Act I Commentary
Scene i: This scene, which provides most of the exposition necessary to understand the events of the play, also demonstrates the violation of Christian values that has occurred between the family members. As the relationship between the two sons of Sir Rowland de Boys is revealed, we learn from Orlando that Oliver has not only been remiss in his duties to educate his youngest brother, but openly demonstrates his hostility toward Orlando by treating him like a servant and striking him when he criticizes Oliver's behavior. Oliver's actions contrast what we expect of a brother, and therefore sets Oliver as one of the antagonists of the play. The value of brotherly love and care is also mirrored in the news that Charles brings Oliver about Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, but in this case, the younger brother has violated the sanctity of the sibling relationship.
While Oliver is certainly abusive to his younger brother, he takes the rivalry between them too far in this scene. He lies to Orlando by telling him that he will give him his inheritance after striking and insulting him. Even worse, Oliver plots to kill Orlando by setting Charles against him. While Elizabethan (and contemporary) audiences understand that sibling rivalry does often occur between brothers, plotting to kill a sibling is, of course, unacceptable. Oliver's reasons for hating his brother are also unacceptable. Oliver hates Orlando for reasons that even he does not understand: "for/my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than/he" (ll.151-152). However, Oliver does also mention in this scene that other people tend to prefer Orlando to him, especially his own "people," making clear that jealousy is at issue here.
Scene ii: Scene 2 is the female counterpart of scene 1. In this case, it is Rosalind and Celia who reveal the rest of the exposition. Rosalind, of course, is upset by the recent overthrow and banishment of her father. Despite this, Rosalind manages to engage in a lively and witty conversation on the nature of fortune. This discussion demonstrates Rosalind's immense wit and understanding. Because of her intelligence, Rosalind, like Prospero in The Tempest, will be able to manipulate characters and situations in the play in order to bring the couples together.
However, even Rosalind cannot control herself completely when love strikes later on in the scene. When Orlando insists on fighting Charles...
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Act II Commentary
Scene i: The dichotomy between court and country, one of the major themes of this play, becomes one of the subjects of the discussion between the banished Duke Senior and Amiens in this play. The duke expounds upon the virtues of country life, which is more honest than that of court. He also states that the only harm in country life is the weather, which is much better than the "toads" of court. Amiens, who is meant to be a foil for Le Beau in the previous act, quickly agrees with the duke, and spends his time in the Forest of Arden singing the way a stereotypical shepherd would, despite his status as a lord. The idea that the country brings out the good in people that was often absent in city life is a common theme in literature. While Shakespeare appears to conform to this idea through the duke's speech in this scene, the characters that claim to appreciate the wonders of the country will all eventually return to the city.
However, not everyone is happy in the country. Jaques is introduced as a melancholy attendant to Duke Senior that moralizes over every event—in this case, the killing of a deer. This incident makes Jaques, already depressed, cry and lament the fact that the duke and his attendants have "usurped" the Forest of Arden and become its tyrants, just as Duke Frederick has usurped the dukedom. The identification of this similarity shows Jaques' sensitivity and his intelligence, which, like Rosalind, he will display throughout the play. Unlike Rosalind, however, Jaques takes no joy in life, and thus misses the point of having a wit in the first place. (Jump to the text of Act II, scene i)
Scene ii: This scene juxtaposes the previous scene by further displaying the cruelty of Duke Frederick, as opposed to the happiness and good humor of Duke Senior. Duke Frederick, in shock over his daughter's sudden departure, immediately tries to blame someone else for it instead of realizing that Celia would indeed leave with Rosalind, despite the fact that she begs him to banish her in Act I, scene 3, when he banishes Rosalind. Duke Frederick will also make Oliver find Orlando, believed to be in the company of Celia and Rosalind, instead of committing his own resources to do it. Duke Frederick's lack of love for his daughter and the tyrannical demands that he intends to place upon Oliver shows both violations of both family values as well as those pertaining to governance. This is much...
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Act III Commentary
Scene i: Another city scene creates a second juxtaposition between the two dukes. While Duke Senior is merciful and helpful to Orlando, Duke Frederick is tyrannical and threatening to Oliver in this scene. Despite his comment that he is "the better part made mercy," he seizes Oliver's lands and money and threatens his life if he does not deliver Orlando within a year (l. 2). When Oliver tells him that he never loved his brother, Duke Frederick criticizes him by stating that the lack of love makes him more loathsome: "More villain thou" (l. 15). This statement is purely hypocritical, as Duke Frederick clearly lacks love for his own brother, which, by his own estimation, makes him even more of a villain as well. However, Oliver's tyranny is limited to Orlando while Duke Frederick's affects an entire kingdom.
