Act 1 of ‘As You Like It’ primarily serves as an establishment of conflict and as a means to set the overarching mood of the play. Setting this opening scene in the court aligns with Shakespeare’s general structure of comedies, which commence in the court, ensued by transcending to the ‘green space’ and ultimately returning to the court. Similar to the pastoral perception of the court as a domain of corruption and conflict, Shakespeare shows a disposition towards presenting the court as hostile and animosity-enriched.
The opening action of the play involving a physical and verbal dispute between the brothers, Oliver and Orlando presents the court as an unwelcoming and antagonistic place. Oliver’s interrogative, “Wilt though lay hands on me, villain?” invokes disconcertion as Orlando, being the younger brother is labelled a “villian”, however, he is in fact the victim. This manipulative language, purportedly evoking guilt in Orlando appears unjust and demoralising, presenting the court as a vindictive setting. Furthermore, whilst the statement “lay hands on me” may appear a euphemism for a more direct means of implying violent conduct, the overall aura within the court does however seem to possess a virtually palpable aura of animosity.
The mention of the forthcoming fight during Charles’ discourse with Oliver between himself and Orlando creates apprehension, due to the reputation of strength that Charles bears and the “young and tender” description of Orlando. The descriptive language detailing the injuries anticipated, for instance, “broken limb…neck and finger” reinforces this trepidation and notion of hostility within the court. Furthermore, Oliver’s horrid claim that “I had as lief thou didst break his neck and finger” is unsettling and brings to the fore the deep-rooted hatred between the two brothers, and arguably Oliver’s greater and unreasoned hatred of Orlando. Oliver’s joy, depicted by the “lief”, at the prospect of Orlando’s broken finger, and more severely, broken neck, epitomises the menacing attitude within him, and alludes to predominant vindictiveness in the court.
Conversely, Shakespeare does not present a wholly unfavourable image of life in the court, as there are elements of light-heartedness. In Act 1 Scene 2, the buoyant discourse between the deeply attached cousins, even when discussing sincere issues does not merely add humour to the…