Refer to Act 1, Scene 1, where Oliver says to Orlando, "Marry Sir, be better employed, and be naught awhile." What is the meaning of this line?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the laws and customs of primogeniture in the unnamed country where Shakespeare's AsYou Like Itis set, Oliver, the eldest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, has inherited his father's entire estate. Orlando, the youngest of three sons, is entirely dependent upon Oliver, who gives him nothing but food and shelter and abuses him verbally in order to assert his ascendancy as the lord and master. When the scene opens, Orlando is complaining to the old family servant Adam about his grievances.

Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave me his countenance seems to take from me: he lets me feed with his hinds, bars me the place of a brother, and, as much as in him lies, mines my gentility with my education.

When the arrogant Oliver appears he asks Orlando:

Now, sir, what make you here?

Orlando replies:

Nothing. I am not taught to make anything.

When Oliver says, "Marry, sir, be better employed, and be naught awhile," he means that he wants his brother to do some productive work around the estate and to be quick about it. He is responding to Orlando's statement that he is doing "nothing." Apparently Oliver does not expect Orlando to do much manual labor but merely wants to assert his authority and his superiority. Orlando would like to be doing something productive and something that would enhance his education, but he is a virtual slave, and his resentment leads to a serious quarrel between the brothers in this scene. Orlando tells Oliver:

My father charged you in his will to give me good eeucation; you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentlemanlike qualities. The spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it: therefore allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman, or give me the poor allotery my father left me by testament; with that I will go buy my fortunes.

This quarrel will lead to Oliver's attempting to have his brother killed by the professional wrestler Charles and to Orlando's having to flee to the Forest of Arden, where most of the play takes place.

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As You Like It

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