Study Guide

As You Like It Philosophical Viewpoints

By William Shakespeare

Philosophical Viewpoints

Act 1, Scene 2
Orlando

ORLANDO
But let your
fair eyes and gentle wishes go with me to my trial,
wherein, if I be foiled, there is but one shamed that
was never gracious; if kill'd, but one dead that is
willing to be so. I shall do my friends no wrong, for
I have none to lament me; the world no injury, for
in it I have nothing. Only in the world I fill up a
place which may be better supplied when I have
made it empty. (1.2.178-186)

Orlando's anger has changed to gentle despair. By the philosophical wonderings of the worth of his own life, he has come to the conclusion that his life is worth nothing.

Act 1, Scene 3
Celia (Aliena)

CELIA
Now go we in content
To liberty, and not to banishment. (1.3.144-145)

Celia's life philosophy leans toward the glass-half-full side. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective, which has the power to change the entire feel of what could otherwise be a bad situation. 

Act 2, Scene 1

FIRST LORD
O yes, into a thousand similes.
First, for his weeping into the needless stream:
"Poor deer," quoth he "thou mak'st a testament
As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more
To that which had too much." Then, being there
   alone,
Left and abandoned of his velvet friends:
''Tis right," quoth he. "Thus misery doth part
The flux of company." 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 that poor and broken bankrupt there?"
Thus most invectively he pierceth through
The body of the country, city, court,
Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse,
To fright the animals, and to kill them up
In their assigned and native dwelling place. (2.1.47-66)

Drama undercuts even the most reputable philosophical inquiries. The serious pursuit of philosophy requires that it be more a thinking and rational pursuit than one inspired by (or tainted by) feelings.

Act 2, Scene 5
Jaques

JAQUES
Well then, if ever I thank any man, I'll thank
you. But that they call compliment is like th'
encounter of two dog-apes. And when a man thanks
me heartily, methinks have given him a penny, and
he renders me the beggarly thanks. Come, sing. And
you that will not, hold your tongues. (2.5.23-28)

Jaques philosophizes on the nature of gratitude. His outlook on compliments being beggarly (in that they are too profuse and lowly) probably stems from his own inability to see anything worth being grateful for.

Act 2, Scene 7

AMIENS
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
        Then, heigh-ho, the holly.
        This life is most jolly.
(2.7.189-191)

If this is the nature of life, then there is no reason in railing against it. At least we know what we are up against, and we might as well be happy in the face of it.

Jaques

JAQUES [Quoting Touchstone]
'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven.
And so, from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,
And thereby hangs a tale. (2.7.25-29)

Touchstone's philosophy about the passage of time is pretty depressing, don't you think? According to our favorite licensed fool, every hour that passes leads to man's further decay. What's interesting about this passage is that Jaques, who is normally sad and moody, gets off on Touchstone's dreary outlook, admitting he "laughed sans [without] intermission."

Act 3, Scene 2
Corin

CORIN
Sir, I am a true laborer. I earn that I eat, get that
I wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness,
glad of other men's good, content with my harm,
and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze
and my lambs suck. (3.2.73-77)

Corin's philosophy is one of natural contentment. Corin and the other "naturals" are utterly unconcerned with the frippery of the court, or with men's frippery in general.

Touchstone

TOUCHSTONE
Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a
good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it
is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it very
well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very vile
life. Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me
well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is
tedious. As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my
humor well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it
goes much against my stomach. Hast any philosophy
in thee, shepherd? (3.2.13-22)

Aside from Touchstone being deliberately opaque, it is possible he is just using his balanced perspective again. His ability as a fool, as he has already said, is to see the foolish in the seemingly wise, which extends to seeing both sides of every argument.

Act 3, Scene 3
Touchstone

TOUCHSTONE
Amen. A man may, if he were of a fearful
heart, stagger in this attempt; for here we have no
temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts.
But what though? Courage. As horns are odious,
they are necessary. It is said: "Many a man knows no
end of his goods." Right: many a man has good
horns and knows no end of them. Well, that is the
dowry of his wife; 'tis none of his own getting.
Horns? Even so. Poor men alone? No, no. The
noblest deer hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the
single man therefore blessed? No. As a walled town
is more worthier than a village, so is the forehead of
a married man more honorable than the bare brow
of a bachelor. And by how much defense is better
than no skill, by so much is horn more precious
than to want. (3.3.47-62)

It seems even Touchstone's rakish philosophy has its limits. He is fine messing around, but like anyone else, he's afraid of being alone, which is a rather poignant moment in these ponderings. He would rather suffer the complete foolishness of his country wife than be alone with his wit.

Act 4, Scene 1
Rosalind (Ganymede)

ROSALIND [as Ganymede]
They say you are a melancholy
fellow.
JAQUES
I am so. I do love it better than laughing.
ROSALIND [as Ganymede]
Those that are in extremity
of either are abominable fellows and betray
themselves to every modern censure worse than
drunkards. (4.1.3-9)

Rosalind's comment is illuminating about her own choices. It makes sense that she believes in temperance, or the middle road, as she is so deft at balancing completely opposite temperaments.