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Even before he appears on stage, we learn through a report by Duke Senior's men that Jaques is given to a chronic melancholy as they humorously relate how he has pined over the death of a stag that they have merrily shot. When we first see him, Jaques is engaged in lively repartee with the Duke and his followers as they assault his pessimistic airs and he parodies their pretentious rural songs and adopted folkways. There is no reason that Jaques is sad, no tragic circumstance in his background that would explain his negative worldview. We are by his tormentors to look upon his melancholic attitude as an affectation, an assumed posture of cynical boredom. In a play with virtually no dramatic substance, Jaques functions as a foil to its life-affirming characters, most notably, to Rosalind, the heroine who disguise herself as Ganymede and retains hope despite the harsh treatment she (and her father) have received from Duke Frederick. Although urged to return to court with the other members of Duke Senior's party at the end of the play, Jaques refuses. Yet this final negation carries with it the seeds of a prospective change in outlook, for Jaques decides to go to the side of the converted Duke Frederick, asserting that "there is much matter to be heard and learn'd" from those who have undergone a spiritual awakening.

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As You Like It

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