Long ago, in the land of France, there lived a noble duke. A great misfortune had befallen him. His cunning younger brother Frederick had taken away his dukedom from him and driven him into exile. Frederick not only usurped the dukedom, but enriched himself with the land and gold of those noblemen who were the old duke’s friends. These noblemen, too, had followed him into banishment.
It was said that these were all in the forest of Arden, a pleasant woodland on the edge of the dukedom. There they lived in security, and were, on the whole very happy. They had learnt to like the care-free open-air life and found its simplicity more agreeable than the pomp and show of the life at court. Often the courtiers of the new duke would steal away and meet the merry party in the forest and join in the fun.
Among the duke’s faithful attendants in the forest were two nobles, Amiens and Jacques. The latter, the melancholy Jacques as he was called, was a clever man. He did much to entertain the duke and his companions by his witty speeches. He was a great philosopher and was not happy and always mocking people and scoffing at things.
Though the duke had many good friends around him, his
favorite child, Rosalind had not accompanied him. Though she had wanted to go with her father, the new duke had kept her back to be a companion to his daughter Celia consoled Rosalind to some extend. But she was often sad when she thought about her father. At such times her cousin would do all she could to comfort her.
One day, an event took place. That was to change the live of these two friends completely.
Those were the days when sport of various kinds were frequently held at princely court to amuse the courtiers and guests. Of these sport wrestling was a popular one.
There was at the court of Duke Frederick, a famous wrestler named Charles. He was so
powerful that he never been beaten. Indeed he has so skillful and strong that he had just thrown three brothers one after another, and so violently that he had nearly killed them.
Duke Frederick and Celia to come and see his champion’s feats of strength. But the girls were taken aback at the idea of going to see such a cruel sight as a wrestling match. Then Frederick himself
came along with his train of attendants.
‘The wrestling match,’ he said ,’is going to take place on the very ground where you are standing. You could stay where you are. A very young man had challenged the champion. I’m afraid he will come off rather badly. I’ve tried to dissuade him, but he will no listen. Perhaps if you persuade not to risk his life.’
So Celia and Rosalind called the young man to them. They begged him to give up his idea. But he would not listen.
‘My death matters not,’ he said,’ for I’ve no friends. And if I’m defeated the shame of it will be no one’s but mine. I only wish for your good wishes in this match!’
‘I would that the little strength I have,’ replied Rosalind,’ could be added to yours.’
The young man took leave of the ladies and the wrestling match began.
The young challenger’s name was Orlando. His father had been a noble and mush loved in his lifetime by the banished duke. But he died when Orlando was a child. Orlando was left in the care of his own elder brother, the wicked Oliver.
The dying father had
commanded Oliver to be kind to Orlando and give him good education. But Oliver had not obeyed his father and treated his younger brother unkindly. He neither sent him to school nor had him all the taught at home. However, in spite of neglect, Orlando grew into a fine young man like his father. Orlando hated him all the more, as the love of the common people for Orlando and their praise of him made Oliver angry and envious.
When Orlando decided to challenge the wrestler, Oliver heard of it. For Charles himself came to tell him. He was afraid that if he harmed Orlando, his elder brother might be angry. But Oliver thought he had now a good chance of getting rid of his brother.
‘My brother, alas!’ he said to wrestler. ‘He is good. He is always plotting against me. He won’t listen to me. I told him not to wrestle with you. Now let him
go ahead and have his punishment. I had as soon you broke his neck as his finger; for I want to be rid of him.’
However, the kind words of Celia and Rosalind gave courage and strength to Orlando. Whether he has helped by his natural strength and skill or by the ladies’ encouragement one cannot say. But in the match Orlando proved the master of the champion. He threw the powerful Charles so
heavily that he had to be carried out of the ring unconscious.
Duke Frederick was astonished and enquired the stranger’s name. He was told that Orlando was the youngest son of sir Rowland de Boys. When he heard this Frederick was quite displeased and showed it. For, Sir Rowland had been a dear friend of the banished duke.
‘I wish you had been son to
someone else,’ he said as he left with his courtiers.
Celia and Rosalind were upset at this rude behavior. They went to thank and praise the young man themselves. Rosalind did more –she took off a gold chain from her and gave it to Orlando.
