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Analysis of the roles and philosophies of Jaques and Touchstone in As You Like It

Summary:

In As You Like It, Jaques and Touchstone offer contrasting perspectives on life. Jaques is a melancholic philosopher who reflects on the futility and absurdity of human existence, often providing a cynical view. Touchstone, the court jester, uses humor and wit to navigate social norms and expose human folly, embodying a more pragmatic and lighthearted approach to life's challenges.

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Compare and contrast the characters Jaques and Touchstone in As You Like It.

Both Jaques and Touchstone are fools, but in different ways. Touchstone is an official fool, a jester at the court of Duke Frederick. But he is a very witty, intelligent man, someone who displays a good deal of wisdom. (He may be a court jester, but he's certainly no buffoon.) And his earthy, somewhat cynical view of love provides a nice contrast to the lushly romantic courtship of Rosalind and Orlando.

In common with many of Shakespeare's fools, Touchstone provides the audience with a commentary on proceedings, giving us insights into the action from beneath a veil of humor. It's important, then, for Touchstone to be intelligent and wise, as we need to gain a disinterested perspective on things. Touchstone is a mordant critic of society with all its strange conventions and myriad absurdities. But because his critique is delivered with good humor and wit, we feel sympathy for the characters rather than contempt. Touchstone is a gentle mocker of society, not its avowed destroyer.

In the person of Jaques, we're dealing with a very different kind of character altogether. Like Touchstone, he is a fool, albeit not an official one. Although he certainly seems to have ambitions in that regard:

"O that I were a fool!/I am ambitious for a motley coat." (Act II Scene VII).

Jaques, like Touchstone, is also something of a social critic, but his whole way of looking at the world is radically different. Though rather cynical when it comes to matters of love, Touchstone is a cheerful soul with a sunny, optimistic outlook on life. Jaques couldn't be more different. He isn't called "The Melancholy Jaques" for nothing. Whereas Touchstone is only really cynical about love, Jaques is cynical about pretty much everything. He is also a completely inert character, prone to endless contemplation. If Hamlet spends much of the play brooding before finally doing something, Jaques just broods.

Jaques' function in the play is also different to Touchstone's. He provides a touch of shade to the bright, dream-like world of the Forest of Arden, acting as a reminder that, ultimately, all joys are mortal.

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Compare and contrast the characters Jaques and Touchstone in As You Like It.

In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the characters of Jacques and Touchstone  could be said to be mirror images of one another. They both play the role of the fool; they both receive attention for their musings and pronouncements, yet they represent different aspects of the same character. Touchstone is lightly mocking; he sees the humor in everything and he works that to his advantage. He is self-consciously witty, and his obvious attempts to be funny tend to lift the spirits of those around him.  He is a good foil for Rosalind, who can use him (as well as poor lovesick Orlando) to practice her verbal skills and sharpen her wit. 

In contrast to Touchstone, Jacques is funny inadvertently; he does not even realize it. He is so caught up in the twists and turns of his own mind that he cannot see the humor in things, which, ironically, makes him a comic character. Shakespeare does give Jacques one of the best speeches in the play and one of his most famous - the "all the world's a stage" speech.  Jacques's character is given to melancholy, and when he and Touchstone are together they play off one another's different styles and create a kind of balance between the ridiculous and the sublime.k

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What is the significance of Jaques and Touchstone in As You Like It?

Jaques and Touchstone have similar purposes in one regard in As You Like It, but have very different purposes in another regard. First, they have similar purposes in that, though of different backgrounds and stations in life, both serve as diversion and amusement for the principle characters attached to them. Jaques, though a lord in exile with Duke Senior, diverts the Duke with his melancholy and with his wordy witticisms--the wit of some of which he may be unaware.

On the other hand, though Touchstone similarly provides amusement and the diversion from word play for the royals he serves (first at court and still in the Forest of Arden), he has always had the lowly station the court jester in motley (multi-colored clothes) as the Shakespearean Fool. The major difference between the Shakespearean Fool and Clown, aside from being urban and rural, respectively, is that the Fool intends to make word play and be witty whereas the Clown does so unintentionally by accident rather than by choice. By this part of the definition, Jaques might reasonably considered to be fulfilling the office of accidental country Clown for Duke Senior's group of pastoral exiles.

The major difference in their purposes is that Touchstone, whether he wants to or not, whether by design or by accident, reflects back the worth and truth, if there be any, of the person conversing with him, whereas Jaques provides an alternate point of view about the pastoral life of the exiles in Arden. First, a touchstone (a geologic stone) is so named because when gold or silver is rubbed on it a distinctive mark is left behind that identifies the true nature of the metal. This was quite important in eras where metals of inferior origins were passed off as gold and silver. Similarly, Touchstone's conversations with other characters display the worth of their points of view and their beliefs. A good example is Touchstone's conversation with the old shepherd, Corin, in which the truth and sincere simplicity of Corin's believes is made evident since Touchstone can't offer an opinion, witty or otherwise, that can stand up to Corin's statements.

Jaques' melancholy spirit and gloomy conversation, on the other hand, stand as alternatives to the prevalent points of view in the play. All the other characters, except perhaps Touchstone, are all delighted with the pastoral life and the life of simplicity in Arden, which includes the deposed Duke Senior and his exiled lords. However, as a good example of his purpose, Jaques disagrees with the exiles' belief that the forest creatures, such as the deer, are there to provide food for them and that the death of a deer is a sad but necessary event. Jaques presses the point that the exiles are exerting the same rule of order that drove them into exile, the law of "right by power." In the end, Jaques yields to his view of life and chooses to explore exiling himself into a truly pastoral monastic life.

