What a strange and wonderful play. It feels almost as if Shakespeare is satirizing himself and his audience, and the clue is in the play. The play starts out as by setting up good guys and bad guys and then the action moves off to the forest of Arden where it becomes entirely a silly romance. It revels in off stage Deus Ex Machina's including saving someone from an attack by a lion and an entirely hand waving religious convergence. It feels almost like a satire of plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream or The Tempest, but at the same time it is one of those type plays, even though it pushes itself further and further. The play ends in no less than four marriages, and the fool is one of Shakespeare's best fools who even gets a happy ending. At the centre of the play is the cross-dressing Rosalind who is its heart and its center.
The play is one of the very best soufflé-light romantic comedies and manages to get it right in a way worthy of Marivaux. I love these slight silly romances which have a slightly cynical air when they are done right. The screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s were like that as was much of restoration theatre. They are very hard to do right as is indicated by the dire state of most modern romantic comedies. The sheer energy and playfulness of the play and in your face dreamy fancy is brilliant. I have been on a Shakespeare tear lately. I've started reading the about half of Shakespeare's plays that I have never read. This is the best of those plays and I would rate it about the best 6 or 7 plays that he wrote. Arguably it is better than a Midsummer's Nights Dream which is a play I love, but this one is such a high wire balancing act, that it takes one breath away.