Presented by Paul W. Collins
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A sunny glow suffuses the fragrant apple orchard this fine summer morning in Ardennes, a northeastern region of 16th-century France. The well-ordered trees laden with plump fruit are part of the sprawling country estate governed by Sir Oliver de Bois, the eldest son of the manor’s late lord. But sharp words break the tranquility: Orlando, the youngest of three sons, feels mounting resentment over long-borne wrongs; he complains to old Adam, who had been his father’s most devoted servant.
“And there begins my sadness,” says Orlando. The handsome, well built man of twenty-two paces as he talks, hands clasped behind his back. “As I remember, it was upon this fashion bequeathèd me by will: poor, but for a thousand crowns, and—as thou sayest—the charge that my brother, for his blessing, raise me well.
“My brother Jacques he keeps at school, and report speaks goldenly of his profit.” The middle son, a university student, resides happily in Paris.
“As 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 which differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better!—for, besides that they are fair with their tending, they are taught their manage, and to that end riders are 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—undermines my gentility by my ‘education!’”
He stops. “This it is, Adam, that grieves me.”
During the old man’s long service to Orlando’s father, he had watched all three sons grow to manhood, and he well understands what is troubling this one. He nods, patiently.
Orlando runs a hand through his thick, glossy hair. “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.”
Adam glances toward the massive country house. “Yonder comes my master, your brother.”
“Go apart, Adam, and thou shalt hear how he will shake me up!” The man moves behind some nearby shrubs.
Sir Oliver stalks up to confront his brother. “Now, sir, what make you here?”
“Nothing,” Orlando replies bitterly. “I am not taught to make anything!”
“What mar you then, sir?”
“Marry, sir, I am helping you to mar that which God made—a poor, unworthy brother of yours—with idleness!”
Oliver sneers. “Marry, sir, be better employed by being nought a while.”
Demands Orlando angrily, “Shall I keep your hogs and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent, that I should come to such penury?”
“Know you where you are, sir?”
“Oh, sir, verywell!—here in your orchard!”
Oliver, once an indulged child, now an arrogant gentleman, is affronted. “Know you before whom, sir?”
“Aye—better than him I am before knows me! I know you are my eldest brother—and in the gentle condition of blood you should so know me! The courtesy of nations allows you are my better, in that you are the first-born; but the same tradition takes not away my blood, were there twenty brothers betwixt us!
“I have as much of my father in me as you, albeit, I confess, your coming before me is nearer to his reverence.”
Oliver’s anger overflows; accustomed to bullying servants, he grabs the younger man’ collar. “What, boy?”
With both powerful hands, Orlando seizes the front of Oliver’s coat, hoisting him briefly off his feet. “Come, come, elder brother, you are too young in this!”
“Wilt thou lay hands on me, villain?” sputters the landed gentleman.
“I am no villain!” replies Orlando, giving him a shake, then gripping his neck with his right hand. “I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Bois!—he was my father!—and he is thrice a villain that says such a father begot villains!” He draws Oliver’s flushed face nearer. “Wert thou not my brother,” he growls, “I would not take this hand from thy throat till this other had pulled out thy tongue for saying so! Thou hast railed on thyself!”
Adam emerges, pleading for peace: “Sweet masters, be patient!—for your father’s remembrance, be at accord!”
“Let me go, I say!” demands Oliver.
“I will not, till I please! You shall hear me!
“My father charged you in his will to give me good education; you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities! The spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it! Therefore allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman, or give me the poor allotting my father left me by testament—with that I will go buy my fortunes!”
“And what wilt thou do when that is spent?—beg?” demands Oliver. “Well, sir, get you in! I will not long be troubled with you; you shall have some part of your will!
“I pray you, leave me!”
Orlando releases him. “I will no further offend you for my good than becomes me.”
Oliver, livid, waves Adam away: “Get you with him, you old dog!”
Poor Adam is stunned. “Is ‘old dog’ my reward?” His head shakes sadly. “Most true: I have lost my teeth in your service.
