As You Like It The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As You Like It
by William Shakespeare

As You Like It book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download As You Like It Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Shakespearean Criticism)

The Doubled Jaques and Constructions of Negation in As
You Like It

Cynthia Marshall, Rhodes College

So thoroughly does Shakespeare's work encompass our sense of textual possibility that even his apparent missteps take on interest and meaning. The Fool's unexplained disappearance from King Lear, for instance, has famously come to serve as an emblem of Shakespeare's writerly economy—-a character, disappears when no further use exists for him—and has been formally linked with the king's own descent into a Foolish view of things.1 Yet, as psychoanalysis tells us, the structure of language itself has a capacity to open up crevices in a surface of meaning, to trick a wily practitioner into showing a hand he may not realize he holds, so that "mistakes" may serve as pathways to recesses within the text. Jacques Derrida has alerted us to the paradoxical way that a "trace" or "track in the text" both testifies to authorial presence and erases the writer's authority as point of origin.2

The particular "misstep" here begins with an issue most teachers of As You Like It have faced: the inclusion of two characters named Jaques in the dramatis personae. It is not entirely accurate to say that the two are "in the play," since only one, the melancholy Jaques who serves Duke Senior, is addressed by name in the course of the action. The other, Orlando and Oliver's brother Jaques de Boys, is identified in the Folio text as "Second Brother" when he appears in the closing moments of Act 5. But because Orlando has referred to "my brother Jaques" (1.1.5) in the opening speech, Jaques de Boys exists as a palpable source of confusion for readers and viewers, haunting the play as a kind of double for the melancholy Jaques.3 Or, as I will argue, it is more precisely the melancholy Jaques who serves as a double, standing in for the absent second son of Sir Rowland de Boys. In a play so intimately concerned with names and with substitutions, this elliptical blocking of an absent Jaques with a present one provides a signal instance, of the symbol's capacity to compensate for loss. But Jaques is not just any symbol, nor does he have just a garden variety of uncanny textual effect. Rather, the requirement of a melancholy Jaques, so crucial to the play's emotional equilibrium, testifies to an undertow of sadness in it that is brilliantly held at bay by a Shakespearean game of Fort/Da, and thus Jaques reveals how the carefully managed relation between melancholy affect and textual representation enables this comedy to function.

Psychoanalysis may seem extraneous in relation to so balanced a work as As You Like It, but the nature of textual equilibrium here and elsewhere is part of my interest. The Freudian Fort/Da has stood at the center of debates about the purpose and meaning of psychoanalysis—roughly speaking, about its status as either a structural or poststructural discourse. My essay situates itself on this divide, reading the constructions of negation in Shakespeare's comedy as evincing a compensatory principle that brings about a satisfying harmony and closure to the play, but also finding in the play's traces of melancholy a pathway that leads toward the eroding consequences of cultural repressions. Using the psychoanalytic concept of negation to probe the structure of As You Like It and some of its particular fixations, this essay will show that the unconstrained gender play in Arden (which has received a great deal of critical attention in recent years) as well as other sorts of liberty exhibited within the play are linked to the presence of the melancholy Jaques. But while my argument takes its cue from the doubleness of Jaques, I do not focus on him as a character; indeed because he wears a melancholic mask, I see him as largely unavailable in terms of characterological depth.4 My concern instead is with Jaques as the most obvious example of the structural and linguistic compensations the play repeatedly makes. I aim to extend the classic understanding of the...

(The entire section is 10,132 words.)