Duke Senior, banished and usurped by his brother, Duke Frederick, now lives in the Forest of Arden, with his noblemen. Senior’s daughter Rosalind has been allowed to remain at court with Frederick’s daughter Celia, but she suddenly incurs Frederick’s displeasure, and is banished. Celia decides to run away with her, and they leave for Arden with Rosalind disguised as a man, and accompanied by Touchstone, a clown. Rosalind changes her name to Ganymede, and Celia to Aliena.
Before they leave, Rosalind falls in love with one of the sons of Rowland De Boys—Orlando, who is ruled and hated by his elder brother, Oliver. Orlando foils Oliver’s plan to have him killed in a match against the Duke’s chief wrestler, Charles, by defeating the champion.
Orlando is then advised by Le Beau to leave the court, and he flees to Arden with his old servant Adam. They are starving when they encounter Duke Senior, who takes them in, delighted to discover that Orlando is the son of his old friend Sir Rowland.
Rosalind and Celia observe two shepherds, Corin and Silvius, talking, and learn of Silvius’s love for Phebe, a shepherdess. They buy pastures and herd from them, and decide to live as shepherds. Touchstone spends much time in the company of Audrey, a country wench who is loved by William, eventually wooing her himself. Jaques, a melancholy nobleman of Duke Senior’s company, becomes fascinated by Touchstone, and spends much time talking to him.
Orlando leaves love messages for Rosalind all over the forest, which she in due course sees. When the two girls meet Orlando again, ‘Ganymede’ persuades Orlando to treat ‘him’ as his Rosalind, so that he may practise wooing. Frederick, believing Celia and Rosalind to have fled with Orlando, sends Oliver after his brother, threatening to take the De Boys’ lands if Oliver returns without him.
Oliver is saved from a lion by Orlando, and the two brothers are reconciled. Oliver relates the story to the two girls, and falls in love with Celia. Phebe has fallen for Ganymede, which causes some confusion until Rosalind reveals herself. Phebe then agrees to marry Silvius. Rosalind is reunited with her father, and marries Orlando. Oliver marries Celia. Touchstone marries Audrey.
The third son of Sir Rowland, Jaques, arrives to announce that Frederick had intended to invade the forest with an army, but on his way he met a religious man who converted him from his harsh ways, and he has now begun a religious life. Jaques decides to join him. Duke Senior has his lands and crown restored.