As You Like It Essay - As You Like It (Vol. 34)

As You Like It (Vol. 34)


As You Like It

For further information on the critical and stage history of As You Like It, see SC, Volumes 5 and 23.

Generally believed to have been written and first performed sometime between 1598 and 1600, As You Like It is largely a dramatic adaptation of Thomas Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde (1590). And, while Shakespeare mined this earlier work for most of the play's plot and many of its major characters, its sources are thought to also include such texts as Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, the anonymous Historie of Sir Clyomen and Clamydes, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. The work is typically seen as a light-hearted comedy, filled with the requisite misunderstandings and farcical happenings, but scholars have nonetheless observed that the play engages several serious subjects. Its principal actors are the virtuous Orlando de Boys and his beloved Rosalind, both of whom are banished from Duke Frederick's court to the near-mythical rural setting of the Forest of Arden. In these two characters Shakespeare personifies two of the work's leading themes: Orlando represents dishonored virtue restored, while Rosalind—who is disguised as Ganymede, a young man, for the majority of the play—inaugurates the theme of illusory appearance that questions the fabric of perception and reality.

As You Like It is often seen as a grand pastoral romance, tinged with an ironic commentary on the illusion of its ideals. As a pastoral comedy, its plot follows the classic three-part pattern, featuring an exile from court, followed by a renewal of character and social standing in a rural setting, and culminating in an exultant return to court. The two settings in the play, the natural world of Arden and Duke Frederick's court, are seen as analogous to the work's contrasting tensions of romantic idealism and ironic realism, respectively. Views of these contrasting worlds and the perspectives they represent have become commonplace in criticism on the play. Rosalie L. Colie, for example, has outlined many of the major pastoral themes and motifs reflected in the work, including its emphasis on dialogue, its mixture of comedy and tragedy, and its concern with the clash between art and nature and between court and country. Eamon Grennan, like-wise, has approached the play as a pastoral comedy, but sees the work as a combining of pastoral and anti-pastoral elements. For Ralph Berry, the site of the anti-romantic rests in the character of Rosalind and in Touchstone, a professional fool from Duke Frederick's court who presumably acts as a mouthpiece for Shakespeare, allowing him to interject an ironic voice into the play. Other pastoral elements, such as the foolish shepherdess Phebe and her jilted Petrarchan lover, Silvius, are presented as stock characters, included to elicit mirth from the audience and to parody the limitations of the romantic genre.

Shakespeare's use of folly is another topic that attracts continual interest among critics of As You Like It. The play's humor, which pokes fun at human limitations and foolishness, has been perhaps most closely observed by R. Chris Hassel, who sees the work as a celebration of human folly, the absurdity of life, and the wisdom that comes with the apprehension of both. Hassel, along with several earlier commentators, has given significant attention to the play's fools Jaques and Touchstone. The character of Jaques has long been a compelling figure for audiences and critics. By the nineteenth century he had become a favorite subject of many, including William Hazlitt, who essentially cast him as a melancholic malcontent and a personification of self-indulgence and superficiality. This assessment has persisted, and Jaques is very consistently seen as striving to maintain the pretense of his aristocratic breeding, while only succeeding in demonstrating his foolishness. To a great degree, Jaques is contrasted with Touchstone who, despite his occupation, displays an intelligence, wit, and occasional profundity that equals or surpasses that of any other character in the play.

The depth of Touchstone's perceptions, however, are only rivaled by those of As You Like It's chief protagonist, Rosalind. For many commentators, including Charles Brooks and Peter Hyland, Rosalind—in disguising herself as a man before she enters the Forest of Arden—draws attention to the work as self-conscious drama or metatheater, concerned with the consequences of acting and role-playing as part of the quest for self-knowledge. She is considered the locus of inversion in the play, and her character stirs a deeper understanding of the human condition by questioning the nature of observed reality. Rosalind is thought to forge her own identity throughout the course of the play through her adoption of a new appearance. Her disguise also draws attention to the Forest of Arden as a liminal space, where the ordinary perspectives—including commonly accepted gender and power structures both in and beyond the world of the play, such as the patriarchal status quo and the misdirected power of Duke Frederick that has banished Orlando from his rightful place as Duke—are turned upside down in order that they might be examined more closely. One of Shakespeare's most inventive and intelligent heroines, Rosalind also is the focus of the play's movement toward the reconciliation of opposites—realism and idealism, wisdom and folly, high and low, male and female. And, while many critics see Rosalind as this synthesizing figure, most concur that the underlying tensions in this play resist definite resolution, making As You Like It one of Shakespeare's most successful and compelling comedies.


Ralph Berry (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: "No Exit from Arden" in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 66, 1971, pp. 11-20.

[In the following essay, Berry outlines the anti-romantic elements of hostility, conflict, and debate that exist in As You Like It beneath the surface of romance.]

The structure of As You Like It I take to be a synthesis of two structures, that of romance and anti-romance. The romantic elements need no recapitulation here; they compose, quite simply, the plot. Of the anti-romantic elements, much has already been commented on. For example: Rosalind, Touchstone, and Jacques provide a running fire (within the spectrum realism-satire) on the posturing of the romantics. There are plenty of overt hints that Arden is no paradise. Touchstone's 'Ay, now I am in Arden: the more fool I' (II.4.13)1 shades into the evocation, which Kott has noted,2 of an agrarian system governed by the capitalist laws of hire:

But I am shepherd to another man,
And do not shear the fleeces that I graze.
My master is of churlish disposition …

And the play's conclusion, a set of major cadences rung to wedding bells, has already been consistently minored by the many references—obsessive, even for an Elizabethan comedy—to the traditional aftermath of marriage. The dwellers in Arden hear ever at their back the sound of horns.3

As You Like It's discordant music can be viewed as complementary to the play's evolving debate. It has become habitual to see the play's form as a set of debates. This is obviously true up to a point, though one should distinguish between the subject of the debate—usually court versus country—and the grand theme, which is the romantic ideal challenged by the probings of realism, commonsense, and satire. And yet the term 'debate', useful though it is in identifying an aspect of the play's tradition and form, masks a trap. The word tends to connote a balanced, objective inquiry into truth, an analysis conducted under conventional rules of a subject in which the allocation of sides to speakers is without psychological commitment, an opportunity to display dexterity. Such an implication is misleading here; for Shakespeare presents the 'debate' invariably as a struggle for mastery between two human beings, each of whom is determined to impose his or her values on the other. The constant human drive to dominate another is the underlying theme of much of the dialogue; and it is codified in Touchstone's haughty (and instant) response to Corin's 'Who calls?' 'Your betters, sir' (II.4.63). The power struggle, in muted form, is quite as present in Arden as at court; and we should look for its presence throughout the play following its overt presentation in Act I, the usurpation and defence of power. In view of the Shakesperian capacity for fusing literal and symbolic, I would not dismiss the wrestling-match as a mere concession to the groundlings. On the contrary, the wrestling-match is no bad figure for much of the play's substance. And I incline to regard the succession of covert struggles (to which we can return, in detail, later) as an extension of the play's anti-romantic structure.

But we can go further than this in our recognition of the play's anti-romantic possibilities, and I wish here to examine the relationships in As You Like It. Virtually all the relationships are governed by a sense of unease, irritation, or hostility. The impression we receive from the two major lovers in the foreground is quite different from that derived from all the other relationships (which include Rosalind and Orlando when confronted by any but each other). Indeed, if we disregard these lovers, we can perceive that the keynote of the relationships is a subdued or overt irritation. the reasons for this groundswell of hostility I take to be threefold: an underlying recognition that other people's qualities parallel and subtly menace one's own; an open clash of temperament and of values; a simple will to dominate. Let us consider the relationships in the light of these categories.

The opening Act provides us with the essence of the matter. Act I of As You Like It is sometimes viewed as a mere necessity of plot construction, yet it is almost the fundamental error of Shakespeare interpretation to write off any aspect of his work as being imposed by external necessity of stagecraft. We encounter two figures who find certain relationships intolerable: Oliver, and Duke Frederick. They present, obviously, the idea of conflict, but also prefigure the situation of insupportable relationship. Oliver, vis-á-vis Orlando, presents the first of these situations. His hatred is located in no known cause: '… for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he' (I.1.148). And then, as Oliver continues to brood on the matter, the truth tumbles involuntarily out—this is a soliloquy, the repository if not the bill-board of truth in Shakespeare:

Yet he's gentle; never school'd and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts enchantingly beloved; and, indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether misprised.


It looks forward to Iago's muttered charge against Cassio, 'He hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly' (Othello, V.1.19). It is possible to dislike others because they caricature oneself; Oliver hates Orlando because he seems an inferior version of his golden brother. And Adam commits the unforgivable sin, not of supporting Orlando, but of witnessing the two brothers' confrontation: hence 'Get you with him, you old dog' (I.1.73). Whereupon Adam doubles his offence by pointing out that Oliver is also an inferior copy of his father. The trouble, for Oliver, is the audience: hell is other people.

Orlando, then, is hated for his excellence, a situation which Adam sees very clearly:

Your praise is come too swiftly home before
Know you not, master, to some kind of men
Their graces serve them but as enemies?

Duke Frederick, the Oliver parallel, may well be assumed to share this hatred of his civilized and urbane brother. But his prevailing state of mind, as revealed, is characterized by suspiciousness and insecurity. A usurper himself, he sees threats everywhere. For him, the mere presence of people who recall his past is intolerably disturbing. Orlando, son of Sir Rowland, evokes only

I would thou hadst been son to some man
The world esteem'd thy father honourable,
But I did find him still mine enemy …

Similarly, for Rosalind: 'Thou art thy father's daughter; there's enough' (I.3.54). The Duke is able to rationalize his dislike for Rosalind into

She is too subtle for thee; and her
Her very silence and her patience,
Speak to the people, and they pity her.
Thou art a fool. She robs thee of thy name.

No doubt this situation objectively exists, but the Duke is clearly oppressed by a sense of comparisons, fatal to himself, suggested by the names of Sir Rowland, Orlando, Rosalind, Duke Senior. We should expect that this awareness of self-comparison is continued into his relationship with Oliver; and this is so. For obvious social reasons, Oliver has no opportunity of expressing his opinion of his 'semblable, son frère', the Duke; but the Duke has: 'More villain thou' (III. 1.15).

The matter is analysed more acutely in Act II, in the relationships radiating out from Jacques. We need for the moment to note two—with Duke Senior, and with Touchstone. Now Duke Senior is the only character who has established a position in which he is, psychologically, immune to threats, he is equable, urbane, an ideal philosopher. He is, however, presented as an incorrigible moralizer; he is not to be restrained from sermonizing on stones, he sees the exterior world as a series of emblems. But this is precisely the bent of Jacques's mind. Independently he and the Duke arrive at the same metaphor: they perceive the natural kingdom of Arden as a power-struggle where man usurps the beasts' place, just as he himself is the victim of usurpation (Act II, Scene I). The point is not only that they agree—thus helping to establish the theme of natural conflict—but that they parallel each other, thus creating a tension. This is not apparent in the Duke's words; he is, after all, the overlord, and a man of rare mental equilibrium. For him, Jacques is an object of instruction and diversion: 'I love to cope him in these sullen fits, / For then he's full of matter' (II. 1.67). Jacques, however, resents the patronage of a social superior whose mind inclines the same way as his: 'And I have been all this day to avoid him. He is too disputable for my company. I think of as many matters as he; but I give heaven thanks, and make no boast of them' (II.5.29). A palpable hit: Jacques, as we shall see, always flinches when touched. Here, at all events, we can note that the affinity between the Duke and Jacques (the tendency to dispute and moralize) results in the discomfort of the weaker man.

The mechanism of Jacques's relationships is detailed to us in Act II, Scene 7. I find in it one of the central passages of the play. Jacques has just entered, crowing of his encounter with Touchstone ('A fool, a fool! I met a fool i'the forest … ') and goes on to describe it (II.7.12-34). We should note that the Touchstone reported here is unrecognizable as the Touchstone we encounter before our eyes. Jacques presents Touch-stone to us as a 'fool' in the double sense ('lack-lustre eye … Says very wisely … ') whereas it is perfectly clear elsewhere that Touchstone is an extremely intelligent man. Jacques's note is one of sour disdain, of scorn for the object that dares to 'moralize' (as he does). The word 'fool' occurs twelve times in this speech; and the idea of the speech is the tension between the two senses of 'fool', jester and simpleton.

