Summary and Analysis
Amiens, Jaques, and several lords of Duke Senior are gathered in another part of the forest. Amiens has been singing, and Jaques urges him to continue while the others sing along. Amiens does so and orders the others to lay out a meal under the trees.
Jaques has been avoiding the duke all day, calling him "too disputable [argumentative] for my company." He contributes a cynical verse of his own composition to Amiens' song, then lies down to rest while Amiens goes to seek the duke.
The pastoral songs in this play serve several purposes. They restate the theme of town life versus country life; town life they envision as being dismal and corrupt, while country life is fair and clean. Shakespeare, it should be noted, satirizes both views. The songs also serve to break up the "tide-like" action of the scenes; in other words, they bring variety to a scene in the forest being followed by a scene at court, followed by one in the forest, and so forth.
Finally, the songs are part of the masque elements in this play. This genre of the masque was characterized by quickly changed scenes and tableaux with emphasis upon elaborate costumes and scenery, representative of mythological or pastoral elements. Dance and music were also essential elements. The use of the masque elements here culminates with the entrance of Hymen (the god of marriage) and the climactic triple wedding scene.
The primary purpose of this scene seems to focus on Shakespeare's delineation of the character of Jaques. Jaques is always argumentative, indiscriminately taking the opposing view, never pleased with anything or anybody. He likes to think of himself as being profound, but his thoughts are of a commonplace nature and are usually vitriolic. His humor is ironic. For example, he comments that Duke Senior is too argumentative, whereas he himself is the most argumentative character in the play.
Jaques's song serves as a rebuke to the pastoral sentiment of Amiens' song. Jaques, who insists that Amiens sing, afterwards criticizes what he himself wanted to hear. Again, it is to be expected that Jaques will take the opposing view in an argument, regardless of its merit. Throughout the play, he rails against the pastoral view of life, but, finally, he is the only character who chooses to remain in the forest, while the others return to the town as soon as possible.