As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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As You Like It | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Celia tries to cheer up Rosalind, who is sad over her father's exile. They discuss Fortune and Nature, trying to understand how each influences life. Touchstone, the court's fool, comes to fetch Celia to her father, and in doing so relates the tale of a dishonorable knight who nonetheless swears by his (nonexistent) honor. The courtier Le Beau then arrives and tells of "good sport" to be had in the form of the wrestling match that is to take place shortly. He revels in sharing the details of the three brothers that Charles the wrestler has just defeated, who are all now on the verge of death from broken ribs. Touchstone remarks, "It is the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport for ladies." Nonetheless, Celia and Rosalind stay to view the match.

When Orlando arrives the ladies exclaim at his youth and try to dissuade him from wrestling. He cannot be persuaded, saying that he is willing to die, having no friends to lament him and no place in the world. The wrestling proceeds, and to everyone's great surprise Orlando defeats Charles, who is carried away in a stupor. Duke Frederick is displeased to discover that Orlando is the son of his enemy, Sir Rowland de Boys, and speaks brusquely with him rather than honoring him for winning the impossible match. Celia is shocked at her father's behavior, while Rosalind exclaims that Sir Rowland was a dear friend to her father. She presents Orlando with her own necklace as a prize for winning the match. Orlando is speechless, bowled over with spontaneous love for Rosalind. She feels the same pull, declaring to him, "Sir, you have wrestled well and overthrown/More than your enemies." He is unable to answer, and the ladies depart, leaving Orlando to kick himself for his tongue-tied manner. Le Beau then warns Orlando to leave the area to avoid Duke Frederick's displeasure. Orlando inquires about the ladies, and Le Beau reveals that Duke Frederick is irritated with Rosalind because the people praise her virtues and pity her situation. Le Beau ominously predicts that Duke Frederick's "malice 'gainst the lady/Will suddenly break forth."

Analysis

This scene sheds light on the relationship between Celia and Rosalind, who, as the reader knows from Scene 1, are not just cousins but also bosom friends. The close companions discuss important issues in life with each other. Rosalind's position at court, however, is tenuous simply because of who she is: the daughter of Duke Frederick's brother and enemy, Duke Senior. When her father was banished, Rosalind was just a child, and Frederick allowed her to stay at court for Celia's sake. However, the cousins are no longer children, and Frederick views Rosalind as a rival who eclipses his own daughter by her virtues. The fact that the people pity her also rubs him the wrong way; he wants no sympathy to go toward anyone associated with the banished Duke Senior.

Touchstone is also introduced in the scene and immediately establishes the type of character he is: a wise fool. His anecdote about the knight brings up the topic of honor, a trait that is noticeably present or lacking in many of the characters of the play. It may be that Shakespeare chose the anecdote specifically to make the reader consider the honor of the characters in general.

Le Beau, too, prompts the reader to examine both the court and its characters. In many ways he represents a typical courtier. He keeps his eyes and ears open and is up on the latest gossip and intrigue at court. He doesn't mind spreading a sensational story, either, such as Charles crushing the ribs of the three brothers. In fact he calls such violence "good sport," which reveals something of the bloodlust that pervades courtly life: it's considered fun to watch someone else get beaten to a pulp, so long as it isn't you. Touchstone's comment that such sport is not for ladies gives a disapproving hint of gender roles at the time, but it doesn't deter the women from watching anyway. Despite Le Beau's distasteful love of gossip and gore, he can be both useful and humane. In a not-so-subtle bit of foreshadowing, he rightly predicts that Rosalind is in danger from Duke Frederick, and indeed he seems to feel sorry for her.

The wrestling match does not turn out as Orlando might have hoped. Although he wins, he not only is denied either praise or prize by Duke Frederick but actually gains him as an enemy. Bad blood runs deep, and since Orlando is the son of Duke Frederick's enemy then he is the duke's enemy by default. Celia also gets a first warning that her father is not the man she thinks he is; his snubbing of Orlando is unfair, and she knows it. However, the match does have some positive results. Orlando and Rosalind are instantly smitten with one another, and she latches onto the fact that he is the son of her father's friend to bolster her sudden feelings for him. She boldly implies that Orlando has overthrown not only the wrestler but also her heart—her strong feelings prompting her to say perhaps more than is proper for a modest young lady to reveal.

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