‘Gentleman, wear this for me she said. ‘I would give more had I the means.
Orlando, who had received very
little kindness in his life before, was charmed by the girl’s grace and beauty and promptly fell in love with her.
However, the displeasure of Duke Frederick was not shown in word alone. A gentlemen of the court same with a harsh message.
‘Leave the place as soon as possible,’ he said. ‘ Although you have deserved high praise and reward, you are not welcome here.
The duke is likely to have you arrested and the place is unsafe for you.’
Poor Orlando was thrown back from a brief moment of glory into his usual sad state.
‘I thank you, sir.’ He said. ‘But please tell me, which of the two ladies present at the wrestling match is the daughter of Duke Frederick?’
‘The short one,’ replied the
courtier, ‘the tall one is the daughter of the banished duke. And you know what sort of man Duke Frederick is. He has lately taken a dislike to this charming lady, his niece, simply because people praise and pity her.’
‘Well, I seem to lie between tyrant duke and a tyrant brother,’ Orlando said when left alone. ‘But this Rosalind is heavenly.’
Oliver was very disappointed
to learn of Orlando’s victory over Charles. He had already thought out a new plot, to get rid of his brother. When Orlando reached home, Adam an old and faithful servant of his father warned him.
‘O, my sweet master!’ he cried. ‘O my gentle master! Why are you so good? Why are you so strong and valiant? Why you did you overcome that that famous wrestler? Your praise has come to swiftly home before you.’
‘Why, what’s the master?’ asked Orlando.
‘Oh, please do not enter into this house,’ warned the old man. ‘Under this roof lives your worst enemy. Oliver intends to kill you this every night by setting fire to your bed-chamber. And if he fails in that he will have other means to cut you off. Run away this very moment, no matter where, so long as you keep away from here.’
‘Here,’ continued the old man bringing out a little bag of money,’ are five hundreds crowns, the wages that I saved up in your father’s service. This was meant for my old age. But he that feeds the ravens will take care of me. Here is the gold. I give it all to you. Let me come with you as your servant. Thought I’m nearly eighty, I’m strong and healthy.
‘O, my good old man!’ replied Orlando. ‘You were not made for
these selfish days. We will go along together. Before this little treasure of yours is spent I will find some way of maintaining us both comfortably.’
So together they set off at once; not knowing which way to take. After many days of wandering, they arrived at the edge of the Forest of Arden.
Celia and Rosalind had returned to the palace. Celia was
playfully teasing her cousin about the handsome young wrestler. For Rosalind, usually merry and talkative, was now silent and lost in thought. She could think of nothing but Orlando.
‘Is it possible that you could have fallen in love, so suddenly with Sir Rowland’s youngest son? asked Celia.
Before Rosalind could reply duke Frederick walked in frowning and seething with anger.
‘You,’ he said addressing Rosalind, ‘get out of this court at once. If you are found within twenty miles of this place, ten days hence, you shall die for iy.’
The two girls were horrified at such a harsh command. Rosalind wanted to know the reason for it.
‘You are your father’s daughter that’s enough,’ growled duke Frederick.
‘Father, don’t you be so hard on
her,’ Celia pleaded for her cousin. ’We have always slept together, risen at the same time, learned, played and eaten together. I cannot live without her company.’
‘You are a fool,’ her father answered. ‘For, the people will think far more highly of you when she is gone. Do not open your lips on the matter. Nothing shall change in what I have decided. She is banished.’
Celia had indeed spoken the truth when she said could not live without Rosalind.
‘My father has banished me too,’ she said when the duke had left them. ‘Let him find another heir, for I’ll go along with you. We will seek my uncle in the forest of Arden.’
They arrange to escape together that very night. They thought it would be safer to
journey dressed like country-folk. Rosalind being very tall decided that if she wore a man’s clothes she would pass off as Celia’s brother. They even took on new names. Rosalind called herself Ganymede and Celia, Aliena.
Quietly they packed up their jewels and stole away in the darkness with whatever little money they had. At the last minute them Touchstone, the jester, to be of
comfort and amusement on their travels.
When duke Frederick woke up next morning he was furious to learn that his daughter and his niece were both missing. He was told that they could be in Orlando’s company. Wasting no time, the duke sent officers to Oliver’s house. He was told that Orlando had not been seen there since he left home for the wrestling match. This
made him still more furious and he banished Oliver too.