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What is the significance of Jaques and Touchstone in As You Like It?

These characters all serve a purpose in the play and it would be difficult to imagine As You Like It without them. Jacques is a melancholy philosopher, a character type who is often seen in Shakespeare's comedies, who lends an air of cynicism and stark reality to situations that might otherwise be romanticized. Jacques has been living in the Forest of Arden in exile with the Duke, and so serves as a kind of guide to life in the forest when the visitors from court arrive.

Touchstone, the court's "fool" who accompanies Rosalind and Celia on their journey to the Forest of Arden, adds a comic flair, with his efforts to find the humor in every situation. He is knowledgeable of the ways of the court, which he takes pleasure in being part of, but also mocks it when the occasion suits him. Still, he finds the forest and its rural inhabitants charming, and he woos the country wench Audrey.

Audrey is uneducated and claims to not understand many of the words Touchstone uses, but she serves as a character who reminds us of the simple pleasures of life in nature, and provides a sort of bridge between the worlds of the court and the forest. Her decision to marry Touchstone and return to court with him is symbolic of the influence that the ways of the forest have had on the travelers who spend time there, and its lasting impact upon their lives.

The idea that these characters might be "unimportant" lies in the fact that they are relatively minor characters. However, in many of Shakespeare's plays, minor characters are some of the most memorable ones, and often say remarkable things or inspire curiosity. Sometimes they are even the subject of their own stories, as when Tom Stoppard wrote the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which imagines what takes place in the world of these very minor characters in Hamlet). Sometimes minor characters have memorable speeches; think of Mercutio babbling about Queen Mab in Romeo and Juliet. Jacques' "seven ages of man" soliloquy in this play is one of the most famous passages in all of Shakespeare's work.

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What is the significance of Jaques and Touchstone in As You Like It?

Jacques is the harbor of negativity, the one to deplete the joy of life, the black hole, pessimistic, and depressive man whom Orlando and Rosalind detest so much, as well as everyone else who comes across him.

His role in the story is interesting because his behavior is often what is expected of life: To hope for the best by expecting the worst, to never believe in fantasies, and so on.

However it is his behavior what reinforces the positive and fantastic behavior of everyone around him. In the end he is an isolated soul who tries to bring everyone with him in his quest to suck the life out of everything, yet, it is this exact sort of thing what makes the characters around him even stronger. This is why when we read the comedy, we can feel the strength of the good emotions to be more evident than the negativity embodied in Jacques.

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Compare Touchstone and Jaques as philosophers in Act 2 of As You Like It.

This is a difficult concept to analyze and compare. First, you have to agree that Touchstone is a philosopher, then you have to see what is similar or different between Jaques' and Touchstone's approaches to philosophy. To start the process, let's see what Jaques thinks of Touchstone. He quotes what Touchstone says about time to Duke Senior:

JAQUES

... When I did hear
The motley fool thus moral on the time,
My lungs began to crow like chanticleer,
 

["[M]otley fool" refers to Touchstone. "[C]hanticleer" is a literary allusion to the rooster called Chauntecleer in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales ("The Nun's Priest's Tale") who was renowned for his marvelous crow. Jaques is saying is laugh was as loud and long as a rooster's morning crow.]

Jaques makes it clear here that he thinks of Touchstone as a moralizer, an analytical opinion I am inclined to share. A philosopher and a moralizer are not the same thing; one addresses questions about what is right, the other, theorizes about life:

  • moralizer: someone who makes moral pronouncements; someone who interprets or explains things in a moral sense about what is right; right and wrong (Collins Dictionary)
  • philosopher: someone who speculates about causes or theorizes or reasons about questions of life (Random House Dictionary)

So, according to Jaques, Touchstone is a moralizer, talking about right and wrong, wisdom and folly: [Touchstone] "so is all nature in love mortal in folly." Basically, a moralizer thinks about one small part of all the things a philosopher thinks about. Jaques, a philosopher, declares he wants to be a motley fool moralizer too and tell all people about the right and wrong they do--well--mostly he wants to tell them about the wrong they do.

... give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will ...
Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,

While there may be disagreement about whether Touchstone is indeed a philosopher, let's for the moment say he is: For the moment, we agree Touchstone is a philosopher. What in the text compares the kind of philosopher Jaques is to the kind Touchstone is? Each has a speech about humankind's progress through life's cycle of time. Let's compare these. Touchstone's speech is reliably reported through Jaques as he tells Duke Senior about it:

Jaques

[reporting Touchstone's words]
"... from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;"

Touchstone's short philosophical argument describes life as an hour by hour process of first ripening into our prime age followed then by rotting into old age: "Thereby hangs a tale."

Jaques' more eloquent and detailed philosophical argument describes life as the seven acts of a player on a stage [the stage/theater metaphor was first introduced by Duke Senior, then given elaboration by Jaques]. Jaques describes each stage by characteristics such as sounds made: the baby voices "mewling"; the school-child, "whining"; the soldier "strange oaths"; the old man, "wise saws"; the second childhood age is "sans" sounds, "sans everything."

Let's compare these two as philosophers. Touchstone gets right straight to the point without poetical images or words: we rot. Jaques reaches the same conclusion, that we end up "sans everything," but he defines specific stages and describes characteristics of each stage while retaining a distinct picture of humanity though in a downward spiral to "mere oblivion." You might say that while Touchstone seeks shock value and a laugh, Jaques seeks an emotional commonality, a sentimental reaction and a sense of the tragic in man's life. 

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