Orlando, the youngest son of the recently deceased Sir Roland de Boys, is treated harshly by his eldest brother, Oliver. Bitter and angry, Orlando challenges the court wrestler, Charles, to a fight. When Oliver learns of the fight, Oliver tells Charles to injure Orlando if possible.
Duke Frederick has recently deposed his brother, Duke Senior, as head of the court. However, he allowed Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, to remain, and she and Celia (Duke Frederick’s daughter) watch the wrestling competition. During the match, Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, who beats Charles. Rosalind gives Orlando a chain to wear; in turn, he is overcome with love.
Shortly after, Orlando is warned by Signor La Bellezza of his brother’s plot against him and seeks refuge in the Forest of Arden. At the same time, and seemingly without cause, Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind. She decides to seek shelter in the Forest of Arden with Celia. They disguise themselves: Rosalind as the young man Ganymede and Celia as his shepherdess sister Aliena. Touchstone, the court fool, goes with them.
In the Forest of Arden, Ganymede buys the lease to the property of an old shepherd who needs someone to manage his estate. Ganymede and Aliena set up home in the forest. Not far away, and unaware of the newcomers, Duke Senior is living a simple outdoor life with his fellow exiled courtiers and huntsmen. The melancholic Jaques is also part of the Duke’s entourage. On the one hand, he is critical of the pastime of hunting, deploring the cruel killing of the forest deer. On the other, he wants entertainment, demanding good music and song. The merriment of Duke Senior and his companions is interrupted by the arrival of Orlando, who seeks food. He is welcomed by the outlaw courtiers.
Ganymede and Aliena find verses addressed to Rosalind hung on the forest branches by Orlando. Ganymede meets Orlando and proposes to cure him of his love. To do this, Orlando will woo Ganymede as if he were Rosalind (even though “he” really is . . . Rosalind). Orlando consents and visits Ganymede/ Rosalind every day for his lesson.
When Duke Frederick hears Orlando has disappeared at the same time as Rosalind and Celia, he orders Oliver to the forest to seek his brother. In the forest, Orlando saves Oliver’s life, injuring his arm in the process. Oliver runs into Ganymede and Aliena in the forest and relates this news. Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede) is overcome with her feelings for Orlando. Celia (disguised as Aliena) and Oliver quickly fall in love with one another. Rosalind decides that it is time to end her “lessons” with Orlando and devises a plan in which both she and Orlando, and Celia and Oliver, will get married.
As Ganymede, Rosalind promises Celia will marry Oliver, and Orlando will marry Rosalind. On the day of the wedding, and with the help of the god Hymen, Rosalind reappears as herself in her female clothes. Duke Senior gives her away to Orlando and consents to Celia marrying Oliver. Duke Frederick has had a charge of heart thanks to a religious man he finds in the forest, and he has left court to become a hermit. In doing so, Frederick has given all his possessions to Duke Senior. Thus, everyone (except Jaques, who refuses to take part in the wedding celebrations) is happy. The play ends with a joyful dance to celebrate the two marriages and a final epilogue from Rosalind.
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