‘I shall take away your goods and property,’ he said. ‘They will be returned to you when you bring back your brother. You know where he is.’
‘O, Your Highness!’ he cried ,’ only if knew the real state of affairs. I never loved my brother in all my life and I’ve no idea where he is.’
‘You are the worse villain, then,’ replied the duke. ‘Well push him out of the doors and let my people take possession of his lands.’
So Oliver’s punishment for his hatred of Orlando began much sooner than might have been expected.
All this time, in the green, peaceful forest of Arden, the banished duke was living a far happier life than his wicked brother.
‘Here we are extremely fortunate,’ he said to his companions. ‘we hardly knew our life would be full of peace and quiet. We find, as it were, tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything. I wouldn’t like it to be changed.’
The others quite agreed with the noble duke. One of the banished noblemen, Amiens, began to sing in praise of their open-air life.
Dinner was being prepared under an oak.
When they were all seated at their simple meal, a young men, haggard and troubled –looking, rushed in with his sword drawn.
‘Forbear, and eat no more!’ he said. ‘I almost die for food- let me have it!’
‘Is it your distress’ young man, that makes you so bold?’ said the duke mildly rebuking him. ‘Or do
you dislike good manners. Sit down and eat, you’re welcome at our table.’
The young man was Orlando. He was ashamed of himself and sheathed his sword.
‘Pardon me for this, I pray you,’ he said. ‘I thought that all men were savage in this wild forest and behaved in the uncivil fashion. I’m starving and so is my companion. Please have pity on
us. This poor old man has limped along miles with me in pure love. Let me fetch him, for until he is fed, I’ll not touch a bit of food.’
Orlando, soon, returned carrying old Adam who had already collapse through exhaustion. When they had eaten, they felt refreshed and rested. The Duke discovered that Orlando was the son of his old friend Sir Rowland. He gladly welcomed him
into his company and promised him love and protection.
So, after years of misfortunes and miseries, Orlando found a friend at last. He stretched his weary limbs on the grass and listened to the songs in praise of the forest life.
The two fair ladies and the jester Touchstone, too, had as long a journey as Orlando. They were absolutely weary and exhausted when they arrived in Arden.
‘O, Jupiter how weary you are my spirit!’ Exclaimed Rosalind, throwing herself on the mossy turf. ‘I cannot even cry like a woman and disgrace the man’s clothing I’m wearing.’
‘I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not so weary,’ said Touchstone.
“I can go no further,’ whispered little Celia.
Presently, a young shepherd
came along. Rosalind asked him where they might find some food and rest. The man replied that his master’s cottage was just going no much food there, he would help them get some. They decided to buy the cottage with the sheep and the fields that went with it. They took the young shepherd as an servant.
So Rosalind and Celia- or Ganymede and Aliena, dwelt in
Arden as a shepherdess. They jester Touchstone amused them with his witty remark. But Rosalind still thought often of Orlando when she had liked so much.
As the day went by, she noticed something strange in the forest. There were bits of paper pinned to the tree-
trunks. There was verses written o them, as it seemed, in her own praise. Her name Rosalind was also found carved upon tree-trunks. When she questioned Celia about it, Celia begin to tease her.
‘Do you not guess who could had done this?’ she said. ‘someone with a chain, that once you wore, about his neck. I’ve seen him myself in the forest, under a tree like a dropped acorn.’
‘Alas!’ said Rosalind quite disturbed. ‘What shall I do it my disguise? Does he know that I’m in this forest in a man’s apparel?’
At that moment Orlando him self appeared on the scene. Rosalind, somehow, started a conversation with him. She expressed her anger at a person who was harming all the young trees by carving,’ Rosalind’ on them.
Orlando was greatly charmed by the saucy shepherd boy. He readily confused that it was he who has done it.
‘You must be cured,’ said Ganymede. ‘And I’ll tell you how. You must pretend that I’m this Rosalind that you say you love so much, and come every day to woo me. I’ll scorn you and scold you and change my behaviour toward you every day as girl do. Son you’ll grow tired of Rosalind.’