And why? The why, as Jacques would say, is plain as way to parish church. He goes on to generalize—and as usual, when he generalizes, he talks of himself. The connexion between generality and application is perfectly plain, if implicit:

He that a fool doth very wisely hit
Doth very foolishly, although he smart,
Not to seem senseless of the bob …

The Duke's strong riposte (II.7.64-9) asserts that Jacques's generalizations have a personal origin and application; it must be so with 'He that a fool doth very wisely hit' as well. We need this passage to explicate the major preceding speech, and much else in As You Like It. Jacques's relationship with Touchstone depends on this admission:

When I did hear
The motley fool thus moral on the time,
My lungs began to crow like chanticleer
That fools should be so deep-contemplative …

Touché: two fools together. Only Jacques does not say as much; he oscillates between a scornful wish (to the Duke) to be a fool ('Invest me in my motley', II.7.58) and a consistent attempt to patronize Touchstone when they meet. He does not say to Touchstone 'Motley's the only wear … ' (II.7.34). It is far more important to Jacques to maintain the position of mental superiority—if he can.

Jacques, in short, finds himself caricatured by the moralizing Fool. That Touchstone is a thoroughgoing professional adds to his offence. His response is a strategy of alternately deriding and patronizing Touchstone, which he pursues right up to the final scene: 'Is not this a rare fellow, my lord? He's as good at any thing, and yet a fool' (V.4.98). Jacques is exhibiting his good taste as a connoisseur of virtuosi, not genuinely commending Touchstone. The real man breaks out in the sudden stab of rancour at the end. To only one couple does Jacques fail to be civil, and offer the conventional good wishes:

And you to wrangling; for thy loving voyage
Is but for two months victuall'd.

There remains a final instance in this category. Rosalind, overhearing Phebe's rejection of Silvius, interrupts the conversation with quite astonishing warmth—and rudeness. Why so much heat? The point of Phebe's speech (III.5.8-27) is a ruthless exposition of the banal conceit advanced by Silvius:

'Tis pretty, sure, and very probable,
That eyes, that are the frail'st and softest
Who shut their coward gates on atomies,
Should be call'd tyrants, butchers, murderers!

But this is no more than the Princess and her retinue do to retarded Petrarchans of Love's Labour's Lost—and the lesson is presented as a highly laudable operation in that play. Phebe voices the anti-romantic view-point so necessary to the play; and she administers a well-deserved beating to a ninny who, it seems, thrives on the diet. Why, then, the excited interruption of Rosalind, 'And why, I pray you?' followed by nearly thirty lines of abuse (III.5.35-63) which assert the simple point that Phebe's looks are not so stellar, at that? Because Rosalind's diatribe—a disgrace to a lady, however salutary it may be for Phebe—is again the equivalent of 'touché'. Phebe is a minor anti-romantic voice; Rosalind is the major. Phebe is a domineering woman who, reversing the sexual roles, has mastered her man; so is Rosalind. And, subtlest, Silvius appears before Rosalind as a rather poor creature; so, therefore, does Orlando. (What does Orlando say in the final scene when confronted with the news that his wife-to-be has been making a fool of him?) And Rosalind's response in crying up Silvius is in effect to cry up Orlando: 'Down on your knees, / And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love' (III.5.57).

Rosalind's part, in general, is one that affords consistent possibilities of an anti-romantic interpretation in keeping with the open-ended invitation extended by the play's title. She can perfectly well be played àla Angela Brazil; equally, one can seize on the clues of her opening lines. She enters not so much depressed as morose; and her complaint is 'the condition of my estate' (I.2.12)—in other words, a diminution of social status and power. She cannot 'forget a banished father' (I.2.4), but these ambivalent words can include a sense of personal loss, and a sense of being thrust unjustly into the shadows at Court. When she does meet her father, her impulse is not to fall upon his bosom, but to retain her independence and secret identity: 'I met the Duke yesterday, and had much question with him. He asked me of what parentage I was; I told him, of as good as he; so he laugh'd and let me go. But what talk we of fathers when there is such a man as Orlando?' (III.4.31). We are entitled to draw the perfectly obvious conclusion, well borne out by her conduct throughout the play. Rosalind misses not her father, but the status his presence conferred; and she is motivated above all by a will to dominate. For all Rosalind's brilliance, the generous Celia—one of life's givers—is an implied comment on her that one returns to.

An important category of relationship, then, is represented by Oliver, Duke Frederick, Jacques, and Rosalind. Each of them gives convincing testimony of being disturbed by the presence of certain others. The common element of disturbance is this: the other parallels self, and therefore subtly threatens self.

I now turn to a simple and obvious category, those relationships characterized by a direct clash of values. There are two such: Rosalind-Jacques, and Orlando-Jacques. They supply variations on the theme of romance challenged by anti-romance. The matter is initiated theatrically when Orlando bursts into the clearing, resolved to commit some high deed in the name of a meal for Adam, and with sword bared cries 'Forbear, and eat no more' (II.7.88). Jacques's retort (anticipating Alice's at the Mad Hatter's tea-party) is a classic deflation of romantic posturing: 'Why, I have eat none yet'. Soon the key word in such a clash, 'reason', makes itself heard: Jacques's 'An you will not be answered with reason, I must die' (II.7.100). This, coupled with the imperturbable good manners of the Duke, makes Orlando look a fool. That he is conscious of this is implicit in his later exchange with Jacques, which re-dresses the balance of debating advantage. It is the only occasion in the play when Orlando exhibits any venom; he draws on his considerable reserves of intelligence to defeat Jacques. The issue between them is formalized into their parting shots: 'Farewell, good Signior Love … Adieu, good Monsieur Melancholy' (III.2.275). Each, for the other, is an affected fool. But this is open contention: Jacques and Orlando bicker because they are quite unlike each other, not because they shadow each other.

The argument is carried on into the clash between Jacques and Rosalind in Act IV, Scene 1. This is a shrewder debate. Rosalind (in her persona of the anti-romantic Ganymede) opposes to melancholy not the open assertion of love, but the scrutiny of the realist. She asks, what good comes of melancholy? What are its benefits? And she fastens on to Jacques's lame answer of 'experience' with 'And your experience makes you sad. I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad' (IV.1.24). Here again the confrontation is open; it is sterility versus the life-force.

The passages in As You Like It which oppose Rosalind and Orlando with Jacques are central, but could not be expanded without making the play simpler and duller. The open clash of temperament and attitude lends itself to the debate principle, but would, if extended, speedily lose hold upon the audience. It is the essential principle of Love's Labour's Lost—debate between two clearly defined camps—and one that Shakespeare never repeats in such simple form. The debate-emphasis within As You Like It is shifted on to the brilliant device of making Rosalind a dual figure, pour et contre, a resort in which the conventional stage device takes over and assimilates a profound structural role. Rosalind/Ganymede is the debate: Rosalind/Ganymede is the 'other' expressing self. And it merges into the conflict of personality and attitude which does not express itself in such overt terms as 'love' and 'melancholy'. Harold Jenkins's statement of 'the play's principle of countering one view with another … the readjustment of the point of view'4 goes far towards explaining the technique of As You Like It. But references to 'attitude', 'point of view', 'values' leave out of account the remorseless personal struggles through which these agreeable abstractions are presented. And the focus for these struggles—the core of the debate, the conflict—is Touchstone.

John Dover Wilson is, I believe, entirely right in according Touchstone's name a symbolic significance: 'As his name implies, he tests all that the world takes for gold, especially the gold of the golden world of pastoralism.' His realism, or even 'materialism', is a touchstone to keep the balance of the play.5 We can agree that Touchstone supplies an essential ingredient in the play's composition, and that his comments—pungent, witty, realistic—on Court, Arden, and love provide a welcome leavening. I would, however, go further than this, and assert that Touchstone in his relationships advances a standard by which we are invited to measure the other relationships in the play.

The point about Touchstone is that he has no equals. He moves in a world in which there are superiors, and inferiors; he makes this categorization in all cases, and leaves his inferiors in no doubt whatever about their status. He appears first at Court, a supple entertainer making himself agreeable to the young ladies. Even so, a reference to Duke Frederick calls forth a warning in none too gentle terms from Celia: 'Speak no more of him; you'll be whipt for taxation one of these days' (I.2.76). Touchstone's response—'The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly'—and his sardonic commentary on Le Beau's scale of values establish his true credentials. This is a man of intelligence and insight, under no illusions about the Court, or Arden, for that matter. We should, therefore, receive with scepticism Jacques's account of his meeting with him. Touchstone, clearly, has been playing up to Jacques's evident assumption that a Fool is a fool; or simply over-acting, to take in an amateur of the trade.

Touchstone develops in Arden; the man grows before our eyes. Each of the locals encounters a Touchstone determined to enforce his moral (if not social) superiority. His entry into local society immediately signalizes this fact:

Touchstone Holla, you clown!
Rosalind Peace, fool; he's not thy kinsman.
Corin Who calls?
Touchstone Your betters, sir.

This is an unequivocal sketch of a situation to be repeated several times later. Act III, Scene 2 sees Touch-stone at greater leisure take on the task of putting Corin in his place. Their discussion is interesting because it is a clear instance of the power-struggle (on Touchstone's side). Basically they are men of the same stamp, realists. Shakespeare's clowns and Fools invariably are. They have, therefore, nothing really to argue about, except Humpty Dumpty's question: who is to be top. Corin's exposé of 'properties' (III.2.22-9) has a hard common sense that Touchstone has no desire to attack frontally: 'Such a one is a natural philosopher'. So he shifts his ground, and wins his battle through verbal quibbles. It is a wit-contest that Touchstone easily wins, not a true contest of values.

There are direct echoes of this scene. The unfortunate William finds Touchstone in terrible mood, and his cadenza on the means whereby William is to be destroyed (V.1.45-53) effectively exposes William's pretensions to the hand of Audrey. It is a complete demolition of an inferior. Again, the penultimate scene—almost a mere excuse for a song—finds Shakespeare shading in his point. Touchstone never misses a chance to patronize whom he can; so the pages, for their pains, receive 'Truly, young gentlemen, though there was no great matter in the ditty, yet the note was very untuneable … I count it but time lost to hear such a foolish song' (V.3.32). We cannot speak of the 'real' Touchstone emerging only when his masters are absent; but it is certainly true that the Duke, before whom Touchstone displays his set-pieces (Act V, Scene 4) so skilfully, sees only a part of the man.

Touchstone must, however, be judged principally on his relations with Audrey and Jacques. The contributory evidence, which I have just cited, is necessary to establish the bent of his mind and the true facts of his relationships. These are demonstrated chiefly in Act III, Scene 3. Audrey and Touchstone have already come to an understanding—'And how, Audrey, am I the man yet? Doth my simple feature content you?' (III.3.2)—and it is plain that Touchstone's simple feature does. Now why does a man of Touchstone's stamp single out Audrey for a permanent liaison? Critics, suspecting the worst, have rushed in with their explanations. For Helen Gardner, 'Touchstone's marriage to Audrey is a mere coupling'.6 For Harold Jenkins, it is the 'animal lust which propels him towards Audrey'.7 James Smith's extraordinary view of Touchstone's motives is: 'Touchstone is on the way to tragedy because he has allowed desire to get out of control'.8 Sex, the consensus asserts, is certainly at the bottom of it. But there are some caveats to be lodged. First, Touchstone is a character who is stated, not explained. We have no formal means of opening up his mind; he has no soliloquies, is never on stage alone. Second, sex is quite unsatisfactory as the sole motive for Touchstone's marriage. The Audreys of this world do not demand a price; the Audrey of this play does not ask it. She is perfectly ready to be married by a hedge-priest: 'Faith, the priest was good enough, for all the old gentleman's saying' (V.1.3). The critics who pounce on Touch-stone for his bottomless cynicism in considering an illegal marriage to Audrey—so that he can leave her thereafter—customarily omit to add a detail of some consequence: Touchstone does, in fact, marry Audrey perfectly properly. He insists on it. Audrey is well satisfied with something less, but it is Touchstone who resists her: 'We shall find a time, Audrey; patience, gentle Audrey' (V.l.l). It is, as usual, necessary to pay attention to what people do as well as what they say. Touchstone would have had a better press had he taken over some of Orlando's cast-off sentiments to clothe his 'coupling'.

