Orlando: Character Analysis in As You Like It

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      In Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It, Orlando is scratched as a young nobleman, being the youngest son of Sir Rowland De Boys. As a character in the initial acts, he appears completely as an aggressive man who considered himself mistreated by his elder brother Oliver. In this way, in the initial stages of the play, Orlando wins over sympathy for the bad treatment given to him by his brother. Orlando always appears as a good-natured kind human being, although he has been the victim of the evil plans of his brother. He never protests against him, recognizing the respectable position that Oliver enjoys under being born first. These are the noble traits in the personality of Orlando. The play As You Like It depicts a galaxy of the most amazing characters, who provide a new dimension to the drama. Among all those characters Orlando deserves our special attention.

Once Orlando reaches the forest of Arden, there are found some magnificent changes in the character of Orlando.


      Ruskin has written that Shakespeare has no heroes but only heroines. Johnson also held the same opinion. It means that Shakespeare has no heroes. It is really true, but only in the realm of comedies in which the heroines dominate. Heroes are dominated. But this is not wholly true of As You Like It. There we have a person who reaches at the heroic height. Orlando is hero in every respect. “He is so esentially a man—strong, brave, modest and tender.” He has the tenderness which characterizes his strength. There is a breath of fresh air about him, and tlie energy of a healthy, active life. He is strong against oppression and gentle towards the weak.

     The youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, Orlando serves as the play's romantic male hero, eventually marrying Rosalind. Orlando's appearances in the first act well establish his moral virtue, as he craves only "such exercises as may become a gentleman", including a good education, while Oliver, the eldest de Boys brother, professes to despise Orlando expressly because the younger is "so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprized". Orlando proceeds to outwrestle Charles, a Goliath figure, without boast or bravado, and he even proves humbly shy when Rosalind addresses him afterward.

      Much attention is given to Orlando's ties to his father, Rowlarnd, whose name is a loose anagram of his youngest son's. Their last name, meanwhile, comes from bois, which means 'forest' in French. When Orlando reiterates the claim, "The spirit of my father grows strong in me", the audience understands that Orlando, not Oliver, is the true heir to the virtuous natural world signified by their last name.

      In the Forest of Arden, the audience's impression of Orlando shifts somewhat, as Rosalind, posing as Ganymede, appears to control, it not dominate, the interactions between the destined pair. The audience may feel that Orlando's inability to direct their conversations reflects a lack of masculine assertiveness. Yet in fact, one of Orlando's surest virtues may be his ability to reconcile himself to more feminine qualities. Upon reaching the forest realm of Duke Senior, Orlando first adopts an aggressive stance; however, once he realizes he is being kindly received, he remarks, "Let gentleness my strong enforcement be; In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword". With Duke Senior serving as a surrogate father figure to Orlando, this scene might be viewed from a Freudian perspective as a resolution of the hostility toward the father associated with the Oedipus complex. Signaling that resolution, Orlando taps his nurturing side, noting, "like a doe, I go to find my fawn. In "Sexual Politics and Social Structure," with reference to Orlando's later rescue of Oliver, Peter B. Erickson observes that the youngest brother "achieves a synthesis of attributes traditionally labeled masculine and feminine when he combines compassion and aggression in rescuing his brother from the lioness.

      Ultimately, as Erickson relates, Orlando is confirmed as the foremost authority figure in both his relationship with Rosalind and in the play as a whole. The possession of Rosalind in a literal sense passes from Duke Senior to Orlando. When Duke Senior is restored as the head of the dukedom, his possessions will pass not to his daughter but to the husband of his daughter, meaning that Orlando will inherit the entire land. Thus, as Erickson concludes, "Festive celebration is now possible because a dependable, that is, patriarchal, social order is securely in place".

Parentage and Education

He is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys and he is proud of him,
I am more proud to be Sir Rowland's son.
His youngest son; and would not change that calling
To be adopted heir to Frederick.

