In the orchard of the house of Oliver de Boys, Orlando de Boys complains to Adam, an old family servant, about how he has been treated by his elder brother, Oliver, who, according to their father's will, was to see to it that Orlando was to be taught all the ways of being a gentleman, as Oliver has been doing for their brother Jaques. Yet Orlando has been kept at home, like a peasant. Oliver enters and Orlando tells him that "the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude." The two brothers argue, and suddenly Orlando grabs Oliver and demands that either he receive the education and the treatment due him or else he wants the thousand crowns that he is entitled to, according to their father's will. Oliver dismisses him with a curt "Well, sir, get you in. I will not long be troubled with you; you shall have some part of your will." Turning to Adam, he insultingly sneers, "Get you with him, you old dog."
Orlando and Adam leave, and Oliver's anger is interrupted when his servant, Dennis, enters with the news that Charles, the duke's wrestler, is at the door. Oliver summons the wrestler, and the two of them discuss news of the court. The old duke has been banished by his younger brother and has gone into exile in the Forest of Arden and has been joined by some of his loyal lords, where they "live like the old Robin Hood of England . . . and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world." The old duke's daughter, Rosalind, however, has remained at court with her inseparable companion, Celia, the usurper's daughter.
Charles then says that the new duke has announced that wrestling matches will be held at court the next day. Moreover, Charles has heard that Orlando intends to come in disguise and "try a fall" with him. He warns Oliver that, although he does not want to do harm to Orlando, he would be required to best him for his own honor. Oliver assures Charles that he need not be concerned. "I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger," he says, and adds that Orlando is dangerous and will kill Charles by "some treacherous device" if he survives the bout. Charles agrees, therefore, to take care of Orlando and leaves. Alone, Oliver says of Orlando, "I hope I shall see an end of him; for my soul — yet I know not why — hates nothing more than he." Anticipating the match the next day, he goes off to "kindle" Orlando for the match.
This first scene establishes several conflicts. The two major conflicts are between the two pairs of brothers: Oliver and Orlando, and Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. In each case, a brother is wronged, and he is wronged for the same reason — that is, he is wronged because he is well-liked and morally good. It is interesting to note that in the case of Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, it is the younger brother who is usurping the rights of the elder brother, whereas with Oliver and Orlando it is just the opposite. In his dialogue with Oliver, Orlando explains the villainy of Duke Frederick: it is the right of the first-born male child to inherit his father's properties. Therefore, when Duke Frederick usurped the dukedom from his elder brother, he committed an unnatural act, according to the mores of the Elizabethan era.
Oliver's own villainy is explained in Orlando's opening speech, in which he relates Oliver's failure to execute their father's will. Clearly, both Duke Frederick and Oliver violate the natural laws of ascendancy. Oliver's villainy is even further evident when he coldly and abruptly tells Adam, the old and faithful family servant, to leave the room. But Oliver's cruel nature is made absolutely clear when he lies to Charles, a professional wrestler, and encourages him to at least maim, if he cannot kill, Orlando. Thus the laws governing the family are being horribly violated. Biblically, fratricide is the oldest crime of all.
These unnatural acts between brothers contrast sharply with the idyllic ambience in the Forest of Arden, where the main action of the play is about to occur. Already we are being prepared for these pastoral elements of the play; for example, consider the setting of Scene 1, which is set in Oliver's orchard. Although the setting is reflective of the pastoral life, it is also a part of the "real" world in which brother is pitted against brother. Eventually, it is to the Forest of Arden, a fantasy world, which the characters will flee to sort out their problems and their loves.
Scene 1 also focuses on the matter of city life versus country living, a question much in discussion in Elizabethan England and much in vogue recently. Orlando first gives voice to this question in his opening speech, when he points out that he is being kept "rustically at home" without the benefit of being sent away to study gentlemanly ways. Later, he decides to leave his pastoral home to seek his fortune elsewhere. This question of sophisticated city living versus the simplicity of a pastoral life runs throughout the play. It is treated in a general and slightly humorous way by Jaques in his famous "All the world's a stage" speech (Act II, Scene 7) and hilariously in the confrontation between Touchstone, the fool, and Corin, the country shepherd (Act III, Scene 2). Yet despite the question's being considered throughout the play, it is never answered satisfactorily.
In addition to the natural versus the unnatural, and city life versus country life, Shakespeare also uses the formalities of his language to establish the various social levels of his characters. For example, when Oliver first addresses Charles, he uses the formal pronoun you, but when he cunningly seeks to dupe Charles into killing Orlando, he uses the familiar pronoun thou. In other words, by his use of pronouns, Shakespeare indicates that Oliver has become condescending towards Charles. This device is used frequently throughout the play.