As You Like It by William Shakespeare Act 1 Summary

As You Like It by William Shakespeare Menu

Scene 1.1 – The garden of Oliver’s stately house in France.

In the garden of a nobleman’s splendid house in France, a young man named Orlando is walking and talking with his elderly servant, Adam. Orlando is complaining that his older brother, Oliver, treats him hideously unfairly. When their father – a wealthy nobleman named Sir Rowland de Bois – died, Oliver inherited the entire fortune, but was supposed to treat his two younger brothers kindly and send them away to school for a good education. However, although Oliver is paying for the schooling of their third brother, Jacques, he forces Orlando to stay at home and treats him little better than an animal. Orlando is getting very bitter and doesn’t want to take this treatment any longer.
Orlando sees Oliver coming, and orders Adam to hide so he can listen in and hear how badly Oliver treats him. When Oliver speaks rudely to Orlando, Orlando answers back in even ruder language, telling Oliver that he treats him like a pig. Orlando says that he is as good as Oliver and has as much of his father’s blood in him as Oliver does, even if he is a younger brother. He demands that Oliver either give him the treatment and education he deserves, or give him a share of their father’s money so he can go off to make his own fortune. Things threaten to get violent, and even Adam cannot persuade the brothers to stop quarreling. Finally Oliver insults Adam and sends Orlando indoors, telling him that he will send him away soon and then they won’t have to see each other any more.
Left alone, Oliver muses bitterly that Orlando has begun to get too big for his britches, and it is time to take care of him. He sends for a servant, Dennis, and orders him to show in a visitor: Charles, a famous wrestler from the court of the nearby Duke. Charles passes on to Oliver the latest gossip, which is rather exciting: the former Duke (Duke Senior) has been banished by his younger brother (Duke Frederick). Now Duke Frederick is on the throne, and Duke Senior lives in the Forest of Arden, with some noblemen who fled with him. Young gentlemen are joining them in the forest every day, and reports say they live a fun-filled, pleasant life, just as Robin Hood once did. Oliver asks about the old Duke’s daughter, Rosalind, and Charles tells him that Rosalind is still at court, because she loves her cousin – the daughter of Duke Frederick – so much that she couldn’t bear to leave her, even though it meant separating from her father.
Charles tells Oliver that he is supposed to wrestle in a competition tomorrow for the new Duke’s amusement. He has come to see Oliver on a very special errand: Charles has heard that Orlando plans to try his luck wrestling against Charles in order to win the prize. Charles points out to Oliver that anyone who goes up against him is likely to get hurt, and Orlando is so young and delicate that he may be badly injured. He wants to beg Oliver to persuade Orlando to change his mind. But Oliver, seeing an opportunity to get rid of Orlando, lies to Charles and tells him that Orlando is treacherous and vicious. He adds that he would be just as happy if Charles were to break Orlando’s neck. Inflamed against Orlando, Charles promises that he will hurt him badly in the match tomorrow, and leaves. Alone again, Oliver gloats over this piece of good luck, hoping that tomorrow he will be rid of Orlando forever: Orlando is too gentle and well-spoken, and the people love him so much, that Oliver considers him a threat and better off dead.

Scene 1.2 – Outside of Duke Frederick’s palace.

