What contrasts can be seen between the two characters Phebe and Audrey in Shakespeare's As You Like It?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are definitely many contrasts between Phebe and Audrey. One significant contrast is their level of intelligence. Phebe has the ability to not only understand figurative language but even to respond by using it. The first example we see of her intellectual abilities is in Act 3, Scene 5 when Silvius likens Phebe to an executioner, saying that she is even crueler than an executioner because at least executioners beg God's pardon before dropping the axe, but Phebe looks on more sternly at the one she is killing than an executioner. Phebe not only has enough intellect to understand such poetic language, she even responds by saying she has no interest in being his executioner but rather wants to escape him. She even creates her own hyperbole when saying that her "frail," "soft" eyes that he calls murderous are now frowning at him with all their might and declaring, "if mine eyes can wound, now let them kill thee" (III.v.16). We even see examples of Phebe's intelligence in the poem she writes to Ganymede.

In contrast, Audrey is far too simple minded to be able to understand figurative language as evidenced by the fact she barely understands a word Touchstone says. One classic example can be seen when Touchstone asks Audrey if his "simple features content [her]," which is to ask if she can like his plain looks (III.iii.4). Audrey's nonsensical reply is, "Your features! Lord warrant us! what features?" (5-6). We'll never really know what Audrey thinks Touchstone means by the word "feature," but we do know that due to her simplicity she has misunderstood him to the point of feeling alarmed. We see her alarm in her use of the exclamation point plus in the phrase "Lord warrant us," which is a way of saying Lord, or Heaven, help us. Perhaps she mistook the word "feature" for "creatures"? (Shakespeare Navigators).

A second significant difference between Phebe and Audrey are their personality types. As Rosalind disguised as Ganymede points out, Phebe is excessively vain, proud, and cruel. She is so vain, proud, and cruel that she rejects Sivlius even though she really doesn't have a great deal going for her, lacks beauty, and is very unlikely to receive another offer of love and marriage. In great contrast, Audrey is very obliging. She very quickly accepts Touchstone's proposal even though she is also being courted by William. In addition, when she does reject William, we see her saying nothing crueler when Touchstone tells William to leave than the line, "Do, good William" (V.i.58).

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As You Like It

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