Act One, Scene One
Orlando is in the orchard of his brother's house speaking with Adam, an old servant of the family. Orlando complains about the way his eldest brother Oliver treats him. Since Oliver is the eldest brother, he inherited all of Sir Rowland De Bois' estate as well as the responsibility for taking care of his younger brothers. Orlando is upset that he is kept away from school and forced to work with the animals at home. The see Oliver coming and Adam quickly hides.
Oliver arrives and orders Orlando to do some work instead of standing idly around. Orlando spitefully tells Oliver that he has as much of their father's blood in him as Oliver does. Oliver angrily lunges at Orlando, who quickly grabs his older brother by the throat and holds him. Adam comes out of his hiding place and asks them to be patient with one another. Orlando replies that Oliver has denied him an education as befits his rank as a nobleman. He therefore asks Oliver to give him the small portion of money that Sir Rowland left him in the will (a thousand crowns) so that he may leave and seek his fortune elsewhere.
Oliver agrees to give Orlando a part of his inheritance and then turns to Adam and tells him to "Get you with him, you old dog" (1.1.69). Adam is offended to be treated thus after his many years of service to the family and leaves with Orlando.
Oliver meets with Charles, the Duke's wrestler, and asks what is happening at court. Charles tells him it is the same old news, namely the new Duke has banished his brother the old Duke. The old Duke left with several lords and now lives in the forest of Ardenne where "they live like the old Robin Hood of England" (1.1.100-101). Rosalind, the old Duke's daughter, has remained at court with her cousin, the new Duke's daughter.
Charles then informs Oliver that he has learned that Orlando plans to challenge him the next day in the Duke's presence. Since Charles is fighting for his reputation, he indicates that he might end up hurting Orlando and he hopes that Oliver can dissuade his brother from challenging. Oliver cruelly tells Charles that Orlando has been plotting against his life, and that if Charles defeats Orlando but does not seriously injure him then Orlando will likely plot against him as well. Charles promises to hurt Orlando as much as possible, to the point where he cannot walk anymore.
Act One, Scene Two
Rosalind is saddened by the banishment of her father and Celia is trying to cheer her up. Celia urges her cousin to be happier and promises that she will always treat her with affection even though their roles in the world were reversed when Duke Frederick usurped Duke Senior's position. Rosalind agrees to try and be happy and proposes playing games such as pretending to fall in love.
Touchstone, a clown, enters and cuts their conversation short. He tells Celia that her father wants to see her. She makes him provide some witty entertainment, playing with words until he states, "The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly" (1.2.72-73). Le Beau, a courtier to Duke Frederick, arrives and the two women joke that he will force them to listen to news.
Le Beau is greeted by Celia in French. He tries to tell them about a wrestling match but Touchstone and the women start to joke around with words again, causing him to lose track of the conversation. Le Beau finally is allowed to speak, and he tells them that Charles wrestled with three brothers and beat each of them in turn. The father, having seen all his sons defeated, is mourning their loss and the fact that the eldest broke three ribs in the process.
He finally mentions to the women that if they stay where they are they will be able to watch the next match since it was appointed at this particular spot. They happily agree to stay and watch. Duke Frederick enters, telling his men that Orlando will not be dissuaded from wrestling with Charles and therefore deserves to suffer his fate. Rosalind interrupts the conversation and tells Frederick that she will speak to Orlando and try to convince him not to wrestle.
Celia begs Orlando to let her have her father call off the wrestling match. He tells the ladies that he has no one to lament him in the world and that he is willing to risk even death in pursuit of victory over Charles. Rosalind finally gives him her blessing, wishing him victory. Frederick sets up the match but tells them that they will fight until one of them is thrown to the ground. Orlando manages to get Charles and throw him, knocking him unconscious and thereby winning.
Duke Frederick asks Orlando what his name is, and he replies that he is Orlando, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Bois. Frederick is not happy to hear this since Sir Rowland was his enemy when he usurped the throne. He wishes Orlando well and departs without giving him any prizes. Celia is ashamed by her father's envious treatment of Orlando, but Rosalind is thrilled because her father was close friends with Sir Rowland.
The two women approach Orlando and Rosalind gives him a chain from around her neck. He is unable to even say thank you because he is made speechless by Rosalind. She turns to leave, then thinks he has called her back, but finally exits with Celia. Le Beau returns and warns Orlando that the Duke has turned against him. He councils Orlando to leave immediately. Orlando first asks him who the two women were, and learns that Rosalind gave him the necklace.
Act One, Scene Three
Rosalind is also speechless after having met Orlando, and Celia marvels that her cousin has fallen in love so quickly. Duke Frederick arrives and angrily orders Rosalind to pack her things and leave. He tells her that if she is caught within twenty miles of the court then he will kill her. She protests that she has never done anything to him, but he still accuses her of being a traitor. Celia protests on Rosalind's behalf but Frederick remains unmoved and banishes Rosalind.
Celia tells Rosalind that she will leave with her. Rosalind cleverly decides that they should dress as men and thus go to her father in the woods in disguise. She chooses the name Ganymede and Celia chooses to be called Aliena, meaning the "estranged one". They then agree to also get Touchstone to travel with them in order to provide some entertainment during their travel.