But the question of motivation remains. We can only take Touchstone's action at face value, the ironic acceptance of a slut by a man who will always be her superior. In the context of Touchstone's other relationships, it is a likely guess that the certainty that he will remain the dominant partner is uppermost in his mind. He undoubtedly likes to demonstrate his mastery in a series of brisk imperatives: 'Come, sweet Audrey' (III.3.83); 'Patience, gentle Audrey' (V.l.l.); 'Trip, Audrey, trip, Audrey' (V.1.69); 'Come, Audrey' (V.2.38); 'Bear your body more seeming, Audrey' (V.4.66). The dulcet adjectives fade before the end; she is an object to be possessed. Doubtless sex enters into the matter—this is customarily so with marriages, even those of Silvius, Oliver, and Orlando—but to accept it as the sole motive is to take Touchstone at his own word (precisely what he wishes the company to do) and to ignore the gap between the word and action. The version that Touchstone presents to the Duke is a double bluff that obliquely but justly indicates the truth of the matter: 'A poor virgin, sir, an ill-favour'd thing, sir, but mine own' (V.4.53).

Still, the matter is entangled with Jacques's presence, and the Jacques-Touchstone relationship must now be re-opened. Jacques, I have suggested, is both envious and disdainful of the Fool that caricatures him. Touchstone, for his part, is wary of a social superior who patronizes him insufferably but might put in a good word for him with the authorities (as Jacques does, in the final scene). It is, of course, quite mis-leading to allude to Touchstone and Jacques as 'usually allies'.9 Theirs is the tension between amateur and professional, with a social gulf unconfirmed by the allocation of talent. The confrontation takes place in Act III, Scene 3, Jacques discovering himself as Audrey and Touchstone are about to make use of Sir Oliver's irregular services. Touchstone is caught at a disadvantage but rallies well: 'Good even, good Master What-ye-call't; how do you, sir? You are very well met. Goddild you for your last company. I am very glad to see you. Even a toy in hand here, sir. Nay; pray be cover'd' (III.3.63)—a brave attempt at counter-patronage. Jacques instantly reminds Touch-stone of his social function and status: 'Will you be married, motley?' And Touchstone parries the sneer with an apparently complacent account of man and his desires: 'As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling' (III.3.68). When, however, Jacques turns the knife again—'And will you, being a man of your breeding, be married under a bush, like a beggar?'—Touchstone advances the crux by which we are to judge him: 'I am not in the mind but I were better to be married of him than of another; for he is not like to marry me well; and not being well married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife' (III.3.78). Now this speech is normally rendered as an 'aside' by modern editors. It is not so indicated in the Folio (which is, of course, not given to stage directions) and the relegation—I should say promotion—of the speech to 'aside' status is pure editorial conjecture. I contend that we have no reason for accepting the conjecture. There is no soliloquy of Touchstone's elsewhere; there is no other reasonable opportunity for an aside, or parenthetic soliloquy.10 This is a character designed to be presented solely in terms of dialogue. The speech makes excellent sense if it is regarded as whispered to Jacques; in which case it becomes a pseudo-motive, a piece of man-of-the world's cynicism put up to protect the gap in Touchstone's armour against the sneers of Jacques. He must defend himself. Touchstone has no intention, however, of allowing Jacques a permanent sneer at his sub-wedding; so after the face-saving formula of 'a flaw in the procedure may be useful later' he allows himself to be persuaded into a proper wedding. Touchstone is a much cleverer fellow than Jacques. No one ever knows when he is hit. Nor could we even guess it, without reviewing the whole pattern of his behaviour.

Touchstone, then, seems to me an early cameo of a type of character-portrayal that (since Bradley's day) has come to be recognized as a Shakespearian crux, located classically in the problem of Iago.11 That is, he compels us to look for motives that are not stated in the text, which does however contain part-motives or pseudo-motives. I find the missing motive here to be the drive to power, because that is of a piece with Touchstone's relationships with his un-superiors; and because it embodies the drift of the whole play.

Touchstone, in fact, is the reduction of the ideas latent in As You Like It. He exhibits in gross form the will to mastery that is discernible in the actions of his betters. The play is set into a formal framework of political struggle, the usurpation by Duke Frederick; it focuses on the mating dance of a masterful female round her captive male, 'my child's father' as Rosalind herself elegantly epitomizes him (I.3.11); it presents a running debate, ostensibly on values, in effect to protect the egos of the debaters; it etches in relationships with a controlled quantum of acid. The latent motivation of the characters is an impulse to protect themselves against the psychological threats from without. And this accounts for the sudden conversions of Duke Frederick and Oliver, who have earlier given indications that Duke Senior and Orlando represent threats to their psyches, not their persons. Of the others, Jacques finds intolerable the presence of Duke Senior and Touchstone, because he caricatures them. Rosalind finds Phebe's behaviour to Silvius an affront, for the same reason. Even the gentle Orlando has a flash of an intolerable presence: 'But, O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes' (V.2.40). Virtually all the relationships manifest a sense of unease, of latent or open hostility. There is little true accord in Arden, prior to the final scene: and the audience is entitled, if it wishes, to its reservations even then. The idyll of Arden is an idea as much under fire as the denizens of the forest; and the final path that leads away from forest to court is a change of milieu, not a way out of those problems.


1 Quotations are from Peter Alexander's edition of the complete works (1951).

2 Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, Second edition (1967), p. 225.

3 In sum: 'Arden is not a place where the laws of nature are abrogated and roses are without their thorns' (Helen Gardner, 'As You Like It', More Talking of Shakespeare, edited by John Garrett (1959), 17-32 (p. 25)).

4 Harold Jenkins, 'As You Like It', Shakespeare Survey, 8 (1955), 40-51 (p. 49).

5 John Dover Wilson, Shakespeare's Happy Comedies (1962), pp. 156, 158.

6 Helen Gardner, 'As You Like It', p. 28.

7 Harold Jenkins, 'As You Like It', p. 49.

8 James Smith, 'As You Like It', Scrutiny, 9 (1940), 9-32 (pp. 31-2).

9 James Smith, p. 26.

10 I take it as indicative of Shakespeare's overall concept of As You Like It that there are virtually no soliloquies save for Oliver, whose hatred is technically indispensable yet requiring internal explanation. There are, therefore, very few points that are psychologically 'fixed'. This is a play exceptionally open to diversity of interpretation.

11 See A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (1904), 222-32.

John A.Hart (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "As You Like It: The Worlds of Fortune and Nature," in Dramatic Structure in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980, pp. 81-97.

[In the following essay, Hart examines the disparate worlds of Frederick's court and the Forest of Arden, exploring the contrasting qualities displayed by characters in each of these settings.]

As You Like It presents an ideal world, just as The Merchant of Venice did. The Forest of Arden has as much romance, as many delightful lovers, more laughter and joy. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice, it is built by means of two worlds: the world ruled by Duke Frederick and the world of the Forest of Arden. The effect is not the "separate but equal" envelope structure of A Midsummer Night's Dream, nor the interlocking and necessary alternation of The Merchant of Venice; instead, Frederick's world first seems dominant and then dissolves and disappears into the world of Arden. Its life seems to be in the play not so much for itself as to help us understand and read its successor.

There is a set of contrasts between the two worlds of this play, but the contrasts are describable not in terms of opposition of power, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice, but in terms of attitudes of the dominant characters, as in Much Ado About Nothing, and in terms of differences in the settings and of changes in behavior for those characters who are part of both worlds. These contrasts are easy to describe because Shakespeare points the way clearly, making each world an extreme. Our approach will be to examine the qualities of Frederick's world, then to examine the qualities of Arden, and finally out of this contrast to see how the characters behave in each world.


We have seen power presented in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice. In the former, Theseus rules according to judgment or reason; in the latter the Duke of Venice rules according to the laws of the city. Frederick's world is like neither of these. Frederick is in complete command of his court. He has taken his brother's place as Duke, exiled him with many of his followers, seized their lands for his own, and now rules. His high-handed behavior is illustrated by his usurpation of his brother's dukedom, his immediate displeasure at Orlando, the sudden dismissal of Rosalind, the quick seizure of Oliver's lands. What is most characteristic of his power is that it is arbitrary; neither reason nor law seems to control it.

When we look for his motives, we discover two kinds. His greed for power and possessions is obvious. But personal attitudes are just as strong. He treats Orlando rudely because he is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, an old enemy of his. He comes to hate Rosalind, giving as his reasons that he does not trust her, that she is her father's daughter, that his own daughter's prestige suffers by comparison; all these are half-hearted rationalizations rooted in jealousy and envy.

Frederick's behavior is echoed if not matched by Oliver's treatment of his brother Orlando and of his servant Adam. Oliver demeans and debases his younger brother; he plots his serious injury and later his death. He acts ignobly toward his faithful household servant Adam. Again, the motivations are mixed. He states explicitly that he wants Orlando's share of their father's bequest. But, beyond that, he wants to get rid of Orlando out of envy, out of fear of comparison made by others:

… my soul (yet I know not why) hates nothing more than he. Yet he's gentle, never school'd and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly belov'd, and indeed so much in the heart of the world, and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am altogether mispris'd.

(I, i, 165-171)

Thus, "tyrant Duke" and "tyrant brother" are described in tandem, public and private images of the same behavior. They have the power; they control their world; they do not fear disapproval or reprisal. Charles the wrestler, Lebeau and other lords surrounding Frederick, however many reservations they may have about the morality of their leaders, do not dare to question their authority. They have their own positions to protect.

Those chiefly harmed by the ruthless domination of these men are Orlando and Rosalind. They have committed no fault but they are hated. Their presence too gives definition to Frederick's world. Orlando has virtue, grace, beauty, and strength. Rosalind is beautiful, intelligent, virtuous, honest. Their actions, their reputations, the loyalty they command all testify to these wonders.

Yet both of them are conscious of what they do not have—their proper place and heritage in this world. Orlando feels deeply his brother's injury in depriving him of his education and his place in the household. Rosalind is sad at her father's banishment and then indignant at her own dismissal. Both are too virtuous to think of revenge; but they are fully aware that they are being wronged. Having all the graces, they are nevertheless dispossessed of their rightful positions.

Yet, these two have their own power. When they leave Frederick's world, they draw after them others, too loyal, too loving to remain behind. Celia, meant to profit from her cousin's departure, follows Rosalind into banishment without question or remorse. She has already promised that what her father took from Rosalind's father by force, "I will render thee again in affection." And when the test occurs soon after, she meets it at once. In her, love triumphs hands down over possession and prestige.

Her example is followed by the Clown. Not only will he "go along o'er the wide world" with Celia out of loyalty to her; he has also, in Frederick's world, lost place just as Rosalind has. There "fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly" (I, ii, 86-87). Since he has lost his usefulness as a fool, he may as well leave with Celia and Rosalind. And Adam is in comparable situation. To Oliver, he is an "old dog," to be thrust aside. But so strong is his loyalty to Orlando that he will give him his savings, serve him, accompany him wherever he goes.

These gifted models of humanity, Rosalind and Orlando, draw out of Frederick's world the loving, the truthful, the loyal. Frederick and Oliver, seeking to control and ultimately to crush their enemies, only succeed in driving away other worthwhile characters with them.

The world of Frederick is simple in structure. The powerful control, but they envy the virtuous; the virtuous attract, but they want to have their rightful place. Those in authority triumph in their own terms, but things happen to them in the process. They turn against each other—Frederick would devour Oliver as he has so many others. Their world, as it grows more violent, diminishes in importance until it disappears altogether. The virtuous are undefeated though displaced.


In contrast to the specific placing of Frederick's world, the Forest reaches beyond the bounds of any particular place, any specific time. Its setting is universalized nature. All seasons exist simultaneously. Duke Senior speaks of "the icy fang And churlish chiding of the winter's wind" (II, i, 6-7); but Orlando pins verses to "a palm tree," "abuses our young plants with carving," and "hangs odes upon hawthorns, and elegies on brambles" (III, ii, 360-362); and Rosalind and Celia live at the "tuft of olives." Again, Orlando does not wish to leave Adam "in the bleak air"; but in the next scene Jaques has met a fool who "bask'd him in the sun." The songs continue this mixture: "Here shall he see No enemy But winter and rough weather" (II, v, 6-8) alongside "the greenwood tree" and "the sweet bird's throat" (II, v, 1,4) both in the same song, or the alternation between the "winter wind" (II, vii, 174) and the "spring time, the only pretty ring time" (V, iii, 19), dominant notes in two other songs. If the Forest is not to be defined in season, neither is it limited to any particular place. The variety of trees already indicates this; the variety of creatures supports it: sheep, deer, a green and gilded snake, a lioness. Meek and domestic creatures live with the untamed and fierce.

