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 despite Charles' reputation, Rosalind immediately does her best to dissuade him. Her interest in him is increased by the knowledge that he is Sir Rowland's son, as Sir Rowland was one of her father's favorite courtiers. This brings up an interesting point about love in this play. Although love certainly needs physical attraction, character and family connections also matter. Rosalind correctly assumes that Orlando has a similar personality to his father, and this turns the physical attraction that she feels upon meeting Orlando into love. Class issues also matter—as an aristocrat (albeit a younger son), Orlando is socially worthy of Rosalind, the daughter of a duke. Orlando returns the affection, partially from physical attraction and partially because Rosalind's father is in a similar predicament to his own.
Another important aspect of this scene is Duke Frederick, who reveals his villainy as the scene progresses. When he first appears, Duke Frederick has just tried to stop Orlando from fighting Charles because he worries for Orlando's welfare. He also welcomes both his daughter and his niece, whom he has permitted to stay even though she is the daughter of his enemy. These actions are not those of an outright villain, and, for a moment, Duke Frederick's status as antagonist is in question. However, when he learns Orlando's identity toward the end of the scene, Duke Frederick's cruelty becomes clear—he tells Orlando that his father, while honored by everyone else, was his enemy and Orlando is forced to flee court. Duke Frederick's antagonism will be further revealed in...
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