As You Like It Act 2, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis
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Orlando, about to enter his home, is met with a long soliloquy by his servant, Adam, who seems to both praise and regret his master’s virtuousness: “Why are you virtuous?... And wherefore are you gentle, strong, and valiant?” The servant elaborates that Orlando’s virtues serve him not as graces but as enemies, as “sanctified and holy traitors.”
In his speech, Adam describes Orlando’s strengths as flaws. That these strengths, which are natural and true, would be seen as flaws is an implicit condemnation of the court, which thrives not on these values but on deviousness and political maneuvering.
Orlando asks what’s the matter, and Adam responds that Orlando cannot enter his own home, because his brother is inside. Oliver, it seems, has heard of Orlando’s success in the wrestling match and intends to burn down Orlando’s house, with the intent of killing him. Adam insists that Orlando leave, but Orlando does not know where to go, despairingly claiming that he would rather face his brother than lead a beggar’s life.
Oliver’s hatred for his brother has grown ever stronger, to the point of murderous intent. It seems that the heightening of Oliver’s detestation may have resulted from his envying Orlando for having won the wrestling match, for having proven his strength and goodness.
Adam offers to give his master his own savings of five hundred crowns, and to remain his servant in exile. He swears that, because he never drank too much in his youth, he is stronger than his old age might suggest. He promises to do all the jobs that a younger man would.
By sacrificing his own possessions and future to his master’s cause, Adam displays great generosity and a strong sense of commitment to Orlando. He plays the part of Orlando’s loving brother, which Oliver has failed to do.
Orlando praises Adam’s ethic of servitude—prizing duty over reward. He adds that this attribute was more common in ancient times than it is in modern times, in which, Orlando describes, it is more common that a person work hard only for public recognition and promotion. While praising Adam’s work ethic, however, Orlando also pities him, for pruning “a rotten tree that cannot so much as a blossom yield in lieu of all they pains and husbandry.” Nevertheless, he agrees to take Adam along with him in his banishment.
The relationship between Adam and Orlando is marked by mutual admiration—Adam admires Orlando for his virtuousness and sanctity, and Orlando admires Adam for his strong ethical values and devotion.. Orlando does not take advantage of his servant, but rather respects and protects him, and treats him almost as he might treat a friend or brother.
Adam promises to follow Orlando forevermore, and reflects on his departure from the court, where he has served since he was seventeen years old. He recognizes that it is too late for him to embark on a new ambition and that he would be happy to die in the service of his master.
While many characters in the play decide or are forced to relocate from the court to the forest, at least temporarily, most do so without comment or reflection. Adam vocalizes the significance of this transition for him.