Monday, July 19, 2010

Falstaff, Lord Of Misrule

Samuel Johnson had this to say about Falstaff, in 1765, in the Preface to his edition of Shakespeare's plays:

None of Shakespeare’s plays are more read than the first and second parts of Henry the fourth. Perhaps no authour has ever in two plays afforded so much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depends upon them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention, and the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the nature of man.
The prince, who is the hero both of the comick and tragick part, is a young man of great abilities and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked, and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. This character is great, original, and just. Percy is a rugged soldier, cholerick, and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier’s virtues, generosity and courage.

But Falstaff unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I describe thee? Thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired but not esteemed, of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief, and a glutton, a coward, and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirises in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he is so proud as not only to be supercilious and haughty with common men, but to think his interest of importance to the duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety, by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy escapes and sallies of levity, which make sport but raise no envy. It must be observed that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.
The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe with such a companion when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff.

If, in 1765, King Henry IV was the most widely read of all Shakespeare's plays, it was because of Falstaff. Even Johnson, one of the most powerful and astute literary minds ever to write in English, feels the charm of this "despicable" man, the sort of man that everyone knows, a cheat and a fraud who sucks up to the strong and takes advantage of the weak, a man who knows there's a sucker born every minute and makes full use of that knowledge. You might have thought that there is nothing new to be said about such people but Shakespeare has done it. Falstaff is as ancient as civilization itself, yet still a mystery, a man who can make you laugh and pick your pocket at the same time while you wonder how the devil he does it.

The question is, what is this jester-buffoon-con-man doing in this dead serious play which, if it is about anything, is not only about a rebellion against a king whose sovereignty may not be entirely legitimate but about the education of a Prince and future King—and a great King at that (King Henry V)— who evidently prefers the society of Falstaff and his low friends and drinking companions to that of the King and the Court.

To answer this question, one needs to know something about the historical King, Richard II, as well as the play that Shakespeare wrote about him. The historic Richard II invented the theory of Divine Right, not out of whole cloth to be sure, and was deposed by Parliamentary forces led by Henry Bolinbroke (there was no House of Commons in the 14th century) because Richard was claiming that the laws "were in his own mouth." It was what we would call today a constitutional crisis but the phrase and even perhaps the concept had not yet been invented. In the play, Richard II, the king has surrounded himself with his own cronies who are enriching themselves at the expense of the commonwealth (a peculiarly English word that seems to combine the ideas of a nation and the common good) which causes much grumbling but no action until Richard goes too far, exiles a great noble, Henry Bolingbroke and, in his absence, confiscates his lands and inheritance. Bolingbroke returns with an army ostensibly to recover his inheritance, but once the Richard has been defeated and imprisoned there is really no reason to keep him alive and he is discreetly murdered.

As the play, King Henry IV, begins the new King confronts two problems as he surveys his war-ravaged kingdom: the great nobles who supported his rebellion think that the spoils of victory have not been fairly distributed; and what do they want with a King anyway? They've just rid themselves one king; why not this one as well? And here's the Prince: not only does he show no interest in government or statesmanship but from the company he keeps he is beginning to look like another Richard II surrounded by cronies and bloodsuckers. This relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff is the central problem of this two-part play and Shakespeare loses no time in introducing us to these two characters. But he does so in a way that radically changes the tone of the play: having in the first scene begun grimly, the play suddenly veers off into comedy in the second. Only in a comedy—and only in England, perhaps—could you have had a prince and future King hobnobbing in the most familiar terms with a ruffian like Falstaff. And what are they talking about? Misrule, of course. For all the joking around, this is serious stuff: Falstaff is asking for a license to steal and the Prince is fending him off.

  Fal.  Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?
  Prince.  Thou art so fat witted with drinking of old 
sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping
on benchesafter noon, that thou hast forgotten to 
demand that truly which thou woulds't truly know. 
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day? 
unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, 
and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of 
leaping-houses [brothels], and the blessed sun himself 
a fair hot wench in flame-color'd taffeta; I see no reason why 
thou shouldst be so superfluous as to demand the time 
of the day.
  Fal.  Indeed you come near me now, Hal, for we 
that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars, 
and not by Phoebus, he, "that wand'ring knight 
so fair." And I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art a 
king, as, God save thy Grace—Majesty I should say, 
for grace thou wilt have none—
  Prince.  What, none?
  Fal.  No, by my troth, not so much as will serve to be
prologue to an egg and butter.
  Prince.  Well, how then? Come, roundly, roundly.
  Fal.  Marry, then sweet wag, when thou art king,
let not us that are squires of the night's body be call'd
thieves of the day's beauty. Let us be Diana's
foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon,
and let men say we be men of good government, being
govern'd, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress
the moon, under whose countenance we steal.
  Prince.  Thou sayest well, and it holds well too, for
the fortunes of us that are moon's men doth ebb and
flow like the sea, being govern'd as the sea is, by the
moon. As, for proof, now: a purse of gold most
resolutely snatch'd on Monday night and most
dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning; got with
swearing "Lay by," and spent with crying "Bring in";
now in as low an ebb as the foot of the ladder, and by
and by in as high a flow as the ridge of the gallows.
  Fal.  By the Lord, thou say'st true, lad. And is not
my hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?
  Prince.  As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the
castle. And is hot a buff jerkin a most sweet robe of durance?
  Fal.  How now, how now, mad wag? What in thy
quips and quiddities? What a plague have I to do
with a buff jerkin?
  Prince.  Why what a pox have I to do with my
hostess of the tavern? . . . . . 

  Fal. . . .                                      But I prithee,
sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England
when thou art King? and resolution thus fubb'd as
it is with the rusty curb of old father antic the law?
Do not, when thou art king, hang a thief.
  Prince.  No, thou shalt.
  Fal.  Shall I? O rare! By the lord, I'll be a brave judge.
  Prince.  Thou judgest false already. I mean thou
shalt have the hanging of thieves, and so become a 
rare hangman.
  Fal.  Well, Hal, well, and in some sort it jumps with
my humor as well as waiting in the court, I can tell you.
  Prince.  For obtaining of suits?
  Fal. Yea, for obtaining of suits, whereof the hangman
hath no lean wardrobe. 'Sblood, I am as a melancholy
as a gib cat or a lugg'd bear . . . .
But, Hal, I prithee trouble me no more with vanity;
I would to God thou and I knew where a commodity
of good names were to be bought. An old man of the 
Council rated me the other day in the street about 
you, sir, but I mark'd him not, and yet he talk'd very
wisely, but I regarded him not, and yet he talk'd wisely
and in the street too.
  Prince.  Thou didst well, for wisdom cries out in
the streets, and no man regards it.
  Fal.  O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed
able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon
me, Hal, God forgive thee for it! Before I knew thee,
Hal, I knew nothing, and now am I, if a man should
speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must
give over this life, and I will give it over. By the Lord,
and I do not, I am a villain, I'll be damned for never a
king's son in Christendom.
  Prince.  Where shall we take a purse tomorrow,
  Fal.  'Zounds, where thou wilt, lad, I'll make one,
an' I do not, call me villain and baffle me.
  Prince.  I see a good amendment of life in thee,
from praying to purse-taking.
  Fal.  Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal, 'tis no sin
for a man to labor in his vocation.

Then, suddenly, the question that had been merely hypothetical, suddenly becomes real, with the entry of Poins, another member of Falstaff's band of buddies:

  Fal.  Poins! Now shall we know if Gadshill have set
 a match. O, if men were to be sav'd by merit, what hole in
hell were deep enough for him? This is the most
omnipotent villain that ever cried "Stand!" to a true man.
  Prince.  Good morrow, Ned.
  Poins.  Good morrow, sweet Hal. What says 
Monsieur Remorse? What says Sir John Sack and
sugar? Jack, how agrees the Devil and thee about thy
soul that thou soldest to him on Good Friday last, for a 
cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg?
  Prince.  Sir John stands to his word, the devil shall
have his bargain, for he was never yet a breaker of
proverbs. He will give the devil his due.
  Poins.  Then art thou damn'd for keeping they word
with the devil.
  Prince.  Else had he been damn'd for cozening the devil.
  Poins.  But, my lads, to-morrow morning
by four a' clock early at Gadshill, there are
pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings, and
traders riding to London with fat purses.

The Prince refuses, at first, to have anything to do with this lawless scheme, but when Poins takes him aside and explains his real object, to expose Falstaff as the cowardly blusterer that he is, he agrees to go along. The robbery, accordingly, goes off as planned, no one is hurt, (the money returned) but Poins' plot against Falstaff misfires; Falstaff can wriggle out of anything: instead of humiliation, triumph.

Meanwhile, the really big robbery, or coup, that the disaffected nobility have been planning is going forward. Though this rebellion has a charismatic but erratic hero, Hotspur, to front for it, the rebels are fractious and undisciplined; the well organized and well led armies of the King easily defeats them at the Battle of Shrewsbury in which Falstaff, characteristically playing his comic and self-serving role, manages simultaneously to save his skin and by hutzpah and bluster alone get himself acclaimed as the hero who won the battle. And so the play ends, though the problem of misrule, or corruption, has not been dealt with; that's what Part 2 is about.

Being naturally social and political animals, as Aristotle observes, we
cannot elude identification indefinitely. Even Falstaff is finally pinned
down. When Prince Hal becomes King Henry V, in the second part of
King Henry IV, he too acquires a social role and identity that he cannot
slough off. He can govern well or ill but govern he must. His first test,
and one that everyone expects him to fail, is pretty basic: what will he
do about his former cronies including, most especially, Falstaff?
Even today, cronyism is the norm in most societies. The idea that
justice should be no respecter of persons has still not taken hold, or is
only beginning to do so, outside of Europe and North America. The
ancient notion that Socrates (or Plato) set his face against, that a good
man is one who uses his power to help his friends and hurt his enemies,
is still widely accepted. It seems to have been the undoing of
(Shakespeare’s) Richard II. Shakespeare is absolutely unequivocal on
this point and for this he has taken a lot of heat from Falstaff's more
sentimental admirers.

The first thing the new king does is tell his Chief Justice, who has
been expecting the worst, that he respects his integrity and that of his
office and confirms him in it. Next, he puts Falstaff in his place—with
an allowance so he won’t be forced to prey on others (vain hope!). And
what is that place? Ten miles, at least, from wherever he, the King, happens
to be. But Falstaff is an idea and a fact of life and human nature
as well as a person and cannot be exorcised, as the King seems to be
trying to do. Falstaff is mortal, but his irreverent, bawdy, amoral wit
lives on. Shakespeare makes him an old man, which is appropriate, for
he had been around for a very long time when Shakespeare discovered
or invented him; there have always been people like him and there
always will be. They are not always as witty and charming as Falstaff;
they are mostly a lot meaner and lot less funny. People like them are
what laws are for.

Falstaff, with his latest victim at his side, is stunned, though he
might have known what was coming had he paid attention to what the
Prince has been telling him all along, that he would not, as king, accept
Falstaff's idea of good government. But suddenly all that seems irrelevant.
Even those of us who have been paying attention are likely to feel
that Hal’s icy and humiliating rejection goes too far. If this is what good
government requires, we want none of it.

Unfortunately, it is what good government requires—necessary
though not sufficient. Shakespeare is making a point and making it
more pointedly than he has to, perhaps, because he really does not like
the man Hal has turned into any better than we do. It is a point that
Machiavelli would have understood, though it did not occur to him to
make it in quite this way. Those who have it in their power to make or
break the lives of others in the interest of some common good have to
be or become different from you and me. They cannot afford to have the
same feelings or friendships as ordinary people; not if they know their
business. They must know how to be cold and hard. So, in Henry V, Hal
hangs his old pal Bardolph for a trivial offense, without the slightest
compunction. The law is the law and that’s that.

Prince Hal, like Queen Elizabeth, has the virtues of a good governor,
and that’s a fact which Shakespeare leaves unexplained. It is a fact that
this Prince has the wisdom to discern both the limitations and virtues of
Hotspur, and the creative-destructive wit of Hotspur’s polar opposite,
Falstaff. Politicians who want to know people as they are had better get
to know the witty rascals, riffraff and scoundrels of Falstaff’s world as
well as the more glamorous and honorable Hotspurs; there are a lot
more of the former than the latter. This is not the sort of thing they teach
in schools or churches; though political wisdom is undoubtedly learned,
it cannot be taught, but only shown: in a play like this one, for instance.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Why, this is the best fooling when all is done"— Shakespeare's supreme comedy, Twelfth Night

Before reading this play,  Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, with Anne Barton's introductory essay (so much better than anything I could have written), listen to Feste's beautiful song, which like fooling (of which Feste is also a master) sets the tone of this play:

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear, your true-love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty;
Youth's a stuff will not endure. (II.3.39-53)

"Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, is the only play for which Shakespeare provided an alternative title. As with Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and All's Well That Ends Well, his other late Elizabethan comedies, the title as a whole is more serious than it offhand and casual manner would suggest. The world 'will' possessed for  Elizabethans its modern sense of "wish" or "inclination," and is its primary significance here: and airy invitation to reader and audience to rechristen the comedy according to individual taste and reaction. . . Elizabethans, however, also used the noun 'will' for irrational  desire, passion (often physical) uncontrolled by judgment. . . in this sense the comedy is about what people —Olivia,  Orsino, Antonio, Malvolio, and even Viola—"will,"  the frightening suddenness  with which the "pales and forts of reason" as Hamlet termed them, may be swept away by a kind of emotional thunderstorm. . . . .

"Even if the comedy received its first performance on Twelfth Night, Shakespeare is most unlikely to have given it this name purely for so accidental and ephemeral a reason. Within the play itself there are no specific references to the Feast of the Epiphany, the twelfth and culminating day of the Christmas season . . . . Epiphany was originally a major Christian feast, even more important thanThe  Christmas. It commemorated not only the coming of the Magi with gifts to Bethlehem, but later events in the life of Jesus: his baptism, and the miracle at Cana. Human nature being what it is, it was perhaps inevitable that a  celebration which initially was wholly pious should, with time, alter its complexion, attracting to itself in the process a good deal of the license and even the specific customs of the pagan Saturnalia. Before long, the Church found itself struggling to suppress what had gradually become a kind of annual orgy within sacred precincts: the celebration of a world turned ritually upside down. The effort was in part successful. By the end of the fifteenth century the riotous Feast of Fools, now associated with Epiphany, had at last been driven out of the Church itself and forced to adopt less overtly blasphemous forms. In secular society, however, especially at the Inns of Court and in the universities and in princely gatherings, it continued to flourish in Shakespeare's lifetime.  If he christened a comedy Twelfth Night, it seems reasonable to assume that he intended that title to summon up images of Epiphany as it was celebrated in his own time: a period of holiday abandon in which the normal rules and order of life were suspended or else deliberately inverted, in which serious issues and events mingled perplexingly with revelry and apparent madness. This, in effect, is the atmosphere in Illyria: a country where everyone (except, perhaps, Feste) is very much in earnest, but also a little insane. . . .

"The words "Twelfth Night" not only suggest a carnival world; they warn an audience that it is not to ask too many awkward questions about the miraculous resemblance of boy and girl twins who, on the stage, will almost invariably look less than identical. Nor are we to question love at first sight, a duke who accepts as his wife a servant he thought only five minutes before, was a boy, or feasibility of persuading a man that he can make his fortune forever by way yellow stockings and crossed garters. In a world that is ritually upside down, almost anything can happen. There is a sense in which Sir Toby Belch is the master of these disorderly revels, a man literally intoxicated throughout most of the play, for whom time in its logical, workaday aspect has simply ceased to exist: "To be up after midnight and to go to bed then, is early; so that to go to bed after midnight is to go to bed betimes." (II.3.7-9) As a kind of carnival, or temporary, king, Sir Toby rules his sector of Olivia's household according to the rules of holiday inconsequence. His chief enemy, of course, is Malvolio. Olivia's steward is not only dedicated to work, sobriety, and regular hours: he insists that all the world should follow his example, that there should be no cakes and ale, no tang of ginger on the tongue, and no relaxation of discipline in man's progress from cradle to grave. He has no use for folly, whether it is that of Feste the professional, or Fabian's low taste for the sport of bear-baiting, or the nightly songs and carousals of Sir Toby and his companion Aguecheek.

"Toby himself is a parasite sponging off a young and beautiful niece. He uses this position to deceive and profit from the ridiculous ambitions of a hanger-on of his own, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In the final scene he will turn viciously on this supposed friend: "Will you help? —an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!" (V.1.206-7) There is nothing lovely, or even honest, about Sir Toby's riotous little court. Yet a theater audience will always, at least up the point of  Malvolio's incarceration in the dark house of Act IV, support Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, Feste, and Fabian in their plot against the steward. In the study it is possible to be more soft-hearted. To watch Twelfth Night on the stage, however, is to participate and delight in a heightened world temporarily free from time and normal responsibility. At a party where everyone is gloriously drunk, Malvolio is the guest who insists on remaining cold sober, who reads long lectures on temperance to everyone else, and threatens to summon the police. As such, he is our enemy as well as Sir Toby's, not only because he tries to suppress music and revelry which we find entertaining, but because we recognize that,  in his view, we ought not be indulging ourselves by going to the theater at all. This is why his downfall, in its early stages is so delicious. Yellow-stockinged and cross-gartered, trying to learn how to smile, Malvolio has become the unconscious victim of precisely that irrational spirit of holiday which he so despises. He has harbored a private folly all along—his conceit, born of self-love and isolation, that Olivia adores him—and when his enemies employ it against him, his behavior becomes at least as mad as theirs.

"Madness in Illyria is by no means confined to Sir Toby, his entourage, and the deceived Malvolio. The very first scene of the comedy introduces Orsino, a nobleman committed to a course of wild extravagancy, in the Elizabethan sense of that word. He is bound up within a fiction, a dream of romantic passion, in which the voyage itself is really more important than its specific goal. . . Whatever some critics may say, the lovelorn Orsino is not a figure of fun. Indeed, the verse he speaks at the beginning of the play is seductively beautiful: intense, metaphoric, and imaginative. Only by the slightest touches—the way his hunting image,  for instane, threatens to overbalance into an Actaeon/cuckold joke which the speaker certainly does not intend—does Shakespeare hint at something that Feste, later, will make explicit: the fact that Orsino's love melancholy is essentially sterile and self-induced,  a state of mind dependent  upon that very absence and lack of response from Olivia which it affects to lament.

