Act I

This act is set wholly in the court of Duke Frederick who has ousted his elder brother Duke Senior from power and sent him into exile. In the garden of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, his youngest son Orlando complains to his aged servant Adam that Oliver, his elder brother, is not treating him as his father would have wished. He has not given him access to the funds set aside for his education, but instead treats him no better than a servant. Oliver enters and the brothers quarrel. Oliver, who hates his brother, refuses to reimburse him. Instead, he summons the wrestler Charles, whose challenge Orlando intends to answer and tricks him into thinking that Orlando will plot against his life if he loses the wrestling match. Charles departs with the intention of disabling him.

The opening of the play contains nothing light-hearted or comic, instead revealing a disturbing background to then comedy that follows. Orlando is still treated as a boy, even though he has now grown up, so decides to assert himself against the oppression of his elder brother:

"The spirit of my father grows strong in me,

and I will no longer endure it" (I.1.65-6)

Orlando’s complaints are shown to be entirely justified. All the claims of villainy that Oliver levels at his brother are in fact true of himself. Mean-spirited and malicious with Orlando, manipulative with the well- intentioned Charles and vicious in his manner, he admits that his hatred is simply borne out of jealousy for his more popular and attractive brother. Shakespeare uses the convention of the soliloquy (a great means of discovering a character’s true thoughts) twice in this scene to leave us in no doubt as to Oliver’s wickedness.

Within the frame of this quarrel we also learn of the earlier fraternal usurption of Duke Senior by his younger brother Duke Frederick. No justification for this is given here or elsewhere is the play except for Frederick’s desire for power. This artfully enacts the past through the present. Duke Senior is said to be living the carefree life of the golden age in the Forest of Arden (I.1.112) - in classical myth this is a time of innocence like that enjoyed by Adam and Eve. We are presented with a dramatic representation of human wickedness and greed in marked contrast to these idyllic suggestions.

Orlando’s character is also firmly established as assertive, honest and bold. Even Oliver has to admit that he has "never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device" (I.1.155-6). Though no match for Rosalind in the wordplay that the play later abounds in, he is intelligent and has a courageous honesty that makes him a worthy suitor.

The scene then shifts to show Celia, the daughter of Duke Frederick, comforting her cousin Rosalind, daughter of the exiled Duke, who has been allowed to remain at the court because of her great friendship with Celia. Upset at her father’s absence, Rosalind replies to Celia’s entreaties to be merry in a style that reveals a character who deliberately uses her wit and intelligence to triumph over misfortune:

"From henceforth I will, coz, and devise sports.

Let me see - what do you think of falling in love?" (I.2.23-4)

This also encapsulates the sportive spirit of this romantic comedy.

Touchstone’s entrance intensifies this, as he is funny alone and the trigger for further humour in the jokes that are made (affectionately) at his expense. The courtier, Le Beau, who enters to tell them of the impending wrestling bout, is not so fortunate, his formal pomposity making him a target for the jibes of others. The Duke’s entrance changes the tone again, preparing us for the serious business and the dramatic climax of the wrestling and the first encounter of Rosalind and Orlando.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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