How would you explain the context and meaning of Act II, Scene 7 of As You Like It related to the historical eras preceding the late Renaissance?
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For one thing, Act II, Scene 7 of As You Like It is reminiscent of the Old English/Anglo Saxon literary period that gave us Beowulf in that, during that era, ancestral tribes dominated, and it could be argued that Duke Senior has built up something akin to an ancestral tribe out in Arden forest for himself.
The Middle English period of Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales has a greater association with As You Like It as the chivalric code, religious devotion, folk ballads, and romantic love were dominant features. It could be argued that these features appear in Act II, Scene 7. First perhaps as Orlando storms Duke Senior's camp demanding food from supposedly hostile forces for the nourishment of Adam, whom he insists will eat before he himself does. This represents the chivalric code's admonitions to serve the weak.
Though Jaques in this scene only addresses his hoped for transformation into a Fool garbed in motley, which the Duke promises him, it prefigures Jaques' upcoming transformation to a follower of the religious cloister life. Amiens closes the scene with the singing of a folk ballad, and Orlando's very presence reminds us that As You Like It is a tale of romantic love between Rosalind and Orlando (et al).
Beginning in the early Renaissance, poetry (such as Shakespeare's), constant unwavering love, and human potential were all important characteristic ideas. In accord with Sir Philip Sidney's view points, an exploration of the many facets of love with the intent of evoking an understanding of the divine ideal was a popular topic. Poetic exploration of such divinely inspired topics was supported by royalty (true in Chaucer's time as well) who awarded stipends, court posts, and an audience for the accomplishments of poets and other artists (poets were especially prized).
It can be argued that Act II, Scene 7 represents these characteristics for one reason because, last one first, the Duke can be seen as supporting Orlando who later becomes a blooming poet--he goes straight from budding to wilting blossoms. Orlando's speeches in the Duke's camp clearly demonstrate the breadth of a very particular facet of love, that for an aged friend and loyal servant. This is perfectly in keeping with the characteristic of the exploration of all facets of love as a topic and a divine ideal.
In this scene Jaques begins an exploration of human potential as he aspires to greater fulfillment of his own potential. Also another facet of love presented by Orlando and by the Duke is the quality of unwavering love: Orlando for Adam, prefiguring his soon to be revealed unwavering love for Rosalind, and the Duke's unwavering love for Sir Rowland and by extension Sir Rowland's beloved son.
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