Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 1
In the Forest of Arden, Duke Senior expresses satisfaction with the pastoral life. He tells his entourage that he
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing. (16-17)
As they prepare for the hunt, he confesses that he is troubled that they must kill the deer "in their own confines," but his mood changes when he hears the First Lord's account of the lamentations of the melancholy Jaques, who lies near a brook, reflecting philosophically on the sad fate of a wounded deer. Amused by Jaques' excessive sentimentality, the duke asks to be brought to the spot, for he enjoys arguing playfully with Jaques.
In this scene, Duke Senior enlarges on an idea expressed by Celia at the end of Act I. He raises the question of the pastoral life being superior to that of the city. This thought colors the mood of the scenes set in the Forest of Arden and for the remainder of the play: "Are not these woods! More free from peril than the envious court?" This sentiment will be echoed time and again in various ways.
The duke's speech is a satire on a commonplace view held at that time by many city dwellers. "Sweet are the uses of adversity," the duke says; this is an exaggerated view of the pastoral life, where he must live in exile, but later in this scene, Jaques, a critic of the world at large, extends this already exaggerated view and contends sarcastically that the pastoral life also endorses the notion that it is necessary
To frighten the animals and to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling place. (62-63)
It is evident that Jaques' view of the pastoral life is not at all practical. However, the view is typical of Jaques in that it is a shallow generalization of the situation in which he finds himself.
It is also important to note that Duke Senior, while enjoying Jaques' company, is not overly impressed with Jaques' philosophy: "I love to cope [muse playfully with] him in these sullen fits, / For then he's full of matter." This is the first clue that Jaques is not to be taken too seriously. Jaques always thinks that his thoughts are profound, but they are rather ordinary and are always generalized.
Shakespeare is satirizing both views here: Duke Senior's — that everything in nature is good — and Jaques' — that nature is good only when man is not around to evoke change. Both views were popular at the time.