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In Act I, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's As You Like It, Duke Frederick orders his niece, Rosalind, to leave his court. He wrongly accuses her of treason. When his own daughter, Celia, protests the banishment of Rosalind, Frederick responds as follows:
- Frederick She is too subtle for thee; and her smoothness,
Her very silence and her patience,
Speak to the people, and they pity her.
Thou art a fool. She robs thee of thy name;
And thou wilt show more bright and seem more virtuous 485
When she is gone. Then open not thy lips.
Firm and irrevocable is my doom
Which I have pass'd upon her; she is banish'd.
This is a revealing speech for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Frederick is the character who might most reasonably be described as “subtle,” especially if that word suggests a person who is devious and not to be trusted.
- Ironically, in the very act of attacking Rosalind, he calls attention to some of her virtues, including her “patience.”
- The fact that the populace feels “pity” for Rosalind suggests that many people in the dukedom possess a virtue that Frederick himself seems to lack, thus making him seem uncommon in his hard-heartedness.
- The true “fool” in this play is Frederick himself, in the sense that he behaves unreasonably and unwisely.
- By making this kind of decision and speech, Frederick will in the long run be robbing himself of his own “name” or reputation.
- Frederick assumes that his daughter shares his own selfish motivations.
- Frederick believes that Rosalind is a traitor or potential traitor, but he has already proven himself the true traitor in the play by usurping his brother’s dukedom.
- Frederick speaks with an unbending determination that implies his enormous pride – a central sin for Renaissance Christians.
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