As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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As You Like It | Act 2, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

The scene opens in the forest with Amiens singing a verse about the simple pleasures of the forest, where "Here shall he see/No enemy/But winter and rough weather." When Jaques entreats him to continue, Amiens warns that it will make him melancholy. Jaques is all for it, proclaiming that "I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs." Amiens tries to beg off, claiming his "voice is ragged" and the singing won't be pleasant. Nonetheless, Jaques insists. Amiens relents but asks the party of assembled gentlemen to prepare a picnic ("banquet") under a tree for Duke Senior, who has been looking for Jaques all day.

Jaques admits that he's been avoiding Duke Senior, who is "too disputable for my company. I think of as many matters as he, but I give heaven thanks and make no boast of them." Amien and the ensemble continue the song, singing to anyone "Who doth ambition shun/And loves to live i' th' sun,/Seeking the food he eats/And pleased with what he gets,/Come hither, come hither, come hither." Jaques then proposes his own verse to the song. He parodies himself and the other lords who have followed Duke Senior into the forest, calling them "gross fools" for leaving their "wealth and ease/A stubborn will to please." Amiens then departs to find Duke Senior, as the banquet is ready.

Analysis

The theme of court life versus life in the country colors this scene, with the pastoral songs underpinning the superiority of country life. In the country there is no enemy but the weather, in contrast with the many enemies one must face at court. The second song calls on a certain type of person to come to the country: a person who doesn't care much for work but prefers to lay around in the sun; a person with simple tastes who is happy to hunt for and eat whatever meager meal comes to hand. Never mind that hunting for food can actually be hard work and might not be all that appealing to a person "who doth ambition shun." The songs idealize the country life to show it in its best light; after all the exiled singers have no choice but to live in the country, so they try to make the best of it.

Naturally, sourpuss Jaques must poke holes in this whitewashing of the country life. His made-up verse to the song strikes the opposite note, pointing out the reality that life was a lot easier at court and that they were all, basically, stupid for leaving. The fact that Jaques has been avoiding Duke Senior hints that he is not as enamored of the duke now as he was when they first came to the Forest of Arden. It was to please Duke Senior's "stubborn will" that Jaques gave up his life of ease, a move that he may regret now—or at least one that he sees now as foolish. Jaques may be somewhat deluded in his own view of himself, however. He complains that Duke Senior enjoys debates or arguments too much, and says that he is just as full of deep thoughts as Duke Senior but that he refrains from oversharing those thoughts (he "make[s] no boast of them"). This is rather like the pot calling the kettle black given Jaques's reputation for rambling on endlessly.

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