As You Like It: Act 1, Scene 1 - Summary & Analysis

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(a) Introduction to the Scene—

      This scene gives us information about (1) the relations between Oliver and Orlando, and (2) Rosalind and her father.

(i) From the conversation of Orlando with Oliver we learn—

      That Sir Rowland de Boys had three sons, Oliver, Jaques and Orlando.

      The testamentary disposition of the old knight’s property.

      How Oliver had treated Orlando and the temper in which Orlando regards the situation.

(ii) The casual questions put by Oliver to Charles tell us—

      That the old Duke had been banished, and now was in the forest of Arden, where his friends had joined him, and where he was leading a happy rural life in the woodland solitude.

      Of the mutual affection between Rosalind and Celia. Rosalind had not accompanied her father into banishment, but had stayed at her uncle’s court, beloved by Celia and by her uncle.

      Oliver and Charles arrange the plot for the maiming of Orlando, and thus we are prepared for the wrestling scene.

(b) Importance of the Scene—

      In the very first scene, Shakespeare departs from the novel of Lodge. He does not put before us the death-bed of the old knight as Lodge does in his novel.

      The first scene unfolds the main action of the drama, the jealousy of the brothers. The reader or the spectator catches the keynote of the play.

      The scene foreshadows the Idyllic nature of the play. The mention of ‘Old Robin Hood of England’, and of the forest of Arden, where they ‘fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden age’ prepares the reader for the pastoral element in the play.

      The play introduces the element of suspense. After what has happened to Orlando, the way in which he is ill-treated, and persuaded into the wrestling bout, we are anxious and eager to know about his fate.

      The readers are introduced to the hero of the play, Orlando.

      The character of Adam is introduced to connect the old generation with the younger one.


Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave me his countenance seems to take from me. (Act I. Sc. I. Lines 17-19)

      In these lines taken from As You Like, Act I Scene I, Orlando, the hero of the play is complaining to Adam, the family servant, about the ill-treatment he meets at the hands of his elder brother, Oliver, one of the two villains in the play (the other villain being Duke Frederick).

      Orlando is intentionally ill-treated. Even the animals are better fed and trained. He has been denied education while reports speak to Jaques favorably of his brother Jaques's progress. Jaques is getting his higher education at the university. Orlando cannot brook such ill-treatment.

      Besides all this, he (his elder brother Oliver) undermines those natural qualities which he (Orlando) has inherited from his noble family. In addition to the fact of his doing nothing for his education, Oliver deprives him of his natural qualities by his ill-treatment. Far from educating Orlando, Oliver blocks the free development of his (Orlando’s) intellectual faculty.

      Much controversy has been clustered round the word ‘countenance.’ Warburton reads it as discountenance, Wright gives its meaning as a favor, regard, patronage, and Schmidt as ‘appearance department.’ A. W. Verity gives its meaning as ‘authority.’ Cf. King Lear v. 162,63, “We’ll use his countenance for the battle.” Countenance means to authorize or approve a thing. The suitable meaning of this word in the given context is treatment. Orlando has been ill-treated. The lines introduce us to the character of Orlando and Oliver.

What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury? (Act l, Scene I, Lines 41-42)

      In these lines from ‘As you Like it’ Act I scene I, Orlando, the hero of the play is talking to Adam, the faithful family servant of late Sir Rowland. Orlando has suffered for a long time. He has been ill-treated at the hands of his elder brother. His patience is already exhausted, and when his elder brother snubs and rebukes him, speaking to him to ‘be better employed, ‘he does not keeps mum but speaks out. What portion, he says, he has spent prodigally (like a prodigal) that he has become a pauper and deserves such harsh treatment as to eat husks with the hogs. H. W. Furness says that ‘it may be a case of prolepsis; that is, what portion have I prodigally spent.’

      Orlando alludes to the story of the Prodigal Son. There was a rich man who had two sons, the younger of whom wished to have his share so that he could live independently. In spite of his father’s entreaties, insisted on getting his share. He got the money and spent it extravagantly with his friends. When he spent all his money his friends deserted him. He accepted the employment to feed the swine. He was given husk to eat. He led a miserable life for a time and then returned home. His father was happy at the return of the prodigal son, killed the fatted calf and gave him a feast.

      This allusion intensifies the feelings of Orlando and the ill-treatment he meets. Even the prodigal son met a better treatment even though he had recklessly spent his money. Orlando is ill-treated even when he has spent no money.

Is it even so? Begin you to grow upon me? I will physick your rankness. (Act I. Scene I. 91-92)

      During the hot conversation between Oliver and himself Orlando had manhandled him and was about to throttle him. Oliver could not tolerate this and burst out in anger. He rebuked Orlando that he had gone too far in taking liberty, misbehaving, and manhandling him. He told him that he (Orlando) was encroaching upon him (Oliver). He was getting too much for him (Oliver). He (Orlando) had grown exuberant and that he would cure his insolence.

