Under the greenwood tree


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Under the greenwood tree'?

Shakespeare used the term ‘under the greenwood tree’ as a generalised evocation of the pastures and forest of Tudor England, which was largely rural at that time.

Thomas Hardy used the expression as the title of a 1872 novel of rural life. Hardy followed the Bard’s lead in that the novel is set in an anonymous pastoral forested scene, somewhere in the fictionalised county of Wessex. Hardy did in fact locate most of his stories in the real county of Dorset and adapted real place names to suit his stories. Avid readers enjoy matching the fictional places with real towns and villages – the primary location being, in the stories, Casterbridge and, in reality, Dorchester. That being said, most Victorian readers would have taken ‘under the greenwood tree’ to be, as Hardy intended, an unidentified English Acadia.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Under the greenwood tree'?

‘Under the greenwood tree; appears, as the lyric of a song, in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, 1600:

Under the greenwood tree,
Who loves to lie with me.
And turn his merry note,
Unto the sweet bird’s throat:
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Who doth ambition shun,
And loves to live i’ the sun,
Seeking the food he eats,
And pleased with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Trend of under the greenwood tree in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.