Shakespeare drew the story for As You Like It from a story called "Rosalynde, Euphues' Golden Legacy" written by Thomas Lodge and published in 1590. In Shakespeare's version, Frederick has usurped the Duchy and exiled his older brother, referred to only as the Duke. The Duke's daughter Rosalind has been permitted to remain at court because she is the closest friend of Frederick's only child, Celia. Orlando, a young gentleman of the duchy who has fallen in love with Rosalind, is forced to flee his home after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. Frederick becomes angry and orders Rosalind to flee his court. Celia and Rosalind decide to flee together accompanied by the jester Touchstone, with Rosalind disguised as a young man.
Rosalind, now known as Ganymede, and Celia, now known as Aliena, arrive in the forest of Arden, where the exiled Duke now lives with some supporters, including Jacques. Orlando has found the Duke and his men already and is living with them and posting love poems for Rosalind on the trees. Rosalind, also in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Meanwhile, the shepherdess Phebe, with whom Silvius is in love, has fallen in love with Ganymede.
Orlando sees Oliver in the forest and rescues him from a lioness, causing Oliver to repent of mistreating Orlando. Oliver meets Aliena and falls in love with her, and they agree to marry. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe, and Touchstone and Audrey all are married in the final scene, after which they discover that Frederick has also repented his faults, deciding to restore his legitimate brother to the dukedom and adopt a religious life.
The elaborate gender reversals in the story are of particular interest to many modern critics with their love of gender analysis. At one point, Rosalind — who in Shakespeare's day would have been a boy playing a girl — becomes a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl.
Critics from Samuel Johnson to George Bernard Shaw have complained that As You Like It is lacking in the high artistry of which Shakespeare was clearly capable. Shaw liked to think that Shakespeare wrote this as a crowd-pleaser, and signaled his own middling opinion of the work by calling it As You Like It — as if the playwright did not agree.
Carping critics or no, As You Like It has always been among the most produced of Shakespeare's plays.
In Act II, Scene 7, line 138, it features one of Shakespeare's greatest monologues, which begins:
"All the world's a stage And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages..."As You Like It also features much humorous and clever wordplay, and several entangled love affairs, all in a serene pastoral setting which makes it often especially effective staged outdoors in a park or similar site.