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What is the contrast between country life and city life in "As You Like It"?

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rashi | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:00 PM via web

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What is the contrast between country life and city life in "As You Like It"?

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trz10011996 | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted April 20, 2010 at 3:26 PM (Answer #1)

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are u frm a skul based on icse board.. even i am .. nd ia m also facing problems wid as u like it ..

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted June 14, 2009 at 2:27 AM (Answer #2)

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Well, there are lots. And the play, like all of Shakespeare's plays, complicates the issue rather than providing a one-word, easy answer. I think the best way of answering yoru question is to focus in on one particular little extract which deals with the topic: the conversation between Touchstone (the fool from the court) and Corin (the shepherd, who lives in the country).

CORIN.
And how like you this shepherd's life, Master Touchstone?

TOUCHSTONE.
Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my humour well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach.

Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?

CORIN.
No more but that I know the more one sickens, the worse at ease he is; and that he that wants money, means, and content, is without three good friends; that the property of rain is to wet, and fire to burn; that good pasture makes fat sheep; and that a great cause of the night is lack of the sun; that he that hath learned no wit by nature nor art may complain of good breeding, or comes of a very dull kindred.

TOUCHSTONE.
Such a one is a natural philosopher. Wast ever in court, shepherd?

CORIN.
No, truly.

The key here seems to be in the duality, the both-at-onceness of both conversations here. Touchstone can see all the good points of the country, but those good points (to him) are also its bad points. So he likes the fact that it is in the country, if you view that in isolation, but if you widen the picture and remember that it is not in the court, then he doesn't like it:

Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious.

The same sort of double perspective applies, I think, to Corin's perspective on philosophy. I think there are two entirely different routes for the actor playing Corin in the theatre to take with the above speech. Either you play Corin as genuinely wise - everything he says, is of course 'natural' philosophy, and indeed, true - or you play him as a complete idiot, just stating one obvious non-insight after another. Is this country wisdom, or bumpkin stupidity? Corin thinks it the former, Touchstone the latter. It all depends on your perspective on the scene.

And that's what Touchstone goes on to argue. Corin says first that it depends on where you are - good manners in country and in court means two entirely different things:

CORIN.
Touchstone... good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behaviour of the country is most mockable at the court. You told me you salute not at the court, but you kiss your hands; that courtesy would be uncleanly if courtiers were shepherds.

TOUCHSTONE.
Instance, briefly; come, instance.

CORIN.
Why, we are still handling our ewes; and their fells, you know, are greasy.

We couldn't kiss our hands in the country, Corin argues, like you do in the court, because our hands are dirty. Yet Touchstone's response says that country and court are the same.

TOUCHSTONE.
Why, do not your courtier's hands sweat? and is not the grease of a mutton as wholesome as the sweat of a man?

It depends who you are. It's as you like it.

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