Yet the Forest is more than an outdoors universalized, which largely accommodates itself to the mood and attitude of its human inhabitants. It is a setting in which the thoughts and images of those who wander through it expand and reach out to the animate, as if the Forest were alive with spirits taken for granted by everyone. Even so mundane a pair as Touchstone and Audrey, discussing her attributes—unpoetical, honest, foul—assign these gifts to the gods. Orlando, who is able at first meeting Rosalind only to utter "Heavenly Rosalind," is suddenly released to write expansive verses in praise of her, some of which place her in a spiritual context:

… heaven Nature charg'd
That one body should be fill'd
With all graces wide-enlarg'd… .
Thus Rosalind of many parts
By heavenly synod was devis'd… .
(III, ii, 141-143, 149-150)

Phoebe seconds his view by giving Rosalind qualities beyond the human:

Art thou god to shepherd turn'd,
That a maiden's heart hath burn'd? …
Why, thy godhead laid apart,
Warr'st thou with a woman's heart?
(IV, iii, 40-41, 44-45)

And Rosalind, replying to Celia's finding Orlando under a tree, "like a dropp'd acorn," says, "It may well be call'd Jove's tree, when it drops such fruit" (III, ii, 235-237). Elsewhere he is "most gentle Jupiter." And she herself takes the name of Ganymed, cupbearer to Jupiter. Further, in her games with Orlando, she describes "an old religious uncle" who taught her (or him, for she is then playing Ganymed) how to speak well and who imparted knowledge of love, of women's faults, of the forlorn look of the true lover. To this fiction, she joins the later story of how, "since [she] was three year old, [she has] convers'd with a magician, most profound in his art, and yet not damnable" (V, ii, 60-61). She improvises, but it fits the expansive attributes of the Forest.

But in addition to mind-expanding qualities, the Forest produces some real evidence of its extraordinary powers. Oliver, upon his first appearance in the Forest, is beset by the green and gilded snake (of envy?) and by the lioness (of power?), but when these two are conquered, his whole behavior changes. And Frederick, intent on destroying his brother, meets an "old religious man" and

After some question with him, was converted
Both from his enterprise and from the world.
(V, iv, 161-162)

And these events harmonize with Rosalind's producing Hymen, the god of weddings, to perform the ceremony and bless the four pairs of lovers. The Forest is a world of all outdoors, of all dimensions of man's better nature, of contact with man's free imagination and magical happenings.

The Forest has still another quality in its setting. It is not timeless but it reflects the slow pace and the unmeasurable change of the earth. The newcomers notice the difference from the world outside. Orlando comments that "there's no clock in the forest" (III, ii, 300-301); Rosalind tells us "who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal" (III, ii, 309-311). And Touchstone, as reported by Jaques, suggests the uselessness of measuring changes in the Forest by the clock:

'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven,
And so from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.
(II, vii, 24-28)

But he does notice, too, the withering away of man at the Forest's slow changes, a truism later elaborated by Jaques in his seven-ages-of-man speech.

But the qualities of the setting are only part of what goes into the definition of the Forest world. The natives to the Forest make their contributions as well. Corin and Silvius and Phoebe, Audrey and William and Sir Oliver Martext all appear, without seeming consequence or particular plot relevance, put there to show off different dimensions of the Forest, to strike their attitudes, to stand in contrast with the characters newly come from another world, and then, like the deer and the sheep and the snake and the lioness, to retire into the Forest again until or unless called upon by their visitors.

These characters have their separate occupations. Corin is an old shepherd, Silvius a young one, Phoebe—his beloved—a shepherdess, Audrey a goat girl, William a country bumpkin, Martext a clergyman. But these assignments are vaguely expressed. Martext, for instance, has professional status but mainly in his own eyes: "ne'er a fantastical knave of them all shall flout me out of my calling" (III, iii, 106-107). But Jaques dismisses him as a phony and Touchstone wants him to officiate at his marriage to Audrey because he believes him to be a fake. They all seem satisfied to have the name of an occupation rather than the function itself.

But their thoughts are also dissociated from ownership, ambition, achievement. Corin, wanting to help Rosalind and Celia, says:

[I] wish, for her sake more than for mine
My fortunes were more able to relieve her;
But I am shepherd to another man,
And do not shear the fleeces that I graze.
(II, iv, 76-79)

The man who owns the sheepcote is not hospitable, is not even there, and has his land up for sale. Silvius, who is supposed to be buying the flock and pasture, "little cares for buying any thing" (II, iv, 90). Ownership is several steps removed from Corin, and until Rosalind offers to make the purchase he is uncertain who the landlord employing him is; nor does he particularly care.

Later, he generalizes his attitude toward life:

I am a true laborer: I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.

(III, ii, 73-77)

The other natives share his view. William, Audrey's country lover, confesses to his name, to a certain unspecified amount of wealth, to having "a pretty wit," to loving Audrey, and to lack of learning; but when he is threatened by Touchstone and told to stay away from Audrey, he departs with "God rest you merry, sir" (V, i, 59), and we see no more of him or his love for Audrey. If it is love, it is love detached, without passion or claims.

Silvius dedicates himself entirely to love, Phoebe to being the scornful beloved and later the impassioned wooer of Ganymed. They do not express conflict or even action so much as attitude, as pose. "Loose now and then A scatt'red smile," Silvius says to Phoebe, "and that I'll live upon" (III, v, 103-104).

Audrey would be an honest woman, "a woman of the world," but she will not choose between lovers, she will not question Martext's legitimacy, she will be led by Touchstone wherever he wishes. Her future with Touchstone is not bright, as Jaques points out, but she doesn't question it.

In all these natives there is a non-critical quality, an innocence, a lack of competitiveness that suits well with the Forest world and helps to describe it. But Shakespeare gives us still other ways of distinguishing this world from Frederick's. Early in the play Celia and Rosalind engage in idle banter about the two goddesses, Fortune and Nature, who share equally in the lives of men. Fortune "reigns in gifts of the world," Rosalind says, "not in the lineaments of Nature" (I, ii, 41-42). It is a shorthand way of distinguishing the Forest world from Frederick's. Frederick's world is a world of Fortune, from which the children of Nature are driven. Power, possession, lands, titles, authority over others characterize that world, and men to live there must advance their careers or maintain their positions in spite of everything. The Forest world is completely Nature's. In its natives the idleness, the lack of ambition and combativeness, the carelessness about ownership and possession, the interest in the present moment without plan for the future, all are signs of a Fortuneless world. Instead there is awareness of the gifts inherent from birth in the individual, no matter how untalented or unhandsome (Audrey's response to her foulness or William's self-satisfaction, for instance). These are "the lineaments of Nature," the basic materials of one's being. In the Forest, the natives neither can nor aspire to change them. And the qualities of the setting—universality, gradual rather than specific change, a linkage between the outdoors world and a projected though perhaps imaginary supernatural, these too are compatible with the world of Nature, Fortune having been removed. Both Fortune and Nature, then, are abbreviated terms to epitomize the kinds of worlds represented by Frederick's on the one hand and the Forest's on the other.

One further means of defining the Forest world emerges with the character of Jaques. He has been in the out-side world, but he has chosen the Forest and he is its most eloquent spokesman. He is the personification of the speculative man. He will not react when Orlando threatens his life: "And you will not be answer'd with reason, I must die" (II, vii, 100-101). He will not dance or rejoice in the final scene. He would prevent action in others if he could. He weeps that the Duke's men kill the deer, he would keep Orlando from marring the trees with his poems, he advises Touchstone not to "be married under a bush like a beggar" (III, iii, 84). He is like the natives of the Forest, ambitionless, fortuneless, directionless.

Instead, he gives his attention to the long view and the abstract view. He is delighted when he overhears Touchstone philosophizing about time; he projects human neglect in the deer at the coming of death for one of their company; he argues the innocent indifference of the deer to corruption and inhumanity in man:

Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of the country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse,
To fright the animals and to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place.
(II, i, 58-63)

When he would invoke the privilege of the fool to "Cleanse the foul body of th' infected world" (II, vii, 60) the Duke replies that with his past experience of evil he would succeed only in doing "Most mischievous foul sin" (II, vii, 64). In the abstract (in the Forest), his proposal sounds good; in the world of action it would be damaging.

But his greatest eloquence is saved for his seven-ages-of-man speech (II, vii, 139-166). It is an official acknowledgement of Nature's supermacy over man and the insignificance of man's affairs on the stage of the world. The movement of the speech is circular, from Nature through the efforts to shape natural gifts in man, to Fortune's world, and back to Nature again. Thus, the helplessness of infancy gives way to "the whining schoolboy" which in turn is followed by "the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress' eyebrow." In the first three, we find pleasantly humorous recognition of the supremacy of Nature and the attempts to shape and apply natural gifts in man. The fourth and fifth, the soldier and the justice, suggest the ascendancy of Fortune in man's life—the soldier seeking the "bubble reputation," the justice "Full of wise saws and modern instances." But these temporary achievements disappear as Nature reclaims her own, first in the "slipper'd pantaloon" whose "big manly voice" turns "again toward childish treble" and finally in frightening second childishness, "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing." In such a view, and in the view most congenial to the Forest world, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." There are no consequences that matter.


Duke Senior, like Jaques, has had experience in both worlds. He too is being "philosophical." Their life in the Forest

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
(II, i, 16-17)

He and his men "fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world" (I, i, 118-119). But for the Duke and his men, it is only play-acting. They appear in one scene as Foresters, in another as outlaws. He himself has lost his name: he is Duke Senior, not specifically named like Frederick. More than that, he has nothing serious to do. While his brother is seizing Oliver's lands and organizing a search for his daughter and seeking to destroy him, he is contemplating a deer hunt or asking for Jaques to dispute with or feasting or asking someone to sing. Duke Senior has no function to perform; he cannot be a Duke except in title. All the philosophical consolations he may offer himself and his men cannot alleviate the loss he feels at being usurped and banished by his brother. When Orlando reminds him of the outside world, he confesses: "True is it that we have seen better days" (II, vii, 120) and reinforces this reminiscence of the past by commenting on his present condition:

Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy:
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.
(II, vii, 136-139)

He is remarking on shared misery; he is using the same imagery of playing used by Jaques. But for Jaques it is made speculative, objectified; for Duke Senior, he and his fellows are participating in a play. His longings are elsewhere. It is not surprising that at the end, he resumes leadership over everyone and plans to return to active rule of his dukedom.

What is true of him is true with more immediacy of others newly arrived in the Forest. The clown, who assumes the name Touchstone, undergoes the same ambivalence. His first reaction to the Forest is negative: "Ay, now am I in Arden, the more fool I. When I was at home, I was in a better place" (II, iv, 16-17). He is no longer practicing his profession of fool, since he is in a fortuneless world: "Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune" (II, vii, 19). Instead, he assumes several other roles, a liberating exercise for him; the Forest allows him to become expansive, imaginative, to take on the personage of the courtier, of the philosopher, of the wit, of the lover, to condescend to others at random and without consequence. To be able to speak his mind, to express himself, is the Forest's gift to him.

On the other hand, in all these poses, he undercuts the natives of the Forest. He mocks the passionate outbursts of Silvius in praise of his mistress by making the extravagant claim but changing the imagery to mundane and sensual terms: "I remember the kissing of her batler and the cow's dugs that her pretty chopp'd hands had milk'd" (II, iv, 48-50). He further shows off the silly self-absorption of Nature's pastoral lovers: he himself plays the lover in the Forest. The object of his love, Audrey the goat girl, has neither understanding nor beauty. He sees the disparity between his wit and her simplicity; he would have her poetical, "for the truest poetry is the most feigning" (III, iii, 19-20); he would not have her honest; he is glad she is foul. He strongly suspects that marriage to her would mean cuckoldry, yet he will have her at whatever cost: "man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling" (III, iii, 80-82). He joins the others in the rush to be married at the end of the play:

I press in here, sir, amongst the rest of the country copulatives, to swear and to forswear, according as marriage binds and blood breaks.