“God be with my old master! He would not have spoken such a word!”
Orlando, resisting a strong urge to lay hands on Oliver again, takes the stricken Adam gently by the arm, and the two of them head toward the back of the manor house.
Oliver’s indignation increases as he sits, ruminating, in the house. Is it even so? Begin you to grow upon me? I will physic your rankness—and yet give no thousand crowns neither!
The servant hurries into the room. “Calls Your Worship?”
“Was not Charles, the duke’s wrestler, here to speak with me?”
The De Bois property lies within the dominion of Duke Frederick—a usurper who installed himself in the palace; the rightful duke of Ardennes, his banished brother, has found shelter in the huge old forest near the nation’s northern border.
Dennis nods. “So please you, he is here at the door, and importunes access to you.”
“Call him in.” The man bows and goes to fetch the duke’s privileged champion. ’Twill be a good way, thinks Oliver. And the wrestling is tomorrow!
The burly man arrives, hat in his big hands. “Good morrow to Your Worship.”
Oliver rises. “Good Monsieur Charles, what’s the new news at the new court?”
“There’s no news at the court, sir, but the old news: that is, the old duke is banished by his younger brother, the new duke. And three or four loving lords have put themselves into voluntary exile with him—whose lands and revenues enrich the new duke; therefore he gives them good leave to wander.”
The ambitious Oliver had once learned of an opportunity at the duchy’s court. “Can you tell me if Rosalind, the duke’s daughter, be banished with her father?”
“Oh, no,” says Charles, “for the new duke’s daughter, her cousin, so loves her, being even from their cradles bred together, that she would have followed her in exile, or have died to stay behind her! She is at the court, and no less belovèd of her uncle than his own daughter! And never two ladies loved as they do!”
“Where will the old duke live?”
“They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a-many merry men with him; and there they live like the Robin Hood of old England,” the wrestler reports. “They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world”—halcyon times.
But Oliver has an immediate concern. “What, do you wrestle tomorrow before the new duke?”
“Marry, do I, sir!—and I came to acquaint you with a matter. I am given, sir, secretly to understand that your younger brother Orlando hath a disposition to come in, disguised, against me to try a fall.
“Tomorrow, sir, I wrestle formycredit—and he that escapes me without some broken limb shall acquit himself well! Your brother is but young and tender; and, for your love, I would be loath to foil him—as I must, for my own honour, if he come in.
“Therefore, out of my love to you, I came hither to acquaint you withal, that either you might stay him from his intendment, or well brook such disgrace as he shall run into, in that it is a thing of his own search, and altogether against my will.”
“Charles, I thank thee for thy love to me, which thou shalt find I will most kindly requite.” But then Oliver lies: “I had myself notice of my brother’s purpose herein, and have by underhand means laboured to dissuade him from it; but he is resolute.
“I’ll tell thee, Charles: he is the stubbornest young fellow of France!—full of ambition, an envious emulator of every man’s good parts—a secret and villainous contriver against me, his natural brother!
“Therefore use thy discretion; I had as lief thou didst break his neck as his finger!
“And thou wert best look to’t,” adds Oliver ominously, “for if thou dost him any slight disgrace, or if he do not mightily grace himself on thee, he will practise against thee!—by poison, or entrapping thee by some treacherous device—and never leave thee till he hath ta’en thy life by some indirect means or other!
“For, I assure thee—and almost with tears I speak it—there is not one so young and so villainous this day living! I speak but brotherly of him—but should I anatomize him to thee as he is, I must blush and weep, and thou must look pale, and wonder!”
Charles does not pale. “I am heartily glad I came hither to you! If he come tomorrow, I’ll give him his payment! If ever he go alone again,”—walks without help, “I’ll never more wrestle for prize,” says the big bruiser grimly. “He bows. “And so God keep Your Worship.”
“Farewell, good Charles,” says Oliver, as the grappler clomps away.
Oliver thinks about his young brother. Now will I stir this gamester!
