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Town and Country

In Cymbeline, Belarius advises his two adoptive sons to embrace the idyllic life in the country rather than the political life at court:

“O, this life
Is nobler than attending for a check;
Richer than doing nothing for a bable;
Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk:
Such gain the cap of him that makes him fine,
Yet keeps his book uncross'd. No life to ours.”

Duke Senior's expresses similar feelings in As You Like It :

—And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

Even Henry VI ruminates on the better life the shepherd leads than Henry leads at court:

“And to conclude, the shepherd's homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree's shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,
Is far beyond a prince's delicates—
His viands sparkling in a golden cup,
His body couchèd in a curious bed—
When care, mistrust, and treason waits on him.”

While As You Like It most directly deals with this theme throughout, Shakespeare also examines it in Midsummer Night's Dream, which like Henry VI, Part 3, was one of his earliest plays, and The Tempest, which like Cymbeline, was one of his last plays. His personal experiences — which alternated between his family life in Stratford and his theatrical life in London, with the country life of Warwickshire and the courtly life of Westminster — might have inspired his thoughts on this topic. But in his chosen genre of drama, conflict and its cousin contrast are elemental and many of themes, like many of his characters and plots, were framed in dichotomies.

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile

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Now for our mountain sport

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O God! Methinks it were a happy life

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