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,...
(The entire section is 1169 words.)
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 say—they 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...
(The entire section is 3082 words.)
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 much about early modern notions of melancholia as it does about the character: the malady, in its various forms specified here, seems ubiquitous. Jaques's confidence that his melancholy is distinctively individualistic yields to our sense that the complaint is endemic within the culture. How particularized can its manifestations be? And, to anticipate the conclusion of As You Like It, what happens when the self-assigned keeper of melancholia departs? How could he carry away all traces of a melancholia so various and so widespread?
In his encyclopedic Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Robert Burton echoes Jaques in attempting to define and describe versions of the complaint. Burton generally associates melancholy...
(The entire section is 5144 words.)