Act Four of As You Like It begins with Jaques conversing with Ganymede and Aliena (Rosalind and Celia). Again, Ganymede is a “pretty youth” (IV.i.1) and “he” and Jaques discuss the older man’s melancholy, which is like no other man’s:
Orlando enters, Jaques exits, and Rosalind disguised as Ganymede acting like Rosalind (got that?) chastises the young lover for being late, saying that she “had as lief be wooed of a snail” (IV.i.48) because at least he has a house that he carries around and he comes pre-horned. And that horny-talk starts a bit of slight bawdy between the two; nothing truly greasy, but flirtatious nonetheless.
During their play-acting, Rosalind calls for her “sister” Aliena to act “the priest and marry” them (all IV.i.115). When Celia has problems going along with this improvisation, Rosalind takes over that role, too, and the two are play-married. Post-wedding, Rosalind explains to him how women change after marriage, but Orlando cannot believe it, saying his Rosalind would do no such thing. “By my life, she will do as I do” (IV.i.148), Rosalind says.
Isn’t irony delicious?
Orlando cuts his lesson short, as he has to have dinner with the duke (her father), but promises to return in two hours. And Rosalind warns him to “beware (her) censure and keep (his) promise” (IV.i.183). Once he’s gone, we begin to learn the reason way Celia had such a hard time with the marriage ceremony: she was upset that Rosalind had earlier “simply misused (their) sex in (Rosalind’s) love prate” (IV.i.188).
It doesn’t matter to Rosalind, though, as her love is so “deep…it cannot be sounded” (IV.i.193-4).
The incredibly short Scene Two of Act Four finds Jaques with some of his duke’s merry men, calling for a song for a slain deer. Yes, another song.
The much longer third (and final) scene of Act Four finds Silvius delivering Phebe’s letter to Ganymede. Rosalind understands the love message included, but accuses Silvius of writing it. Rosalind even reads the letter aloud to the shepherd, but he can only interrupt and ask “Call you this railing?” and “Call you this chiding?” (IV.iii.43 and 64), as if to say, “I’ve heard worse.” Since Orlando isn’t around (it’s more than two hours later), Rosalind takes on Silvius as a student and tells him to stand up for himself and sends him back to Phebe to “charge her to love” him (IV.iii.70). And off he goes.
Then who walks in? Orlando, right?
No, not Orlando but Oliver–he of the I’ll-burn-down-my-brother’s-house infamy. But he doesn’t seem to be looking for his brother; rather he’s looking for a shepherd’s house. Celia, always helpful, give him directions, and her appearance is meaningful to him: she is “low // And browner than her brother” (IV.iii.86-7), who is
Of female flavor, and bestows himself
Like a ripe sister
And thus she must be the owner of the house he’s looking for.
He then says why he’s looking for the house: “Orlando doth commend him to you both” (IV.iii.90). And, oh, yeah, also “he sends this bloody napkin” (IV.iii.92).
After Orlando had left Rosalind, he happened upon a “wretched ragged man” (IV.iii.105) collapsed in the woods. A snake was about to attack, and Orlando scared it off. When he looked upon the man he found that it was his brother. The ladies know what an evil man the brother had been and wondered if Orlando left the man to die. Oliver says Orlando thought about it and even “twice” (IV.iii.126) turned to leave. But kindness and the discovery of lion nearby prompted the younger brother to do battle with the lion.
And here comes the reveal (at least to the ladies): “From miserable slumber, I awaked” (IV.iii.131).
The ladies are shocked, but Oliver explains that the evil man “’twas” him, but “’tis not” him now (both IV.iii.134), since he has now undergone a “conversion” (IV.iii.135). He then gets around to the “bloody napkin” which Orlando bade Oliver to deliver to Rosalind/Ganymede as “excuse (for) // His broken promise” (IV.iii.152).
Rosalind then faints (and not a feinting faint, either).
She recovers quickly and tries to convince Oliver that this was all a “counterfeit” (IV.iii.165), a play-acting. Oliver, however, is not convinced.
And Act Four is over…