Speaking to Adam, a servant, Orlando laments his predicament, a state of idleness and penury which he blames his eldest brother, Oliver, of perpetuating. Presently, Oliver appears and upbraids his younger brother who expresses his displeasure at being condescended to. Angered, Oliver strikes Orlando who in turn immobilizes his older brother with a wrestler’s hold. Adam urges the brothers to desist--to no avail. Oliver demands to be released but Orlando agrees to do so only after Orlando has had his say which is that he--Orlando--is as deserving of a gentleman’s status as much as his older brothers are. Ergo Oliver should either provide Orlando with all the advantages deserving of a son of Sir Rowland de Boy or relinquish the portion of wealth that is Orlando’s by rights of inheritance. Though Oliver agrees to accommodate Orlando, it isn’t long before we learn of Oliver’s true mind.
There is something about Orlando which endears him to people in general, and Oliver finds this so threatening that he is willing to have his brother maimed and/or come to serious harm. He therefore lies to Charles, a wrestler who is loath to hurt Orlando, that Orlando has nothing but malice for Charles, that if Charles doesn’t put Orlando out of commission that Orlando will go out of his way to harm Charles to the extent of killing Charles. Thus manipulated, Charles, who has come to Oliver to have Oliver dissuade Orlando from participating in a wrestling tournament (lest Charles hurt Orlando), decides to hurt Orlando before Orlando can hurt him.
Through Charles, who is the new Duke's (Frederick’s) wrestler, Oliver learns that the old Duke, who has been banished, has removed himself to the Forest of Arden. His daughter, Rosalind, however, has remained behind for Celia--Duke Frederick’s daughter--who wouldn’t ever abide being parted from her cousin and dearest friend.
Celia urges Rosalind to be happier, arguing that if their circumstances were reversed, i.e. if Celia’s father had been banished and not Rosalind‘s, that Celia would, for Rosalind’s sake, be happier and regard her uncle, Rosalind’s father, as her own father which, Rosalind seems unable to do with regards Celia’s father. Rosalind promises to try harder and wonders if falling in love might do the trick. Celia says that it might as long as one doesn’t fall earnestly in love with a man. They are thus beguiling the time, with Touchstone, a fool, contributing to the idle chatter, when Monsieur La Beau comes upon the scene to tell them of the wrestling exploits of Charles, who has broken the ribs of many an opponent and who will presently challenge another opponent. Rosalind and Celia decide to stay and witness the event.
Presently, Duke Frederick, accompanied by Orlando, Charles, and attendants, appears. Concerned for Orlando's welfare on account of his youth, Rosalind tries to dissuade Orlando from wrestling Charles but to no avail. Orlando will test his mettle, arguing and that his safety is of little account as he has nothing to lose and therefore nothing to lament even should he lose his life. The ladies wish him good luck and by and by the wrestling match begins, culminating in Orlando’s decisive victory as Charles is felled and rendered unconscious. Duke Frederick is impressed. When told of Orlando’s name and parentage, however, the Duke shows his displeasure, explaining that Sir Rowland de Boy had been a mortal enemy of his when alive. By and by Rosalind congratulates Orlando, presenting him with a necklace, a token of her admiration which is enhanced by the fact that their respective fathers were the closest of friends. The gesture renders Orlando tongue-tied, alas, and he fails to respond not once but twice as Rosalind addresses him. Orlando is thus wondering what had come over him when La Beau appears, urging Orlando to flee as the Duke, who is prone to mood swings, has taken a sudden disliking to Orlando because of his parentage. Orlando thanks La Beau, but before leaving he inquires La Beau about Rosalind and learns that she is the daughter of the banished Duke and is therefore susceptible to the Duke’s hostility as he is.
Rosalind has confessed that she has fallen in love with Orlando, and Celia wonders if the reason could be for the fact that Rosalind’s father, the banished Duke, was a close friend and ally to Orlando’s father, Sir Rowland de Boy. Rosalind avers that the reason is partly that and urges Celia not to hate Orlando for Rosalind’s sake even though Orlando’s father was Celia’s father’s mortal enemy. They are thus engaged when Duke Frederick appears and orders her niece to pack and make herself scarce from the court, justifying the banishment on the simple fact that the Duke doesn’t trust Rosalind. Rosalind argues that treason can’t be inherited, that her uncle is being unfair and unreasonable--but to no avail. Indeed, even Celia’s plea on her cousin’s behalf proves futile.
But there isn’t a chance that Celia would allow herself to be separated from her cousin. She will go where Rosalind will and presently they decide to go in search of Rosalind’s father, the banished Duke, in the Forest of Arden. They will dress themselves meanly (Rosalind in a man’s attire with weapons to affright lowly villains), call themselves Ganymede and Aliena, and even persuade the Duke’s fool, Touchstone, to accompany them.