As You Like It makes it clear that human beings can be pretty ridiculous, so, naturally, much of the play is spent poking fun of foolish behavior—from Orlando's silly notion that love should look like a 14th-century Italian Hallmark card to Jaques's melancholy and highly clichéd outlook on life. Touchstone, the character who does most of the mocking in the play, just happens to be a "licensed fool." Like Shakespeare's other fools, Touchstone's quick wit and insight into human nature allow him to point out the folly of those around him, even as he participates in clowning and foolery.
Despite its critique of human folly, As You Like It also acknowledges that foolishness and folly are the very things that make us human. And if we can recognize this, we're way ahead of the game. As Touchstone (channeling Socrates) points out "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man/ knows himself to be a fool" (5.1.8).
Questions About Foolishness and Folly
- Using specific examples from the play, discuss how Touchstone reveals the foolishness and folly of other characters.
- What's the difference, if any, between Touchstone and Jaques?
- After meeting Touchstone in the forest, Jaques says "O that I were a fool!/ I am ambitious for a motley coat" (2.7.2). Is Jaques just being sarcastic? Or is there some evidence that suggests he really does want to be a licensed fool?
- Compare and contrast Touchstone to one or more of Shakespeare's other licensed fools. Suggestions: the Fool in King Lear or Feste in Twelfth Night.
Chew on This
Although Touchstone the "fool" spends a lot of time clowning, his insight into human nature and his quick wit make him one of the wisest characters in the play.
A wannabe "licensed fool," Jaques thinks of himself as a brilliant philosopher, but it's hard to take him seriously because his speeches are full of silly clichés.