(V, iv, 55-57)

At other times he has confrontations with Corin and with William, the two natives seemingly most attuned to Nature's laws. Touchstone condescends to them, playing the courtier and the man of the world to men he treats as simpletons and inferiors. William, the rival for Audrey's hand, he questions as one would a child, and then threatens as one would an inferior being, and William, with no knowledge of position, with no wit, with no competitiveness, is easily routed. Touchstone challenges Corin too. Having never been in court, Corin is damned, says Touchstone. When Corin tries to defend life in the Forest, claiming that the manners of the court are not suitable to life in the country, Touchstone parries every explanation Corin gives with a witty rationalization. By measuring the life of the Forest against life at court, he brings together separate standards in the light of which either life by itself is preposterous. The Forest, which is the only way of life for all six of these natives, is by other values extremely limited. The importance of physical desire (the love affair with Audrey), of competitive relationships (the rivalry with William), of realistic appraisal (the reduction of Silvius's outbursts) is inherent in Touchstone's behavior; finally, the need for place, for function, for relationships with others runs throughout his criticism of Forest life:

Corin. And how like you this shepherd's life,
Master Touchstone?
Touch. Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it
is a good life; but in respect that it is a
shepherd's life, it is naught.
(III, ii, 11-15)

Touchstone's is the outsider's view of the Forest. His responses are the touchstones which set off the Forest natives most clearly. As Jaques is the "official" voice of the Forest, Touchstone is the "official" voice of the world outside.

The Forest is liberating for the newly arrived lovers, too. Oliver is freed from the burden of envy and absorption with power; and as a consequence he and Celia can fall immediately in love. So satisfying is it that Oliver would give up his possessions to Orlando and live a shepherd's life forever. Celia has assumed the name Aliena, left her father's court so completely that she never thinks of him again, and falls utterly in love when she meets the reformed Oliver. She has never been tied to the idea of possession or prestige and so she is easily open to the lures of the Forest.

Whereas Oliver's and Celia's love experience is muted, described rather than dramatized, Orlando's and Rosalind's is the heart of the play. Orlando, idle in the Forest and "love-shak'd," expresses his love for the lost Rosalind by writing passionate verses for her and hanging them on the trees; later he plays the game of wooing the young man Ganymed as if he were his Rosalind. He makes his protestations of love, he makes pretty speeches of admiration, he takes part in the mock-marriage ceremony, he promises to return to his wooing by a certain time. But his playing the game of courtship is as nothing compared to the game of deception and joyful play that Rosalind, safe in her dis-guise as Ganymed, engages in when she is with him. Her spirits soar and her imagination and wit expatiate freely and delightedly on the subject of men in love, on their looks, on their behavior, on the cure of their disease, and then specifically on Orlando's mad humor of love, on how he should woo, on how he can be cured through the lore she (he) acquired from the "old religious uncle." The Forest gives both of them an opportunity to play parts free of the restraints that might accompany acknowledged wooing.

But though their fanciful indulgence leads them to forget the rest of the world—Rosalind cries out, "But what talk we of fathers, when there is such a man as Orlando?" (III, iv, 38-39)—the play is only play and basically incompatible with their real natures.

Orlando's behavior outside and in the Forest suggests responsibility, suggests need for significant action. To him the Forest is a "desert inaccessible" and those in it "Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time" (II, vii, 110, 112); he himself will keep appointments with Duke Senior, he will care for his loyal servant Adam, he will save his brother's endangered life. He has a general distaste for the company of the speculative Jaques, and he finally gives up the wooing game entirely: "I can live no longer by thinking" (V, ii, 50). He is Nature's child, but he insists on living by Fortune's standards.

And Rosalind is even more emphatic in the attitudes founded in the outside world. Her first act in coming into the Forest is to buy a sheepcote; she uses the imagery of the market place when she is judging others: "Sell when you can, you are not for all markets" (HI, v, 60), she says to Phoebe; "I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men's; then to have seen much, and to have nothing, is to have rich eyes and poor hands" (IV, i, 22-25), she says to Jaques. With Silvius and Phoebe, she has small patience. To him she says, "Wilt thou love such a woman? What, to make thee an instrument, and play false strains upon thee? … I see love hath made thee a tame snake" (IV, iii, 67-68, 69-70). The natives receive short shrift from her, but she herself is in the depths of love for Orlando, and in her playing with Orlando partly mocks her own condition.

These two lovers, thoroughly based in the real world, are given the opportunity to exhibit, to spell out, a private love relationship thwarted or only implicit in earlier comedies. Portia and Bassanio, we pointed out, meet publicly and Bassanio has only begun to recognize the individuality of Portia at the end of the play; their public figures and their public relationships are the essential ones in The Merchant of Venice. In Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice and Benedick meet as private individuals, but they do not know or at least acknowledge their love for one another until very late in the play, and their recognition coincides with a discovery of the empty world in which they must live. But Rosalind and Orlando have a chance to meet and to play in a world where public cares are temporarily set aside, where each can express love for the other without embarrassment, where each can feel the presence and the personality of the other, and especially where we can watch these most gifted of Nature's children completely free and private with one another. Though the world of Fortune is part of their consciousness and their future, this holiday of love is a complement to the all-public relationship of Portia and Bassanio and an equal complement to the ever-present social pressures on Beatrice and Benedick.


Given the characteristics of the Forest world, given the attachments of Duke Senior, Touchstone, Orlando, and Rosalind to the outside world, the resolution of the play can be foreseen. Under the spell of the Forest, pretended marriage takes place between Orlando and Rosalind (as Ganymed) with Celia officiating. Marriage almost takes place between Touchstone and Audrey with Martext officiating. In the last scene, all four couples are married in the only way possible in the Forest, by the appearance of Hymen, god of marriage, to perform the ceremony: "Then is there mirth in heaven, When earthly things made even Atone together" (V, iv, 108-110). Hymen joins the lovers and reintroduces the Duke to his daughter: "Good Duke, receive thy daughter, Hymen from heaven brought her …" (V, iv, 111-112). He thus re-establishes the father-daughter relationship first devised through his means at Rosalind's birth. The hiatus caused by the Duke's exile and by the disguises in the Forest is broken and the societal structure of father and daughter is made clear once again.

With the appearance of Touchstone another relationship is given social standing. When he is introduced to Duke Senior by Jaques, Touchstone immediately resumes his professional position as fool. His comment on the life of the courtier, his long argument on "the quarrel on the seventh cause" is appreciated by the Duke: "I like him very well"; "By my faith, he is very swift and sententious"; "He uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit" (V, iv, 53, 62-63, 106-107). A rapport is established between them which suggests that Duke will be Duke and master again and Fool will be Fool and servant. Adam, nearing Jaques' seventh age of man, has disappeared into the world of nature. But a new loyalty and interdependence is about to begin.

A final relationship is re-established among the sons of Rowland de Boys. Through its magic the Forest has brought Orlando and Oliver together. Now a third brother appears, carrier of the news of Frederick's resignation—"His crown bequeathing to his banish'd brother" (V, iv, 163)—and agent for restoring his own brothers to the outside world. His coming not only reunites all three but makes a necessary link to the outside world for them. It also sounds an echo: Charles the Wrestler sought advancement and distinction by breaking the ribs of three of his victims, all brothers. That was a symbol of the way power broke blood relationships in Frederick's world—Frederick with his niece and daughter, Oliver with his brother. Now separated families are reunited and friends.

That he is a young Jaques is also significant, arriving as the melancholy Jaques prepares to go off to another part of the forest. This young man prepares the way to future life in the world outside; the older is bound to the inactivity and the speculation of the Forest world.

But they have not yet left the Forest. Duke Senior's speech assuming his authority shows that he is in command of both the Forest world and his former Dukedom and that each of them is part of his experience and momentarily under his perfect control. Duke Senior's reference to the lands which will be given to the brothers is balanced and ambiguous:

Welcome, young man;
Thou offer'st fairly to thy brothers' wedding:
To one his lands withheld, and to the other
A land itself at large, a potent dukedom.
(V, iv, 166-169)

To Oliver, the lands taken from him by Frederick are returned; to Orlando, his son-in-law, the heritage of his dukedom is given. Yet there is just a suspicion that the gifts might be directed the other way: to Orlando, whose lands have been taken from him by Oliver, will be returned his father's lands; to Oliver, the Forest world where he has determined to remain; for the Forest is without a ruler and without bounds, a place where he who does not have to own or possess anything may feel himself a powerful ruler.

This distinction between the brothers is followed by a statement of the Duke's own intention in regard to the Forest and the world outside it:

First, in this forest let us do those ends
That here were well begun and well begot;
And after, every of this happy number,
That have endur'd shrewd days and nights
with us,
Shall share the good of our returned fortune,
According to the measure of their states.
(V, iv, 170-175)

By "those ends," presumably, he means the marriages which have been the contribution and the fruit of the Forest world. Then his attention will be turned to the world outside the forest, where they will enjoy their "returned fortune, According to the measure of their states." Place and prestige are implied here, possession a necessary element. Both Forest and his Dukedom are in his mind and paired. And the retention of both worlds continues right to the end when he repeats the words fall and measure once to apply them to Nature's world and once to apply them to Fortune's:

Mean time, forget this new-fall'n dignity,
And fall into our rustic revelry.
Play, music, and you brides and bridegrooms
With measure heap'd in joy, to th' measures
(V, iv, 176-179)

"New-fall'n" applies to his returned Dukedom, "fall" applies to the current Forest life. "Measure heap'd in joy" could apply to both worlds, but it recalls for us "the measure of their states" and the assumption of rank and position looked upon as normal in Fortune's world; the final "measures" refers to the dance they will do in the Forest. We are left, after this balanced holding of both worlds at once, with the departure of Jaques and with the dance which is the sign of the harmony of the moment.

The Epilogue is all that marks the return to the workaday world, spoken by the boy who has played Rosalind. He has gone from the heights of role-playing—this boy playing Rosalind playing Ganymed playing Rosalind—step by step back down the ladder of fantasy to speak directly to the men and women in the audience before him. He speaks of attraction between the sexes, of possible kisses, of the need for appreciation and applause. It is not the Forest nor the Duke's realm. It is the theater, the living reality of the image used so extensively in the play.

What is left of the play? A dream of power and evil transmuted into a dream where power and evil have disappeared. The result has been joy, romance, and various dimensions of love. The lovers of the earlier plays are translated in As You Like It into a world which suggests they can combine completeness of personality with private expression of love; but the world is a dream, a play world. As You Like It is the closest Shakespeare gets to the realization of such a dream; Twelfth Night explores its comic failure.

R. Chris Hassel (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "'Most Faining': Wits and Wise Fools in As You Like It," in Faith and Folly in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies, The University of Georgia Press, 1980, pp. 110-48.

[In the following essay, Hassel concentrates on Shakespeare's comic vision in As You Like It, describing it as an "affirmative celebration of man's follies and his potentialities. "]

As You Like It is a banquet of the follies of human perception and human behavior. But unlike Much Ado about Nothing the emphasis is decisively on the celebration rather than the discovery and acknowledgment of this folly. Partly because of the uniqueness of Arden and its inhabitants, absurd behavior is readily acknowledged throughout the play by the lovers, the shepherds, and the courtiers. Paradoxically, only the fool and the would-be fool in Arden, Touchstone and Jaques, seem to lack this humility. Their naiveté is especially amusing not only because it is their profession to know themselves to be fools, but also because they so frequently allude to Erasmian and Pauline statements of this wisdom. That strange and delightful absence of humility in these Erasmian fools, like its unusual presence among the rest of the characters in Arden, can deepen our understanding of the wisdom of folly in Shakespeare's romantic comedies.

As You Like It is also unique in its treatment of epistemological folly. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream it persistently involves us in romantic and aesthetic truths which surpass all knowledge. But A Midsummer Night's Dream focuses most of its attention on Bottom, the four lovers, Theseus, and the audience as beholders or interpreters of the transcendental. As You Like It, on the other hand, deals more with its expressive side, with the attempts of the lover or the artist, Orlando or Rosalind or Shakespeare himself, to convey transcendental truths. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, but with more subtlety, As You Like It simplifies and enriches these rather esoteric aesthetic and epistemological themes with their analogies to attempts to convey the insights of religious faith. Religious rituals thus become the metaphoric counterpart in As You Like It to the observances and conventions of lovers and artists.

But all such conventions inevitably risk the folly of expressing the inexpressible, a folly familiar to both St. Paul and Erasmus.1 Shakespeare thus joyously and ingeniously links fool, lover, artist, and priest in As You Like It into a common bond. They are all fools, and unless they acknowledge that folly they will never be wise. The foolish wits of Arden never quite grasp this wisdom. But the lovers, like the playwright, seem to know or to learn that their great feignings, the conventions they both must use to say what they so deeply feel, might also be great follies. For what they have to express may transcend both their art and human understanding. In an age that was unusually interested in sectarian controversies concerning the nature and efficacy of religious rituals,2 such a comic interest in the rituals of lovers and artists could have seemed quite timely.

i. The Folly of the Fools

In Twelfth Night, it can be demonstrated that Feste is a truly wise fool. By "venting" a folly that is virtually universal in Illyria, he leads his victims to acknowledge and rejoice in their own absurdities, and he leads some out of their self-love. Viola praises his folly in precisely these terms at the beginning of Act III: "For folly that he wisely shows, is fit" (III.i.65). Feste's catechism of Olivia (I.v.52-67) early in the play and his late conversation with Orsino (V.i.10-20) reveal Feste's own awareness of this role of proving others to be fools, playing their enemy but being their friend. As he says, we are all patched men, some "patched with virtue," some "patched with sin." If we cannot mend ourselves, we must "let the botcher mend" us (I.v.40-44). His work with Toby, Andrew, and Malvolio is a similar if sillier tailoring. Through all of this wisdom, however, Feste never loses sight of his own patched clothes or of the folly that they represent. He always knows that he is a fool. And in that knowledge he is, like Viola in her foolish disguise, most healthy and most wise.

