Study Guide

As You Like It

by William Shakespeare

As You Like It Essay - The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As You Like It

The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As You Like It


The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As
You Like It

Cynthia Marshall, Rhodes College

So thoroughly does Shakespeare's work encompass our sense of textual possibility that even his apparent missteps take on interest and meaning. The Fool's unexplained disappearance from King Lear, for instance, has famously come to serve as an emblem of Shakespeare's writerly economy—-a character, disappears when no further use exists for him—and has been formally linked with the king's own descent into a Foolish view of things.1 Yet, as psychoanalysis tells us, the structure of language itself has a capacity to open up crevices in a surface of meaning, to trick a wily practitioner into showing a hand he may not realize he holds, so that "mistakes" may serve as pathways to recesses within the text. Jacques Derrida has alerted us to the paradoxical way that a "trace" or "track in the text" both testifies to authorial presence and erases the writer's authority as point of origin.2

The particular "misstep" here begins with an issue most teachers of As You Like It have faced: the inclusion of two characters named Jaques in the dramatis personae. It is not entirely accurate to say that the two are "in the play," since only one, the melancholy Jaques who serves Duke Senior, is addressed by name in the course of the action. The other, Orlando and Oliver's brother Jaques de Boys, is identified in the Folio text as "Second Brother" when he appears in the closing moments of Act 5. But because Orlando has referred to "my brother Jaques" (1.1.5) in the opening speech, Jaques de Boys exists as a palpable source of confusion for readers and viewers, haunting the play as a kind of double for the melancholy Jaques.3 Or, as I will argue, it is more precisely the melancholy Jaques who serves as a double, standing in for the absent second son of Sir Rowland de Boys. In a play so intimately concerned with names and with substitutions, this elliptical blocking of an absent Jaques with a present one provides a signal instance, of the symbol's capacity to compensate for loss. But Jaques is not just any symbol, nor does he have just a garden variety of uncanny textual effect. Rather, the requirement of a melancholy Jaques, so crucial to the play's emotional equilibrium, testifies to an undertow of sadness in it that is brilliantly held at bay by a Shakespearean game of Fort/Da, and thus Jaques reveals how the carefully managed relation between melancholy affect and textual representation enables this comedy to function.

Psychoanalysis may seem extraneous in relation to so balanced a work as As You Like It, but the nature of textual equilibrium here and elsewhere is part of my interest. The Freudian Fort/Da has stood at the center of debates about the purpose and meaning of psychoanalysis—roughly speaking, about its status as either a structural or poststructural discourse. My essay situates itself on this divide, reading the constructions of negation in Shakespeare's comedy as evincing a compensatory principle that brings about a satisfying harmony and closure to the play, but also finding in the play's traces of melancholy a pathway that leads toward the eroding consequences of cultural repressions. Using the psychoanalytic concept of negation to probe the structure of As You Like It and some of its particular fixations, this essay will show that the unconstrained gender play in Arden (which has received a great deal of critical attention in recent years) as well as other sorts of liberty exhibited within the play are linked to the presence of the melancholy Jaques. But while my argument takes its cue from the doubleness of Jaques, I do not focus on him as a character; indeed because he wears a melancholic mask, I see him as largely unavailable in terms of characterological depth.4 My concern instead is with Jaques as the most obvious example of the structural and linguistic compensations the play repeatedly makes. I aim to extend the classic understanding of the compensatory nature of comedy by showing how language is imbricated in comic structure, using contemporary psychoanalytic theory to probe the connections in early modern texts between melancholia, gender, and language: In order to advance such a psychoanalytic reading, I propose that Jaques's doubled existence within the play and his ultimate departure from it serve as intratextual markers of theory's possible relation to the text.


