What are the merits and demerits of country life and courtly life as shown in Touchstone's and Corin's debate in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's As You Like It?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 3, Scene 2, Touchstone and Corin have a debate about the virtues of country life vs. courtly life. Touchstone argues that country life is nice because it is out of doors, solitary, and simple, but also argues that country life is worthless because it is a shepherd's life, and shepherds in his mind are dirty and uneducated; it's also worthless because it does not offer the same society as can be found in court nor does it offer the "plenty" found at court, such as the lavish feasts.

In contrast, Corin argues one can have everything one needs in the country, such as "money, means, and content[ment]," meaning money to earn through work, work to do, and happiness (III.ii.24-25). He further argues that one can learn everything one needs through nature, such as what rain does, what fire is used for, and when it is nighttime.

Finally, Touchstone also argues that those in the country have not learned "good manners," which refers not only to the way to properly conduct one's self but also to good morals (41; Shakespeare Navigators). Hence, Touchstone is also arguing that one thing lacking in country life that can only be found in courtly life is good manners and moral conduct. However, Corin actually proves the absurdity of Touchstone's argument by pointing out that manners which are necessary in the country would actually be ridiculous at court, while the manners that are appreciated at court would be unsanitary in the country, as we see in his lines:

You told me you salute not at the court, but you kiss you hands: that courtesy would be uncleanly, if courtiers were shepherds. (48-51)

All in all, while Touchstone fails to prove that courtly life is better than country life, the scene certainly does show that some differences are with respect to society, education, and manners.

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As You Like It

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