"On the whole, Olivia will suffer greater humiliation than Orsino in the course of the comedy, although her lack of self-knowledge is no more acute than his. She is described from the beginning in words that evoke a complex response.

The element itself, till seven years'  heat,
Shall not behold her face at ample view;
But like a cloistress she will veiled walk,
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine; all this to season
A brother's dead love, which she would keep fresh
And lasting in her sad remembrance.  (I.1.25-31)

"The underlying image here is homely, even a little grotesque. Like a housewife who carefully turns a piece of pickled meat once a day in its brine bath, Olivia intends through salt tears to preserve the memory of her dead brother beyond the normal span of grief. There is something forced and abnormal about such mourning, but there is also—as Orsino's reaction makes clear—something noble. . . Olivia is engaged in a war against time and human forgetfulness . . . the attempt fails . . . At the first sight of Cesario she abandons her veil and, in rapid succession after that, her tears, her rites of memory, her pride, and even her modesty. It is right and proper, in accord with all the laws of comedy, that this should happen,  that Sebastian ultimately should fill up the place of the dead brother in Olivia's heart. Seven years is a long time and youth is very short . . . Yet Olivia's ignominious collapse, while necessary, is also sad. Man has his glimpses of the ideal, whether of love or of fidelity to the dead. Not  even in Illyria, however, an such ideals be sustained.

"In the comedies that he wrote before Twelfth Night, Shakespeare had created a number of fantasy worlds, places that never were on sea or land, where life has some of the qualities of a dream. He invented Portia's house over the sea at Belmont, with its riddle-game, its music, and its limitless wealth; the forests of As You Like It, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Midsummer Night's Dream; the withdrawn, artificially  enclosed park of Love's Labor's Lost. Even in The Come,dy of Errors, The Taming of The Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Much Ado About Nothing there are shadowy traces of this pattern of movement from an ordinary world to a second, somehow magical, environment in which characters are transformed, but which they must leave at the end of the comedy to take up the burden of the everyday. The people who set out from Arden, Navarre, Oberon's wood, Windsor great park, or the nightmare house of Petruchio are not quite the same as those who have sojourned there. Their experiences in this second, heightened world have altered them, usually for the better. It is clear, however, that their future lies  in a harsher, more realistic society, subject to imperfection, death, human limitation, and Time, which we accept as an image of our own.

"In the final romances [a term that has been invented by modern editors; in the First Folio, all the plays that were neither history plays nor tragedies, were comedies] Shakespeare abandoned this comic pattern. The Tempest is the only play which even approximates to it, and it does so in a very peculiar sense indeed.   [If it weren't for Caliban, in my opinion, that play would be dead, dead, dead.] The characters of the last plays are constantly travelling, but the places from which they set out, to which they journey, and to which they return are all equally marvellous. There is no distinction in this particular sense between Tharsus, Tyre, and Mytilene in Pericles, between Sicily and Bohemia in The Winter's Tale, between Cymbeline's court and the forest to which Imogen flees. People may be transformed within it, but their transformation no longer depends upon their experience of an extraordinary place where the demands of life as they know it are, for a time, suspended and which they must leave at the end.

"In ways that go beyond the implications of its title, Twelfth Night is a kind of Janus-faced play, mediating between the early comedies and the last romances. Viola's disguise as Cesario recalls the masculine disguise of Julia [in Two Gents] and Rosalind. Yet in her strange passivity, her insistance on enduring events rater than creating them, she is like Perdita and Miranda, Marina and Imogen. The theme of mistaken identity, that confusion between twins which finally gives Sebastian to Olivia, Viola to Orsino, Shakespeare had exploited years before in The Comedy of Errors. Its emotional quality in Twelfth Night, however,  prefigures the highly charged reunions of Pericles and The Winter's Tale. With respect to the idea of two comic worlds, one of them heightened, the other an analogue to our own reality, Twelfth Night seems to strike a balance between the practice of early and late Shakespearean comedy. Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked into Illyria, even as (metaphorically at least) Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander are 'shipwrecked' into the forest by the harsh laws of Athenian society, or as Bassanio flees the poverty of his condition in Venice in search of the golden fleece in Belmont. But the Twelfth Night  characters remain in Illyria; they do not return. Nor do we get any sense of what Messaline, the place from which they say they have come, is like. Any contrasts between the heightened and the ordinary must be found within Illyria itself.

"Both Viola and Sebastian, the two intruders from the sea, accept Illyria as they find it. They may be momentarily baffled by the topsy-turvy world of the revels: both yield themselves to the current without trying, as Malvolio tries, to alter its course. Sebasian cheerfully marries a woman he doesn't know, and who may well be mad, simply because she is lovely and lays passionate claim to him. Viola, once committed to her role as Orsino's page, conscientiously does whatever she is told, however painful, without trying to impose her own will upon events. She is careful to keep at arm's length from the love-crazed Olivia, but essentially she plays a waiting game, believing that Time 'must untangle this, not I.' (II.2.40) When circumstances provide her with virtual proof that her twin brother is not only alive but the source of considerable confusion and misunderstanding in Illyria, she not only makes no attempt to explain, let alone find him: she sits almost unnaturally still, leaving the wretched Antonio to flounder in an agony of mind, and her own love Orsino to entertain the most murderous suspicions and intents. Hopelessly entangled herself in the rough-and-tumble world of the underplot, deceived by the false challenge of Sir Toby, terrified by the bare prospect of combat with Sir Andrew, her efforts are all to evade action rather than, like Rosalind, to initiate it. Even her boy's disguise operates not as a liberation but merely as a way of going underground in a difficult situation, of waiting to see what Time will bring. This attitude, it turns out, is the best she could have adopted. By surrendering herself unquestioningly to the madness of Illyria, by remaining aware but passive, she contrives to win Olivia for her brother, redeem Antonio's life, and marry Orsino herself.

