What does Orlando's line, "Shall I keep your hogs, and eat husks with them?" mean in As You Like It?

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In this scene, Orlando is complaining to Oliver about the way Oliver (his older brother) is treating him.  He believes that he is being treated like a animal or a servant.  This is what he is saying to his brother.  Oliver tells him he should do more with himself, be more useful.  Orlando speaks the line you mention, asking if he should act like a servant/animal.

In order to fully understand what is being said here, you have to understand the allusion that is being made in this line.  It is clearly an allusion to the biblical story of the prodigal son.   If you are not familiar with this story, copy and paste this link (I can't get it to work in the links section...)


In this story, a younger son (like Orlando) goes off and squanders his part of his father's fortune.  He ends up working for someone, feeding the swine and wishing he could eat the "husks" they were eating.  The point of the story is that this son was really stupid and wasteful and yet (later in the story) his father welcomed him home.

Everyone hearing this play in Shakespeare's day would have understood the allusion and what it was saying (since they were all Christian).  By using this allusion, Orlando is rebuking Oliver.  He is pointing out that he himself has not done anything wrong the way the prodigal son did and yet his brother is treating him badly (unlike the actions of the father in the parable).

So, to truly understand this line from the play, it is important to know the biblical story to which it alludes.

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