I hope I shall see an end of him! For my soul hates nothing more than he! Yet I know not why—he’s gentle; never schooled, and yet learnèd; full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly belovèd, and indeed so much in the heart of the world—and especially of my own people who best know him—that I am altogether misprisèd!
But it shall not be so for long: this wrestler shall clear all! Nothing remains but that I kindle the boy thither—which now I’ll go about!
Strolling on the terrace at the edge of a well tended stretch of lawn beside the new duke’s palace, two beautiful gentlewomen, both twenty, enjoy the pleasant morning air.
But one lady finds her companion quieter than usual. “I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry!”
“Dear Celia, I show more mirth than I am mistress of—and would you I were merrieryet? Unless you could teach me to forget a banished father, you must not yearn for me now to remember any extraordinary pleasure!”
Celia pouts: “Herein I see thou lovest me not with the full weight that I love thee. If my uncle, thy banished father, had banished thine uncle, the duke my father—and thou hadst been still with me—I could have taught my love to take thy father for mine! So wouldst thou, if the truth of thy love to me were so righteously tempered as mine is to thee!”
Rosalind manages to smile. “Well, I will forget the condition of my estate, to rejoice in yours.”
Celia touches her hand gently. “You know my father hath no child but I, nor none is likely to have—and, truly, when he dies, thou shalt be his heir!—for what he hath taken away from thy father perforce, I will render thee again in affection! By mine honour, I will! And when I break that oath, let me turn monster! Therefore, my sweet Rose, my dear Rose, be merry!”
Patting her friend’s sleeve, Rosalind rises to the challenge. “From henceforth I will, coz—and devise sports!” She considers various ways that young ladies might amuse themselves. “Let me see,” she says, thinking. She grins. “What think you of falling inlove?”
“Marry, I prithee, do, to make sport withal!” laughs Celia. “But love no man in good earnest—nor no further in sport neither, than with safety of a pure blush thou mayst in honour come off again.”
“Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel,”—off the turning globe on which she’s pictured as walking, “so that her gifts may henceforth be bestowèd equally!”
“I would we could do so, for her benefits are mightily misplaced—and the bountiful blind woman doth most mistake in her gifts to women!”
“’Tis true! For those that she makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest she makes very ill-favourèd!” argues Celia—facetiously.
Rosalind cavils: “Nay, now thou goest from Fortune’s office to Nature’s: Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature.”
As they talk, the duke’s court jester, Touchstone, a man of forty wearing the motley woolen costume of his office, approaches from the palace.
Celia defends her position. “No? When Nature hath made a fair creature, may she not by fortune fall into the fire?” Her eyes twinkle. “Though Nature hath given us wit to flout at Fortune, hath not Fortune sent in this fool to cut off the argument?”
“Indeed,” Rosalind admits, “there is Fortune too hard for Nature, when Fortune makes Nature’s natural”—dunce—“the cutter-off of Nature’s wit!”
“Peradventure this is not Fortune’s work, neither,” says Celia, “but Nature’s—who perceiveth our natural wits too dull to reason about such goddesses, and hath sent this natural for our whetstone—for always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits!
“How now, wit?” she asks Touchstone, laughing. “Whither wander you?”
“Mistress, you must come away to your father,” he tells Celia.
“Were you made a messenger?” she teases.
“No, by mine honour,” he says haughtily, “but I was bid to come for you.”
Rosalind is amused by his courtly phrase. “Where learned you that oath, Fool?”
Touchstone is ready with a riddle: “From a certain knight that swore by his honour they were good fritters, and swore by his honour the mustard was nought. Now, I’ll stand to it that the fritters were nought, and the mustard was good—and yet the knight was not forsworn.”
“How prove you that, in the great heap of your knowledge?” asks Celia.
“Aye, marry, unmuzzle your wisdom!” says Rosalind.
“Stand you both forth, now,” orders Touchstone. “Stroke your chins, and swear by your beards that I am a knave.”
The young ladies strike poses, and frown as if weighing the question sternly. “By our beards—if we had them—thou art!” pronounces Celia.
“By my knavery, if I had it, then I were,” says the fool. “But if you swear by that that is not, you are not forsworn! No more was this knight swearing by his honour, for he never had any!—or if he had, he had sworn it away before ever he saw those fritters or that mustard!”
“Prithee, who is’t that thou meanest?” Celia knows the gentlemen of her father’s new court.
Touchstone makes a face. “One that old Frederick, your father, loves.”
Celia speaks dutifully: “My father’s love is enough to honour him. Enough!—speak no more of him. You’ll be whipped for taxation”—chafing—“one of these days!” she warns; but her tone reveals concern for him, not for those vexed by his clever digs.
Touchstone has quickly learned about the new duke’s distaste for laughter at his own expense. “The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely of what wise men do foolishly!”
“By my troth, thou sayest true,” Celia admits sadly, thinking of her father, “for since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show!”
Celia sees a courtier striding out from the palace. “Here comes Monsieur Le Beau.”
“With his mouth full of news,” says Rosalind.
“Which he will put on us as pigeons feed their young,” adds Celia.
“Then shall we be news-crammed!”—overfed, as is poultry.
Celia chuckles. “All the better—we shall be the more marketable!
“Bon jour, Monsieur Le Beau. What’s the news?”
“Fair princess, you have lost much good sport!”
“Sport? Of what colour?” asks Celia.
“What colour, madam? How shall I answer you…?”
“As wit and Fortune will!” says Rosalind gaily.
Offers Touchstone grandly, “Or as the Destinies decree.”
Celia applauds: “Well said! That was laid on with a trowel!”
The jester shrugs to acknowledge the compliment to his acumen: “Nay, if I keep not my rank….”—fail to perform to standard.
“—thou losest thine old smell!” interjects Rosalind, playing on rank,
“Yet tell us the manner of the wrestling,” Rosalind asks politely.
“I will tell you the beginning,” says Le Beau, “and, if it please Your Ladyships, you may see the end—for the rest is yet to do, and here, where you are, they are coming to perform it!”
“Well, then, to the beginning that is deadandburièd….” says Celia.
Le Beau begins: “There comes an old man and his three sons—”
“I could match this beginning with anoldtale,” murmurs Celia—thinking of three wishes, three little pigs.
“—three proper young men, of excellent growth and presence—”
Now Rosalind make a jest on a word: “With notes hung at their necks, ‘Be it known unto all men by these presents….’”
Le Beau persists. “The eldest of the three wrestled with Charles, the duke’s wrestler—and Charles in a moment threw him and broke three of his ribs, such that there is little hope of life in him! So he served the second—and so the third! Yonder they lie, the poor old man, their father, making such pitiful dole over them that all the beholders take his part with weeping!”
“Alas!” Rosalind is appalled by the violence.
Touchstone frowns: “But what is the sport, monsieur, that the ladies have lost?”
“Why, this that I speak of.”
“Thus men may grow wiser every day,” says the jester sourly. “It is the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport for ladies!”
“Or I, I promise thee!” says Celia.
Rosalind thinks three victims is enough—and should provide a clear warning. “But is there any else who longs to see this broken music in his sides?”—playing on terms for songs with separate parts for several voices. “Is there yet another dotes upon rib-breaking?”
Le Beau shrugs and nods.
“Shall we see this wrestling, cousin?” asks Rosalind.
“You must, if you stay here,” Le Beau warns them, “for here is the place appointed for the wrestling, and they are ready to perform it!”
Celia spots movement at the doors. “Yonder, sure, they are coming! Let us stay now, and see it.”
A trumpet flourish signals the arrival on the green of Duke Frederick and his train of lords, all with attending servants. Accompanying the noblemen are Charles, the wrestling champion, and Sir Oliver De Bois. Orlando trails behind.
The duke is impatient. “Come on! Since the youth will not be entreated, his own peril on his forwardness!”
The wrestlers remove their shirts and prepare for the bout.
“Is yonder the man?” asks Rosalind, watching tall Orlando, and noting the challenger’s broad shoulders and strong arms.
“Even he, madam,” says Le Beau.
Celia is worried. “Alas, he is too young! Yet he looks to be successful….”—seems hopeful.
“How now, daughter and cousin,” says the duke, glancing their way, “are you crept hither to see the wrestling?”
“You will take little delight in it, I can tell you, there is such advantage in the man,” says the duke, glancing at Charles. “In pity of the challenger’s youth I would fain dissuade him, but he will not be entreated! Speak to him, ladies; see if you can move him.”
Celia nods. “Call him hither, good Monsieur Le Beau.”
“Do so,” Frederick tells him. “I’ll not be by.” He steps away to threaten two noblemen of his court who are delinquent in paying him their taxes.
“Monsieur the challenger,” cries Le Beau, “the princesses call for you!”
Orlando comes toward the gentlewomen, and bows courteously. “I attend them with all respect and duty.”
Rosalind begins. “Young man, have you challenged Charles the wrestler?”
“No, fair princess,” says Orlando. “He is the general challenger; I come but in, as others do, to try with him the strength of my youth.”
“Young gentleman, your spirits are too bold for your years,” says Celia. “You have seen cruel proof of this man’s strength! If you saw yourself with our eyes—or knew yourself with your own judgment—the fear of your adventure would counsel you to a more equal enterprise!
“We pray you, for your sake, to embrace your own safety, and give over this attempt.”
Rosalind implores: “Do, young sir! Your reputation shall not therefore be misprisèd—we will make it our suit to the duke that the wrestling might not go forward.”
Orlando is polite, but resolute. “I beseech you, punish me not with your hard thoughts—wherein I confess me much guilty, to deny so fair and excellent ladies anything.
“But let your fair eyes and gentle wishes go with me to my trial—wherein if I be foiled, there is but one shamed who was never gracious; if killed, but one dead who was willing to be so. I shall do my friends no wrong, for I have none to lament me, do the world no injury, for in it I have nothing; I merely fill up a place which may be better supplied when I have made it empty.”
Rosalind is touched by his melancholy modesty, and pleased by the eloquence—and lack of a spouse. “The little strength that I have, I would it were with you!” she tells him.
“And mine, to eke out hers!” says Celia.
“Fare you well!” says Rosalind. “Pray heaven I be deceivèd in you”—mistakenly assess his chances.
“Your heart’s desires be with you!” calls Celia, as Orlando goes to face the general challenger.
“Come,” growls Charles, rubbing together his big, hairy-backed hands, “where is this young gallant that is so desirous to lie with his mother?—earth!”
“Ready, sir; but his will hath in it a more decent wording,” Orlando answers sharply.
Frederick motions them closer: “You shall try but one fall.”
Charles’s condescending laugh is aimed at Orlando. “Aye, I warrant Your Grace!—you shall not entreat him to a second that I have so mightily persuaded with a first!”
Orlando glares. “If you meant to mock me after, you should not have mocked me before. But come your ways….”
As the men warily approach each other, hands flexing, ready to seize, the women watch.
“Now Hercules be thy speed, young man!” breathes Rosalind.
Celia whispers to her, “I would I were invisible, to catch the strong fellow by the leg!”
Rosalind is surprised by Orlando’s efforts so far. “Oh, excellent young man!”
“If I had a thunderbolt in mine eye,” says Celia, “I can tell who should down!”
Soon sweating, as he struggles against an opponent much stronger and more able than he had expected, Charles abandons his intention to torment the boy awhile, and moves instead to finish him off quickly—and brutally.
Loud shouts from the crowd greet a sudden, decisive move in the contest: Charles has been thrown to the ground—and he cannot rise.
“No more, no more!” calls Frederick.
Now it’s Orlando’s turn: “Yes, I beseech Your Grace!—I am not yet well breathèd!”
“How dost thou, Charles?” asks the duke.
“He cannot speak, my lord,” Le Beau reports—instantly wishing he had not: the duke does not receive bad news well.
Frederick frowns at his prostrate champion. “Bear him away,” he tells the servants, as the onlookers continue to applaud the victor. He turns to Orlando—the likely successor to Charles’s receipt of patronage. “What is thy name, young man?”
“Orlando, my liege; the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Bois.”
Frederick glares. “I would thou hadst been son to some man else. The world esteemèd thy father honourable, but I did find him still mine enemy. Thou shouldst have better pleased me with this deed hadst thou descended from another house.
“But fare thee well. Thou art a gallant youth,” he adds, grudgingly, and he brusquely turns away—providing no other reward. As the duke returns to the palace, his frustration deepens. “I would thou hadst told me of another father,” he mutters darkly.
Celia is discomfited by seeing Orlando so rudely dismissed. She asks Rosalind, “Were I my father, coz, would I do this?”
Orlando is defiant. “I am proud to be Sir Rowland’s son!—more to be his youngest son!—and would not change that calling to be adopted as heir to Frederick!”
Rosalind tells Celia, “My father loved Sir Rowland as his soul, and all the world was of my father’s mind! Had I before known this young man his son, I should have given him tears onto entreaties, ere he should thus have ventured!”
“Gentle cousin, let us go thank him and encourage him!” says Celia. “My father’s rough and envious disposition sticks me at heart!”
They approach Orlando. “Sir, you have welldeservèd!” Celia tells him, “If you do keep your promises in love but as justly as you have exceeded all promise here, your mistress shall be happy!”
“Gentleman,” says Rosalind, removing a thin gold chain from her neck, “wear this for me—one out of suits with Fortune, who would give more, but that her hand lacks means.”
He accepts the gift, but he sees only her face—especially the bright, clear eyes.
“Shall we go, coz?”
“Aye,” says Celia. “Fare you well, fair gentleman!”
Watching Rosalind leave, Orlando is first flustered, then annoyed with himself. Can I not say, ‘I thank you’? My better parts are all thrown down!—and that which here stands up is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block!
“He’d call us back,” whispers Rosalind, after glancing over her shoulder and seeing his attentive expression. “My pride fell with my fortunes; I’ll ask him what he would.” She turns. “Did you call, sir?”
Her eyes search his face—which reveals to her more than he could imagine. “Sir, you have wrestled well—and overthrown more than your enemies,” she says—and their longing looks lock together.
“Will you go, coz?” asks Celia, after a moment.
“Have with you,” she replies, nodding. “Fare you well!” she tells Orlando—who is still speechless, his face hot. The two ladies walk up to the palace.
The young man is amazed. What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue?
I cannot speak to her!—yet she urgèd conference!
Suddenly he feels feeble. Oh, poor Orlando, thou art overthrown! Not Charles, but something weaker masters thee!
As Orlando ponders both his hard-won victory and his sudden fall, Le Beau emerges from the palace, looking back apprehensively. He hurries to the youth.
“Good sir, I do in friendship counsel you to leave this place!” says the courtier quickly. “Albeit you have deserved high commendation, true applause and love, yet such is now the duke’s condition that he misconstrues all that you have done! What he is, indeed, more suits you to conceive than I to speak of,” he says, again glancing at the palace doors; the moody duke is often irascible.
“I thank you, sir,” says Orlando, “and, pray you, tell me this: which of the two that were here at the wrestling was daughter of the duke?”
“Neither his daughter, if we judge by manners! But yet indeed the shorter is his daughter; the other is daughter to the banished duke, and here detainèd by her usurping uncle to keep his daughter company—whose loves are dearer than the natural bond of sisters.
“But I can tell you that of late this duke hath ta’en displeasure ’gainst his gentle niece, grounded upon no other argument but that the people praise her for her virtues, and pity her for her good father’s sake.
“And, on my life, his malice ’gainst the lady will suddenly break forth!
“Sir, fare you well. Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you.”
Orlando bows. “I rest much bounden to you. Fare you well!”
Le Beau returns the courtesy, and hurries back inside, leaving Orlando alone again.
Thus must I from the smoke into the smother—from tyrant duke unto a tyrant brother!