"Time, however, is a two-fold entity in Twelfth Night. Even Viola, for all her faith in Time as a redemptive and beneficent force, can see that it has another face. When she tells Orsino about that supposed sister who never told her love but sat 'like Patience on a monument, / Smiling at grief" (II.4.114-15), until it was too late, or agrees with him sadly that women are like summer roses which 'die, even when they to perfection grow' (II.4.41), her words are filled with a bitter consciousness that for her too the months are passing and slowly diminishing her beauty and her youth, hidden in a boy's disguise. The chief spokesman for this second, realistic kind of Time is not, however, Viola but Feste. Feste is not only a wise fool, a man in complete intellectual and emotional control of himself, who has chosen the part of professional jester: he operates throughout the comedy as a truth-teller who reminds the other characters that holiday, by its very nature is not eternal. It is Feste who points out to the revellers that the future is uncertain, laughter momentary, and youth 'a stuff will not endure' (II.3.52). He tells Olivia sometehing she does not want to hear, that 'beauty's a flower' (I.5.52), and suggests ominously beneath his seeming lightness that 'pleasure will be paid, one time or another' (II.4.70-1). An isolated figure, with no discernible loyalties, involvements, or private life [but where has he been when he gets scolded for being absent so long?], he seem to be as much (or as little) at home in Orsino's house as in Oilivia's. In both he remains watchful, observant, and essentially detached.

"Elizabethans would naturally have expected Feste to be heavily involved in the plot against Malvolio, not only because he has a personal grudge against the steward, but because such behavior was appropriate to a Fool. Real-life fools, if they had sufficient wit, were much given to the perpetration of practical jokes, as witness some of the stories told in a A Nest of Ninnies (1605), that scarifying anthology compiled by Robert Armin, the actor who originally played Feste. Shakespeare, however, keeps Feste apart from the gulling of Malvolio until the Sir Topas scene just before the end. This is the scene in which it is first intimated that the spirit of carnival [and license] is about to break. Even Sir Toby can scent the morning air. He begins to worry that they've gone too far . . . and wishes that they 'were well rid of all this knavery' (IV.2.67-8). In Act V, images of death and violence proliferate. Antonio appears bound, anguished, and facing the prospect of execution. His presence summons up the memory of war and destruction, that sea-fight in which Orsino's nephew had been maimed for life. Maddened by jealousy, Orsino threatens to kill Cesario. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, having narrowly escaped serious injury at the hands of Sebastian, arrive on the scene covered with blood and calling for a surgeon. The party it seems is over. Suddenly sober and disillusioned, Sir Andrew wishes pathetically that he were at home. Two broken revellers, even their friendship [such as it was] destroyed, they vanish from the stage, not to reappear. Maria does not appear either, to give us any indication about how she feels about her marriage bargain with Sir Toby. As for Malvolio, he intrudes briefly on the scene of joy at the end, without understanding any of it, and departs as a figure of violence, threatening revenge on this society in which he is an alien.

"At the end of Twelfth Night, the two kinds of time that have coexisted throughout the comedy suddenly diverge. They are used to distinguish a world of fiction from one of fact. For Viola and Orsino, Olivia and Sebastian, there will be no awakening from the dream, no need to leave a heightened  realm. The clock by which they live is that of fairy-tale: beneficent, unhurried, and admittedly unreal. Shakespeare goes out of his way to stress the formal, distanced quality of their story at its conclusion. This is why Sebastian and Viola, twins parted for only three months, put one another through a question-and-answer test of the most artificial kind, why Viola (unlike Rosalind) does not return to her girl's clothes. Orsino simply accepts a woman he has never, in fact, seen. Olivia accepts as husband a stranger she has mistaken for someone else. The resolutions and accords are powerful and emotionally charged, but they are also deliberately play-like and literary, not to be confused with the way of the world as we know it to be. Olivia and Sebastian, Viola and Orsino confront us at the end less as representatives of a new society but as people who, by the special dispensation of Comedy, have been allowed to escape from death and time.

"There is a disturbingly large number of important absentees in the ending of Twelfth Night, more than in any other Shakespearean comedy. Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, Maria, and Malvolio do not participate in this happy ending. Antonio is present but seems to have no part to play. Feste is absent too during the revelations and explanations, but he seems (characteristically) to understand and accept what has happened when he appears to end the comedy . . . Our revels, too, have ended. It is the task of Feste in his final song to tell us this, and to build a bridge from that remote enchanted place where the two romantic couples remain forever, to the very different world outside the theater which is our own. Like Jacques' summary of the seven ages of life from the cradle to the grave, Feste's account [in his final song, which will be alluded to by the Fool in King Lear] of man's inexorable progress from a child's holiday realm of irresponsibility and joy into age, vice, disillusionment, and death draws from an old didactic tradition. Its basic pessimism is informed and sweetened, however, not only by the music to which it is set,  but by the tolerance and acceptance of Feste himself. Precisely because of his anonymity and aloofness in the play now ended, he can be trusted to speak for all mankind, and not simply for himself. There is nothing that can be done about those harsh facts of existence to which Feste points, any more than about the wind and the rain. They must simply be endured. Like childhood happiness, all comedies come to an end. The great and consoling difference lies in the fact that one can, after all, as Feste points out, return to the theater: and there 'we'll strive to please you every day.'"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

"In its basic outline," says Anne Barton in her introduction to this play (Riverside edition, 1997), the Hero and Claudio plot is of great age, tracing its ancestry back to the romance literature of ancient Greece. It seems, however, to have acquired an especial popularity during the Renaissance . . . .  Usually, although by no means always, the villain of the piece is the lover's friend: a man treacherously in love with the lady himself [as in Two Gentlemen of Verona] who slanders her in order to break off the match. . . .

"In Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare transferred the rivalry between love and friendship to a position slightly outside the main imbroglio. Don John, the source of a misunderstanding that comes close to being fatal, has no interest in Hero herself. A man incapable of any genuine human relationship, he is not even Claudio's friend let alone his rival in love. Don John is a malcontent pure and simple, a man who might say with the cold Duke in Thurber's story The Thirteen Clocks: "We all have faults, and mine is doing wickedness." Certainly, Shakespeare makes no attempt  to provide him with even the kind of fairy-tale motivation that Oliver has for practicing against the life of his younger brother in As You Like It. The fact that Don John was born a bastard [like Edmund in King Lear]  becomes an all-sufficient explanation of why it is that he is treacherous, scheming, savage, and morose. A thing of darkness, out of step with his society, he hates the children of light simply because they generate radiance in a world he prefers to see dark. This is why he plans to wreck the intended marriage of Claudio and Hero. He has nothing to gain personally from such a tactic, except the pleasure of annoying his brother, grieving Claudio, turning laughter to tears, and reducing everyone around him to the state of misery and gloom in which he languishes himself. A plot mechanism more than a complex character in his own right, Don John appears in the play as a kind of anti-comic force [like Malvolio in Twelfth Night], the official enemy of all happy endings.

"Much Ado About Nothing represents a variant on the more usual Shakespearean comic pattern of a journey from an urban to a rural, an ordinary to a heightened world, and back again. All the action of the play takes place in Messina, but it is a town temporarily lifted out of its ordinary habits and atmosphere by the fact that it happens to be filled with glamorous strangers . . . .  In the Messina of the comedy, masked faces, revels and dances are the order of the day. Apart from Dogberry and his associates, this is a courtly world enjoying a period of carnival. Some of the deceits, like the one that
brings Beatrice and Benedict together are harmless and even beneficent. Others are not. The general atmosphere, however, is conducive to eavesdropping, mistaken identity, game-playing, and conversations reported wrongly, even as it is to music, feasting, and marriage. Claudio's wooing of Hero seems almost like an expected and conventional response to the times: an acknowledgement that, when wars are over it is advisable to start replenishing a population diminished by bullets and swords. Certainly, Claudio's courtship of Hero is of the most formal and socially proper kind. He takes her wealth and position as Leonato's only child into careful account, seeks the advice and approbation of his prince before embarking on the match, and behaves in every way like a sober and prudent man contracting a dynastic alliance in which the charms of the lady matter, of course, but scarcely inspire in him the recklessness of a Romeo.  A man does not allow his prince, however respected, to propose marriage for him in disguise unless he sees that marriage in social more than personal terms. This, however, is what Claudio does. Only when Don Pedro has secured the consent of both the lady and her father does the prospective bridegroom speak to Hero herself. With the war happily ended, Claudio feels that the time is right for matrimony and for begetting an heir. His practicality in this respect is not exactly held against him, but it does explain the ease with which he believes Don John's slanders, and the unconsidered violence with which he shames Hero and casts her off. Claudio is a man who thinks he has been duped in a bargain, not a Troilus whose whole world shatters around him because he has to recognize that the  goddess of his idolatry is false.

"Hero too is docile and passive. She welcomes the alliance with Claudio, but there is no suggestion that she has been pining with love for the young Florentine while he has been away at the war. . . Elizabethans must have detected a certain irony in the name Shakespeare bestowed upon this singularly dutiful daughter. In Greek mythology, Hero was the lady beloved of Leander, who broke her religious vows in oder to enjoy a clandestine love affair with him. When, through the enmity of the gods, Leander was drowned while swimming the Hellespont one night to a secret meeting with her, Hero killed herself. Shakespeare knew Marlowe's great narrative poem on the subject and, in As You Like It, quoted a line from it: "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight." [This is the only line from a contemporary poet that Shakespeare ever quoted or even referred to. Marlowe, the dead shepherd referred to as the writer of that line, had been a friend of his.] It would be hard to imagine an attitude further away from the caution and circumspection of Claudio's Hero.

"The affairs of these two lovers, often conducted through third parties, are inveterately public. The rupture between them, when it comes, is public too. Claudio denounces Hero in church, on their wedding day, before a crowd of people, and with the backing of the Prince. Even Leonato, Hero's own father, is convinced. In the bitterest speech of the comedy, he begs his own child at least to have the decency to die, and tries to prevent anyone from reviving her. The friar has some difficulty in persuading him that this condemnation may be too hasty. Apart from the friar, only Beatrice and Benedict suspect, from the first that Hero is really innocent and the prince and Claudio misled. Beatrice, in particular, reacts violently against Claudio's public denunciation of her cousin: "What, bear her in hand until they come to take hands, and then with public accusation, uncover'd slander, unmitigated rancor—O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place" (IV.1.303-7).
Her indignation is just; and it also serves to indicate the distance between her own intensely personal attachment to Benedict and the more formal outward bond which unites [eventually] Claudio and Hero. Claudio's atonement when the truth is known, even his reunion with Hero, are wholly consistent with the nature of this plot: his penitence before Hero's tomb in V.3 is again public, a ritual demonstration of sorrow, and he gets his lady back only because he agrees to ally himself, sight unseen, with another daughter of Leonato's house.

"Much Ado About Nothing is usually dated 1598. There is no specific source for the Beatrice and Benedict underplot . . . . There is a suggestion in the text that these 'two bears' were once, at some indeterminate past time, in love with each other (II.1.280-82). Shakespeare does not say why the relationship broke down but, in the comedy itself each one is obsessed with and continually talking about the other in a manner that makes it clear  from the start that their animosity is a cloak for feelings of a very different kind [which, we should add, they are not quite consciously aware of]. This is why they can be tricked with such ease. All that the conspirators have to do is suggest to each that the other has yielded first, has taken the first step towards an admission and acknowledgment of love,  and all defenses crumble. Both Beatrice and Benedict, for all their surface gaiety, their scorn of the married state, are essentially lonely people. They are older than Claudio and Hero and in danger of finding themselves imprisoned for life within a set of attitudes and social responses which, though witty and amusing, are nonetheless inhibiting and sterile. Neither can break these self-imposed fetters without help from outside. When this help arrives, they turn joyously to one another with a freedom and depth of engagement lacking in the relationship of Hero and Claudio.

