By Charles Matthews

Sunday, March 20, 2011

3. As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, pp. 29-59

As You Like It (The Arden Shakespeare)Act II

Scene I 

The Duke Senior's speech at the opening of this scene presents a variety of interpretive possibilities for anyone staging As You Like It. It's the scene that introduces the audience to the exiled court, and the ideas and attitudes it advances are worth observing closely. First, the duke announces (via a rhetorical question) that "old custom" has "made this life more sweet / Than that of painted pomp." Already we are confronted with an ambiguity:  By "old custom" does the duke mean that they have been there long enough to grow accustomed to the pastoral lifestyle? Or does "old custom" mean something like "traditional wisdom," i.e., that the pastoral life has traditionally been regarded as sweeter than than the artificialities of courtly life?

He then asks, again rhetorically, "Are not these woods / More free from peril than the envious court?" The implication is that the serpents and lions to be encountered in the forest are less noxious than the backbiting and intrigue that drove him and his followers from the court. It's easy enough to assent to the proposition, although one reading of the play is that the duke severely underestimates the perils of the forest, as shown by the eagerness with which he and his followers return to the court once he is reinstated.

Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons' difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say
"This is no flattery. These are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am." 
Agnes Latham's note on "the penalty of Adam" argues that "feel we not" means "we are none the worse for" being exposed to the changing seasons, not that they are literally immune to it. But even if we take the duke at his word that they don't suffer harm from the harshness of the weather -- because they take it as a moral lesson -- the speech nonetheless reminds us that they are exposed to it. That wind has a real bite. Moreover, the reference to "the penalty of Adam" (which as one who has just read Paradise Lost I'm well aware of) underscores the fact that Arden is not Eden. The harsh weather provides "counsellors" that remind him that he is fallen, sinful man. And the reference to Adam will shortly be underscored by the entrance of a starving old man named Adam, near death. This somewhat contradicts the cheerful moralizing of the duke:
Sweet are the uses of adversity, 
Which like the toad, ugly and venemous, 
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head; 
And this our life, exempt from public haunt, 
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, 
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
"Good in everything?" Isn't that more than a bit naïve? Arden is a real garden with real toads in it. So is the duke a Pollyanna or a realist? One approach to the speech is that he's a leader trying to buck up his somewhat worn-down followers, that he doesn't really believe what he's saying, but just working on morale boosting. That's something that the director of the play needs to decide. How much of the harsher side of Arden are we to see? Some even go so far as to give the play a wintry setting, emphasizing the hardship, though it's hard to do that when the characters will soon be banqueting on the fruits of the land.

This is also a speech in prelude to a hunt: "Come, shall we go and kill us venison?" There again, the duke grows sentimental about shooting the deer, which serves to introduce us to "the melancholy Jaques," whom the First Lord and Amiens have recently seen moralizing over a wounded stag. In fact, what Jaques sees in the healthy flock's shunning of their hurt companion is an analogue to court life:
                                           "Ay," quoth Jaques,
"Sweep on you fat and greasy citizens,
'Tis just the fashion. Wherefore do you look
Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there?"
Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse,
To fright the animals and kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place.
In other words, Jaques sees scant difference between court and forest: They have been usurped from court and now they usurp the home of the forest creatures. Notice, too, that in reporting the lesson Jaques has learned from nature, the First Lord uses the phrase "this our life," which the duke has just spoken in his addres on the uses of adversity. It's as if Shakespeare is reminding the audience that his story has a relevance to real life.

The duke, of course, is eager to find Jaques in one of his "sullen fits, / For then he's full of matter." But does he want to mock Jaques or learn from him?

Scene II

Back to the court for a moment, where Duke Frederick has just discovered that his daughter has run away, taking not only Rosalind but also Touchstone with her. And a gentlewoman named Hisperia has said that she overheard Celia and Rosalind talking about Orlando, "And she believes wherever they are gone / That youth is surely in their company." She believes wrongly, of course, but that doesn't matter. The duke sends people to look for Orlando, and if they don't find him at home to bring Oliver: "I'll make him find him." Things don't look so good for either brother.

Scene III

Of course, they look worse for Orlando at the moment. He runs into Adam, who is surprised to see him. He tells Orlando that all his virtues -- being "gentle, strong, and valiant" -- are being held against him. That is, Oliver is insanely jealous of Orlando's popularity, which has only increased with his victory over Charles. "O what a world is this, when what is comely / Envenoms him that bears it!" Oliver is so jealous that "this night he means / To burn the lodging where you use to lie, / And you within it. If he fail of that, / He willhave other means to cut you off."

