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Art and Culture
O noble fool!
A worthy fool! Motley's the only wear. (2.7.34-35)
Touchstone takes a lot of flak for being a licensed fool. Here, Jaques is mocking Touchstone's status as a "licensed fool" who wears a "motley" (a rainbow-colored coat that signified his status as a court fool). At the same time, however, fools were highly respected performers—their clowning is not only entertaining, but it's also highly witty. Touchstone, as we know, is a great entertainer and he's also one of the smartest characters in the play. (Second, perhaps, to our girl Rosalind.)
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. (2.7.146-150)
Hmm. Didn't the Duke just finish saying something very similar? (See Quote #1 above.) Although we've heard this before, Jaques makes a valid point—the world is often like a stage and Shakespeare likes to remind us of the theatrical nature of life. Here, Shakespeare also reminds us that we are in fact watching a play, which involves a bunch of actors "with their exits and their entrances." Check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" if you want to know more about this speech.
Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy.
This wide and universal theater
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in. (2.7.142-145)
If the Duke weren't such an upbeat guy, this might leave us a little worried. Even though the world does seem like one big "theater," it's a little depressing to think that our lives are nothing more than a "woeful pageant." It seems like the Duke finds a bit of comfort knowing that human suffering is a universal experience and that there's always someone else in the world with a tougher life than ours.
P.S. Didn't we hear something similar from Macbeth just after he learned that his beloved wife had died? We smell an essay topic!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (5.5.2)
Didst thou hear these verses?
O, yes, I heard them all, and more too, for
some of them had in them more feet than the verses
That's no matter: the feet might bear the verses.
Ay, but the feet were lame and could not
bear themselves without the verse and therefore
stood lamely in the verse. (3.2.166-173)
When Celia and Rosalind talk about Orlando's poetry, it sounds as if they're talking about a "lame" show pony that's been prancing around on injured feet at the Rose Parade. What's up with that? Well, the joke is that Orlando doesn't have a very good ear for meter (a poem's rhythm). Since the most basic unit of rhythm in a poem is referred to as a "foot," it's easy for Ros and Celia to compare the lousy rhythm of Orlando's "verses" to a creature that hobbles around on lame feet.
Shakespeare the poet/playwright just can't resist cracking these kinds of jokes. You want an example? Fine. In Sonnet 89, the speaker of the poem says to his young friend "Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt," which can be read as "If you bag on the lame/limp meter of my poetry, I'll stop writing poems to you."
Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love.
And thou, thrice-crownèd Queen of Night, survey
With thy chaste eye, from thy pale sphere above,
Thy huntress' name that my full life doth sway.
O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I'll character,
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witness'd everywhere.
Run, run, Orlando; carve on every tree,
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she. (3.2.1-10)
Why does Orlando need anyone (or anything) to "witness" his love for Rosalind? The easy answer is that, when we fall head-over-heels in love, it's natural to want to shout it from the rooftop or write about it. Yet, as much as Orlando wants to express his feelings for Ros, he also acknowledges that it's impossible for him to convey his true feelings for the "unexpressive she" (Rosalind, whose beauty surpasses mere words).
So, on the one hand, Shakespeare is poking fun at guys like Orlando. On the other hand, we know that Shakespeare (who also happens to be a poet) is also a little obsessed with using words to express the seemingly inexpressible. Think about Sonnet 18, where Shakespeare writes "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate." Translation: "It doesn't do me any good to compare you to summer because you're even more amazing than that. Still, I'm going to try to find a way to express how I feel about you, even if my words fall short."
If you will see a pageant truly played
Between the pale complexion of true love
And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
Go hence a little, and I shall conduct you,
If you will mark it.
ROSALIND [aside to Celia]
O, come, let us remove!
The sight of lovers feedeth those in love.
[As Ganymede, to Corin] Bring us to this sight, and
you shall say
I'll prove a busy actor in their play. (3.4.51-60)
Corin and Rosalind think that Phoebe and Silvius's relationship is as entertaining and artificial as a bad love scene from some random play. This, of course, reminds us that Rosalind's romance with Orlando is also nothing more than a "pageant truly play'd" for <em>our</em> entertainment.
No, faith, die by attorney.
The poor world is almost six thousand years old,
and in all this time there was not any man died in
his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus
had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club; yet
he did what he could to die before, and he is one of
the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived
many a fair year, though Hero had turned nun, if it
had not been for a hot midsummer night; for, good
youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont
and, being taken with the cramp, was
drowned; and the foolish chroniclers of that age
found it was Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies.
Men have died from time to time, and worms have
eaten them, but not for love. (4.1.99-113)
Rosalind uses great tales from Greek mythology (the stories of Troilus and Cressida and Hero and Leander) to tell the most unromantic story possible. While Rosalind jests at love here, the real meat of these stories is the tragedy of love within them.
Take thou no scorn to wear the horn.
It was a crest ere thou wast born.
Thy father's father wore it,
And thy father bore it.
The horn, the horn, the lusty horn
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn. (4.2.14-19)
When a Lord kills a deer in the forest, Jaques says "let's present [the Lord] to the Duke [...] And it would do well to set the deer's horns/ upon his head for a branch of victory" (4.2.2). Um, OK. Apparently, putting deer antlers on the Lord's head sounds like fun, which is why all his buddies belt out a rowdy song in agreement. Check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" if you want to know more about this.
Brain snack: As You Like It contains more songs than any other Shakespeare play.
Play, music.—And you, brides and bridegrooms all,
With measure heaped in joy, to the measures fall. (5.4.184-185)
When Duke Senior orders the wedding party to hit the dance floor, As You Like It begins to look like a modern-day musical, don't you think?
If it be true that good
wine needs no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no
epilogue. (Epilogue 3-5)
Here, the actor playing the role of Rosalind steps forward and says something like "I'm going to deliver an epilogue now, even though the play is so good it doesn't need one—just like good wine doesn't need any special advertising." (FYI: "Bush" refers to a piece of ivy that would have been hung outside a tavern to advertise the sale of wine.)
OK. So, why the heck would someone deliver an unnecessary epilogue and make a self-conscious remark about it? Let's think about this. Just a few moments earlier in the play, we were caught up in the make-believe world of Arden, where anything goes and just about anything's possible. Now, however, we're being reminded that the world of the play isn't reality and that it's time for us to go home to our ordinary lives. If you've read Hamlet, you already know that Shakespeare loves, loves, loves to remind us that we've been caught up in the fake world that he's created. Check out "What's Up With the Ending?" for more.
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