Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675
Orlando: youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys
Adam: an elderly servant in the household of the late Rowland de Boys
Dennis: another servant in the household
Oliver: eldest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys and inheritor of his father's estate
Charles: Duke Frederick's wrestler
Scene 1, set in the orchard of the de Boys family, begins with the entrance of Orlando de Boys and Adam, an elderly servant. Orlando complains to Adam that his late father had bequeathed him a thousand crowns and requested that his oldest brother Oliver provide for his education as a gentleman. Although Oliver has kept the second brother of the family at school, he has treated his youngest brother no better than one of his horses or oxen and has refused to honor his father's will.
Oliver enters and a violent quarrel ensues as Orlando confronts his brother with his resentment. Oliver strikes Orlando, but Orlando puts a wrestler's grip on his brother and subdues him. Adam parts the brothers and Orlando asks for his rightful inheritance. Oliver dismisses them harshly. After Orlando and Adam leave, Dennis, a servant, enters and tells Oliver that Charles, Duke Frederick's wrestler, has come to speak with him. Charles brings the news that the old Duke Senior has been banished by his younger brother, Duke Frederick, who has usurped his title and lands. The old Duke and his lords have gone into exile in the nearby Forest of Arden where they are living like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Rosalind, the old Duke's daughter, has been allowed to remain at court as the result of her friendship with Celia, Duke Frederick's daughter.
Charles tells Oliver that he plans to wrestle the next day before Duke Frederick and has learned that Orlando plans to challenge him. He urges Oliver to tell Orlando to withdraw from the match to avoid bodily harm. Oliver assures Charles that his brother is "a secret and villainous contriver" against his "natural brother" and tells him "I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger" during the match. He warns Charles that Orlando might resort to treachery to defeat him. After Charles exits, Oliver confesses that he hates and envies Orlando and hopes the match will bring "an end" to his brother.
In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, a system existed known as primogeniture. The land, money, and goods owned by a family often passed by law or by sanctioned custom into the hands of the family's eldest son, to the exclusion of other family members. Thus, Oliver would not have been legally bound (or bound by the customs of the time) to honor the terms of his father's bequests to Orlando. He had a moral obligation, of course, but chose to ignore it.
By establishing Orlando immediately as a young man who has been wronged, Shakespeare engages our sympathy for this character. Even his brother later confesses that he's "gentle ...full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved." Oliver, on the other hand, is established as an unjust and treacherous character who has deliberately ignored his late father's bequest of money and his wish that he provide for Orlando's education as a gentleman. We also learn that he is willing to resort to dishonest means to see his brother out of the way.
The relationship between Oliver and Orlando is paralleled by the relationship between Duke Frederick and the deposed Duke Senior. In both instances, a brother has been treated unfairly. There is one noteworthy difference, however. Duke Senior is the elder brother and rightful heir to the dukedom. Duke Frederick's usurpation is both immoral and unlawful.
When we learn that Duke Senior and his court-in-exile "fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world" we are introduced to one of the play's many themes: the issue of city life versus country life. The court-and the de Boys household-are characterized by animosity and malice, whereas Duke Senior's pastoral existence is the Forest of Arden is idealized.
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