The threat only serves to make Orlando angry. He vows not to run away: "I rather will subject me to the malice / Of a diverted blood and bloody brother." But Adam persuades him otherwise. He has saved up five hundred crowns -- which is half of what Sir Rowland bequeathed to Orlando -- and proposes to give it to Orlando if he'll take him along as his servant. He insists that clean living has made him "strong and lusty" in his old age. Orlando is touched, but warns Adam "thou prun'st a rotten tree, / That cannot so much as a blossom yield, / In lieu of all thy pains and husbandry." Still, he agrees to take Adam with him and go somewhere where they can live simply: "We'll light upon some settled low content." Adam has a twinge of nostalgia: He came to service at Sir Rowland's when he was seventeen, and now he's "almost fourscore," but he's convinced that "fortune cannot recompense me better / Than to die well, and not my master's debtor."

Scene IV 

The disguised Rosalind and Celia, accompanied by Touchstone, have reached the forest. They're exhausted, but Rosalind is determined to do her best, especially since she's supposed to be a man and "comfort the weaker vessel" -- i.e., Celia, who is still dressed as a woman -- "as doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat." In Shakespeare's theater it would be a lovely moment of sexual confusion: a woman dressed as a man, comforting a woman, both of them played by boys, talking about how the only essential difference in their roles is that one of them wears "doublet and hose" and the other a "petticoat." Clothes literally make the man.

The three of them watch as two shepherds enter "in solemn talk." The young one, Silvius, is conventionally love-struck, "as true a lover / As ever sigh'd upon a midnight pillow." Corin, the elder, tells Silvius that he, too, has experienced the pangs of love that draw Silvius into "actions most ridiculous," but he has "forgotten" them. Silvius takes this as evidence that Corin couldn't possibly have been in love as "heartily" as he is, and that he couldn't have "sat as I do now, / Wearying thy hearer in thy mistress' praise" or "broke from company / Abruptly as my passion now makes me," whereupon he runs off crying, "O Phebe, Phebe, Phebe!" As so often in Shakespeare, love is a kind of contest to see who can go craziest. It also echoes the first scene between Rosalind and Celia, in which Celia argues that Rosalind doesn't love her as much as she does Rosalind.

The only one who takes Silvius completely seriously here is Rosalind, who observes, "Alas, poor shepherd, searching of thy wound, / I have by hard adventure found mine own." Touchstone, naturally, reduces Silvius's passion to its absurdity by likening it to his wooing Jane Smile by kissing the cow's udder that she had milked and giving her a peascod token.

Celia interrupts the conversation between Rosalind and Touchstone to remind them that she's starving. So Touchstone calls out to Corin, "Holla, you clown!" which earns a rebuke from Rosalind, "Peace fool, he's not thy kinsman." She asks Corin if there's a place where they can rest and eat, and he tells her that he's "shepherd to another man" who is in the process of selling "his cote, his flocks, and bounds of feed," and that Silvius is planning to buy the "flock and pasture." Rosalind pre-empts Silvius, saying that she and Celia will buy them. Celia adds, "And we will mend thy wages. I like this place, / And willingly could waste my time in it." ("Waste" just means "spend" here, but the contemporary meaning still echoes: Celia is a child of the city and the court who will just be playacting in her role as a country squire.) They go off to complete the transaction.

Scene V

Amiens sings "Under the greenwood tree" for Jaques, who is indulging his melancholy with music. The song recapitulates one of the themes of the duke's act-opening speech: "Here shall he see / No enemy, / But winter and rough weather." Jaques begs for more music: "I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs." (That's one of those images that remind us of Shakespeare's rural upbringing, and always seem to me one of the things that make it so unlikely that the Earl of Oxford could have written the play.)

This is our first direct encounter with Jaques, and it's the moment for the actor to make us aware of the character. He is witty and self-indulgent, and likes to be in control of the discourse: When Amiens tells him that the duke has been looking for him all day, Jaques replies that he's been avoiding him. "He is too disputable for my company" -- Jaques wants to talk rather than listen to someone else talk. Amiens, accompanied by the "others" supplied by the stage directions, sings another stanza about "Who doth ambition shun / And loves to live i' th' sun," with the same refrain about "winter and rough weather." And then Jaques reveals that he has composed his own verse for the song:
If it do come to pass 
     That any man turn ass, 
Leaving his wealth and ease, 
     A stubborn will to please, 
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame, 
     Here shall he see 
     Gross fools as he, 
And if he will come to me.
It's a pointedly unsentimental comment on the plight the exiles find themselves in. Amiens naturally bites on the obvious problem, as scholars have done ever since: "What's that 'ducdame'?" Jaques replies, "'Tis a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle." And any director who hasn't arranged the actors in a circle around Jaques has missed the joke. Meanwhile, the picnic for the duke has been prepared, so Amiens goes to call him while Jaques goes off to take a nap -- or to "rail against all the first-born of Egypt" if he isn't allowed to sleep.