Touchstone and jaques have quite another role to play in As You Like It. Both of them seem superficially aware of the same Pauline and Erasmian commonplaces that Feste and Viola know so well. But though one is clearly an amateur fool and the other both a natural and a professional, neither can consistently admit that he is foolish. Jaques seems completely unaware that the motley coat he desires signifies first and foremost his certain knowledge that he is a fool. Touchstone, though more often aware of his patches, is just as likely to praise the wisdom of his own folly. Their lack of the wisdom of humility is almost always silly rather than sinister. Only Jaques occasionally tries our patience, along with that of Duke Senior and Rosalind, in his notso-blissful ignorance. But we remain fond of both fools in the forest; we do not blame them too much for their folly.

In fact, their delightful naiveté about their own folly actually highlights the unusual degree of humility else-where in Arden.3 Outcasts all, all seem aware of a common folly, personal and social if not cosmic as well. Duke Senior articulates this philosophy in his "sweet are the uses of adversity" speech, but in fact his attitude runs throughout the forest in courtiers and shepherds as well as lovers. With few exceptions, its inhabitants know their folly or readily learn of it, and they rejoice in the lesson. In one of his rare glimpses of this truth, Touchstone announces a lesson that most of the lovers in Arden would readily agree to: "We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly" (II.iv.49-51). Orlando is delighted to be a fool in love: '"Tis a fault I will not change for your best virtue" (III.ii.270-71). Rosalind, in the same scene and also madly in love, can proclaim as Ganymede:

Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.


Look at Oliver and Celia, or Orlando and Rosalind, or even Silvius and Phebe to see how variously this madness is exhibited and finally also embraced. The fools in Arden are those who would make fun of this strange love. The lovers are merely mad, and they know it and love it.

As a result of the unusually widespread humility and self-knowledge in Arden, the fools are consistently rendered foolish by trying to expose a folly that is already acknowledged, or a simplicity that is equally aware of itself. Touchstone glories in confounding the foolish rather than the wise. And while we enjoy his silliness with, say, the shepherd, we know at the same time that Corin is not damned for bringing his sheep together or for his lack of courtly manners. The shepherd's words of simple duty, absolute self-knowledge, and humility render the fool's role useless and elicit our admiration. In fact, he is wiser than the fool who is trying to demonstrate his folly:

Sir, I am a true laborer; I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with my harm; and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.


William near the end of the play is similarly impervious to Touchstone's assault. He may be dumb-founded but he is not frightened by either the false learning or the silly blustering of Touchstone's challenge:

To wit, I kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage. I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel; I will bandy with thee in faction; I will o'errun thee with policy; I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways. Therefore tremble and depart.


William leaves, but hardly gasping for fear: "God rest you, merry sir" (V.i.58). For again Touchstone has delightfully proven only himself a fool. These humble innocents are beyond his wit and his wisdom. So is most of the assemblage in Arden.

Touchstone proves his own folly most decisively when he refers naively to Pauline and Erasmian commonplaces about folly and wisdom. The wise fool would use his humility to demonstrate the folly of the proud, the wise, and the powerful, but Touchstone exposes the humility of his quarry by proving his own foolish pride. First he thinks that William is a clown and he, the clown, is a wise man:

It is meat and drink to me to see a clown; by my troth, we that have good wits have much to answer for. We shall be flouting; we cannot hold.


Then he responds to William's relatively innocent "Ay, sir, I have a pretty wit" with this:

Why, thou say'st well. I do now remember a saying, "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."


The paradox, of course, is St. Paul's, filtered perhaps through Erasmus's The Praise of Folie.4 But though Touchstone remembers it well, he understands or applies it poorly: "You are not ipse, for I am he" (V.i.43). He is proud of his wisdom rather than his folly. When William asks, "Which he, sir?" we know that he has proven Touchstone the fool in his own confounding innocence. The professional fool just doesn't have a chance in Arden.

Neither does the amateur. Jaques is just as adept as Touchstone at proving himself a fool, and just as un-aware of the lessons of humility he might be learning. His first scene depicts Jaques as a melancholy fool who has no sense of the absurdity others enjoy in him. Of Amiens' song, he moans as painfully as any lover,

More, I prithee more! I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs. More, I prithee more!


Duke Senior and his brothers in exile love these sullen fits of folly; in fact they encourage them, though without sarcasm or bitterness:

I love to cope him in these sullen fits,
For then he's full of matter

But Jaques, like Touchstone, is unaware of his own absurdity. Worse, he is therefore more scornful of that folly which he assumes lies only outside of himself. We see this naiveté throughout the play. But nowhere is it more obvious than in the scene with Amiens.

This is the scene in which Jaques sings his "ducdame" refrain about the universal folly in Arden:

If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease
A stubborn will to please,
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame.
Here shall he see gross fools as he.
An if he will come to me.

Throughout the play Jaques evidences this frustrated desire to demonstrate the folly in others. Paradoxically, whenever he tries, he most clearly exposes his own. The Duke will indeed see a gross fool, Jaques, "if he will come to me." In explaining "ducdame," his mysterious invocation of fools, Jaques experiences the same paradoxical proof of his own folly. But again he will not accept it:

'Tis a Greek invocation to call fools into a circle. I'll go sleep, if I can; if I cannot, I'll rail against all the first-born of Egypt.


The conjurer Jaques must be in the center of the circle, and therefore at the center of its folly. The railing Herod is the most obvious exemplar of the folly of pride in all of the mysteries; to our delight, Jaques completely misses the connection.

This blindness to his considerable folly continues throughout the play. With Duke Senior, in his next appearance, Jaques exults over seeing a fool in the forest:

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' th' forest,
A motley fool! a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool.

We know that Jaques could have seen himself in the fool's edifying glass. Touchstone is aping his melancholy, "deep-contemplative" moralizing "on the time." But characteristically, all Jaques can see is the folly of the fool:

When I did hear
The motley fool thus moral on the time,
My lungs began to crow like chanticleer
That fools should be so deep contemplative;
And I did laugh sans intermission
An hour by his dial. O noble fool,
A worthy fool! Motley's the only wear.

He is already wearing it, of course, already being measured by the fool's dial. But he will not admit it.

As William asks of Touchstone, so Duke Senior asks of Jaques, which fool he refers to. We hear echoes of Feste trying to get Malvolio to acknowledge his share of universal folly in Twelfth Night: "Are you not mad indeed? or do you but counterfeit?" (IV.ii.l10-11). But like Malvolio, albeit with more humor, Jaques remains naive: "O that I were a fool! / I am ambitious for a motley coat" (II.vii.42-43). With "thou shalt have one," the Duke prods to Jaques to acknowledge the patches that are his birthright. But against all of the Pauline and Erasmian precepts to which he is at this very moment alluding, Jaques still assumes his wisdom obvious, and has little sense of his folly:

Provided that you weed your better judgments
Of all opinion that grows rank in them
That I am wise.

He would be a wise physician to the "foul body of th' infected world" (II.vii.60), yet he cannot even diagnose his own sickness. The exasperated but still charitable Duke finally assaults his blindness directly. "Physician, heal thyself," is the thrust of his remonstrance:

Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin.
For thou thyself hast been a libertine.

Again Jaques evades the Duke's obvious lessoning. By taking the Duke's thrust as an attack on satire, rather than on his own lack of humility, he can go on pridefully playing one who "cries out on pride" (II.vii.70). His quick wit often allows Jaques to evade edifying humiliation. But this is a comic curse, as it was to Berowne and Beatrice, not a blessing. For it deprives them all of the greater wisdom of humility.

The two most familiar examples of the liabilities of his witty pride occur in exchanges' between Jaques and the lovers Rosalind and Orlando. As soon as we see Orlando absurdly tacking up verses all over the trees in Arden we acknowledge the silliness of his love, but also its attractiveness. Nowhere is the ambivalence more obvious than in Rosalind's mixed delight and amusement over his actions. But Jaques, like Touchstone, can only see the lover's folly, and must try again to prove it. Instead, he is again the inevitable victim of his proof. For in his relative humility Orlando is almost fool-proof, as in his witty pride Jaques is always in absolute jeopardy.

ORLANDO. I will chide no breather in the world
but myself, against whom I know most
JAQUES. The worst fault you have is to be in
ORLANDO. 'Tis a fault I will not change for
your best virtue. I am weary of you.
JAQUES. By my truth, I was seeking for a fool
when I found you.
ORLANDO. He is drowned in the brook. Look
but in and you shall see him.
JAQUES. There I shall see mine own figure.
ORLANDO. Which I take to be either a fool or a

Like Malvolio, Jaques will accept neither humbling alternative, even if he must therefore ignore what everyone else can see. Monsieur Melancholy is for this reason far more fool than Monsieur Love. For the latter knows himself to be a fool, and loves it.

With Rosalind, Jaques is again proven a fool for refusing to admit his folly and its universality. All other melancholies may be foolish—the scholar's, the musician's, the courtier's—but his is not (IV.i.10-18). He similarly evades her exposure of the folly of his travels. And then by sarcastically responding to Orlando's euphoric line of blank verse ("Good day and happiness, dear Rosalind" [IV.i.27]) he slips away from further proof. We can assume that Rosalind's parting shots also fall on deaf ears, for Jaques cannot yet embrace this essential comic lesson. Even Touch-stone wears some humility in his tattered suit, his foolish antics, and his foul wife Audrey, though he would not be too well-married. But Jaques still finds the patched suit unbearable. As a result, he cannot share the experiences of marriage or festivity which conclude the play. Hymen implies in his final blessing of the fools and lovers that Touchstone's marriage with Audrey will not last long. But Jaques, who will hazard neither love nor folly, will therefore lose this chance at festive joy. His departure from the revellers suggests his inability to celebrate the wisdom of their mutual folly; he thus remains alien to their paradoxical happiness. Our response to his departure is not satisfaction, however, but a Jaques-like melancholy of our own. For we like him still, and we wish him well. After all, he is our fellow in folly, even if he does not know it yet.

ii. The Follies of the Play

Uniquely, then, most of the follies that Jaques and Touchstone expose are their own. The few follies they do hit upon in Arden are usually either the unpretentious silliness of innocents and simpletons or the assorted madnesses the lovers have already joyously acknowledged. But the play contains over sixty references to "fool," "folly," "foolish," and related morphemes. Where is the rest of this folly? Oddly, much of it lies outside of Arden, and even outside the world of the play, providing these two fools with some "matter" for their flouting wits in spite of the unusual humility of Arden's inhabitants. The rest lies in the romantic and pastoral fabric of the play itself. Because Shakespeare allows these fools to expose the follies of his dramatic medium and its sources along with their anatomies of general behavioral absurdities, he leads us to understand how the folly of the play and the folly of the players coalesce in As You Like It. If the Forest of Arden is an unusually humble place, so is the play itself. For it fosters in Jaques and Touchstone its own worst critics, and smiles like the lovers at the acknowledged follies they persistently try to expose.

Though anatomies of universal follies are among their most familiar moments in the play, few readers have noticed that Jaques and Touchstone are exposing follies that lie for the most part outside of Arden. Touchstone's anatomy of the courtier is in this category (v.iv.42-46), as is his subsequent analysis of the seven "degrees of the lie" (v.iv.65-97), the "Retort Courteous," the "Quip Modest," the "Lie Direct," and the rest. So is his earlier proof that the knight "that swore by his honor they were good pancakes, and swore by his honor the mustard was naught" was not forsworn (I.ii.59-63). Jaques's anatomy of the seven ages of man (II.vii.139-66) and his explosion against pride in the same scene also anatomize universal or general follies that lie largely outside of the boundaries of Arden. Both of them are rather successful with this abstract kind of foolery, and Touch-stone probably deserves the Duke's praise, "He uses his folly like a stalking horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit" ( But while Touchstone and Jaques make us mark the universal pageant of man's general folly, they also emphasize its relative absence in Arden, except among themselves. Jaques's seven ages, like Touchstone's seven degrees of the lie, is a conventional set-piece, a "progress" leading nowhere, a denial of value. So when they try to expose specific and widely acknowledged follies among the lovers, the country-folk, and the exiled court, they expose more of their own absurdity.