It has been suggested by Harold Jenkins that the two Jaqueses are the result of an uncorrected error of composition, that Shakespeare originally intended for the melancholy fellow encountered in the forest to be the second son of Sir Rowland de Boys.5 The suggestion makes a great deal of sense: the one thing we know about brother Jaques is that he has been away at school,. a site—as the nearly contemporaneous Hamlet witnesses—where melancholy appears to flourish. Though denying that his is "the scholar's melancholy" (4.1.10), Jaques expresses the easy disdain and the hunger for "matter" (5.4.184) of an educated person. Indeed a viewer watching the play or a reader encountering it for the first time has no way to know that the melancholy Jaques is not Jaques de Boys prior to Second Brother's late arrival in Arden. For most of the play, the two characters named Jaques are severed by a single fact: Orlando's failure to recognize the melancholy fellow in Arden as his brother.6 This failure, however, is not in itself indicative. Leaving aside the fact that the raillery between Orlando and Jaques seems not at all uncharacteristic of that between brothers, one is struck by Orlando's utter unreliability as a witness to the events and people around him. Orlando, after all, fails to recognize Rosalind, his proclaimed love, during their extensive interactions in Arden. Might he not also fail to recognize his brother, especially if that brother has been changed, translated, by melancholy?

A reader or viewer need not contemplate the exact logic of Orlando's failure; the point is that many will silently compound the one Jaques with the other, at least until Second Brother's appearance. Agnes Latham suggests that a difference in pronunciation may let Shakespeare off the hook: the name of melancholy Jaques, as several verse lines indicate, is disyllabic (Jake-is or Jack-is); the single mention of Jaques de Boys, however, might call for monosyllabic or "English" pronunciation, "in so far as prose rhythms are discernible."7 Although other editors similarly distinguish the two characters by pronunciation of the name, Latham herself seems rather dubious about the method's accuracy: "If this is so, it clears Shakespeare of a maladroit duplication of names. If, on the other hand, the names by some oversight were identical, there is little harm done."8

In fact, his name is not the only peculiar thing about the melancholy Jaques. As has frequently been observed, his exuberant spirits belie his nominal complaint. Harold Jenkins says his melancholy is "not the fatigue of spirits of the man who has found the world too much for him, but an active principle. . . . His misanthropy is a form of self-indulgence."9 Latham sees him as more misplaced than melancholic: "his railing...

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The melancholy Jaques makes his living, we might say, by cheerfully lampooning what he could be but is not. The linguistic principle he practices is by no means particular to him. The very nature of language, as Lacan and others have unfolded it, is to cloak a meaning that may or may not exist. Building on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, Lacan refers to the "incessant sliding of the signified under the signifier" as an effect creating a "chain of discourse." The chainlike structure of language in turn allows the possibility "to use it in order to signify something quite other than what it says."16 Or, in Joan Copjec's words, "Since signifiers are not transparent they cannot demonstrate that they are not hiding something behind what they saythey cannot prove that they do not lie. Language can only present itself to the subject as a veil that cuts off from view a reality that is other than what we are allowed to see."17 For Lacan, language acquisition introduces a split within the subject; as "the discourse of the Other," the unconscious functions linguistically but inaccessibly.18As You Like It returns again and again to the ability or propensity of language, and in particular of names, to veil an inaccessible zone, a "reality that is other than what we are allowed to see" and is taken for reality precisely because we are unable to see it.

Consider, for instance, the "new news at the new court" in Act 1, which is nothing "but the old news," specifically that "the old Duke is banished by his younger brother the new Duke" (1.1.96-100). The wordplay unsettles the political structure whose machinations it documents: there is a certain obvious equivalency between old and new news, between old and new dukes, but the placement of Duke Senior away from court, outside of power, underlines his authority as the "real" duke. The keen nostalgia that inspires Charles's comparison of the old duke to "the old Robin Hood of England," fleeting the time "as they did in the golden world" (1.1.116, 118-19), furthers the image of an authoritative, originary, but utterly inaccessible reality. The play's world becomes one of substitutions, where duke replaces duke, brother challenges brother, cousin threatens to unseat cousin, fool topples oaf in the affections of Audrey, Ganymede supplants Silvius in those of Phebe; in the midst of all this, the old duke's namelessness testifies to his unique place outside the linguistic chain of replacements. That he, moreover, embraces pain for its capacity to "feelingly persuade me what I am" (2.1.11) seems to indicate further that he is one character (and the only one, it seems to me, other than Touchstone and the melancholy Jaques) not at least intermittently in the grip of repression.

