The summary of Act I scene i of As You Like It isn't as captivating as the real thing, but the scene is so loaded that even a brief summary is captivating--and that, of course, is what Shakespeare was trying for: captivation of the audience. First, Orlando is seen lamenting his lot in life to his faithful servant Adam who has served his family long and well. Orlando is the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys and despised by his eldest brother, Oliver. Yet, even Oliver knows "not why" he hates Orlando:
for my soul, yet I know not why,
hates nothing more than he. Yet he's gentle, ...
... full of noble device, of
all sorts enchantingly beloved
Oliver then enters and Orlando lays his case for neglect before his eldest brother. Orlando says that even though bidden by their dying father to care for, educate, and in general lead Orlando into the life of a gentleman, Oliver has neglected him, fed him poorly, taught him nothing, and in every way confined him to mean and low circumstances so that even the horses are better treated.
After a bit of a brawl between them, caused because Orlando asked for his monetary inheritance so that he, with Adam, might seek his fortune on his own merit, Charles enters. Duke Frederick's champion wrestler, Charles is wrestling in an open challenge against any who come up against him. He advises Oliver that Orlando has enlisted in the challenge and that it will be Charles's duty to injure him to preserve his honor. And what do you think Oliver says?
Oliver says, go right ahead. He then says that Orlando is of such a disposition that, if Charles wins the match without seriously impairing Orlando's capacity, Orlando will come after Charles and not rest until Orlando has killed him. [Gasp!]
he will practise
against thee by poison, entrap thee by some
treacherous device and never leave thee till he
hath ta'en thy life ...
... and almost with tears I speak
The scene ends with Charles shocked by Oliver's description and determined to overpower that [maligned] scoundrel Orlando! Oliver has the last word when he says: "I hope I shall see / an end of him; for my soul, ... / hates nothing more than he."
The opening scene is called the Exposition Scene. The scene is of great importance as it gives a clear insight into the characters,the theme and the plot of the play.
The introductory scene highlights the folowing aspects of the play:
a) The enmity between Orlando and Oliver with respect to the will of Late Sir Rowland de Boys.
b) The enmity between Duke Ferdinand and Duke Frederick (Theme of usurpation)
c) The sisterly love between Rosalind and Celia.
The scene opens with Orlando discussing and complaining to Adam how his own elder brother Oliver has treated him very unkindly, kept him like a rustic, not given him thousand crowns bequeathed by his father, not provided him education and taking away from him the qualities that he had by birth. He also informs that the spirit of his father revolts against this servitude.
When Oliver enters, there is a verbal spat between them, both accusing each other. Oliver asks Orlando what he was doing there and that he must leave the place. Orlando tells his brother that even if there were 20 brothers between them it did not take away from Orlando the right that he was as high-born as was his brother. The moment Oliver calls him a villain and slaps him on the back, the latter holds him by the throat and vows to release him only when he gets his due share. Adam is also ill-treated in this fight.
A little later, Charles enters and we come to know that there is no new news but that old duke has been banished, and three or four Lords have voluntarily decided to be with him in the Forest of Arden. However, Rosalind and Celia are together for the Duke Junior detained Rosalind for the sake of Celia. The duke Senior lives in the Forest like Little Robin Hood and helped people.
Charles, then, informs that he had heard Orlando was planning to fight him in a disguised form. He requests Oliver to dissuade Orlando from fighting as he was fighting for his reputation and will not leave anyone unharmed. It was for the sake of Oliver that he had come,but if the young man did not comply, it would not be Charles' fault.
Oliver senses a great opportunity to eliminate Orlando. He instigates Charles by telling him that Orlando was the stubbornest fellow in France and was always jealous of other people. He also tells Charles that Orlando will employ every means to harm him and so he must not think of breaking his fingers but could break his neck as well.
We finally come to hear the soliloquy of Oliver giving reasons for his extreme hatred of his brother and how he plans to instigate his brother to this fight.
Thus the first scene acts as a curtain raiser to the play.