      Orlando's father now dead, and he is supported by his elder brother. But Oliver, his elder brother, is jealous of him and ill-treats him. He do? not send Orlando to school. But though unschooled, he is self-educated. Even his elder brother has to admire him:

He's gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved, and indeed so much in the heart of the world and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised.

His Bravery

      Orlando is brave, healthy and strong. Though young and tender he is a gallant youth. Even the knowledge of the cruel fate of three young men does not deter him from accepting the challenge from Charles, the court-wrestler. He does not fear his life. He is determined and defeats the boastful mighty wrestler unexpectedly. He is more than a match for him. He also approaches the Duke and his men, single-handed with a drawn sword. Alone he challenges so many. It is not only that he is strong. His strength is blended with his nobility and that is why he is brave. He saves his unnatural brother, who has ill-treated him, from the jaws of a lioness. In defense of his cruel and unnatural brother, he fought with a hungry lioness, “who quickly fell before him” tearing his arm in the encounter. He comforts Adam,

Live a little: comfort a little; cheer thyself a little.
His bravery is not without hope or courage.

His Gentleness

      The milk of human kindness runs into his veins. True courage is always gentle. It is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. Orlando is sweet and noble. When Adam is exhausted in the forest, he carries him in his arm, and brings him food at the peril of life.

Some Other Qualities

      Orlando is modest and has the sense of honor. He defeats powerful Charles, but never mentions it. And honor lies in his veins. His character is utterly opposed to that of Jaques. Orlando is essentially a man of action. He is not contemplative like Jaques, nor is he disposed to be a fault finder. When the melancholy philosopher proposes that “we two will rail against our mistress.” Orlando says,

I will chide no breather in the world but myself, against whom I know most faults.
Moreover, he is gay and hates the society of melancholy Jaques.

His Love for Rosalind

      He has fallen in love with Rosalind at first sight and now in the forest, he roams madly in search of her. E.K. Chamber writes about his mad love.

      “Then you have Orlando as the typical lover of romance, the love-shaked sonneteer, hanging his odes upon hawthorns and his elegies upon brambles, and abusing the young plants with carving 'Rosalind’ upon their barks.”

      We feel him to be worthy of Rosalind. He is so noble and true and brave. No wonder that Rosalind loved him. She must have felt from the first that he was a man likely to be a support to her through life.


      Hudson has summed up his character in the following words, “Orlando is altogether such a piece of young manhood as it does one good to be with. He has no special occasion for heroism, yet we feel there is plenty of heroic stuff in him. Brave, gentle, modest and magnanimous; never thinking of his high birth but to avoid dishonoring it; in his noble heartedness, forgetting and causing others to forget, his nobility of rank; he is in every way just such a man as all true men would choose for their best friend. He is good without effort; nay, it would require some effort for him to be otherwise; his soul gravitating towards goodness as of its own accord.” Perhaps the nearest he comes to being aware of his virtue is when his virtue triumphs over a nighty temptation; that is when he sees his unnatural brother in extreme peril.

But kindness is nobler ever than revenge
And nature, stronger than his just occasion, made him risk his life to save him.

      What attracts us most is the sincere lover inside Orlando, whose love for Rosalind is so deep and true that it cannot be measured by a common standard. From the day when Orlando sees her for the first time and the love which he feels for her has never come to an end till the last moment. Once Orlando reaches the forest of Arden, there are found some magnificent changes in the character of Orlando. It is he who saves the life of his brother from a hungry lioness and a snake.

       In the Arden from a resentful and aggressive young man, Orlando becomes every patient person. His sincere devotion and love for Rosalind, his true and honest feeling for her all come out in the forest of Arden. Once over from the anxiety attention of the court Orlando matured in the forest of Arden. In our final analysis, we may say that the character and the personality of Orlando created by Shakespeare becomes one of the most unique portrayals in the comedy and hence the most colorful figure in As You Like It.

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