Significance of Songs in As You Like It by William Shakespeare
The songs are a notable feature of As You like it. The forest would be dead without them. They are all old and plain; no luscious madrigals or quaint eclogues but songs of the greenwood and the holly, of the chase and country love. The themes are all the better for being old-fashioned: they awake the echoes of Robin Hood, and their music and association help not a little to convey that open air feeling that pervades the play, and which mere description cannot always impart. Here the sylvan predominates over pastoral; we are in Sherwood not in Arcadia, as J.C. Smith says.
Six Songs in As You Like It
There are altogether six songs in As You Like It. Of these, as many as three are sung by one of the following of Duke Senior- Lord Amiens– in the Forest of Arden. These songs are more significant than the other three and fulfill a dramatic purpose, besides adding to the lyric charm of the comedy.
The first of these begins with the famous line-‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ and gives tuneful expression to the charms of forest life. It thus contributes to the pastoral atmosphere of the play.
The second song is also in the same strain, elaborating the charms of Country life.
The third one-“Blow, blow, thou winter wind”– is a contrast between the ingratitude of man and the winter wind. The winter wind is rough: it is an enemy, but it is not so unnatural as man’s ingratitude. The song is moralizing over the treacherous conduct to Duke Frederick towards his brother Oliver, and of Oliver towards Orlando.
All the songs of Amiens are woven into the texture of the way they don’t hang loosely. They are quite in harmony with the idyllic atmosphere of the play, they enhance its woodland element and lyrical charm.
The fourth song is sung by one of the foresters, and brings out hunting spirit of mankind, the worry of the chase and the honour of the game killed. Jaques‘ comment on it brings out the other side he picture. The fifth song is sung by one of the pages and breathes same note of gaiety and cheerfulness, which is also the spirit of the play. Last but not least is the song sung to Hymen, the god of marriage. It marks the climax of happiness for lovers
Importance of Songs and music As You Like It
The practical value of the songs in the play was to entertain the audience with music. The Elizathans were great lovers of music and they always welcomed songs. While he conceded to the popular demand for songs he introduced into them some significance on the context in which they were sung.
In As You Like It we have half a dozen songs primarily intended to heighten the psychological effect of the scene in which they are sung. For instance the song in the Forest scene beginning with “Blow, blow thou winter wind,” has the effect of intensifying the pathos of the situation. The sense of ingratitude under which the banished Duke is acutely suffering is made more poetical and so endurable, by the beauty of the song and the aptness of its sentiments.
In the songs of country life which this play contains we find a different significance. These songs (such as that beginning with “Under the greenwood tree”) heighten the sense of rural bliss and innocence by expressing through musical words the serenity and peace that pervades the countryside.
Thus we may say that the songs in Shakespeare’s plays generally serve the purpose of intensifying the effect of the scenes and situations in which they are introduced.