But the fools also expose the follies of the play, follies inherent in its pastoral and romantic sources as well as follies unavoidable in the conventions of drama. That Shakespeare gives his fools this latitude suggests that his comic attitude toward folly has grown to include the work itself and its author. As in A Midsummer Night's Dream this humility also includes the audience, which is willing to be taken in by these aesthetic follies even after having been made aware of them. We find a similar attitude in Twelfth Night, and see its culmination in The Winter's Tale. Shakespeare exhibits this aesthetic humility in various ways in As You Like It, with implications that are finally epistemological too. In fact, many critics—C. L. Barber, John Russell Brown, T. M. Parrott, and Sylvan Barnet, among others—have noticed the play's fascination with itself as a strangely conventional, pastoral, romantic, and dramatic creature.5 Because its unusual self-criticism is so widely accepted, we need to review only a few of the most vital moments when the fools, or the play itself, exposes the strange tactics a play sometimes has to use to imitate reality.

We have already mentioned some examples of the fools' exposures of this aesthetic folly. Some of it simultaneously exposes the folly of the lovers. Jaques responds to Orlando's line of verse in the midst of a prose exchange with, "Nay then, God b' wi' you, an you talk in blank verse" (IV.i.28-29). Earlier Touchstone has his own go at Orlando's verse (and Rosalind's charming sentimentality) with parody as well as direct criticism:

Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,
Such a nut is Rosalinde.
He that sweetest rose will find
Must find love's prick, and Rosalinde.

Admittedly Orlando's verse is not good: "This is the very false gallop of verses. Why do you infect yourself with them?" To Rosalind's response, "Peace, you dull fool! I found them on a tree," he responds, "Truly, the tree yields bad fruit." It does indeed. But both Rosalind and Orlando can smile good-naturedly at the inevitable folly of this conventional expression of their love, even while they are earnestly committing it. The feelings of Orlando are as true as the verse or the courtly pose is false. It takes a bright fool, a Rosalind or a Shakespeare, to know and to cherish this inner truth as she smiles at its outer folly, and to learn how to pick the meat out of the shell.

Touchstone has another go at romance after Silvius describes his love for Phebe in hopelessly conventional terms: "as true a lover / As ever sighed upon a midnight pillow" (II.iv.23-24). Witness Silvius's inexpressible passion:

Or if thou has not broke from company
Abruptly, as my passion now makes me,
Thou hast not loved. O Phebe, Phebe, Phebe!

This too is textbook stuff, hack work, both the card-board lover and his verse. But they remind Rosalind of a truer love not all that far removed from this highly conventional one:

Alas, poor shepherd! Searching of thy wound,
I have by hard adventure found mine own.

Lest we be swept up by her passion, however, Touch-stone offers his fool's version of romantic ecstasy. It smacks of love's prick rather than its spirit, and it therefore serves as a vital corrective for the absurdities which true lovers, not to mention their portrayers and viewers, can commit:

I remember, when I was in love … the kissing of her batler, and the cows' dugs that her pretty chopt hands had milked; and I remember the wooing of a peascod instead of her, from whom I took two cods, and giving her them again, said with weeping tears, "Wear these for my sake." We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.


This little ritual or sacrament of the cods fleetingly suggests the Communion words, "He toke the cuppe, and when he had geven thankes, he gave it to them, saying,… drinke it in remembraunce of me" (p. 103). With Touchstone's odd fetishes, it reminds us that the follies of mortal lovers are indeed rich and strange. Such a silly moment corrects a romantic atmosphere that had briefly become too sentimental and too conventional with a healthy dose of comic realism.

The pastoral's tendencies towards philosophising and sentimentality are other conventions both Touchstone and Jaques assault through parody and direct criticism. Touchstone must be mocking Jaques's melancholy philosophizing when he "morals on the time" in front of him. Less consciously, Jaques is Shakespeare's agent of a criticism of similar extremes directed against Duke Senior and his fellow pastoral exiles. To lament the "poor dappled fools" who "should in their own confines … have their round haunches gored" (II.i.22-25) is silly stuff all by itself. Jaques's moralizing of this spectacle "into a thousand similes" carries it beyond the brink of absurdity. He stands on the bank, "weeping and commenting / Upon the sobbing deer" (II.i.64-65). When the first lord describes the weeping of the wounded deer, whose "big round tears / Coursed one another down his innocent nose / In piteous chase" (II.i.38-40) he could as well have been describing

Jaques's compassion for the deer as the deer's self-pity. Such extremes are unfortunate characteristics of the pastoral mode. By exaggerating them in Jaques, Shakespeare makes the exiles' folly and that of the genre obvious and funny to all of us.

Similar is Touchstone's confrontation with Corin right after we have heard the first of Orlando's poetical efforts. Its foolish anatomy of the shepherd's life is nonsense on the one hand, but good sense too. Pastorals tend to praise the outdoor life too uncritically. But in truth, whether we are selecting ways of living or dramatic modes, most of our choices are teasingly relative. So is the reality these choices seek to achieve or express:

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… . Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?


Literary genres, ways of living, the conventions of artists or lovers games, rituals, and disguises—all are partly true and partly false, too sentimental or not sentimental enough, adequate in this respect, and inadequate in that. Only a pastoral or a romantic vision that accepts and celebrates the folly of this relativity has achieved the Pauline and Erasmian humility that underlies so much of Shakespeare's comic wisdom. Neither Touchstone nor Jaques has this wisdom, at least not consistently. But during this momentary wit-strike, and while they parody and criticize the pastoral and romantic conventions of their play, they at least suggest it to us.

In the scene that follows this one, Touchstone makes the play's most important statement about the relative truth of its aesthetic conventions. Characteristically, he doesn't understand what he has said. But if we listen to him we will realize that the folly of the play is analogous to that of the lovers. The reason is that the conventionality of art, like that of courtship (or religious ritual), is a great feigning that can express great truths, so long as it doesn't take itself too seriously. In making this important connection for us, albeit absurdly, Touchstone leads us, Bottom-like, to sense the epistemological as well as the aesthetic dimensions of the themes of faith and folly in Shakespeare's romantic comedies.

The scene is well-enough known. Touchstone is trying to explain to Audrey the concept "poeticall." In this role he is intriguingly like Bottom blundering into his appropriate paraphrase of St. Paul when he needs to express the inexpressible. Jaques betrays his continuing misunderstanding of the paradoxical wisdom of folly when he comments on this vehicle of truth: "O knowledge ill-inhabited, worse than Jove in a thatched house!" (III.iii.7-8). Audrey then sets Touchstone up with one of the great straight lines in comedy: "I do not know what poetical is. Is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?" (III.iii.14-15). Touchstone replies with unknowing Sidneyan and Platonic sublimity: "No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most faining." We are all familiar with Plato's indictment of poetry as an imitation, "three removes … from the truth," which "tends to destroy the rational part."6 Where Touchstone picked up this piece of Platonic lore is anyone's guess; but that he is about to abuse it is a sure bet.

A logical progression of this warped Platonism is his assumption that only foulness guarantees honesty: "Praised be the gods for thy foulness" he tells Audrey. And later he tells Duke Senior, "Rich honesty dwells like a miser, sir, in a poor house, as your pearl in your foul oyster" (V.iv.57-59). Beauty, like poetry, is most feigning. Touchstone will therefore trust only the opposites of the appearance of truth. The kernel of truth must be distinguished from the chaff and the husk. But the figure of the pearl is much more appropriate to Touchstone in As You Like It than that of wheat and chaff, for with it Shakespeare exploits the unexpectedness of imaginative insight, the suddenly perfect, polished shape out of the rough barnacled mass, the pearl out of the mouth of the philosophic oyster Touchstone. Erasmus and St. Paul would have found him a fit spokesman.

For there is wisdom here as well as absurdity. If we look closer at Touchstone's indictment of poetry as "most faining," we will see that his sloppy syntax has caused him to proclaim the value of poetry, its truth rather than its folly. "For the truest poetry is the most faining," is what he actually says. The husk and the chaff are the stuff of the shadow world, the specific moment, scientia, accidence. The wheat, the pearl, is the kernel of truth, sapientia. The unique capacity of art and of ritual is to capture the primary, the sapiential, in an enduring form. As Sidney says, great poetry does not affirm accident; therefore it never lies. It is not "labouring to tell you what is, or is not, but what should or should not be."7

The greatest truth requires as its only adequate vehicle the most elusive and imaginative aesthetic conventions. The truest poetry must therefore always be the most feigning. This is why the great poets must always walk on Ferlinghetti's tightrope across the abyss of folly ("Constantly Risking Absurdity"). In case we are not following the gist of his banter with Audrey, Touch-stone then relates this paradox about the reality of artistic conventions to the truth of the feigning conventions of lovers. Again he stumbles upon the wisdom: "and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said, as lovers, they do feign" (III.iii.17-18). When Audrey asks him, "Do you wish then that the gods had made me poetical?" he replies incongruously, "I do truly; for thou swear'st to me thou art honest. Now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign." His apparent contradiction must go in this direction: if Audrey were poetical, her swearing of honesty would mean lightness, and the shortsighted Touchstone could seduce her on the spot. He would gain then a goat-woman indeed, tarnished physically as well as spiritually, a foul pearl in a foul oyster, the least poetical woman possible. Luckily for him, she is not quite that.

Related types of true if foolish feigning in As You Like It are games and similar moments of playing and fantasizing. These frivolities remind us on the surface of childishness and of unsophisticated literary modes. At the same time they can also express and enact complex relationships among characters, and complex epistemological insights. The wrestling, for example, so obviously symbolic as a clash of values and perspectives, is also an image of Orlando's lovelessness and Frederick's loveless society. Grown men should not have to wrestle with such pretty women looking on and wanting to join the fray ("The little strength that I have, I would it were with you" [I.ii.178]). Running away from home, the courtship game, aimless philosophizing about nature and fortune, playing Robin Hood, carving on trees, saving a brother from a snake or a lion, and then forgiving him and finding him regenerated, love at first sight, oaths, magicians, the rituals and miracles of love—all of these beautifully childish and dreamlike feignings are facets of "inscape" which become almost literal in Arden. The reason is Shakespeare's genius, of course, but also the fact that games and related feignings and follies are natural to the human condition. Literalness is no more natural than figurativeness, nor is work more real than play, or reason than fantasy.8 Only severely limited perspectives like those of a single-minded individual or a single literary mode would categorically prescribe one reality and exclude the others. Shakespeare keeps all of his options open in As You Like It by simultaneously enjoying and exposing the folly and the loveliness, the artificiality and the naturalness of all of these conventional games and rituals, these related feignings of man and of art.

Nowhere is this attitude more obvious than in the play's own amused self-criticism. Jaques and Touchstone have pointed out some of its aesthetic follies, but they have characteristically assumed that they shared none of them. In contrast to their uninvolved parody, and more like Rosalind's spirited role-playing, As You Like It gamely tries on the foolish, conventional, ritualistic garb of the comic and the romantic and even the satiric stage, and seeks to incorporate all of their shreds and patches into a new, comprehensive comic vision. Since the form of burlesque suggests that no single perspective—be it romantic, pastoral, idyllic, melodramatic, satiric, ironic, mythic, or what you will—can adequately express the complexity of reality, perhaps a blend of them, a comprehensive comic vision to match the comprehensiveness of reality itself, is the only adequate perspective. Shakespeare seems in As You Like It to be confirming his belief in the truth of the feignings of composite artistic conventions and modes by exposing the relative dishonesty of each of them individually, and then including valid parts of each perspective into his larger vision. This is so widely acknowledged a characteristic of the play that only a brief survey of its pertinence to our thesis will be presented here.

