In the Forest of Arden, Duke Senior addresses the lords who have joined him in exile. He remarks on the sweetness, freedom, and safety of living in the woods, as compared to the “envious court” which is artificial and full of “painted pomp.” He describes nature as providing nourishment for the life of the mind, with “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” Lord Amiens praises the duke for having such a positive outlook on his unfortunate circumstance.
Duke Senior sets up a distinction between the forest and the court, the former as a place of freedom and nature and the latter as a place of envy and artifice. The strength of his character is demonstrated by his ability to make the most of his residence in the forest, even though he is not there of his own will.
Duke Senior suggests that they go hunt for venison, and the First Lord agrees, though adds that “the melancholy Jaques, one of the duke’s lords (not to be confused with Jaques de Boys), is known to grieve at their slaughtering of animals, and was recently found sobbing at the sight of a wounded stag. Jaques, the Lord recounts, considers hunters to be even worse “usurpers, tyrants” than Duke Frederick because hunters kill animals in their “native dwelling place.” Duke Senior, desiring to console him, asks the Second Lord to lead him to Jaques.
A comparison is presented between evil performed on mankind and evil performed on animals. The play so far has been primarily about the former—about Duke Frederick and Oliver’s cruelty to their respective brothers—but here, Jaques suggests that killing animals is no worse than doing harm to humans. At the same time, Jaques concerns here—to these men who are hunters—are presented as somewhat ridiculous and foolish, as him being upset over something that is not worth being upset about.