Shakespeare deals with many themes throughout As You Like It that relate to the Elizabethan society he worked in. One of those themes is that of primogeniture, a policy whereby the eldest son inherits everything. Orlando, being the youngest brother in his family, faces the problem that he has received a meager inheritance as a result of this rule. Oliver also happens to be a nightmare version of the tyrannical older brother. He plots against Orlando and tries to have the wrestler Charles kill his younger brother. Shakespeare's questioning of primogeniture is given a further twist in the play by the fact that Duke Frederick has usurped the dukedom from his older brother. The issue of inheritance is therefore an underlying theme throughout this play and cannot be ignored.
A further comparison between the play and England is the reference to Duke Senior and his men as Robin Hoods. They are described as, "they live like the old Robin Hood of England" (1.1.100-101). Shakespeare thereby conjures up an image of England even though we are in foreign country. This serves to make the play more immediate for his audience. Invoking Robin Hood also serves a second purpose, namely that of establishing which Duke is good and which Duke is evil. Robin Hood is a story that all Elizabethan theater audiences would have been familiar with and it is a way to immediately give Duke Senior a personality without having to write too many lines for him into the play.
One of the brilliant things about As You Like It is the way Shakespeare invokes double-meanings. This is frequently done with word association. The forest of Arden, Ardenne, Arcadia, or Eden is a prime example. Ardenne is a forest that is located between France, Luxembourg and Belgium, whereas the Forest of Arden is actually an English forest located near where Shakespeare was born in Warwickshire. Arden also happens to the be maiden name of Shakespeare's mother. The play itself includes pastoral themes from The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, thereby invoking the image of Arcadia, or paradise. The word further bears a resemblance to Eden, the biblical paradise where Adam and Eve first got together, not an entirely unrealistic interpretation given the four marriages with which the play ends.
A further combination of words is that of Orlando, Rowland, or Roland. Merely by mixing up the letters it is easy to see how similar the two names are. Indeed, Orlando is often compared to his father, Sir Rowland. This man, who is deceased already when the play begins, bears a striking resemblance to Charlemagne's Sir Roland, a great medieval knight. Orlando follows in this spirit, saying, "and the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude" (1.1.19-20). Orlando will take advantage of his inborn greatness to defeat Charles the Wrestler and later save his brother from a lion.
Themes of sexuality and sexual identity run rampant throughout this play. There are a great deal of homosexual overtones between almost all the characters, men and women. This is first evidenced by the description of Rosalind and Celia. Charles says, "never two ladies loved as they do" (1.1.97), and that "she [Celia] would have followed her [Rosalind's] exile, or have died to stay behind her" (1.1.94-95). Celia later tells Rosalind, "herein I see thou lovest me not with the full weight that I love thee" (1.2.6-7). Later, Celia argues with her father about separating them,
We still have slept together,
Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together,
And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans>br> Still we went coupled and inseparable. (1.3.67-70)
In this description of Rosalind and Celia they are like Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In much the same way they must become separated before they can learn to love properly, before they can become full women and marry with their husbands. Indeed, the entire escape into the forest will actually serve to separate them in the end, allowing them to emerge as independent woman rather than "Juno's swans".
The names that Rosalind and Celia assume for themselves adds to the sexual confusion of the play. Rosalind tells Celia, "look you call me Ganymede" (1.3.119). Ganymede was the cup-bearer of the gods, a young boy whom Jove fell in love with. Jove changed himself into an eagle and took Ganymede back to heaven with him. The name Ganymede is thus most often invoked to describe a form of homosexual love between an old man and a young boy. Rosalind's choice of this name becomes important later when Orlando woos her (in the form of Ganymede) as if she were his Rosalind. Celia's choice of name, Aliena, means "the lost one". This name is highly appropriate for her because at the beginning of the play she is indeed the lost one. She is unable to survive without Rosalind, a woman who overshadows Celia throughout the entire play. Celia must therefore lose herself to find herself. Indeed, one of the reasons for banishing Rosalind is to force Celia to become a woman independent of Rosalind. Duke Frederick tells her, "Thou art a fool. She [Rosalind] robs thee of thy name" (1.3.74). He alone seems to realize that the only way for Celia to mature is for her to reject or lose Rosalind.
Touchstone is perhaps one of the most interesting characters. His name describes a black mineral used to test the purity of gold and silver, and in much the same way he will test the wit of those he encounters. He also serves as a mirror for the other characters, reflecting their characteristics back on them. Thus when he meets Jaques, he will be described as a fool; when he meets Duke Senior he will be described as a witty man in disguise (5.4.95-96). Each character sees themselves in Touchstone.
Rosalind's falling in love with Orlando coincides with her banishment from the court. This is her first step away from the protected life. Like so many of Shakespeare's characters that fall in love, she must risk everything if she wants to pursue her love. For Rosalind this is made easier by the fact that Duke Frederick banishes her. As a young woman she is left without any father or lover to rely on, a novel situation for the time. Rosalind therefore is able to leave security of court and venture into the wilderness, in the end winning Orlando as her future husband.
Silence is a dangerous theme that Shakespeare invokes in many of his comedies. It is always a bad sign, signifying miscommunication or plotting. In this play there is the silence of Orlando when he meets Rosalind after the wrestling match, "I cannot speak to her, yet she urged conference" (1.2.225). Rosalind is likewise silent at first, forcing Celia to say, "Why cousin, ...not a word?" (1.3.1-2). Silence must be overcome to have a mature relationship, and this is indeed what happens. It quickly is converted into literary love in the next acts. The play culminates in Orlando risking everything by trusting Ganymede in order to marry Rosalind. In this he is similar to Bassanio in Merchant of Venice, or Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing.