As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Course Hero, "As You Like It Study Guide," July 13, 2017, accessed December 11, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/As-You-Like-It/.

As You Like It | Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The play opens with Orlando bitterly complaining to Adam, a servant of his brother Oliver. Oliver has inherited their father's wealth and position but has not fulfilled his brotherly duties as Orlando's guardian. Despite his noble birth, Orlando has had no opportunity to become a gentleman. He has been given the bare necessities of food and shelter, but nothing beyond that, and he compares himself to the barnyard animals his brother owns. Orlando's anger has grown to the point where he feels he must "mutiny against this servitude," and he threatens that "I will no longer endure it."

Oliver then approaches, and Adam conceals himself to observe how his master treats Orlando. Orlando immediately lays into Oliver, alleging that Oliver purposefully keeps him in idleness and poverty. The two begin to struggle, and Orlando grabs Oliver by the throat. Adam tries to break up the fray, but Orlando refuses to release his grip. Oliver demands that either Orlando help him become a gentleman or give him his paltry inheritance so he can make his own way in the world.

Orlando and Adam are dismissed by Oliver, who then calls for his servant Dennis to fetch Charles, a wrestler who has called to see him on urgent business. Charles updates Oliver on what's happening at the court of the "new duke," Duke Frederick. The "old duke," Frederick's older brother, Duke Senior, has been banished and is living in exile in the Forest of Arden. A handful of his loyal lords have abandoned their riches and lands to follow him in a show of support. Still living at court is Rosalind, daughter of Duke Senior and bosom friend of Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick.

Charles then informs Oliver of a rumor he's heard that Orlando plans to wrestle against him anonymously the next day. Charles generally breaks the bones of his opponents or worse, so he has come to ask Oliver to try to talk Orlando out of it. Oliver instead paints Orlando as a villain to Charles, who vows to "give him [Orlando] his payment" in the next day's wrestling match.

Analysis

Oliver has inherited their father's lands and wealth and along with it the power to dispose of Orlando's life as he sees fit. This touches on the theme of court life, in which power is often concentrated in the hands of one person—and that person isn't always very nice. Through the brothers' relationship, Shakespeare also examines the themes of loyalty and love: particularly familial love. There is neither love nor loyalty between the brothers, as one might expect, and so they present a kind of anti-ideal to these virtues. Oliver's actions speak volumes about their relationship, which is far from brotherly and closer to enemies. He keeps Orlando in reduced circumstances purposefully, not wanting to give his brother any chance of advancement in life. The truth of the matter is that Oliver is jealous of Orlando. In his final speech of the scene, Oliver admits that although Orlando is gentle, uneducated but learned, and noble, he hates him still. Orlando's popularity with his own people irks Oliver, who wants nothing more than to see his brother gone. Charles presents a timely opportunity to take Orlando out, and Oliver jumps at the chance, lying about his brother's character and portraying him as a villain so that Charles will not hold back his brutality during their wrestling match.

As for Orlando, he has been holding down his resentment for some time and is at the point of boiling over. He sees his circumstances as stifling and hopeless and rightly blames his brother. A man of action, Orlando has to do something to change his life, to "mutiny against this servitude," for he can no longer bear it quietly. The action he decides to take is to enter the wrestling contest against Charles; this would both prove his worth and let off steam from his pent-up anger. He may also hope to gain financially from the match if he wins. Orlando enters the contest anonymously because, at the time, nobles did not generally participate in wrestling. (It is for this same reason that Charles goes to see Oliver; he doesn't want to maim a man of noble birth, which could get him into trouble and bring shame on the noble house.) In entering the contest anonymously, Orlando kicks off the theme of disguises and concealment in the play; he is the first character to conceal his identity using a disguise, and he does so in order to gain greater freedom of action.

The banishment of Duke Senior and his lords indicates the treacherous nature of the court. Fortunes may rise quickly and crash suddenly at court, as they do for Duke Senior and his men. Duke Senior's relationship with his brother Duke Frederick parallels that of Orlando and Oliver: they are more enemies than friends at the opening of the play, and Duke Frederick has power over Duke Senior. By having Charles relay the news of the court to Oliver, Shakespeare sneaks in an exposition of the events that happened before the play, which are critical for the reader to understand as new events unfold.

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