FOLLY IN AS YOU LIKE IT
The fool and the would-be fool:
Jaques as a minor fool in relation to Touchstone
Rocío García Viguer
In this paper I want to compare the characters of Jaques and Touchstone because I think that they are more alike than it seems on the surface, therefore I will be treating the theme of the folly in As You Like It. The problem of considering Jaques as a fool arises when we compare him to Touchstone, the “official” fool of the play, who is an inteligent and wity fool; the archetypical fool in Shakespeare plays: one that hides his intelligent and socially insightful commentaries under a humorous veil so as to critizise the world sorrounding him, in the words of William Willeford “two-dimensionality belongs to the essence of the fool. But it is not the whole of that essence: the surface of folly sometimes breaks open to reveal surprising depths”. The main problem lays on the fact that Jaques lacks the critical insight that makes Touchstone´s comments so intelligent and revealing and therefore, he sometimes seems a bit ridiculous or as being out of place in the Forest of Arden.
As I have said in the introductory paragraph, I want to compare Jaques and Touchstone in order to show that Jaques also is, in some way, another fool in the play. The most obvious piece of information that we get from the play is when Jaques himself tells to Duke Senior that he wants to be a fool: “O that I were a fool!/I am ambitious for a motley coat“, and a little bit after he says “give me leave to speak my mind” because he knows he will only be able to say whatever he wants if he is considered a fool. Therefore, to begin with we have this desire of Jaques of adopting the role of the fool expressed in the lines above mentioned. Furthermore we could add that when he finds Touchstone in the forest, since Jaques himself is a sort of “minor” fool, he has met himself mirrored in the real fool Touchstone. Having in mind these first considerations, i would now state the main reasons why i think that Jaques could be seen as another “co-fool” or “minor” fool, though not being such an archetypical fool figure as is Touchstone.
The principal difference between Jaques and Touchstone is that whereas Jaques is the archtype of the malcontent or melancholy character, Touchstone is a joyful and lively one, and of course the “official” fool, as Welsford points out: “Touchstone is, as it were, the authorized commentator, but he has a rival in the person of that self-constituted critic of society, the melancholy Jaques... Both of them are equally ready to act as showmen, but in every other respect they are sharply contrasted... although Jaques and Touchstone stand side by side as showmen, their points of view are not equally valid; and it is the fool, not the cynic, who is the touchstone of the play.”
Therefore we observe here two different ways of facing life: Jaques point of view which is negative and Touchstone´s, which is positive. This pessimistic view of the world is probably the reason why Jaques will never be a proper fool; this is what prevents him from being a good fool and from being an active participant in the events happening in the Forest of Arden.
It is significant that Jaques does not participate in the final celebrations and that he is not going to come back to court with the rest of the characters, but that he is going to stay in the forest, which again points to his “incapacity” of feeling happiness or of learning anything, given that he has his own negative view of the world and is not willing to change it, he is a mere observer of the action, to quote Traversi’s: “...Jaques’ motives is, in the last analysis “observation”, the gratifying of a self regarding curiosity based on a kind of personal impotence, an inability to participate fully and naturally in the processes of life; and, since his attitude is one which implies thorughout and incapacity for genuine giving, for the positive acceptance of an order, at one natural and distinctively human, beyond the isolated self – the acceptane by which, in love or otherwise, the self is at last justified – he remains a mere marginal presence in the process by which that order is finally... consummated.”
Despite being the archtype of the malcontent, Jaques also makes interesting remarks, as when he speaks about the wounded deer making a metaphor of the suffering of human beings, and he then moralizes about the rich members of society:
“Anon a careless herd,
Full of the pasture, jumps along by him
And never stays to greet him. “Ay” quoth Jaques,
“Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens,
´Tis just the fashion. Wherefore do you look
Upon the poor and broken bankrupt here?”
But he finds Rosalind, the lively and wity Rosalind, the character most contrary to Jaques’ personality, who stands up to him and does not permit Jaques influence to come over her:
“Rosalind. They say you are a melancholy fellow
Jaques. I am so. I do love it better than laughing.
Rosalind. Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows,
and betray themselves to every modern censure, worse than drunkards.
Jaques. Why, ´tis good to be sad and say nothing.
Rosalind. Why then, ´tis good to be a post.”
She is the witiest character of the play, and she shows her wits throughout .
Another important difference would be that Jaques is not as intelligent or wity as Touchstone who, according to John Doran, “is full of smart sayings against the corrupt in fine lines, and has the faculty of making an honest calling seem uncleanly”. Furthermore, the name of Touchstone makes reference to a mineral used to test the purity of gold and silver, which points to the fact that the character of Touchstone has the function of “testing” the gold and silver of society, that is, nobility. Therefore we have in the character of Touchstone the archetypal figure of the Fool, with his intelligence and wit and critizising society, whereas Jaques, who is not a fool by profession, tries to imitate and emulate Touchstone in an attempt to freely speak his mind; he longs to wear the motley, which he claims is “the only wear”. According to Thomas MacFarland, Touchstone acts as “a mirror that reflects... and lightens the malcontentment of Jaques”.
