As You Like It - A Critical Analysis of Act 1
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The Act 1 of AS YOU LIKE IT prepares the audience and the reader for the rest of the play. It is most similar to the prologue of the modern play where an insight to the rest of the play is provided. In the Act the relationships between Orlando and Oliver, Orlando and Adam, Rosalind and Celia, Touchstone and Rosalind and more importantly, the indirect bonding between Duke Fredrick and Oliver is established.
Orlando and Oliver's relationship is based on hatred. It is similar to the relationship between Duke Frederick and the Senior Duke as also in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING of Duke Prospero and Don John. The usurping of the dukedom by Duke Frederick is similar to that of Prospero by Alonso in THE TEMPEST. The hatred between Orlando and Oliver is such that Oliver asks Charles the wrestler not to show mercy towards Orlando in the match and if possible, to kill him.
Celia's and Rosalind's relationship is of faith and sincerity as between Orlando and Adam. Though being her cousin, Celia is Rosalind's true friend and confidante as Adam is of Orlando. It is she who requests her father to let Rosalind remain in the palace when the Senior Duke was being banished.
Touchstone is the `roynish clown', the comic fool. He is able to counterpoint and counterattack anyone he chooses and can deflate anyone's morale. The way he counterpoints Rosalind makes him the foil of Rosalind. He is a man of wit whose intelligence can be seen from his words-
.".. fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly."
Apart from the characters' relationships we see that Rosalind is completely won over by this youth Orlando and has no words to describe her feeling, `Not one to throw at a dog.' According to Alexander Leggatt (in Shakespeare's Comedy of Love) this feeling is more of sympathy towards Orlando. This view is not agreeable in the sense that Rosalind in fact admires Orlando's bravado in challenging Charles.
Duke Frederick asks Rosalind to leave the palace immediately as she cannot be trusted and that he had let her stayed on Celia's request. But his order seems to be uncertain. He is not sure why he wants Rosalind out of the palace. Just because she is the daughter of Duke Senior does not make her a traitor. Also, if Duke Frederick could not trust her, he could have banished her with her father and not listened to Celia's request.
As Rosalind prepares to leave Celia agrees to go with her. They both take on the guise of Ganymede (Rosalind) and Aliena (Celia). Touchstone accompanies them.
The confidence with which Rosalind takes on the garb of a man is indeed admirable. It must have been preposterous to the audience in those times to see the male actor perform the role of a female who takes on the garb of a male (and further in the play this "male" acting as a female).
This act shows the two themes of the play- the Love theme and the theme of usurping, cruelty and jealousy. The involvement of Charles is important as is shows that how far Oliver can go to get rid of his brother. The act also shows Le Beau who actually is the one who hints that Duke Frederick does not trust Rosalind.
Thus Act 1 ends with the departure of Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone in the disguises and marks the beginning of the main plot. The last line of the act by Celia ` Now go we in content/ To liberty, and not to banishment.', suggests the vast difference between the court and the forest of Arden.
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