At the palace of Duke Frederick, two young noblewomen walk and talk together: Rosalind, the daughter of the banished Duke Senior, and her cousin Celia, Duke Frederick’s daughter. Rosalind is very depressed over her father’s banishment, but Celia urges her to cheer up. She reminds her that the two of them are not enemies but dear friends, and tells Rosalind that when Duke Frederick dies and Celia – his only child – inherits his lands, she will restore to Rosalind everything that Duke Frederick took away from Duke Senior. Rosalind agrees to try to cheer up, and they begin to laugh and joke about falling in love.
Touchstone, the court clown, comes to find them and tells them that Celia’s father has sent for them both. When they delay him, a foolish nobleman named Monsieur Le Beau comes to fetch them. He tells them the wrestling has already begun, and with great pleasure describes how Charles, the Duke’s famous wrestler, has already wrestled three young brothers and nearly killed each of them while their old father wept. He cannot understand why Celia, Rosalind, and Touchstone don’t think this is very funny.
Duke Frederick arrives with his lords and noblemen, his wrestler Charles, and the next challenger – none other than Orlando. Noticing his youth and genteel, aristocratic good looks, everyone is sure that he will be badly beaten or killed by Charles. Celia and Rosalind pity him greatly and try to persuade him not to wrestle, but Orlando explains that he is a desperate man, with nothing to lose and no one to mourn him even if he is killed. He begs them to wish him luck, which they tenderly do.
However, when the match begins, Orlando turns out to be a magnificent wrestler and defeats Charles, leaving him beaten and speechless. The Duke and audience are amazed and impressed, but when Orlando tries to claim his prize, the Duke becomes grim: it turns out that Orlando’s father Sir Rowland was a deadly enemy of Duke Frederick, and the Duke storms out without giving Orlando the reward. Indignantly, Celia comforts and praises Orlando, and Rosalind, even more deeply impressed by the young man, gives him a chain from around her neck and asks him to wear it for her. She tells him that he has conquered not only Charles, but someone else as well. Orlando, trying to speak to Rosalind, finds he cannot even get any words out, and says to himself that he, too, has been conquered. Le Beau tells Orlando hastily that he should leave the court before Duke Frederick decides to take action against him. From Le Beau, Orlando finds out the identities of the girls, and – murmuring Rosalind’s name to himself – leaves the court, trying to figure out where he can go next.

Scene 1.3 – In Duke Frederick’s palace.

Back inside the palace, Celia notices that Rosalind is strangely silent, and jokes with her about having fallen so quickly in love with Orlando. Rosalind acknowledges that Celia is right, but adds that it’s not surprising, since her father Duke Senior loved Orlando’s father well. Celia, laughing, points out that if it were that simple Celia herself should hate Orlando – which, of course, she doesn’t.
Suddenly, Celia’s father, Duke Frederick, enters the room, smoldering with anger. In a few words, he tells Rosalind that she must pack up her belongings as quickly as possible and leave the palace without delay: if she is not twenty miles away from the court in ten days’ time, he will have her executed. When the amazed Rosalind asks why he is banishing her, Duke Frederick simply insists that she is a traitor and that he cannot trust her. She presses him, and he angrily reminds her that she is her father’s daughter – apparently forgetting that he himself was the one guilty of overthrowing and banishing his older brother. The anguished Celia leaps in to plead for Rosalind, reminding her father that the two girls have grown up together and have become inseparable, and receives the angry reply that when Rosalind is gone, Celia herself will shine out much more brightly than she does now; Duke Frederick is nervous that his people adore Rosalind too much. (This is very similar to Oliver’s reason for wanting Orlando disposed of.)
After Duke Frederick has stormed out of the room, Celia – much to Rosalind’s surprise – assures Rosalind that she will not allow her to leave alone: Celia will remain at her side, and they will flee the court together. Celia suggests that the two head to the Forest of Arden, to seek out Duke Senior – Rosalind’s father and Celia’s uncle – where he lives in banishment. In order to protect themselves from assailants and thieves, Celia decides that they should both put on ragged clothing and smear their faces with brown paint so they will look like peasants instead of noblewomen. But Rosalind has an even better idea: Since she is unusually tall, she will dress as a young man – providing even better protection for herself and Celia. While they are in disguise, the two must take on new names: Rosalind will be called Ganymede (the name of the page boy of Jove, king of the Roman gods), and Celia will be called Aliena (which means “other” in Latin). They further decide to take Touchstone, the court clown, with them, for added safety in numbers; Touchstone is so fond of Celia that he will be easily persuaded. Rosalind jokingly points out that even if she will be concealing her true nature under her man’s clothing and the weapons she’ll carry, that’s no more than “real” men do all the time – hiding a cowardly nature under an outward display of swashbuckling machismo.