      The word ‘grow’ has been interpreted difierently by critics. Collier thinks that there should be ‘growl’ instead of ‘grow.’ It follows up the simile of the ‘old dog’ which Oliver had just applied to Adam But ‘growl’ would refer to Adam, Whereas this speech refers to Orlando. Wright interprets ‘grow upon’ by encroach, and cites Julius Caesar. Here as I point my sword, the sun rises, which is a great way growing on the south’ Halliwell paraphrases ‘to increase in disobedience to my authority’. Neil asserts that ‘grow’ is a provincialism for swell become sulky, murmur. A.W. Verity also thinks that it is colloquialism to get too many for’ to become unmanageable. Mr. Stanley Wood and F. Marshall think that the world means enchroach. According to H. W. Furness the word simply that Oliver is beginning to find out that Orlando is growing too big on his hands to be treated any longer like a boy.

They say lie is already in the forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him: and there they live like the old Rohin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden word. (Act I. Scene I. Lines 121-126)

      In these lines Shakespeare has given expression to the romantic, idea, dreamy life of the Forest of Arden. Oliver asks Charles, the wrestler, about the latest development in the state. Charles speaks about the exile of the senior Duke, flocking of the noble men to him daily, and the life of the golden world in the forest of Arden.

      Charles informs Oliver of the report that the banished Duke is in the forest of Arden with a company of some chosen faithful friends. There they pass their carefree life as leisurely as Robin Hood did in England in old days. Many of the followers and well-wishers of the senior Duke were going to him daily to the forest. There, in the forest, they spent their time in the idyllic happiness, as people passed their days in the golden age where everything was peaceful and innocent, and where there was no work, and the people used to pass their days leisurely.

      These lines are important because they describe the romantic pastoral life of the Forest, which works magic on those who come to it, as the Love Juice does in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Arden is the English form of the french forest of Ardennes in which occur the events of Lodge’s novel. Shakespeare achieves a double effect The allusion suggests romantic background and also brings about parallelism between Arden and Robin Hood’s Huntingdonshire. In Lodge’s novel, the forest of Ardennes is located somewhere in France. The forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It is a thing of imagination, and there fore suggests a a romantic background.

      Shakespeare mentions Robin Hood of England. Shakespeare may take his story to any country, Whether it is Denmark, or France or Italy but the atmosphere he sketches is that of the England of the Elizabethan times. “Few examples could better illustrate than this (reference to Robin Hood), how ineradicably, Shakespeare belongs to England, and how impossible it is to transplant him to any foreign soil.

      About the word fleet used here Halliwell says that a vessel is said to fleet when the tide flows sufficiently to enable her to move. It is too fanciful to suppose that in the use of this word in this particular passage, where a gay, careless happy life flows on from hour to hour without a ripple of annoyance, there was in Shakespeare’s mind a dim association between this word fleet, and Float (to flow)?

Speak but brotherly of him, but should I anatomize him to thee as he is, I must blush and weep, and thou must look pale and wonder. (Act. I. Scene I. Lines 162-165)

      In these lines, the depraved character of Oliver, the elder brother of Orlando is exposed. He wants his younger brother to be killed in the wrestling bout with Charles. He does not want to give him his share of patrimony. Moreover, he feels jealous of him and wants to get rid of him completely. He, therefore, cooks up the character of Orlando, and presents him as the darkest character.

      He tells Charles that there is no other person in France as generous as he is. He wants to plot secretly against his own brother. He then tells Charles that if he defeats Orlando, he will plot against his (Charles) life. Oliver says that he is speaking with reservations about his brother. He cannot present him to him (Charles) as he (Orlando) really is, because he is his brother. And therefore, his censure in all its inward depravity. If he (Oliver) should describe his borther as plainly as he should (and as he really is) i.e. (should expose him,) He would feel ashamed of such a bad brother and he (Charles) would turn pale with horror and amazement.

Yet he’s gentle; never school’d and yet learned, full of noble device of all sorts enchantingly beloved and so much in the heart of......that I am altogether misprised. (Act I, Scene I, Lines 173-178)

      In these lines give the true estimate of Orlando’s character. It is characteristic of Shakespeare to assess the character of persons through the comments of other characters. Here we come to know about Orlando’s true character through the words of his elder brother Charles who wants to get rid of his younger brother. He has already persuaded Charles, the court wrestler, to kill Orlando, in the wrestling match. He imagines the cruel fight and the death of his younger brother. For a moment his unconscious (or semi-conscious) better self-predominates his wicked nature when he praises his younger brother in the following words.

      He is well-born and gentle. He has never been educated and yet he is learned. He is full of noble aims and aspirations. He is beloved of all Classes as if they were under some spell or charm. He is loved by all men, especially by the servants of the family. He is so much adored by other that he (Oliver) is underestimated and despised by others. The piece reads like the funeral speech on the deaths of Orlando by Oliver.

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