The play is full of aesthetic follies so grotesque and obvious that they must be calling attention to their own absurdity. It flaunts its folly by exaggerating its conventionality. The first scene, for example, begins and ends with a long, dreary piece of prose exposition, much like Prospero's speeches to Miranda in Act I, Scene ii of The Tempest. Rosalind's epilogue makes fun of this inauspicious beginning. The whole play is also strangely devoid of developing action, as the series of tableaux in Act II makes clear. Time stands still in the forest for more reasons than the lack of a clock. Further, characters like Duke Frederick and Oliver are so unabashedly villainous as to be mere humors of jealous ambition. Perhaps that is why they can be so easily converted when they enter the forest of Arden. The pastoral excesses in Duke Senior's first scene ("Sweet are the uses of adversity") are equally obvious as flauntings of the follies of the dramatic and pastoral modes. The bathetic responses to the sobbing, sentient deer, whose "big round tears / Coursed one another down his innocent nose / In piteous chase" (II.i.38-40), like the moralizing on those "native burghers," is foolish enough for many readers to catch a jangling note of absurdity before Jaques's obvious parody to come. But if this sentimental moralizing is pretty foolish, so is the overblown ideality, language, and sentiment of the prelapsarian Adam, the perfect pastoral servant, talking to his equally perfect master Orlando: "O my gentle master, O my sweet master, O, …" etc. (II.iii.2-4). He will follow Orlando "to the last gasp." We may also gasp at this, but not for admiration alone. Still, with many of these pastoral and dramatic excesses there is delight in indulging our sentimentality and our pastoralism, even while we recognize its folly. We relish the "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything" even as we know that it is not quite true, a pastoral feigning in style and content. The same might be said of the anaphoric exchange of Orlando and Duke Senior in Act II, Scene vii (ll. 113-23). Part of the magic of As You Like It is that we can have it either way, critically or conventionally, or even both ways at once.

In a similar celebration of its aesthetic folly, the play just stops for Jaques's oration "All the world's a stage" in Act II, Scene vii. For all of its rhetorical beauty it is a thoroughly conventional set-piece expressed with a naive cynicism. But at the same time, Jaques's evocation of the trope of the theater of the world, however accidentally, can reinforce our understanding of man's inevitable folly and his ultimate need for humility, his position as actor in a moral universe before an eternal auditor. The theme of humility in The Tempest derives from a similar use of the same trope by Prospero. Such aesthetic follies are legion in As You Like It, and they have been often observed. They parody the pastoral romance from which the play is descended while simultaneously including As You Like It securely within that genre and also securely within the community of folly.

In a similar combination of parody and celebration, Touchstone and Audrey and then Silvius and Phebe parody the romantic love of Rosalind and Orlando, but they also expand our understandings of its dimensions. For the extreme physicality of the clowns and the extreme conventionality of the pastoral figures are both true if feigning (and faining) aspects of the richer relationship of the primary pair. Like the love at first sight which we like in Orlando and Rosalind, and Oliver and Celia, but howl at in Phebe and Touchstone (or Olivia and Viola, or Bottom and Titania in related situations), we are forced to be aware of the "most feignings" of character, action, theme, and verse before we are allowed to celebrate their great truths as well. If we like it we can laugh at the follies and love the profundities at once. "For ever and a day" cannot be accepted uncritically into this vision. But it can be included, if it is willing to be criticized: "Say 'a day,' without the 'ever'" (IV.i.133). And so as audience we must always be en garde as well, lest we enjoy one of these conventional phrases, actions, sentiments, philosophies, too uncritically. This is a strenuous aesthetic vision that involves us in its wise humility. But it is also a joyous one.

Three of its cleverest manifestations come when Shakespeare connects the conventions of romance with highly conventional and ostensibly dramatic religious forms. We have already mentioned the faint echo of Communion in Touchstone's "sacrament" of the cods. Orlando and Rosalind also occasionally talk like the Student and Master of the Catechism during his instruction as a lover. Later they join Silvius and Phebe in an elaborate litany of love. These last two parallels deserve closer attention.

When Rosalind instructs Orlando "who Time ambles withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal," etc. (III.ii.294-96), the style of questions and answers is clearly a parody of the catechism. The Master-Student relationship is part of that parody, but more important is the imitation of the unnatural style of the genre, a style itself based on the feigning of a dramatic situation. Orlando's lifeless questions about time ("Who doth he trot withal?," etc. (III.ii. 297, 303, 309, 313)) are met by Rosalind's equally repetitive and unimaginative answers, paradoxically livelier here because they are so dull. Also like the catechism is the analysis of each answer into four- or six-part responses. They recall the familiar "How many parts hath the Lord's Prayer?" or "Into how many parts dost thou divide this whole confession of faith?"9 One can imagine the frustration of schoolboys and girls trying to memorize such abstract and repetitive material. That experience is not likely to have been forgotten, or to have been remembered too fondly, either. "To answer in a catechism" is to answer predictable questions in dull and lifeless responses. Celia herself refers to this unpleasant if necessary conventionality during the same scene (III.ii.216-17), making sure that no one misses the parody to come. Paradoxically, even the flatness of this conventional religious form edifies and orders, and thereby justifies its own stilted aesthetic existence.

The highly conventional litany to love is sung by the four lovers just after Rosalind-Ganymede has promised to resolve all of the complexities that their feignings have wrought (V.ii.79-109).10 Its hyperbolic conventionality, as well as its antiphonal form ("And I for Ganymede. / And I for Rosalind. / And I for no woman") is again grotesquely contrived. Can love possibly be all of these things, this incredible combination of outward signs and inward qualities? Could any lover be so dedicated? They are all posing, or lying, or exaggerating. And yet even the one who is consciously feigning, Rosalind Ganymede, is only literally feigning. Secretly she is rejoicing with the rest, rejoicing even more because of her secret and the joy that she holds for them all. What of the conventionality of their litany? Is it so patently conventional? Notice the gradual transition from the artificial into the genuine, from the mechanical into the fluid. Notice the lovely crescendo as Silvius moves into the spirit of his hymn. It builds to "observance" and to "humbleness" and then the decrescendo begins, out of that moment of ultimate reality and ultimate convention, back to the conventionally juxtaposed "patience and impatience," back to the pure and passionless "trial" and the repeated "observance." That repetition combined with the awful, fourfold, later refrain ("If this be so, why blame you me to love you?") suggests on the one hand that the litany is running down. But simultaneously, repeating "observance" emphasizes the importance of observance not only to love but to any type of ritualized celebration. Observance makes the abstract concrete, expresses the inexpressible, like art, like ritual, like these words of Silvius. The conflicting and hyperbolical qualities of love are qualities confirmed by and contained in his litany. Likewise the direction of the celebration is carefully contrived: from sighs and tears to faith and service; from symptom to symbol; from fantasy to faith; from belief to worship; from protestation to celebration, the observance of belief, its manifestation. This characteristic moment has much to say of romantic faith and romantic folly, of the truth as well as the falsehood of the rituals and the conventionality of humankind.

One of the most outlandish of all the aesthetic conventions in As You Like It is the appearance of Hymen, a deus ex machina, in the final scene. The natural magic of Rosalind would have been quite sufficient, thank you, for the resolution of the plot. Like our first reaction to Adam's praise of his master, Orlando's catechism, or the lovers' litany, we may want to gasp or laugh out loud at the audacious folly of this moment. But while the appearance of such a figure makes fun of all conventionally contrived romantic endings, it also leads the audience, in the spirit of humility that permeates As You Like It, through its own ritual of romantic celebration, just as Silvius earlier led the lovers' litany. This most conventional dramatic creature, a feigning, a mere symbol, a figure of speech upon the stage, encourages us to celebrate the reality that we have learned to perceive in conventionality, games, and all of the playlike ritualistic qualities that enrich and direct human life. Laughable as Hymen is, a patent feigning, he still represents and embodies the audience's common and charitable wish for successful love and general comic happiness.11 Such an "embodiment," such a "representation," might be all Hymen was ever supposed to stand for, as a god or a dramatic character. The greatest feigning is again the truest. Placing as it does the audience's most festive and charitable wishes before them on the stage, it merges stage and audience, confirming again the frequency of romantic and dramatic miracles, and the impossibility of expressing great truths without little lies.

But best of all of these moments of aesthetic self-criticism is Rosalind's epilogue, which once and for all explicitly admits the play's folly and its feignings and rejoices in it. First, it bluntly reminds us that the play also started with Orlando's long, undramatic prose passage, and criticizes both conventions: "It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue, but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue" (11. 1-3). She continues in this vein with her analogy between good wines and good plays: "If it be true that good wine needs no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues." From the obvious humility of considering the play no better than a good wine, Rosalind goes even further into the play's folly. It is neither a good epilogue nor a good play: "What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play!" Still, she will not be a beggar on behalf of this foolish play.

Rather she will be true to its title by asking her audience merely to like as much of it as pleases them. Playfully, she suggests that the play, and the pleasure, can be understood in more than one way when she asks that "between you and the women the play may please" "for the love you bear to women." And then comes that most magical moment of all, when Rosalind exposes the play's last and best "feigning" and admits the folly of her pretended womanhood: "If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not." But she is not a woman, in spite of our belief in that most faining, a belief that has ripened almost into love by the magic of Shakespeare's conjuring. She is a boy actor who has been playing a woman playing a young man, and now she is a boy actor again. And so we must bid farewell to her false "case" with the rest of the dramatic illusions. This last piece of dramatic self-criticism is also the best. For it takes us right to the center of the folly and the wisdom of the imaginative contract between the audience and the play. Rosalind's final, literal stripping away of dramatic conventions confirms and celebrates the intricate conventionality of man, in love, in art, in society. Her profound foolishness, like Touchstone's, encourages us to understand how the rituals of any society may contain their most elusive truths. If they are sometimes the "most faining" it is because they are intricately allied to the least.

It is a paradox with Erasmian and Pauline precedent that characters like Bottom and Touchstone stumble forth in Shakespearean comedy to lead us to its profoundest truths. In A Midsummer Night's Dream the lovers are all mad, but they are also divinely mad. In As You Like It the lovers and the poet are all liars, but the audience is gladly fooled. In The Praise of Folie Erasmus cites St. Paul's authority when he reminds us that romantic dreamers and religious visionaries are "nere sybbe" in their madness and in their bliss. Harry Caplan suggests that like other Neoplatonists, Pico della Mirandola knows the possible folly of the imagination. But he also acknowledges its occasional necessity: "Higher faculties … cannot do without it; only let them guide it therefore, and it may act as the lens through which the intellect beholds the truth, it may prove to be the instrument of good prophesy, it may have part in the revelations of faith, and on it, as on wings,...

(The entire section is 51326 words.)

Appearance Vs. Reality

Peter Hyland (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Heroines: Disguise in the Romantic Comedies," in Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 9, No. 2, April, 1978, pp. 23-39.

[In the following excerpt, Hyland emphasizes the metadramatic aspects of As You Like It, highlighted by Rosalind's pretense of being a man in the play.]

Shakespeare clearly saw that to achieve the audience involvement that he wanted he had to allow the disguised heroine to dominate the play; even so, in As You Like It, because he still feels the need to justify the act of disguising he does not bring Ganymede into the play until...

(The entire section is 15436 words.)

Pastoral Elements

Rosalie L. Colie (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Perspectives on Pastoral: Romance, Comic and Tragic," in Shakespeare's Living Art, Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 243-83.

[In the following excerpt, Colie discusses As You Like It from the perspective of the classical pastoral—mixing comedy and tragedy, and recollecting themes of nature versus nurture, art versus nature, and country versus court.]


By the end of the sixteenth century, the pastoral mode embraced many particular genres, offered rich options to writers interested in literary experimentation, particularly in mixed genres, and, furthermore, had...

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The Role Of Women

Margaret Boerner Beckman (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "The Figure of Rosalind in As You Like It," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter, 1978, pp. 44-51.

[In the following essay, Beckman describes Rosalind as a figure who personifies the reconciliation of opposites in As You Like It.]

Toward the end of As You Like It, just before she resolves the plot, the disguised Rosalind tells Orlando:

Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things: I have, since I was three years old, conversed with a magician, most profound in his art and yet not damnable. If you do love Rosalind … it...

(The entire section is 14137 words.)

Further Reading

Bennett, Robert B. "The Reform of a Malcontent: Jaques and the Meaning of As You Like It." Shakespeare Studies IX (1976): 183-204.

Regards Jaques as an essentially benign character whose presence in Arden provides both a needed balance in the forest-court debate and a cynicism to counter the preciousness of the pastoral setting.

Brissenden, Alan. "The Dance in As You Like It and Twelfth Night." Cahiers Elisabethains Ho. 13 (April 1978): 25-34.

Examines Shakespeare's use of dance in As You Like It. Noticing the combination of joy and solemnity following the marriages in Act V, scene iv, Brissenden posits the likelihood of the couples...

(The entire section is 1012 words.)