". . . . . For all its surface aggression, its deflationary quality, their wit is really defensive: a way of protecting a self that they know to be vulnerable. Beatrice savages Benedict in public, and mocks him behind his back, because she cannot help thinking about him and needs to camouflage this interest [from herself as well as others]. Benedict defends the bachelor state, inveighs against women and even against the courtly art of music, affecting a spirit of bluff masculine camaraderie on all social occasions, in order to fend off alternative ways of thinking and feeling. Both use wit to distance emotions which they recognize as potentially dangerous. They cling to the society of their own sex because there they feel safe, but they cannot help launching provocative shafts of ridicule or inquiry into the enemy's  terrain.

"Although Beatrice has no evidence to advance against the damning account of how Don Pedro, Don John and Claudio actually saw Hero talk with a ruffian at her chamber window after midnight, she never for an instant believes that her cousin is guilty. Her logic here is that of the instincts and the heart, but it happens to be entirely right. Benedict, understandably, is slower to commit himself to the defense of Hero, although from the first he is puzzled by the charge against her. He makes an important decision, however, when he does not leave the church with Claudio, Don Pedro and the bastard, as might be expected. He chooses, instead, to remain behind with Hero, Leonato, the friar, and Beatrice. In doing so he breaks with the little all-male society of soldiers which has hitherto claimed his allegiance. He behaves in this seemingly uncharacteristic fashion although he and Beatrice have not yet, in fact, reached an understanding, simply because he is beginning to see the world through different eyes. Leonato, in the last scene of all will claim: 'The sight whereof I think you had from me. / From Claudio, and the Prince' (V.4.25-26). This is true, however, only in the sense that had it not been for the conspiracy, Benedict would never have been able to liberate and admit responses buried deep inside himself.

"The flight of Don John from Messina, together with Borachio's confession of the plot against Hero, relieves Benedict of the necessity of turning his sword against his former friend, but it is important that he should have accepted Beatrice's passionate and impulsive commission. We in the audience never believe that Benedict will kill Claudio. Law and justice in Messina are, to put it mildly, inefficient, but it is nonetheless evident, even in scene where the challenge is formally delivered, that Hero's innocence will shortly be vindicated without any help from Benedict. What his engagement in her cause demonstrates is the new priority in his life of love, and the extent to which this love supersedes  and cancels out older ties. As for Beatrice, the woman who pretended, early in the comedy, that she could not imagine why anyone should think her life incomplete without a man . . . finds herself in Act IV wishing no fewer than three times 'that I were a man.' Her appeal to Benedict to do what, as a woman, she herself cannot manage, and her gratitude to him, represent, on her part, as radical a transformation of attitude as does his challenge to Claudio."

The rest of Anne Barton's commentary is worth reading but I'll leave that up to you. There's something  that needs to be said about the Beatrice-Benedict story that she doesn't say: this story, of two people who are in love but don't know it and have to be pushed into each other's arms by their friends, who know them better than they know themselves, is unprecedented—and modern. It is the only story that Shakespeare entirely invented, out of whole cloth as it were, because nothing remotely like it existed in the earlier literature, Classical or Medieval. Barton calls it a subplot, but from the evidence she cites in her introduction (which I have left out), it is clear that it soon became for most audiences the main story, with the Claudio-Hero story providing a sort of melodramatic launching-pad.

Monday, July 12, 2010

As You Like It

For anyone interested in Shakespeare's comedies, As You Like It (1599) is a good place to begin; and the best way to begin is by reading Anne Barton's first-rate Introduction in the Riverside Edition of 1997, (most of which I shall shamelessly reproduce here) just before—or, better— after you read the play.

"In Love's Labor's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare had experimented with the reduction of plot entanglement, actual story line, to a minimum. AsYou Like It too is a play which stresses words above action, matter above words. There is a flurry of events at the beginning—Oliver's various attempts to rid himself of his virtuous younger brother, the banishment of Rosalind and then of Oliver himself—but these are transparently devices for getting all the major characters away from the familiar world and into the forest of Arden, rather than incidents exploited for their own sake. Near the end another little explosion of events precipitates four marriages and releases all the exiles from their pastoral life. In between, Shakespeare seems to go out of his way to avoid generating suspense. Celia and Oliver, Audrey and Touchstone have agreed to marry almost before we what is happening. Rosalind has only to abandon her disguise as Ganymede —and there is no reason on the level of plot why she should not do this as soon as she is safe in Arden—for Orlando to declare himself and Phebe to recognize that she must be content with her faithful Silvius after all.

"As You Like It replaces a developing intrigue, of the kind exemplified by Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night, with a structure of cunningly juxtaposed characters and attitudes which Shakespeare has elaborated until it becomes a substitute for plot. As the days go by in Arden, two or more characters meet, converse and part, to be succeeded on the stage by another group of people concerned to explore a different, but related, point of view. Without being in the least undramatic, As You Like It is singularly still at the center in a way that focusses attention upon ideas and thematic material. Unlike Ben Jonson, refuses to legislate or even to take sides in the various rivalries the comedy sets up: between court and country, nature and fortune, youth and age, realism and romanticism, inherent nobility and the virtue that is acquired, the active and the contemplative life, laughter and melancholy. These polarities, the subject of ceaseless debate and meditation, tend to be identified with particular characters, but the comedy as a whole is far more interested in doing justice to the complexity of the argument than in prescribing correct choices.

"No society, if it is honest with itself, can pretend that these antinomies do not exist. Equally, no society can have any true cohesion of or self-respect if it does not try to accommodate them all, fairly, within its total structure. Rosalind is extraordinarily important in As You Like It, as central and dominating a figure in her fashion as Hamlet is in his own, very different play, because in her these warring opposites are reconciled and live and peace without for an instant losing their force and individuality. Like Jacques, Rosalind knows that human beings die and worms eat them. Like old Corin, she is aware that even the most passionate love diminishes with time, and like Touchstone, that lovers are objectively ridiculous and their airiest flights grounded in the senses. She knows these things immediately and emotionally, not merely in the abstract, and yet they do not sour her gaiety or trivialize the essential seriousness of her commitment to Orlando. Speculative and thoughtful, she is nonetheless able to give a positive shape to her own existence and to that of several other people as well. Detached but involved, she laughs at herself as much as she does at Phebe, Silvius, or Jacques, yet manages to be gentle and generous to them and perceptive in her own affairs. Life is at best imperfect, even in Arden, but Rosalind suggests that there are ways of living it well and to some purpose, despite the pessimism of Jacques.

