Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

As You Like It



Duke Senior waxes eloquent about the pastoral life, realistically acknowledging the wind and cold too:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
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 cousellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.”
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

The “penalty of Adam” (II.i.5), according to Genesis 3:19, may have been work, but the Duke seems to be referring to the change of the seasons, and one wonders if Shakespeare intended something more general such as his ubiquitous theme of banishment (involving one’s being made subject to the harsh elements). The “winter’s wind” (II.i.7) might be rendered “Eos d’hiver.”

One lord, Amiens, praises him for being able to “translate the stubbornness of fortune / Into so quiet and so sweet a style” (II.i.19-20). But Duke Senior is also demonstrating the process of projection: his ability to see sermons in stones (like Orlando’s putting tongues in trees later) and Nature as full of moral exempla is due to his own outlook (Farber 444). Duke Senior even laments their killing the deer:

And yet it irks me the poor dappled fools,
Being native burghers of this desert city,
Should in their own confines with forked heads
Have their round haunches gor’d.

One of his companions tells him that the melancholy Jaques is similarly sensitive about wildlife and “swears you do more usurp / Than doth your brother that hath banish’d you” (II.i.27-28). Jaques witnessed a wounded stag that was groaning and crying. The Duke asks, “Did he not moralize this spectacle?” and is told, “O yes, into a thousand similes” (II.i.44-45). Jaques sounds like a Euphuist. He has declared humans “mere usurpers, tyrants, and what’s worse, / To fright the animals and to kill them up / In their assign’d and native dwelling-place” (II.i.61-63). The Duke looks forward to conversing with Jaques for a lark: “I love to cope him in these sullen fits, / For then he’s full of matter” (II.i.67-68).

Regarding Jaques, forget Cousteau; this name is supposed to have been pronounced either “Jay-kweez” or maybe “Jakes,” the latter an Elizabethan term for ‘privy’ or ‘toilet.’ However, I doubt the long a. Wouldn’t the name more likely be pronounced “Jox”? (= Iox, or I, Ox.) In any case, George Sand was so taken with the character that she made him central to her French adaptation of this play (Ogburn and Ogburn 457).

One way of taking Jaques is to think of him as a picture, duly attenuated, of what Shakespeare himself might have become if he had let experience sour or embitter him, let his critical powers get the better of his imagination. As traveler-libertine Jaques has had his day. Now he would turn spectator-cynic and revenge himself on a world that can no longer afford him pleasure, by proving it foul and infected. (Goddard, I 283)

Melancholy, as a fashionable affectation, may have been “a mark of aesthetic and intellectual refinement” (Farber 446), but does this apply to Jaques in this play? It might be more productive to think of the manic and depressive sides of Oxford manifested into another “two gentlemen”: the chatty Touchstone and the melancholy Jaques.

The “pastoral” fad began in the Renaissance when court political life was seen to have grown exponentially more vicious and continued for a few centuries. It romanticized the country life of the low-born, mostly shepherds. One facet of the sentiment(ality) is featured in the famous poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” supposedly by Christopher Marlowe — that “Come live with me and be my love” poem answered with deflating realism by “Ignoto” (usually identified as Walter Raleigh) and others since. Marie Antoinette played shepherdess, but then she had lots of money to invest in simplicity. Samuel Johnson thought it all idiotic. There may be no direct parallel these days, but consider the simplicity movement — the rejection of technology and the exodus of software developers in Silicon Valley to remote Idaho. Consider “wilderness movement” ludicrousness. It’s all pretty privileged.

George Puttenham in The Arte of English Poesie claimed that the purpose of pastoral poetry was “not of purpose to counterfeit or represent the rusticall manner of loves and communication: but under the vaile of homely persons, and in rude speeches to insinuate and glaunce at greater matters, and such as perchance had not been safe to have been disclosed in any other sort” (qtd. in Farber 438).


Duke Frederick discovers that his daughter and niece have fled. He suspects they were aided by other court members, the paranoid jackass. A lord reports the fool missing too. A gentlewoman overheard the cousins speaking fondly of that wrestler who bested Charles, so that guy’s probably in on this too. Frederick sends for either Oliver or Orlando.