In contrast to the duke's placement outside the linguistic turnstile, Rosalind fully occupies it. Ganymede's success at standing in for Rosalind is the showpiece of the play's set of substitutions. "Nay, you must call me Rosalind" (3.2.422): what is the love-cure but a glorification of the symbol's substitutive power, an intoxicating revelry in the capacity of language to construct a character, a relationship, a love affair? Ganymede's reiterated claim "And I am your Rosalind" (4.1.62) is accepted on a linguistic basis by Orlando: "I take some joy to say you are, because I would be talking of her" (11. 85-86). But the claim underscores a sense that Ganymede's Rosalind is only a creation of words. In contrast to Rosalind's transformation into Ganymede, which requires a costume and altered behavior, Ganymede adopts the Rosalind role simply and only through conversation with Orlando. Such a demonstration of the character's purely linguistic reality is gravely taxing to theatrical mimesis. In the face of the dissolution threatened by Ganymede as reminder that all the characters are but verbal artifice, the play emphasizes instead the gendered frisson, the apparently stubborn presence of the male Ganymede rather than the female Rosalind enacting amorous play with Orlando. Ganymede indeed protests too much that "he" is really "she," highlighting for viewers the gendered gap between Orlando's actual and virtual love partners. Even Orlando's late signal that he is weary of the game—"I can live no longer by thinking" (5.2.50)—offers no certain escape from the dilemma of equivocal gender: where, and how, might one live without thinking? How can he opt out of the social arrangements born of cognitive ordering? If Orlando's comment does suggest a preference for the physical reality of Rosalind over that of Ganymede, and if the wedding with which the play closes seems to grant his wish, the theatrical condition of the original performance by an all-male cast nevertheless works to undermine this heterosexual ordering.

Ganymede's masquerade as Rosalind opens up the equivocacy of Orlando's desire: it is apparent during the loveplay in Arden that Orlando desires both of them. The compression of male and female personae into one character functions like the symbol of negation, allowing Orlando to acknowledge a repressed idea—"I desire him"—on condition that the idea is negated—"I desire her, not him." Orlando's increased vividness testifies to his enrichment through this symbol of negation. Whereas his first encounter with Rosalind at Duke Frederick's court strikes him dumb, Orlando's interaction with Ganymede/Rosalind shows how, to quote Freud again, his "thinking frees itself from the restrictions of repression and enriches itself with material that is indispensable." But, perhaps because of the arrival of Oliver and his immediate assertion of a heterosexual claim on Celia, Orlando quails from continued "thinking" of this free and enriched sort. His demand of a settled arrangement of heterosexual coupling reinstates the repression of his desire for Ganymede.19

Desire, as Freud was well aware, involves identificatory wishes as well as possessive ones; it can take the form of wishing to be the object or wishing to have it. Not only are Orlando and those readers or viewers who primarily identify with him allowed to acknowledge the titillating possibility of a boy lover, but Rosalind and those who identify with her are likewise allowed the fantasy of being male. This wish seems, to most viewers, not at all surprising: in a masculinist society, who wouldn't choose to be male? Yet I think it's not enough to read the politics of gendered privilege in the Ganymede disguise; we also need to see how erotic play is pressured and manipulated. Rosalind's decision to maintain the Ganymede persona in her interactions with Orlando suggests that she does not wish to participate only as a female in a heterosexual couple. She also wishes to be a boy interacting with Orlando; perhaps she wishes to be, or at least to be like, Orlando himself. Recognizing this erotic tendency allows us to see desire as something other than lack. The Ganymede disguise, once again, lifts the barrier of repression, allowing temporary acknowledgment of illicit erotic desires that are safely veiled by the symbol of negation: not Rosalind but Ganymede; not Ganymede but the pretended Rosalind; and, most encompassingly, not us but Shakespeare's fiction.

In spite of the contrast between Rosalind and her father, between her subordination to linguistic order and her father's placement outside it, there is a sense that what is banished in both their cases takes on greater reality. The old duke is the real duke, and the...

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As I mentioned earlier, Jaques makes a point of carefully defining his melancholy:

I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these; but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.


The method of his self-diagnosis reveals as...

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