Orlando and Adam have reached the forest, but Adam is, like Celia, famished. Or more so, since he is prepared to die and bids Orlando farewell. Orlando tries to cheer him up and hurries off, with some real sense of urgency, to find food.

The duke and company enter for their picnic, and the duke comments on how he has been unable to find Jaques. The First Lord says he was just there, listening to music, which surprises the duke that so discordant a fellow ("compact of jars") should be interested in music: "We shall shortly have discord in the spheres." He sends for Jaques, but unnecessarily, for Jaques himself enters, in a mood of hilarity. He has "met a fool i' th' forest," and now thinks it would be wonderful to be a fool himself. He quotes some of Touchstone's witticisms, and pleads for "a motley coat" for himself, which the duke is perfectly willing to give him. But Jaques will turn fool only on condition that he has liberty to speak his mind freely, to mock anyone he pleases, as the traditional licensed fool did.
And they that are most galled with my folly,
They most must laugh. And why sir must they so?
The why is plain as way to parish church.
He that a fool doth very wisely hit
Doth very foolishly, although he smart,
Not to seem senseless of the bob. If not,
The wiseman's folly is anatomiz'd
Even by the squand'ring glances of the fool.
Invest me in my motley. Give me leave
To speak my mind, and I will through and through
Cleanse the foul body of th'infected world,
If they will patiently receive my medicine.
This probably needs a little explication: Jacques insists that if you find yourself the target of a fool's jibe, it's best to laugh at it, to pretend that you're not stung by the attack, even if you are. If you show offense, it means that the fool is right in attacking you. The fool may, after all, just be flinging out random jibes. If Jaques were a licensed fool, he says, his attacks would purge the world of its ills, as long as people have patience to listen to what he's saying.

But the duke is no fan of satire, and thinks that a knowledge of sin reveals that the satirist is himself a sinner. Jaques retorts that sins such as pride "flow as hugely as the sea." If he says that "the city-woman bears / The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders," he doesn't mean that any one particular woman is unworthy of her expensive clothing, but that anyone who dresses expensively and ostentatiously is guilty of the sin of pride. Only those who are not guilty of the offense have any right to protest.

But this dispute is interrupted by Orlando, who enters with his sword drawn and orders them to stop eating. Jaques protests that he hasn't even started eating -- characteristically he is unfazed by this surprise interruption. When the duke wonders at Orlando's lack of civility, he begins to apologize for his entrance, but still insists that no one eat any of the fruit "Till I and my affairs are answered." Jaques is undaunted still: "And you will not be answered with reason, I must die." Latham treats this as the usual Elizabethan quibble, "reason/raisin," which it may well be, and the actor may nibble from a bunch of grapes to make the point, but it also emphasizes Jaques's unflappability.

When the duke invites him to "sit down and feed," Orlando caves, begs their pardon, and lays down his sword, then excuses himself to go fetch Adam. While he's gone, the duke observes, "we are not all alone unhappy," which is his usual optimistic spin on things, and then adds. "This wide and universal theatre / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in." Cue Jaques's "All the world's a stage" speech. This is such a set-piece, so much like an operatic aria in its discrete relationship to the rest of the play that you have to wonder if it was something Shakespeare had written and saved for the right context. Its characterization of the seven ages of man has been so much commented on -- it serves as the outline for Jonathan Bate's Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare, among other things -- that it doesn't need to be commented-on here. In any case, it is followed by the arrival by a representative of the third age, the lover Orlando, who will soon be "Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress' eyebrow," and a representative of the sixth, "the lean and slipper'd pantaloon," who is in danger of slipping into the seventh, "mere oblivion," unless Orlando can get some food into Adam right away.

Which he does, and the act ends with Amiens singing once again about harsh weather -- "Blow, blow, thou winter wind" -- and "man's ingratitude." But somehow we are made to feel that things will turn out all right and that "This life is most jolly."
From the televised performance at the 1982 Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Orlando: Andrew Gillies; Adam: Mervyn Blake; Oliver: Stephen Russell; Dennis: Nicholas Colicos; Charles: Jefferson Mappin; Rosalind: Roberta Maxwell; Celia: Rosemary Dunsmore; Touchstone: Lewis Gordon; Le Beau: Keith Dinicol; Duke Frederick: Graeme Campbell; Duke Senior: William Needles; Amiens: John Novak; First Forest Lord: Thomas Hauff; Second Forest Lord: Michael Shepherd; First Lord to Duke Frederick: Steve Yorke; Second Lord to Duke Frederick: Peter Zednick; Corin: ?; Silvius: John Jarvis; Jaques: Nicholas Pennell

Kenneth Branagh's 2006 film of As You Like It features Kevin Kline as Jaques

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