Adam praises Orlando’s virtues but has bad news. He reports to Orlando that Oliver is on the warpath, planning arson and murder. Orlando is reluctant to turn to beggary or thievery as a profession. Adam says he’s saved 500 crowns over his many years of service — age 17 to now close to 80 — as retirement funds. “He that doth the ravens feed, / Yea, providently caters for the sparrow, / Be comfort to my age!” (II.iii.43-45): God will provide. Orlando is appropriately impressed, albeit with an old-fashioned feudal ideal:

O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed!
Thou art not for the fashion of these times,
Where none will sweat but for promotion,
And having that do choke their service up
Even with the having. It is not so with thee.

They will flee to the forest. [Some Oxfordians detect in Adam reflections of de Vere’s longtime servant Churchyard, born in 1520 (Ogburn and Ogburn 455-456).]

Essentially through Act I and the start of II we’re just going through some excuses to get everyone into the woods, a setting that “dissolves hierarchies” (Bloom 203) so that we can explore issues on a level playing-field, or with the distance and perspective Theseus remarks about in Act IV of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Generally, though, “The point of view of As You Like It is from the underside of society, made up of women, exiles, outcasts, the poor, the eccentric, and the low in status. From such a perspective, power usually seems oppressive, and its possessors tyrants: both Duke Frederick and Oliver fit the pattern” (French 111-112).


There’s an English Arden which orthodox critics are quick to point out is located near Shakspere’s Stratford. But Oxford owned a Warwickshire estate on the Avon which included a chunk of this forest (Ogburn and Ogburn 450). Though the the character names in the play are a mix of English and French, the French Ardenne forest makes more geographical sense because of other southern French references. But in any case, we should probably suspend realistic geographical considerations: Arden later is said to harbor both palm trees and lions. The name “Arden” incorporates two paradises: Arcadia and Eden (Farber 440).

Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone are exhausted from walking so far. They overhear shepherds Corin and Silvius discussing Silvius’ love for a country lass, Phebe: “if thy love were ever like to mine– / As sure I think did never man love so– / How many actions most ridiculous / Hast thou been drawn to by thy fantasy? (II.iv.28-31). Silvius waxes melodramatic about his love. His is the extreme loss of self, characteristic of Petrarchan love. Touchstone mocks the extreme effects on behavior, delivered nostalgically, but Rosalind finds it relevant: “this shepherd’s passion / Is much upon my fashion” (II.iv.60-61). Celia brings things down to earth, advising that one of them ask if the shepherds have any food they can purchase. Touchstone hails Corin, announcing them as “Your betters, sir” (II.iv.68). Rosalind is more admirable and polite, and “Nothing could show more succinctly Rosalind’s ‘democracy’ in contrast to Touchstone’s snobbery” (Goddard, I 286). She presents herself as a man and Celia as “a young maid with travel much oppressed,” close to fainting (II.iv.74). Unfortunately, Corin has a “churlish,” ungenerous master (II.iv.80), and there’s very little anyway. Instead, Rosalind buys, through Corin, the cottage, pasture, and flock. Celia is enthusiastic about this idea: “I like this place, / And willingly could waste my time in it” (II.iv.94-95). So the deal will go down. Again, the pastoral simple life requires cash and leisure. Do these fugitives have any? Like the Earl of Oxford, there’s not much thought given to practicalities of cash-carrying.


Amiens sings a song: “Under the Greenwood Tree.” Jaques seems absurd, despising the pastoral songs of Amiens but demanding and begging for more. He enjoys being melancholy and his own negatively critical railing: “I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs” (II.v.12-13). He’s a tamer version of Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, but an artist in his own medium. Jaques renders a stanza of the song, using a filler nonsense word, “Ducdame,” which he translates as “a Greek invocation, to call fools into a circle” (II.v.59-60), but which may just mean “damn Duke” (Clark 524). “Ducdame” also may invoke “Duke Dame,” or Lady Duke, that is, woman sovereign (Ogburn and Ogburn 459). And it may be an intentional mispronunciation of “Douce Dame” — a phrase from Old French love songs and title of a Guillaume de Machaut motet. Jaques continues: “I’ll go sleep, if I can; if I cannot, I’ll rail against all the first-born of Egypt” (II.v.59-60). Oxford’s insomnia is referenced here, as is his artistry in railing. And the first-born of Egypt, a.k.a. Gypsies, were also known as Moone-men (because of their wandering).