Scene ii: This lengthy scene covers the themes of country/city life and love. In the first part of the scene, Orlando is hanging some badly written love poems to Rosalind on trees. This is typical of lovers, and Rosalind is immediately acquainted with the fact that Orlando returns her affections. However, this will not deter her from fully investigating the depth of Orlando's affections. After displaying her wit to Orlando through her discussion of the passage of Time (which passes differently depending upon point of view), Rosalind offers to "cure" Orlando of his love by pretending to be Rosalind so that he can see the folly of woman. The idea here is that by exposing him to the inconsistency of the "touched" (tainted) feminine mind, he will be cured of love's "madness." However, Shakespeare does not intend his audiences to believe that women are so ridiculous because Rosalind is, after all, female, and most certainly not absurd.
Rosalind's approach to Orlando's love seems to be in agreement with Jaques' opinions on the subject. Jaques ridicules Orlando for his love of Rosalind and the multitude of poems left on trees. However, Jaques clearly does not completely dislike Orlando because he asks Orlando to sit with him and rail against their fates. This is because, despite his fawning love for Rosalind, Orlando demonstrates his own wit in this scene by cleverly answering Jaques' questions and by recognizing that Jaques is indeed a fool. Thus, like the "Seven Ages of Man" speech, Jaques' observations on love are not meant to be taken seriously.
Orlando is not the only one...
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Act IV Commentary
Scene i: This scene shows the extent of the power that Rosalind has over the characters in the Forest of Arden. She can not only manipulate "simple" characters like Silvius and Phebe in the previous scene, but she can outwit the more intelligent ones like Jaques. When Jaques states that he prefers his own version of melancholy (which he insists is unique) to laughing, Rosalind correctly points out that too much of either depression or humor is bad for a person. This notion of extremes of any kind as bad is a common theme throughout Shakespeare's plays as well as Elizabethan philosophy.
Rosalind then turns her attentions to Orlando, who has arrived late for their "session." In her guise as Ganymede, Rosalind is capable of admitting who she is and what she wants from Orlando without his knowledge. She also makes some very disparaging remarks about women, including comments about women being too jealous, too weepy, too silly, and too contrary. While this allows Rosalind to appear to be male by sounding stereotypes of women, it also allows her to make Orlando express what he really thinks of not only Rosalind, but of women in general. Celia, on the other hand, cannot force herself to play the game because she knows that women are none of these things, and moderates Rosalind's statements by exclaiming that Rosalind has "misused" the female gender (l. 185).
Scene ii: This set piece features Jaques joking about the horns of a deer. In the Elizabethan period, men who were cuckolded by their loves (especially their wives) were said to be wearing horns. The song warns that no one should laugh at those who are cuckolded because one never knows when one will become a fool for love.
Scene iii: While Rosalind can control quite a bit in the Forest of Arden, this scene shows that she cannot quite manipulate everything. When Orlando is late once again, Silvius has time to deliver Phebe's letter. Rosalind deliberately misinterprets the letter in order to anger Silvius so that he sees Phebe for what she is. Rosalind also tries to provoke Silvius because she realizes that Phebe is only attracted to men who will be mean to her, just as Silvius is attracted to Phebe because she is mean to him. She then sets the solution to this problem in motion by telling Silvius to tell Phebe that if she loves Ganymede she must love Silvius. This is a foreshadowing of how Rosalind's trick in Act...
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Act V Commentary
Scene i: This scene functions as comedy relief after the serious issues of the previous scene. Touchstone and Audrey, still looking for an appropriate priest to marry them, encounter William, Audrey's other suitor. Touchstone uses his witty remarks to scare William away, but he once again does not realize the depth of his observations. When William insists that he has a "pretty" wit, Touchstone's reply is that "'The fool doth think he is wise, but the/wise man knows himself to be a fool'" (ll.30-31). Touchstone is telling William that he is a fool, but he fails to realize that the comment applies to him as well. Touchstone's attempts to outwit the country dwellers are an abuse of language because he only uses his words to insult them and establish his own superiority.
Scene ii: This scene begins to wrap up the problems of the play. In the first section, Oliver reveals his engagement to Celia, who he believes to be a simple shepherdess. Oliver's conversion to the value of love is complete in this scene—he is willing to give up all he possesses to stay with his love, and he asks his brother's permission to do so. Oliver even goes so far as to play Rosalind's game by referring to her ironically as "fair sister," which we know she will soon be.
The next problem to be solved is the situation between Orlando and Rosalind. When Orlando can no longer pretend because he is too depressed about his brother's happiness, Rosalind claims to be able to use magic to bring him Rosalind. Of course, the magic is simple honesty, which the city lacks but the country makes possible.
Rosalind then must solve the issue of Silvius and Phebe. When Rosalind states that she is in love with no woman (another ironic admission), Phebe asks her why she is angry that Phebe is in love with her: "If this be so, why blame you me to love you?" (l. 98). Silvius then asks Phebe why she blames him for being in love with her when she is in love with Ganymede, who does not love her back. The purpose of the repetition of this line is to remind Phebe that she should be more understanding of his pain because she experiences it as well. Orlando's repetition of the line serves the same purpose for Rosalind, although he does not know she is present. This reminds Rosalind to bring her games to a close and to finish solving the love problems of the play.
Scene iii: This scene, designed to "lose"...
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