As we have seen so far, as well as being the melancholy character, Jaques shares with Touchstone an ability to carp at society, although not at the same level. We have some examples when he says “if it do him right, then he hath wronged himself” in critizising the nobility for showing off their riches; or when he carps at those who consider themselves as wise saying to Orlando “you are full of pretty answers”; or when he jokes about Touchstone and Audrey’s marriage “And will you, being a man of your breeding, be/married under a bush like a beggar?” and further on, “And you to wrangling; for thy loving voyage/Is but for two months victuall'd”. These examples also show the cynic and pessimistic nature of Jaques, which is even more emphasized in his speech of the seven ages of man, specially in the conclusion “last scene of all, that ends this strange, eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion... sans everything”.
But the problem with Jaques, as we said above, is that he lacks the critical insight that make Touchstone’s commentaries so revealing and that, in adopting the role of the fool, “he is immediately forced to confront the chief dilemma of the would-be satirist: the possibility that his intentions will be ignored and his words misconstrued as referring not to general moral concerns... but rather to specific realities, persons, events.”; whereas Touchstone’s commentaries always make reference to much more general concepts in society, as when he criticizes the knight’s opinion on the pancakes and mustard, which is not an attack on that specific knight, but on the whole of nobility.
In spite of the fact that Jaques has the most famous soliloquy in the play, “all the world’s a stage”, he still lacks Touchstone’s ability to take in such general moral concepts for immediatly after Jaques finishes his speech with such cynical and pessimistic sentences, we see the entrance of Orlando and Adam in scene. Adam is Orlando’s old servant, who has striven to help him with his generosity and company, and therefore he conveys a sense of duty which conferes him quite relevance in the play. All these features make him the denial of all of what Jaques has just uttered in his eloquent speech. Furthermore, the speech is even more ridiculous when Duke Senior shows his respect for Adam:
“Welcome. Set down your venerable burthen,”
Taking that into consideration, Shakespeare would have been mocking in some way the character of Jaques, for after giving him such a supposedly insightful and wity speech, he makes the character of Adam, the living denial of Jaques’ words, appear just after the speech has finished, which is a very ironical movement.
In order to finish the paper I will try to draw some kind of conclusions. The first question we have to bear in mind is that Jaques himself says that he wants to be a fool, which is significant, since he tries to imitate Touchstone, who therefore acts as a mirror, throughout the play. But Jaques and Touchstone do not share the same view of the world, Jaques has a negative point of view, whereas Touchstone is much more optimistic, and of course, Jaques is by no means a character as insightful and clever as the character of Touchstone is and therefore, he does not achieve that critical insight that sets Touchstone apart. Furthermore, he is made to appear ridiculous in his famous speech of the seven ages of man, given that immediatly after he finishes, Adam enters the scene, denying all what Jaques has just said, by being an example of generosity, love and duty towards Orlando. We could say therefore that Shakespeare used this character to make mockery, clearly in this passage, but also throughout the play, so we could finish by saying that in fact Jaques is a minor fool, but without a real function of fool in the play; he is a fool to be mocked at.
- Shakespeare, William Como gustéis in El Mercader de Venecia/Como gustéis. Ed. Instituto Shakespeare (directed by Manuel Ángel Conejero Dionís-Bayer). Madrid: Cátedra/Letras Universales, 1984, 2005.
- http://shakespeare.mit.edu/ for the original play.
- Willeford, William. The Fool and His Scepter; A Study in Clowns and Jesters and Their Audience. [Evanston, Ill.]: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
- Welsford, Enid. The Fool: his social and literary history. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
- Traversi, Derek . An approach to Shakespeare, Vol. 1. London: Hollis and Carter, 1968.
- McFarland, Thomas. Shakespeare’s Pastoral Comedy. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
- Barnaby, Andrew. “The Political Conscious of Shakespeare’s As You Like It”, Studies in English Literature 36, 1996.
- Doran, John. The History of Court Fools. New York: Haskell House, 1966.
Willeford, William. The Fool and His Scepter; A Study in Clowns and Jesters and Their Audience. [Evanston, Ill.]: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
 Welsford, Enid. The Fool: his social and literary history. London: Faber and Faber, 1968.
 Traversi, Derek . An approach to Shakespeare, Vol. 1. London: Hollis and Carter, 1968.
 Doran, John. The History of Court Fools. New York: Haskell House, 1966.
 McFarland, Thomas. Shakespeare’s Pastoral Comedy. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1972.
 Barnaby, Andrew. “The Political Conscious of Shakespeare’s As You Like It”, Studies in English Literature 36, 1996.