What is the contrast between Touchstone and Audrey in Shakespeare's As You Like It?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One significant difference between Touchstone the court jester and Audrey the simple shepherdess is their intellect. Touchstone has enough of a courtly education to qualify as a court jester. Court jesters must be significantly intelligent and educated to be able to make their witticisms, especially their plays on words. In contrast, Audrey was born and raised in the country and is completely uneducated.

We see their contrast in intellect in the very first scene in which we meet Audrey, Act 3, Scene 3. Here, Touchstone asks Audrey if his "simple feature," meaning plain looks, please her well enough. Audrey responds by being alarmed at the mention of features. It's not really clear what being an uneducated country girl she thinks the word "feature" means, but we do know she is showing comic alarm here, as we see in her line, "Your features! Lord warrant us! what features?" (III.iii.5-6). Perhaps she has understand the word "feature" to mean "creature" and is looking for protection from unknown "creatures" (Shakespeare Navigators).

We further see evidence of the contrast in the two characters' education in Touchstone's next speech in which he likens himself to the poet Ovid, as we see in his lines:

I am here with thee and thy goats,
as the most capricious poet, honest, Ovid,
was among the Goths. (7-9)

Touchstone's joke in these lines is multifaceted. First, he likens himself to the poet Ovid using the word capricious, which means "ingenious" and "witty," two terms that describe both Touchstone and Ovid. However, the word capricious also means "whimsical," meaning spontaneous, and "unreasonable," meaning irrational, both of which are things that describe Touchstone for wanting to marry Audrey. His decision to marry her was most certainly spontaneous; it is also most certainly irrational considering how completely different the two characters are (Shakespeare Navigators). In addition, the Latin root word of capricious is caper, meaning "he-goat," and one understanding of being "goatish" is being "lustful" or "lecherous," implying that Touchstone has purely sexual reasons for wanting to marry Audrey (Random House Dictionary; Shakespeare Navigators). Finally, Ovid the sensual love poet, was also known to be exiled from Rome to live among the Goths, or Eastern Germans, by the Black Sea. In Shakespearean, Goth would be pronounced very much like goat; hence, when Touchstone says that he is here with Audrey among her goats, just as Ovid was among the Goths, he is implying that, just like Ovid, he is among the barbarians (Shakespeare Navigators). Hence, all in three lines, Touchstone is making references to both his sexuality and the fact that he is suffering himself to remain among barbarians, rather than being at court, all for the sake of satisfying his sexuality. Plus the mere fact that he can imply all of this in merely three lines proves just what an educated wit he is, unlike uneducated Audrey.

Therefore, we see from just this opening exchange that a significant difference between Touchstone and Audrey is their upbringing, intellect, and education.

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As You Like It

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