Study Guide

As You Like It Family

By William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 1

Sweet masters, be patient.  For your
father's remembrance, be at accord.  (1.1.62-63)

Adam is an old servant who has served the de Boys family for-ev-er. Now that Sir Rowland de Boys is dead, he answers to Oliver, even though his loyalties are more closely tied to Orlando. Here, Adam finds himself in the middle (literally) of Oliver and Orlando's big fight, which reminds us of another ancient "Adam" who was involved in the most notorious fraternal feud in the bible. In Genesis, Adam is the first man and the father of Cain, who murders his little brother, Abel. This, of course, doesn't bode well for the Oliver-Orlando situation—as we know, Oliver will later try to pull a Cain and have his brother murdered (1.1.18 and 2.3.2).


O no, for the Duke's daughter, her cousin, so
loves her, being ever from their cradles bred together,
that she would have followed her exile, or have
died to stay behind her. She is at the court [...]
and never two ladies loved as they do. (1.1.106-109; 111)

We don't know about you, but we're glad to see that cousins Rosalind and Celia are so tight, especially given all the family drama in this play. Ros and Celia grew up together and are more like sisters than cousins. Check out "Characters" if you want to know more about this tight-knit bond.

There's no news at the court, sir, but the old
news. That is, the old duke is banished by his
younger brother the new duke, and three or four
loving lords have put themselves into voluntary
exile with him, whose lands and revenues enrich
the new duke. Therefore he gives them good leave
to wander. (1.1.97-103)

Hmm. We seem to be detecting a pattern of fraternal discord here. It turns out that Duke Frederick gained power by usurping his older brother's (Duke Senior's) title. Not only that, but Duke Frederick has banished his older brother into exile. Although we're not given any explanations about Frederick's motives, we can certainly speculate. We're guessing that Duke Senior inherited his dukedom from his father because he was the eldest son, which didn't sit well with his little bro, Duke Frederick. If this is the case, then the system of primogeniture has created problems for yet another family. So, Shakespeare seems to be asking the following question: Is it OK for a younger brother to take his older brother's titles/land/wealth/ force, just because he was left out of the family will? Let us know when you work that one out.  


As I remember, Adam, it was upon this
fashion bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand
crowns, and, as thou sayest, charged my brother, on
his blessing, to breed me well. And there begins my
sadness. My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and
report speaks goldenly of his profit. For my part, he
keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more
properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you
that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that
differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are
bred better, for, besides that they are fair with their
feeding, they are taught their manage and, to that
end riders dearly hired. But I, his brother, gain
nothing under him but growth, for the which his
animals on his dunghills are as much bound to him
as I. Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives
me, the something that nature gave me his countenance
seems to take from me. He lets me feed with
his hinds, bars me the place of a brother, and, as
much as in him lies, mines my gentility with my
education. This is it, Adam, that grieves me, and the
spirit of my father, which I think is within me,
begins to mutiny against this servitude. I will no
longer endure it, though yet I know no wise remedy
how to avoid it. (1.1.1-25)

Typically, the first lines of any Shakespearean drama alert us to one or more major themes in the play. When As You Like It opens, we learn that family betrayal is going to be a very big deal. Here, youngest son Orlando complains about the effects of primogeniture—Orlando's father has died and social practice has dictated that all of his father's wealth, land, and titles be passed on to the oldest son, Oliver. Oliver was supposed to make sure Orlando received a proper education and grew up with all the privileges and comforts of a gentleman, but Oliver treats his youngest bro more like a servant or an animal. Understandably, Orlando is ready to "mutiny."     

Act 1, Scene 2

I am more proud to be Sir Rowland's son,
His youngest son, and would not change that calling
To be adopted heir to Frederick. (1.2.228-230)

When Duke Frederick talks smack about Orlando's dead dad, our boy Orlando demonstrates what family loyalty looks like. For Orlando, blood is thicker than pride, or the desire for prestige—at least among the honorable. 

Act 2, Scene 3

But do not so. I have five hundred crowns,
The thrifty hire I saved under your father,
Which I did store to be my foster nurse
When service should in my old limbs lie lame,
And unregarded age in corners thrown.
Take that, and He that doth the ravens feed,
Yea, providently caters for the sparrow,
Be comfort to my age. Here is the gold.
All this I give you. Let me be your servant.
Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty,
For in my youth I never did apply
Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood,
Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo
The means of weakness and debility.
Therefore my age is as a lusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly. Let me go with you.
I'll do the service of a younger man
In all your business and necessities. (2.3.39-56)

Why does Adam give up his entire savings to help save Orlando's life? Is it because he's a super-loyal servant? Is it because Adam loves Orlando like a son? Some combination of both, or something else entirely? Before you answer this question, think about how Orlando treats Adam, especially when Orlando cares for him when the old servant is on the verge of starvation in Act 2, Scene 7. It seems to us that Orlando behaves like a loyal son taking care of an aging parent.

Act 3, Scene 1

O that your Highness knew my heart in this:
I never loved my brother in my life.
More villain thou. (3.1.13-15)

You know things are bad when even Duke Frederick thinks you are a villain. We should also point out that Duke Frederick is being a total hypocrite here. After all, he snagged his own brother's title and then booted him and Rosalind out of his dukedom. 

Act 3, Scene 4
Rosalind (Ganymede)

I met the duke yesterday and had much
question with him: he asked me of what parentage
I was. I told him, of as good as he. So he laughed
and let me go. But what talk we of fathers, when
there is such a man as Orlando? (3.4.33-37)

Love-struck Rosalind shows that when a person falls in love, familial ties and loyalties can quickly fade into the background. Because Orlando is in the Forest of Arden, Rosalind is so not interested in talking about her encounter with her exiled father, whom she hasn't seen in a really long time. We also notice that, once Rosalind starts spending time with dreamy Orlando, her relationship with her BFF/cousin Celia fades into the background.

Act 5, Scene 4

Duke Frederick, hearing how that every day
Men of great worth resorted to this forest,
Address'd a mighty power; which were on foot,
In his own conduct, purposely to take
His brother here and put him to the sword:
And to the skirts of this wild wood he came,
Where meeting with an old religious man,
After some question with him, was converted
Both from his enterprise and from the world,
His crown bequeathing to his banished brother,
And all their lands restored to them again
That were with him exiled. This to be true
I do engage my life. (5.4.159-171)

It's a good thing As You Like It is a comedy and not a tragedy. Otherwise, it's not likely that Duke Frederick would suddenly and miraculously "convert" from being a usurper and would-be murderer to a repentant brother who is willing to return his older bro's dukedom. 

Duke Senior

Welcome, young man.
Thou offer'st fairly to thy brothers' wedding:
To one his lands withheld, and to the other
A land itself at large, a potent dukedom. (5.4.172-175)

As Duke Senior welcomes Jaques de Boys to Orlando and Rosalind's wedding, it becomes clear that marriage saves the day in a play characterized by family treachery. As we know, younger brother Orlando has received the short end of the stick—after his father died, his older brother inherited everything and treated him like garbage. Still, when Orlando gets hitched to Rosalind, his nuptials provide him with a new family and a new fortune. Not only does Orlando get to marry his dream girl, he also gains a father-in-law (Duke Senior) who replaces, to some extent, his own dead father, Rowland de Boys. What's more, Orlando is now the heir to his new father-in-law's dukedom. 

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