The youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, Orlando serves as the play’s romantic male hero, eventually marrying Rosalind. Orlando’s appearances in the first act well establish his moral virtue, as he craves only ‘‘such exercises as may become a gentleman’’ (1.1.69–70), including a good education, while Oliver, the eldest de Boys brother, professes to despise Orlando expressly because the younger is ‘‘so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprized’’ (1.1.161–63). Orlando proceeds to outwrestle Charles, a Goliath figure, without boast or bravado, and he even proves humbly shy when Rosalind addresses him afterward.
Much attention is given to Orlando’s ties to his father, Rowland, whose name is a loose anagram of his youngest son’s. Their last name, meanwhile, comes from bois, which means ‘‘forest’’ in French. When Orlando reiterates the claim, ‘‘The spirit of my father grows strong in me’’ (1.1.67–8), the audience understands that Orlando, not Oliver, is the true heir to the virtuous natural world signified by their last name.
In the Forest of Arden, the audience’s impression of Orlando shifts somewhat, as Rosalind, posing as Ganymede, appears to control, if not dominate, the interactions between the destined pair. The audience may feel that Orlando’s inability to direct their conversations reflects a lack of masculine assertiveness. Yet in fact, one of Orlando’s surest virtues may be his ability to reconcile himself to more feminine qualities. Upon reaching the forest realm of Duke Senior, Orlando first adopts an aggressive stance; however, once he realizes he is being kindly received, he remarks, ‘‘Let gentleness my strong enforcement be; / In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword’’ (2.7.118–19). With Duke Senior serving as a surrogate father figure to Orlando, this scene might be viewed from a Freudian perspective as a resolution of the hostility toward the father associated with the Oedipus complex. Signaling that resolution, Orlando taps his nurturing side, noting, ‘‘like a doe, I go to find my fawn’’ (128). In ‘‘Sexual Politics and Social Structure,’’ with reference to Orlando’s later rescue of Oliver, Peter B. Erickson observes that the youngest brother ‘‘achieves a synthesis of attributes traditionally labeled masculine and feminine when he combines compassion and aggression in rescuing his brother from the lioness’’ (231).
Ultimately, as Erickson relates, Orlando is confirmed as the foremost authority figure in both his relationship with Rosalind and in the play as a whole. The possession of Rosalind in a literal sense passes from Duke Senior to Orlando. When Duke Senior is restored as the head of the dukedom, his possessions will pass not to his daughter but to the husband of his daughter, meaning that Orlando will inherit the entire land. Thus, as Erickson concludes, ‘‘Festive celebration is now possible because a dependable, that is, patriarchal, social order is securely in place’’ (232).
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007