As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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As You Like It | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

After the wrestling match at court, Adam lectures Orlando, asking, "Know you not, master, to some kind of men/Their graces serve them but as enemies?" He also asks why Orlando would be so foolish as to defeat Duke Frederick's prize wrestler. A puzzled Orlando asks, "Why, what's the matter?" Adam reveals that he has overheard Oliver's ill intentions toward his younger brother; he intends to burn down Orlando's lodging that night, "and you within it." Adam entreats Orlando not to enter the home. Stunned, Orlando casts about for a plan, wondering aloud if he shall have to beg for food or turn to thievery to support himself. This he cannot do, and says, "I rather will subject me to the malice/Of a diverted blood and bloody brother" than turn to such a life.

Adam offers his retirement savings to Orlando, faithful that God will provide for his own old age. He offers to be Orlando's servant, saying that, despite his age, he is still "strong and lusty" and willing to serve. Orlando praises Adam, likening him to the servants of ancient times for his sense of duty and loyalty—unlike modern servants, who only serve to better their own positions. Orlando then laments that he has so little to offer Adam, saying "thou prun'st a rotten tree/That cannot so much as a blossom yield." Nonetheless, they agree to go along together and try to make a new life somehow. For his part Adam is proud to live and die honorably, having no debt to his master.

Analysis

Loyalty and love are the main themes of this scene, with Adam proving to be a paragon of these virtues and Oliver lacking them entirely. Wise old Adam has been around long enough to understand the minds and motives of men, and it is he, not young Orlando, who sees the danger that Orlando presents to himself. His virtues and graces make him a target of jealousy and malice, and so, in a way, Orlando is his own worst enemy. His desire to prove himself in the wrestling match brought him the wrong kind of attention; it aroused Duke Frederick's and his brother's enmity against him. Orlando's youthful inexperience shows in his response; he can't imagine how to remedy his situation but through begging or thievery, neither of which he is willing to do—likely because of pride or moral scruples. Oliver's desire to kill Orlando shows no brotherly love in him, but even so Orlando has no clue what to do except to return to his murderous sibling.

Adam saves the day by offering an alternative, his life savings and escape to a new life elsewhere. This offer demonstrates deep love and loyalty, bestowed not only because Orlando is the son of his late beloved master but also because Orlando has a good character and deserves it. Adam's love and loyalty parallels that of Duke Senior's lords, who gave up their riches to follow Duke Senior into exile, just as Adam is doing now for Orlando. Adam's generosity and willingness to serve, despite his aging body, show true goodness and strength of character, and it is humbling to Orlando to be the recipient of this unexpected aid. While the richest and most powerful people surrounding Orlando persecute him, it is a poor, lowly servant who brings new hope and opportunity. Adam commits himself to serve even though his new master is in no position to reward him, which Orlando recognizes in comparing himself to a rotten tree that cannot bloom. In this scene Adam serves as a role model who shows how to live an upright, honest life—and to be grateful for it. It is just the guidance Orlando needs.

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