As You Like It | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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As You Like It | Act 2, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

Duke Senior and the First Lord look for Jaques, who shows up just at that moment. Jaques excitedly announces that he has met a fool (Touchstone) in the forest, who was complaining of his bad fortune and philosophizing about time. "From hour to hour we ripe and ripe,/And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,/And thereby hangs a tale," said the fool, much to Jaques's delight, who laughed nonstop for an hour. Jaques praises the fool for his witty observations and strange way of putting things.

"O, that I were a fool!/I am ambitious for a motley coat," Jaques declares. Duke Senior says that he shall have one, but Jaques places conditions on this. Namely, that Duke Senior must rid himself of any idea that Jaques is wise and that Jaques must always be free to target whomever he chooses, as a fool is generally given leave to do. Duke Senior objects that since Jaques himself has been a libertine, he is hardly in a position to lecture others on morality. Jaques reasons that he would lecture no one in particular but only speak generally on sins such as pride, and that any person who objected must surely be guilty of the sin.

Orlando bursts in, brandishing his sword, and orders the entire party to stop eating immediately. Duke Senior reprimands him, asking whether his actions are driven by distress or if he is simply being rude. Orlando admits that his situation is dire and that he is desperate for food. Duke Senior graciously invites him to dine with them, and a humbled Orlando responds, "Speak you so gently? Pardon me, I pray you./I thought that all things had been savage here,/And therefore put I on the countenance/Of stern commandment." He asks the party to wait for him to fetch Adam to the table, vowing that "Till he be first sufficed ... I will not touch a bit." Duke Senior agrees, and Orlando departs to bring back the old man.

Duke Senior then muses that life is a "wide and universal theater" that "presents more woeful pageants than the scene/Wherein we play." Jaques runs with the theme, stating "All the world's a stage,/And all the men and women merely players," who live from birth to death the seven acts of life: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, judge, old age, and the second childhood of "oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Orlando returns with Adam, and as they all begin to feast Orlando and Duke Senior converse. Meanwhile Amiens sings about ingratitude, false friendships, and foolish love. When Duke Senior learns that Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, he welcomes him with real warmth and asks to hear the rest of his story in private.

Analysis

For years depressive, mopey Jaques has played the role of amusing or entertaining the others in the forest, whether he cares for the role or not (and his avoidance of Duke Senior suggests that he doesn't really care for it all that much). Thus his delight at finding a fool in the forest—Touchstone, as a fresh face with new ideas and unheard stories—might be able to relieve Jaques of his role to some extent. Moreover, Touchstone is clever enough to amuse hard-to-impress Jaques himself, so he is a rare find indeed. The fool's witty, sardonic banter suits Jaques perfectly, as he, too, likes to talk philosophy and to point out the folly and foibles of others. Jaques's desire to become an official fool suggests that he does not currently feel free to speak his mind completely; he wants to say whatever he wants without fear of repercussions. Even without the motley coat, though, one could say that Jaques already plays the unofficial fool among his comrades in the forest. The theme of court life is in play here, with its need to "play the game" in socializing—acting and speaking according to strict protocols that constrain the individual from saying what they really feel or doing what they really wish to do. In a way it is only the fool at court who does not wear a disguise—another theme of the play. Though the fool wears a motley coat, he is virtually the only person at court who can speak his mind freely; the other members of court must disguise their true selves in various ways in order to navigate courtly life.

Orlando's violent entry to the party doesn't make a good first impression, but luckily for him the no-nonsense Duke Senior has a good head on his shoulders and responds by using that head instead of meeting sword with sword. Duke Senior sees that Orlando must be desperate to threaten a large party of people—there would be little hope that Orlando could defeat them all singlehandedly. Duke Senior feels safe, surrounded by supporters, allowing him to offer gracious hospitality even in the face of Orlando's tasteless breach of etiquette. Orlando's youth and inexperience comes through here again. He really doesn't know much of the world and approaches the situation with impetuous bravado rather than thoughtful evaluation. He naively assumes that all he meets in the forest will be "savage," but it is he who acts without manners or courtesy. Given his desperate state of mind, though, his "better safe than sorry" actions are understandable. He also immediately makes amends for his rudeness, and shows the goodness in his character through his motivation to help Adam. In this scene the theme of court versus country is evident. Duke Senior still upholds some of the more laudable manners of the court, despite the fact that he now lives in the country. Orlando, who has just come from court, is the one who behaves in the uncivilized manner that one might expect of country denizens. The themes of love and loyalty are also addressed through Orlando's motivation to help Adam. Adam has been loyal and loving to Orlando, and now Orlando returns the favor by risking his own life to save the old servant.

Jaques's speech on the seven acts of life expounds on the theme of disguises and the roles people play in life. Some characters important to the scene mirror the roles Jaques names. Orlando is like the soldier, leaping out with his sword to do battle; although he really only wants something to eat, he feels he must take on the role of soldier to get what he needs. Adam is the old man, not quite yet to second childhood, but probably not far off from that oblivious state. Jaques's final summation that man ends his life "sans everything" is appropriately depressing, coming from this self-proclaimed man of melancholy. There seems to be little in life that is pleasurable or rewarding for Jaques; instead he prefers to uncover the darkness and wallow in it. Jaques himself would probably identify with the judge, being "full of wise saws" or sayings; he obviously thinks he knows a lot about human nature and thinks that he is a good judge of the character and follies of others.

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