As its title suggests, As You Like It dramatizes characters who offer a variety of perspectives and attitudes. Almost all these figures are subject to satire, but of a very mild sort, and thus this play may be the most affectionate and forgiving of Shakespeare's first ten comedies. Its villains are primarily a necessity of plot and soon drift to the periphery of the story. All the other characters are essentially likeable, and our pleasure is watching them deal with one another's quirks and egos.
The wide range of characters also offers a series of oppositions of both ideas and values. Most important is the contrast of life in court to that in the country. We are also conscious of the differences in spirit between age and youth, between genuine love and love that gratifies one's own pride or lust, and between honest emotion and emotion feigned for effect. Yet however certain characters are criticized or mocked, the tone of the play is gentle, and we never feel that anyone is seriously threatened. Instead we find ourselves amused and enlightened by a panorama of social interminglings that shows Shakespeare at his warmest. The primary source of the play is Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde: Euphes' Golden Legacie ( 1590), which was derived from The Tale of Gamelyn, a fourteenth-century poem of uncertain authorship.
The opening scenes create the crucial tension of the play. To his servant Adam, Orlando explains that his older brother, Oliver, has cheated Orlando out of his fortune.
He lets me feed with his hinds, bars me at the place of a brother, and as much as in him lies, mines my gentility with my education. (I, i, 19-21)
This information is delivered in one continuous speech of prose, and we feel Shakespeare moving through preliminaries of the story to reach the main action as quickly as possible. Oliver's entrance gives Orlando a chance to personalize the accusation: