Orlando bemoans his life at home with Oliver, metaphorically comparing his condition to an ox’s.
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, that
differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are
bred better, for, besides that they are fair with their
feeding, they are taught their manage, and to that
end, riders dearly hired.
After the death of their father, Oliver keeps his brother “rustically” (like a peasant), in a manner that does not differ from “the stalling of an ox.” Orlando says that the horses are kept better than he is, for they are “taught their manage” (given instruction) by riders hired to that end.
Orlando complains not only about the physical conditions of his life with his brother, but also the waste of his potential. Like an ox, he is penned up and cannot move; his brother will not allow him to exercise any autonomy, to make any choices. Further, Orlando is crying out for some kind of guidance or direction from the brother charged with raising him. Even the horses, he says, learn how they ought to behave in the world as they receive guidance from their riders.
From the play’s beginning the dynamic between the two brothers is laid out. It is clear from Orlando’s monologue here alone, that Oliver is controlling and jealous; he is threatened by his brother’s potential, and refuses to allow him to exercise or develop it. Orlando, for his part, can see his brother’s manipulation clearly, and has begun to resent it. The tension between the two men provides the catalyst for the events of the first act.
When Duke Senior comments, in Act 2, Scene 7, that they are not the only unhappy people on Earth (“This wide and universal theater / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in”), Jaques agrees and picks up the metaphor:
Jaques: All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
In one of the play’s oft-cited passages, Jaques compares life to a play, and all the people therein to actors. Each person has his “entrance” (birth), his “exit” (death), and plays many “parts” (roles) over the course of his life. Jaques goes on to list the “seven ages” of man (his “acts”): infancy, childhood, adolescence (as a “lover”), adulthood (as a “soldier”), middle age ( as a “judge”), old age, and the final decline into death.
Ironically, Jaques seems to have said something astute here. For all of his foolishness, he delivers an apt metaphor for the many performances which are part of life. The tone of the monologue, which at times veers into an almost nihilistic view of life (it ends in a “mere oblivion,” leaving us with nothing), gels well with Jaques’s cynical, self-pitying worldview throughout the play.
Interestingly, the play itself affirms Jaques’s choice of metaphor. Many of the people in As You Like It are literally playing “roles,” pretending to be someone else. However, As You Like It takes Jaques’s idea and puts a more positive spin on it. The play gives a group of unhappy people the opportunity to “play” someone else, and to come back having learned something about how they want to live. One might even say it gives Rosalind, Celia, Oliver, and Orlando the chance to decide which roles they would like to play once they leave the Forest of Arden.