Orlando did not want to be cured but agreed to try what the shepherd by suggested. Every day he came to the cottage and
played the lover-boy to shepherd-boy. And he received rejection and answers in return.
Rosalind learned about her father’s whereabouts from Orlando. But she enjoyed her new pastime with Orlando so much that she never bothered about going to see the duke.
One morning Orlando did come on his usual visit. Instead,
there appeared an older and graver man, carrying and blood-stained handkerchief. This man was Oliver de Boys. He had a strange tale to tell. Orlando had been on his way to Ganymede’s cottage when he saw a man asleep upon the ground. Nearby, a lioness lay couched and watching like a cat. Waiting for the sleeping man to stir so that it could spring upon him.
Orlando saw, at the same time,
that the sleeping man was done other than his own brother Oliver. Whatever Oliver had been to him, he could not leave him to be devoured by the lioness. In a flash he sprang upon the beast and killed her. But in the process his arm was turn severely. Meanwhile, Oliver awoke and realized what had happened. With tears in his eyes, feeling really sorry, he begged for his brother’s forgiveness. When they embraced each other in love and peace, Orlando suddenly fell
to the ground, unconscious. His wound was much deeper than he had supposed. He asked Oliver to take the handkerchief, which had been round his arm, to the shepherd boy and explain why he could not come.
When Rosalind heard this she swooned away herself. However, recovering fast, she declared that it was only make-believe. It has been the real Rosalind.
‘Tell your brother Orlando,’ she said, ‘How well I pretended to swoon.’
However, seeing the deadly paleness of the shepherd boy, Oliver and Celia did not believe what he said. They helped him home between them. And indeed, Oliver was not sorry by this means to remain longer in the company of the gentle Celia. For they had become fond of each other at first sight.
Oliver was very earnest in his desire to marry her. He immediately returned to Orlando.
‘I’ll live and die here as a shepherd,’ he said. ‘You shall have our father’s house and lands.’
While they were talking this over, the shepherd boy, Ganymede appeared, to enquire after the wounded Orlando,. And it seemed from what he said that Oliver and Celia going to get married the next-day.
‘How I wish I were marrying Rosalind tomorrow,’ sighed Orlando.
‘Shall not I act instead of Rosalind any more?’ asked the shepherd boy.
‘I can live no longer just thinking of her,’ he said Orlando with a groan.
‘Well,’ said the lad, ‘I have studied magic arts since I was three years old. Believe me I can
do strange things. It is not impossible for me to set Rosalind before tomorrow in her own person.’
‘Do you mean that’s the honest truth?’ asked Orlando.
He had played and pretended so long that he never knew whether Ganymede was saying this in fun or not.
‘By my life I do,’ said Ganymede.’ So put on your best clothes. Invite
the duke and your friends. For, if you wish you shall have your wedding with Rosalind.
The next morning, Celia and Oliver arrived in the presence of the duke for their wedding. Orlando also came, dressed gaily as a bridegroom. He told the duke what the shepherd boy had said. The duke new nothing, of course, about his daughter Rosalind’s banishment nor did he dream that she has dwelling in the Forest of
Arden. He really did not know what to make of it.
While they were waiting, the shepherd boy came in, gay and bright as usual. He asked the duke, whether he would consent to Rosalind’s wedding with Orlando, if she were brought in.
‘That I would,’ said the duke, ‘if I had kingdoms to give with her.’
‘And you will marry her if I
bring her here?’ she asked Orlando.
‘That I would,’ said Orlando, ‘if I were the king of every kingdom.
The shepherd boy went out with his sister Aliena. Both the duke and Orlando remarked how mush he reminded them of Rosalind. In a minute or two the maidens re-entered dressed like brides.
‘I give myself to you, for I’m
yours,’ said Rosalind both to her father and her husband.
While they were rejoicing a messenger arrived to tell the duke that he might return home for his crown was his once more. Duke Frederick who had come in great anger with a mighty army to slay his brother, had met an old hermit. After listening to the wise, old hermit, Frederick had, had a change of heart and had decided
to spend the rest of his days in hermitage.
So the brides and their grooms, the duke and his beautiful friends, returned with great rejoining to their ancient home.
(Shakespeare, William, 2001 (reprinted), As You Like It, New Delhi, Crest Publishing House)