Tour de Arden: the Cycle of Distrust

At the beginning of As You Like It, Orlando, because of his past treatment at the hands of Oliver, no longer trusts his brother, or rather trusts him only to “shake (Orlando) up” (I.i.26), which at this point in history might mean either to “agitate” (“shake, v.; III5a” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 20 July 2014.), or “harass or afflict” (“to shake up, v.; 3” OED Online.).

When Oliver tells his brother to leave, Orlando responds, “I will no further offend you than becomes me for my good” (I.i.75-6). This phrase resonates with Oliver, who says after his brother’s exit, “Is it even so? Begin you to grow upon me?” (I.i.81). Oliver fears that Orlando will “arise or come into existence to the benefit or injury of (a person, etc.)” (“grow, v.; 5b” OED Online.). When a similar scenario is presented to him by Charles (“the old duke [Senior] is banished by his younger brother the new duke [Frederick]” [I.i.95-6]), Oliver takes action to prevent his own usurpation by his younger brother, who he describes as “a secret and villainous contriver against … his natural brother” (I.i.135-6): he conspires to have Charles “break (Orlando’s) neck” (I.i.137-8) and kill him.

Oliver claims he “know(s) not why” (I.i.154) he hates his brother, but his soliloquy belies him:

Yet he’s gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved, and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised
  • I.i.155-9

Orlando is beloved, in the heart of the world, by Oliver’s own people, so much so that Oliver is “despised” (“misprise, v.” OED Online.). The fear of usurpation is obviously there.

When Orlando defeats Charles, Frederick learns that this winner is not only the son of “still (his) enemy” (I.ii.213), but the “youngest” (I.ii.209) son as well. Memories of his own usurpation of his older brother cannot help but be brought to the fore. How can this young man, the youngest son (thus an analog to his own fraternal treachery) of his enemy be trusted. And if Orlando cannot be trusted because of his father, it can only follow then that Rosalind must be banished as well, as she is “(her) father’s daughter, (and) that’s enough” (I.iii.56).

Adam hears of Oliver’s plot to “burn the lodging where (Orlando) used to lie” (II.iii.23), vindicating Orlando’s mistrust, and they flee the court, as Rosalind and Celia did just a few scenes earlier. Later, Frederick questions then threatens Oliver, in an attempt to track down first Orlando and then Frederick’s daughter and niece.This threat elicits a confession that Oliver must feel that Frederick will understand, that Oliver “never loved (his) brother in (his) life” (III.i.14). But Frederick does not understand: “More villain thou” (III.i.15), he responds.

Given the ending of this particular play, and the conventions of comedy, this should be the turning point, at which Frederick realizes his sins, shows Oliver the error of his own ways, and the two convert, repent, and drive forward to the happy ending. But that is to come, it isn’t happening now. And before it can happen, Frederick will “address… a mighty power… to take // His brother here and put him to the sword” (V.iv.154, 155-6).

What do all of these actions of mistrust have in common?

They all happen in the “peril(ous and) envious court” (II.i.4). But what happens when our two antagonists leave the court of “painted pomp” (II.i.3)?

  • Oliver is nearly killed by a snake, but saved by his brother, and then reaches a conversion.
  • Frederick, on his way to kill his brother, meets and “old religious man” (V.iv.158), and he, too, reaches a conversion (wouldn’t it be ironic if the old religious man is Oliver Martext… the comic country curate… ).

The key is the removal from the court.

The key is Nature.

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