As You Like It is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, and with all of the grief of Hamlet, Ambition of Macbeth, Wit of Much Ado about Nothing and Love of Romeo & Juliet, it’s easy to understand why. One of Shakespeare’s most complex lovers is present in Orlando. And today we’re going to take a look at just what’s keeping Orlando De Boys up at night, by diving deep into the opening lines of the play.
More important than when the play begins, is what has happened before. Orlando is the youngest son of Sir Roland De Boys, his other two sons being Oliver, the older, and Jaques the middle. They live and work in the Duchy of Duke Senior, in France, and are a part of the aristocracy and inner circle. And all seems well, as far as we know, until one day Sir Roland De Boys dies leaving his sons as soul heirs to his estate, or so he thinks. Soon after Duke Senior is usurped by his younger brother Duke Frederick and banished from the Duchy to the Forest of Arden, where he and his bestest buds must go and never come back, or die trying. Meanwhile back at Camp De Boys, Oliver, the oldest son and soul executor of his Fathers will has I fulfilled his Fathers wishes of sending Jaques to school to be educated, but has not been so generous to Orlando, instead forcing him to work in the fields, feed the animals, and overall work as peasant on their lands. Understandably this makes Orlando a little mad. Orlando knows that his Father requested in his will that he send Orlando to be educated to and is ready to take what’s rightfully his by force if he has to. In an effort to vent his frustrations and make some sense of all this he turns to his family’s servant, and his oldest friend and says…
As I remember, Adam, it was upon this
fashion bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand
crowns, and, as thou sayst, 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.
coin [usually showing a monarch’s crown], English value: 5 shilllings
order, command, enjoin
breed (v.), past form bred
raise, bring up, support
old form: schoole
rumour, gossip, hearsay
progress, proficiency, improvement
like a rustic, in a countrified way
old form: staies
detain, confine, keep
stall accommodation, living quarters
old form: mannage
management, handling, control [especially of a horse, as a result of training] fair (adj.)
old form: faire
healthy, sound, fit
demeanour, bearing, manner
old form: Hindes
servant, domestic, worker
undermine, sap, subvert
precedence, proper place
nobility, good birth
As I recall, Adam, that’s exactly why my father left me but a mere thousand crowns in his will, and, as you say, commanded my brother to give his word that he would give me an education. And that’s where my problems begin. My brother, Jaques, he has sent off to school, and by all accounts he’s doing really well. But me, he keeps me at home in the country, or to be more blunt, keeps me at home neglected. I ask you, is that the right way to treat a gentleman of my birth? It’s no different than how you keep an ox. His horses are better looked after than me! And to that point, they’re fed well, they’re taught how to behave, and they have the best trainers that money can buy. But I, his own brother, don’t gain anything from him but weight. And for that I owe him as much as his animals in the muck pile. Besides all this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the one thing that life gave me, he takes away from me. He makes me eat with his servants, doesn’t allow me what’s owed me as his brother, and with every chance he gets, undermines my noble status by not educating me. This is what’s upsetting me, Adam. And my fathers spirit, which I think I have within me, is starting to rebel against this servitude. I won’t take it anymore. Although I don’t know how to stop it just yet.
Notes on Performance
So, as I always say, the most important thing when performing any Shakespeare monologue is understanding the context. Take a look at the brief context I’ve provided up top, and allow that to inform your performance.
Now more specifically when it comes to Orlando, understand that when we meet Orlando, he is at his worst, the beginning of the play is his rock bottom and the only way he can go is up. So allow yourself to find all of the ugly sides of this monologue and character and allow them to come through in performance.
Lastly it’s important to note that it’s implied in the script (simply in the way it’s been written) that we come into this conversation late. We’ve not heard what sparked it, and we’ll never know. But rather than letting that bring us down, we can take that as an opportunity to explore our imaginations and find our own moment before. So feel free to begin this monologue with a mountain of energy and drive!