As You Like It By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act II: Scene 7

Summary

Duke Senior, Rosalind's father, who is searching for Jaques, arrives on the scene and unexpectedly meets Jaques. Jaques describes, with evident delight, his meeting with Touchstone. He says that he wishes that he were a "fool" (and dressed in an identifiable coat of motley) so that he might be able "as the wind, / To blow on whom I please," exercising the fool's prerogative of speaking his mind freely to expose the world's abuses. But Jaques, as the duke notes, has a libertine past; this hardly qualifies him to reproach others for their failings. Their discussion abruptly ends when Orlando enters with his sword drawn. "Forbear," he cries, "and eat no more" — although the meal has scarcely begun. (This in itself is high comedy.) Orlando is calmed by the duke's courteous welcome, and he apologizes and sheathes his sword. Then, begging the duke to put off dining until his return, he goes to fetch Adam. This episode inspires Jaques' account of the seven ages of man.

This extended philosophical statement has since become one of the most celebrated speeches in the Shakespearean canon. Most learned people in the Western world recognize the lines "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players." The point of view of the speech is colored by Jaques' cynicism, yet the speech itself has such imaginative power that it transcends Jaques' melancholy and causes one to pause and contemplate this schematic evaluation of man. According to Jaques, these are the seven ages of man:

  • the infant: "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms . . . "
  • the schoolboy: "whining . . . with his satchel / And shining morning face, creeping like a snail, / Unwilling to school."
  • the lover: "sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad . . . to his mistress' eyebrow."
  • the soldier: "full of strange oaths . . . bearded . . . / Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, / Seeking the bubble's reputation / Even in the cannon's mouth."
  • the justice (or judge): "in fair round belly with good capon lin'd [an allusion to the bribing of judges with gifts of poultry] . . . eyes severe and beard of formal cut, / Full of wise saws [sayings] and modern instances [examples]."
  • the dotard (or absent-minded old man): "lean and slipper'd . . . / With spectacles on nose and [money] pouch on side, / His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide / For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, / Turning again toward childish treble, pipes / And whistles in his sound.
  • the senile, sick elder: "[reduced to] second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans [without] teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Despite Jaques' surface cynicism, Shakespeare's poetry is impressively sensitive and beautiful. This is Shakespeare at his most brilliant best.

Orlando returns, just as Jaques finishes; he is carrying Adam, and as they begin eating, Amiens sings "Blow, blow, thou winter wind." When the song ends, Duke Senior warmly welcomes "the good Sir Roland's son" (Orlando has whispered his identity to his host) and welcomes Adam as well. The scene ends happily; the duke takes old Adam's hand, and the group sets off for the duke's cave.

Analysis

In no scene is the exaggerated melancholy and simple cynicism of Jaques more clearly evident than here. He opens his meeting with Rosalind's father by relating an encounter he has just had with Touchstone. In the encounter, Jaques was completely taken in by the clown. He was totally unaware that Touchstone was parodying Jaques' own style of speech. Instead, Jaques found Touchstone's remarks to be so profound that he wishes that he could be a fool himself. Touchstone's comments, thus, foreshadow Jaques' well-known "Seven Ages of Man" speech:

‘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. (24-28)

One might also note that the sun dial that Touchstone produces is an unlikely, absurd instrument to use in a forest. That Jaques would use the sun dial to time his laughter, exactly the duration of one hour, underscores his ridiculous behavior, as if he or anyone could laugh for a specific amount of time.

Jaques' character, unfortunately, has often been misunderstood. The duke, for example, calls him a "libertine." The word at that time did not carry the moral connotations it does today. Then, it merely meant a man of the world. It must also be remembered that the duke likes to argue with Jaques (II.i.68-69), and in this scene, he is drawing Jaques out to discover what Jaques is thinking. He challenges Jaques' claim to be a reformer of society. Jaques accepts the challenge. The duke, of course, is being whimsically humorous and asks Jaques what he would ". . . disgorge into the general world," but Jaques obviously misses the duke's humorously exaggerated attack on his overblown pomposity. Instead, he immediately seizes the bait and rants on about how he would save society. In doing so, Jaques not only has the last word, but he also absurdly satirizes late sixteenth-century satirists.

To some critics, the remark made by Orlando, "yet am I inland bred / And know some nature," seems to contradict his speech in Act I, Scene 1. This is not the case. Both words "civility" and "nurture" meant good breeding in the general use of the term, rather than in the modern use of politeness, and it was considered good breeding to salute those whom one met. Orlando obviously does not salute when he makes his entrance. The duke challenges this impropriety.

Jaques' division of life into seven ages was a proverbial, as well as a popular, idea in Elizabethan England. It is an ancient idea, and Shakespeare makes reference to it in The Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene 1) and in Macbeth (Act V, Scene 5). Moreover, the speech is consistent with Jaques' character; it is highly generalized (the kind of pigeon-hole categorizing that his mind would be fascinated with), and it is expressed in an untutored, insightful manner. Without Jaques realizing it, he becomes a one-man Chorus, delivering a keen philosophical discourse in capsule form. As a counter-balance to this philosophizing, both Jaques and Touchstone keep the audience from becoming too contemplative and also from becoming too involved with the fantasy of the forest; they serve as reminders that Duke Senior, Rosalind, and Orlando are playing only temporary parts in a masquerade in an unusual setting.

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