Adam is exhausted from the long forest trek, so Orlando will press on and try to find some sustenance.


Duke Senior cannot find Jaques: “I think he be transformed into a beast, / For I can nowhere find him like a man” (II.vii.1-2) — recalling the Actaeon myth. But Jaques appears, reporting to the Duke that he encountered “A fool, a fool! I met a fool i’ th’ forest, / A motley fool … / Who laid him down and basked him in the sun, / And railed on Lady Fortune in good terms” (II.vii.12-16). Jaques is so taken with Touchstone’s shtick about time — “And so from hour we ripe and ripe, / And then from hour to hour we rot and rot” (II.vii.26-27), wording which recalls “Ignoto’s” reply to Marlowe’s “Come Live With Me” — and Touchstone’s other observational wit that first he “began to crow like chanticleer” (II.vii.30) and now almost has had a calling to the profession: “O that I were a fool! / I am ambitious for a motley coat” (II.vii.42-43). His calling for this “suit” may represent Oxford’s hope for the liberty to write the truth (Ogburn and Ogburn 460). Both Touchstone and Jaques seem to be the closest representatives of the playwright (Ogburn and Ogburn 443), perhaps the manic and depressive sides, respectively, but each side an artist. Jaques claims he can do some good with his railing or his biting perspective this way:

The wise man’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.

Thus “he tries to rationalize his misanthropy” (Goddard, I 283). After all, it might be said that Jaques “met a Touchstone pretending to be Jaques” (Farber 448). In any case, railing is his idea of entertainment. The Duke rebukes him: “Most mischievous foul sin, in chiding sin: / For thou thyself hast been a libertine, / As sensual as the brutish sting itself” (II.vii.64-66). But Jaques defends himself in the role.

Orlando enters threateningly demanding food: “Forbear, and eat no more” (II.vii.88). It’s silly, because no one here is denying him any, so he apologizes for the assumption that because they are in the wilderness he assumed he had to act savagely: “‘masculine’ forms are not acceptable or necessary here. To get food, one need merely ask. Arden is a feminine world” (French 112). And Orlando here “finds that the wilderness is more civilized than he is” (Farber 445).

When the Duke ponders the plights of more than himself and uses a theatrical metaphor, it triggers the famous speech from the dismal Jaques:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

This is a famous bit for the merchandizing of Shakespeare, but Jaques is being rather pretentious and contrived. Orthodox critics who accept the late composition date of this play are apt to insist that the speech was already a clich√© by this time (e.g., Farber 450). It’s a speech “he must have rehearsed more times than the modern schoolboy who declaims it” (Goddard, I 285). There may be a more spiritual subtlety here too: the Hindu notion that this world is in just one phase.

What follows is his run-down of the Seven Ages of Man, all pretty miserable as he tells it (though with attention to the progression of speech), with infants “Mewling and puking” (okay, he’s right-on about that), schoolkids hating school, lovers being idiots, soldiers being morons, middle-aged justices being self-indulgent, older men turning into dorks, and the very old losing teeth, sight, and everything.

To belie this vision, Adam is immediately trotted on stage, an honorable and venerable old man, “a living refutation of his [Jaques’] picture of old age” (Goddard, I 285). “Arden is not … the realm of nature, but the realm of the emotional” (French 116). The Duke requests some music, so Amiens sings “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind,” a wistful complaint favoring foul weather conditions over court politics and again suggesting “Eos d’hiver.” “Hey-ho, sing hey-ho, unto the green holly. / Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly” (II.vii.181-182). The Duke assures the newcomers that he and the late Sir Rowland were good friends.

This is a depiction of the Seven Ages in the tile flooring of the Siena Cathedral, no doubt described to Shakspere in a London tavern by a gin-swilling art-enthusiast mariner. For discussion of sources for the idea of The Seven Ages of Man, see the article by Christopher Paul, “This Strange Eventful History: Oxford, Shakespeare, and The Seven Ages of Man.” The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 38.3 (Summer 2002): 1, 12-15, 24.