Summary and Analysis
Celia, the daughter of Duke Frederick, and Rosalind, the daughter of the deposed duke, are talking on the lawn before the duke's palace. Celia chides Rosalind for not being sufficiently "merry," and Rosalind, although she grieves because of her father's exile, promises to try and be cheerful and "devise sports." Touchstone, the court clown, enters, joins in their repartee, and tells Celia that Frederick has summoned her. They are joined by Le Beau, a courtier, who brings news of a wrestling contest that is to begin shortly on the lawn. Charles has already beaten three challengers, breaking their ribs and very nearly killing them.
Duke Frederick, Charles, Orlando, and members of the court arrive, and Frederick suggests that the young women try to dissuade the challenger from the contest as he will surely be injured. They try to do so, but Orlando will not be convinced, saying, "I shall do my friends no wrong, for I have none to lament me; the world no injury, for in it I have nothing." To everyone's surprise, Orlando wins the fall and wishes to try a second, but Charles has to be carried out. Frederick asks to know Orlando's name and becomes furious when he discovers that Orlando is the son of Roland de Boys, an old enemy. "Thou shouldst have better pleased me with this deed, / Hadst thou descended from another house," he says.
Celia, Rosalind, and Orlando are left alone on the lawn, and Rosalind, whose father loved Orlando "as his soul," gives Orlando her necklace to wear as a reward for his gallantry. They are instantly attracted to each other, and, symbolically, Orlando is "overthrown" by Rosalind — in spite of the fact that he was not overthrown by Charles. As the women leave, Le Beau rushes in to warn Orlando that the duke is angry; he counsels him to leave immediately. Orlando also learns that the duke has lately "ta'en displeasure 'gainst his gentle niece," Rosalind, because the people praise and pity her. He decides to return home, to leave a "tyrant duke" and face a "tyrant brother."
This scene further reveals the pains and problems of the "real" world. (Later, however, in the idyllic fantasy of the Forest of Arden, Jaques is troubled when he discovers the carcass of a deer, his "velvet friend," in Act II, Scene 1.) In this real world, Shakespeare introduces and contrasts the theme of love. There is, for example, the love between Celia and Rosalind (the word love also had the connotation of friendship to the Elizabethans). Their love is pure and innocent, especially when contrasted to the complete lack of feeling between the two pairs of brothers. In a witty dialogue, Rosalind and Celia discuss the merits of love as a sport where one can fall in love and have the "safety of a pure blush . . . in honour." This "romantic love" is given its due when Orlando and Rosalind fall in love at first sight. It might be noted that only a few words are exchanged between them before the shaft of Eros finds its mark. This view of love is later enhanced when Shakespeare has Phebe quote Marlowe, "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?" (Act III, Scene 5). Later, this view of romantic love will be satirized when Oliver falls in love with Celia, literally at first sight (Act IV, Scene 3).
Still to come are Shakespeare's considerations of idealized and pastoral love. When all the characters finally come together in the fantasy Forest of Arden, the many different types of love will be fully explored and exploited for serious and for comic effects. Shakespeare will also focus later on the sexual love that Touchstone feels for Audrey, and, here, this scene introduces Touchstone, who is an "original" with Shakespeare. As a touchstone was used in Elizabethan times to determine the purity of silver and gold, so Shakespeare uses this character to determine the sincerity of the beliefs of each character in the play. One can make a good case of the thesis that it is Touchstone, and not Jaques, who is the best critic of the characters within this play.
Le Beau, judging by his elevated speech and dress, is a dandy. As such, he is satirized by Shakespeare not only for his speech and dress, but also for his mannerisms in this scene.
Finally, this scene foreshadows Orlando's subsequent departure from the ducal estates to the Forest of Arden. For Orlando, as well as for many of the key characters in this scene, nothing seems to work out for him — or for them. An uneasiness pervades the tranquil setting. What is natural seems unnatural, and in the Forest of Arden, in contrast, what might seem unnatural seems very natural. In the real world, the characters must try and control themselves in a world that tries to control them. Only in the wild, fantastic, pastoral setting of the Forest of Arden can the characters give full vent to their feelings.