Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
ON THE PASTORAL SETTING
...Externally the setting is that of a conventional pastoral play. The forest is full of shepherds, foresters, and other creatures who could live together only in an Elysium of escape from the real world. But the Forest of Arden is no mirage of wish-fulfilment. It is not like the world of Italian pastoral romance, not a country in which the longings of those bored with city life were realized. It is an actual English woodland through which real winds blow, a region near the haunts of Robin Hood and his merry men... And what creatures do they find there? They meet characters who belong to the most artificial of all worlds of fiction, the pastoral romance. Silvius, the sighing love-sick swain, is there, and Phebe, the obstinately chaste shepherdess. So are William and Audrey, neither of whom has ever been washed by the romantic imagination or any other known cleansing agent. They are the shepherd and his lass as they really are, ignorant dirty louts-simple folk who know nothing but what Nature has taught them. "Here," says Shakespeare, "are two authentic children of Nature." This is the heterogeneous company to which Rosalind and Orlando must belong if they prefer Arcadia to the artifices of civilized life. The play thus ridicules the belief that life close to Nature is best. The comedy is, as Joseph Wood Krutch says, a "playfully satiric fantasy on the idea of the simple life."
Oscar Campbell, Shakespeare's Satire, 1955
...Rosalind loves Orlando without limit, and... she is the happiest of many happy persons in Arden. Her criticism of love and cuckooland is unremitting, yet she has not annihilated them. Rather she has preserved them by removing the flaws of their softness. That is the duty of criticism- a simple duty for a girl with sound imagination and a healthy heart. As Arden emerges from the fires of "As You Like It" a perfected symbol of the golden age, so Rosalind steps forth not burned but brightened, a perfected symbol of the romantic heroine. Romance has been tested in her until we know it cannot shatter; laughter has made it sure of itself. There is only one thing sillier than being in love, and that is thinking it is silly to be in love. Rosalind skips through both errors to wisdom.
Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 1939
Touchstone's role is that of the Court Jester, the "all-licensed fool." It is as such that he first appears at Duke Frederick's court, using the Fool's license to mock at the Knight who swore by his honor that the pancakes were good, and indulging himself at the same time with a side thrust at the Duke, who loves this honorless Knight. He is threatened, to be sure, with a whipping, the customary penalty for the Fool who overstepped his bounds- cf. Lear's warning to his Jester- but he is clever enough to sidestep the danger at Court, and once he is in Arden all danger blows away in the forest air. Here he is free to practice, unchecked, his vocation, the exposure of folly. That, presumably, is the significance of his name; he is the touchstone that distinguishes pure from base metal.
Thomas Parrot, Shakespearean Comedy, 1949
In this utopian pastoral world the fugitives also come upon the melancholy Jaques. He has no counterpart in Lodge's novel; he is entirely Shakespeare's invention. Because his only part in the comedy is to stand aloof from the action and make satiric comment upon all that happens, critics have been tempted to regard him as Shakespeare's mouthpiece. Many readers have therefore mistaken the famous soliloquy beginning "All the world's a stage" for a succinct revelation of the pessimism which captured Shakespeare's mind about 1600. Life to him, they say, had then become just the pageant of futility of the melancholy Jaques' vision.
This is a naive view of a highly effective dramatic figure- one that had become a popular stage type. Jaques is Shakespeare's representative of the traveller recently returned from a sojourn on the continent, laden with boredom and histrionic pessimism. His melancholy is artificial and his disgust with everything at home is a pose.
Oscar Campbell, Shakespeare's Satire, 1955
[Jaques] cannot be wholly dismissed. A certain sour distaste for life is voided through him, something most of us feel at some time or other. If he were not there to give expression to it, we might be tempted to find the picture of life in the forest too sweet. His only action is to interfere in the marriage of Touchstone and Audrey; and this he merely postpones. His effect, whenever he appears, is to deflate: the effect does not last and cheerfulness soon breaks in again.
Helen Gardner, "As You Like It," 1970
A FEMINIST VIEWPOINT
...In court, Celia and Rosalind have a completely equal, give-and-take relationship. However, once they enter the forest in their disguises, Celia's part diminishes. Partly this is because Rosalind's involvement with Orlando is central to the design, but partly it functions to allow Rosalind to live out a freer, more assertive and independent role than she could otherwise. This tendency is observable in II, iv, before the women are aware that Orlando is in the forest too. In male garb, Rosalind automatically becomes the dominant figure of the two. It is she who deals with the outside world, who can meet and converse with men, speak and act assertively, even authoritatively. And she is listened to seriously, bantered with, without the deferential, complimentary, and essentially trivializing address that gentlewomen receive from gentlemen in Shakespeare's plays. She is thus able to develop and demonstrate areas of her personality that could not, according to the stage conventions Shakespeare adhered to, be gracefully revealed if she were in female apparel. She restrains Touchstone's arrogance and disparages Jaques' melancholy; she chides Silvius and Phebe; she is flip with her father. Above all, she is able to speak to Orlando about love without coyness or concealment, without having to defend against romantic or erotic attitudes or demonstrations. In short, she can be a person.
Marilyn French, Shakespeare's Division of Experience, 1981
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts