How does Shakespeare present the court in act 1 of As You Like It?

In act 1 of As You Like It, Shakespeare presents the court as a center of dissatisfaction, ambition, treachery, and betrayal, in which families are set against families, uncles are set against nieces and daughters, and brothers are set against brothers. It's not until the very end of the play that the natural order of the court is restored, and all can live in peace and harmony.

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In the opening scenes of William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy As You Like It, the court of Duke Senior is presented as an unnatural place of deceit, treachery, and betrayal, focused on conflicts between brothers Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, and brothers Orlando and Oliver.

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In the opening scenes of William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy As You Like It, the court of Duke Senior is presented as an unnatural place of deceit, treachery, and betrayal, focused on conflicts between brothers Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, and brothers Orlando and Oliver.

Before the play begins, Duke Frederick usurps his brother Duke Senior’s title and lands, and exiles him from court. The banished Duke Senior takes up residence in the idyllic Forest of Arden with his followers.

In act 1, scene 3, Duke Frederick exiles Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, from court, and Rosalind also takes sanctuary in the Forest of Arden with her cousin, Celia.

Meanwhile, Orlando’s older brother, Oliver, denies Orlando the money left to him by their deceased father, and otherwise refuses to honor their father’s will by failing to educate Orlando and raise him well, as their father wished. The confrontation escalates to violence, and Orlando temporarily leaves the family home.

Orlando meets with the wrestler, Charles, who Orlando intends to wrestle the next day. Oliver deceitfully confides in Charles that Orlando is “a secret / and villainous contriver against me his natural brother” (1.1.21–22), and “I had as lief thou didst break his / neck as his finger” (1.1.123–124).

Following the wresting match, in which Orlando defeats Charles, Orlando’s servant, Adam, warns Orlando that Oliver plans to kill him. Orlando and Adam go into self-imposed exile to protect themselves from Oliver, and they join the others in the Forest of Arden.

With Orlando’s departure from his family home, and with Rosalind and Duke Senior exiled from court by Duke Frederick, only the more despicable and treacherous characters like Oliver and Duke Frederick are left at court.

In time, Duke Frederick comes to see the error of his ways. Duke Frederick intends to take an army into the Forest of Arden and kill his brother, Duke Senior, but on the way he meets a holy man:

JAQUES DE BOYS. And to the skirts of this wild wood he came;

Where meeting with an old religious man,

After some question with him, was converted

Both from his enterprise and from the world,

His crown bequeathing to his banish'd brother,

And all their lands restored to them again

That were with him exiled. (5.4.165–170)

Oliver, too, has a change of heart. Before Duke Frederick sets out to kill Duke Senior, Duke Frederick seizes all of Oliver’s lands and orders him to bring Orlando back to court. Oliver ventures into the Forest of Arden to find Orlando, where he instead meets and falls in love with Celia, and they plan to be married.

Duke Frederick returns Duke Senior to his rightful place at court and restores to him his title and his lands, and Oliver in turn names Orlando as his heir:

OLIVER. for my father's house, and all the revenue

that was old Sir Rowland's will I estate upon you, and here

live and die a shepherd. (5.2.10–12)

With Duke Fredrick and Oliver's conversion from evil to good, the natural order is restored, and all who choose to do so can return to court to live happily ever after.

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