“Truly shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in the respect that it is a shepherd’s life, it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now in respect it is in the fields it pleaseth me well hut in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious.”
That is an eminently sane and balanced estimate of the merits and limitations of the forest life and we shall have to confess that the fool is wiser than he seems when he makes such just remarks.