What is the role of Jaques in Shakespeare's As You Like It, and why is he important to the plot of the play?

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William Shakespeare’s play As You Like Itcontains the required elements of a traditional romantic comedy, more specifically, a love theme bedeviled by humorous complexities. That being said, there is not much that actually happens in the play, yet Shakespeare brilliantly makes it memorable.

True to the romantic comedy...

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William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It contains the required elements of a traditional romantic comedy, more specifically, a love theme bedeviled by humorous complexities. That being said, there is not much that actually happens in the play, yet Shakespeare brilliantly makes it memorable.

True to the romantic comedy genre, Rosalind and Orlando escape into the beautiful Arden forest to avoid family dilemmas. She fears the Duke who banished her father and he flees into the forest to avoid being assassinated. Other lovers also face dire circumstances brought about by their relationships. Once the family romantic misunderstandings are resolved, everyone reconciles, four couples get married, Rosalind’s father is restored to his throne, and goodness prevails at the court.

Despite the play's thin plot, Shakespeare creates a powerful presentation of several themes including romantic ideals and love, reality and fantasy, and the importance of family to social harmony. He cleverly achieves his dramatic goals, in large part, through his employment of the character Jaques.

Though not a major player in the action of the drama, Jaques is an important commentator on events. He is a member of Duke Senior’s court and a cynical philosopher who represents the stereotypical youth of the Elizabethan era with a jaded outlook on life. This melancholy character shares his tragic sensibility with those he meets. The most important role he serves is to summarize the tension among the lovers seeking to enjoy life in contrast to those who choose to deny their happiness. Jaques envisions life as artificial and pointless. He believes people live their pre-determined, ridiculous, absurd existences.

In his now famous “seven ages of man” speech, Jaques opines:

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.”

Unlike the couples seeking romance and love in the forest and the restoration of their happy lives, Jaques pessimistically describes his seven stages of life from pointless infancy to inevitable old age.

The four couples re-acquire their enjoyable existence, while Jaques opts to go into exile once more. In a sense, the plot's preordained comedic arc exists in an uneasy and unresolved tension with Jaques's subversively cynical view of life. It could even be argued that the lovers' ultimate union fulfills Jaques's vision, for they merely follow their amorous instincts, just as the figures of Jaques's seven stages fulfill their respective instincts.

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In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the character of Jaques is remembered most for his famous ”All the world's a stage" speech, also known as the "seven ages of man" speech.

Jaques isn't important to the plot of the play—nothing of consequence in the play happens because of Jaques—but he serves most effectively as a contrast to the other characters.

Whereas Duke Senior, his followers in the forest of Arden, and those who venture into the forest, like Orlando, Rosalind, and Celia, strive to be happy, Jaques delights in being melancholy. He enjoys feeling miserable.

It's difficult to know if Jaques is truly melancholy or if he simply enjoys the attention that comes with being "melancholy Jaques." Nevertheless, he's assumed the role of the "odd man out," and his melancholy is a characteristic by which he's recognized among the Duke's followers, and, in time, by everyone else in the forest.

Jaques likes to remind other characters about how melancholy he is.

JAQUES. I can suck melancholy
out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs. (2.5.12-13)

ROSALIND. They say you are a melancholy fellow.

JAQUES. I am so; I do love it better than laughing. (4.1.3-4)

Jaques also seems to have studied his own melancholy.

JACQUES. I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the soldier's, which is ambitious; nor the lawyer's, which is politic; nor the lady's, which is nice; nor the lover's, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects: and, indeed, the sundry contemplation of my travels; in which my often rumination wraps me in a most
humorous sadness. (4.1.12-22)

The "melancholy Jaques" is renowned far and wide not only for his sadness but also for his predisposition to "moralize" and philosophize on any occasion to whoever will listen.

DUKE SENIOR. But what said Jaques?
Did he not moralize this spectacle?

FIRST LORD. O, yes, into a thousand similes. (2.1.45-47)

Jaques isn't content to be melancholy on his own. He seems to want to inflict his melancholy on others.

Jacques's "All the world's a stage" speech is a prime example of his unsolicited philosophizing. Duke Senior and his followers are having a meal, and Jaques is regaling his captive audience at length about a "motley fool" who he just met in the forest. The meal is interrupted by Orlando who, with sword drawn, demands food for his ancient servant, Adam.

The kindly Duke Senior invites Orlando and Adam to share their food, and Orlando goes back into the forest to bring Adam to the Duke's table.

While the Duke and his friends are waiting for Orlando to return with Adam, the Duke makes a casual remark to the effect that he and his followers aren't the only unhappy and disenfranchised people in the world.

DUKE SENIOR. Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy;
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in. (2.7.142-145)

This affords Jaques the opportunity to launch into his "seven ages of man speech," and who better to fill the time waiting for Orlando and Adam than Jaques and his philosophizing?

Whether Jaques is truly melancholy or merely playing at being melancholy, by the end of the play, he's decided not to inflict himself any further on his fellow men and women, and he goes to live in a monastery with Duke Frederick. If Jaques is searching for another captive audience, what better place to find one than in a monastery?

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Jaques is one of the main characters in the Shakespeare play As You Like It. He is one of Duke Senior's noblemen who lives with him in the Forest of Arden. Jaques' role in the play is centered more on observation and commentary than action; he provides witty criticism and serves as a negative foil to the happier residents of the Forest of Arden. He also delivers one of Shakespeare's most famous monologues, beginning with "All the world's a stage," which philosophizes about the inevitability of aging and death. Jaques' attitude and worldview stand in sharp contrast to the other characters in the play, who enjoy living in the Forest of Arden; he spends much of the play dwelling on the hardships of life, and frequently criticizes those around him. He is important in the story not because of his actions, because he actually does very little; he is significant to the play primarily because of his role as a pessimistic foil to the other characters.

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