"By 1599, Shakespeare  had already written at least seven comedies, most of them built on the idea of two localities, one heightened and more remarkable than the other. Like Belmont [in The Merchant of Venice], Navarre [Love's Labor's Lost], the wood in Two Gentlemen of Verona or A Midsummer's Night's Dream, Arden is a place set apart from the ordinary world. It is emphatically not a paradise. Winter, cold winds and rain, the penalty incurred by the Old Testament Adam, come to it. Some of its native inhabitants are churlish and stupid. Yet the forest is essentially a good place, not because it possesses limitless wealth or supernatural power, but because in Arden fortune does not oppress and stifle nature. People are free here, as they are not in the nervous court of Duke Frederick, to realize their own potentialities. Worldly assets and success cease to matter. In the forest, judgements are made only in  terms of what people really are. Some people, like Orlando and Rosalind, gain from the opportunity. Others do not.

"The idea that sophisticated people, suddenly made part of a rustic life of which previously they had the most distant and imperfect knowledge may discover  truths obscured or undisclosed in the court is a very old one. Pastoral is a complex and enduring [literary] form, not because it is escapist but because it is basically tough: it is a way of testing both the self and the assumptions of ordinary urban society. As You Like It is a pastoral in this sense. It begins with a disordered society, a corrupt court in which violence and broken ribs are considered entertaining and men like Le Beau have to hide their own intuitive sense of justice under a foppish mask; where Oliver, simply because he is an elder son can treat his servants and younger brother like animals. It moves from this nightmare world into Arden, an exile which is really a liberation, where ideas and relationships can be honestly examined. Long after such masculine impersonation is necessary, Rosalind clings to the part of Ganymede because of the freedom it allows her. In her boy's disguise, she escapes (for a time) the limitations of being a woman, Duke Senior's daughter, the conscious object of Orlando's love. She learns a great deal about herself, about Orlando, and about love itself which she could not have done within the normal conventions of society. This knowledge is, in a sense, the gift of the forest but it can only come to full fruition in the world outside. Sooner or later, Rosalind must stop play-acting, must reveal herself Orlando in her own person, and recognize the fact that Hymen, the god of marriage, presides not over the fields and woods but over the town. (V.4.141-46)

"There is some truth in Jacques' accusation that Duke Senior and his companions in exile are as much usurpers in a world whose natural balance they have disturbed as Duke Frederick himself. Arden is not a place where people who are not really farmers or goat-herds can live permanently, however useful it may be as a temporary refuge. At the end, most of the characters return joyously to an urban world, which thanks to what they have learned during their banishment, they will transform. The pattern here is one that is standard in pastoral literature, and one of the sources of its enduring fascination. Shakespeare must have known Spenser's particularly haunting version of it in Book VI of The Faerie Queene. He returned to it himself in Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. As You Like It, however, stands out among the other plays of Shakespeare's which might be described, at least in part, as pastorals by its essential optimism and by its insistence upon the tolerance and inclusiveness of the new society epitomized in the final dance.

"It is true that there are some ungainly participants in this concluding ritual. The elephantine caperings of Audrey are no more "seemly" than they ever were. More important, the relativism, the sceptical attitude of Touchstone remains unchanged. Like all Shakespeare's fools, Touchstone is a corrupter of words. Language itself is one of his main preoccupations, and he likes to bewilder simple souls like Corin by demonstrating the superiority of words over facts. It is entirely characteristic of Touchstone that he does not care on which side of a question he argues. In fact he reverses himself twice in the course of his court-versus-country dispute with Corin. What matters to him is a denial of the single, objective nature of reality: the reality believed in by men like Corin who earn what they eat, get what they wear, owe no man hate, envy no man's happiness, and never question either the values implied by these attitudes or the words used to express them. Corin is finally silenced by Touchstone's "courtly" wit. He is not, however, exactly defeated. He and the fool simply represent antithetical ways of looking at the world. Neither perspective is advanced as a model. Corin's simplicity is obviously limited, but then so is the willful complication of Touchstone's verbal kingdom.

"Shakespeare's fools are usually solitaries, men who can comment on society in the way they do partly
because they themselves are set apart, free of domestic entanglement or even of a personal past. Touchstone is unusual in that he does not merely talk about getting married: he actually does it . . . The bride of this man for whom words are all important is a girl unable to comprehend or make effective use of even the simplest verbal constructs . . . her mistakings are comic, but her relationship with Touchstone gives them a special significance. Audrey cannot find meanings for words; Touchstone can find too many. Both, however, are "sure together, / As winter to foul weather" (V.4.135-36) because when it comes to the point of choice, of action, they fall back on appetite, non-verbal sense experience of the kind that man shares with the brute creation. Both characters make us laugh, Audrey unwittingly, Touchstone because it is his profession, but there is in both cases a fundamental misadjustment between language and fact. Certainly Touchstone does not represent a point of view to be trusted in this play, as Feste and Lear's fool do in theirs. Although the scepticism of Touchstone does distinguish gold from dross in a wholes series of different encounters—with Le Beau, with Jacques, with Corin, Rosalind and Orlando —the agent is in no sense to  be confused either in nature or quality with what it is there to verify or expose. A touchstone identifies gold: it is not in itself a precious substance. The man totally without illusions is ultimately as much a fool as his romantic opposite, Silvius. Even the most skilfull use of words, the most intelligent awareness of the multiple nature of reality, if it is without commitment or generosity, leads in the end to a rigid and reductive kind of behavior, imprisoning man within the skin of the animal.

"There are two important absentees from the final dance, as well as two erratic performers. Orlando's faithful servant Adam is simply too old to help initiate the new social order. Silently, he has vanished from the play. As for Jacques, although he is present in the final scene, he is adamant in his refusal to join in the dance.  It is one of the few absolutely just and perceptive decisions he announces in the course of the comedy. A man unbalanced in his pessimism, delighting in his own melancholy and unsociability, Jacques has hitherto dealt in judgments that were somehow incomplete or askew. Oliver confounded men with beasts but Jacques, in his reported soliloquy on the herd-abandoned deer, makes the opposite mistake interpreting animal behavior as though it were human. Throughout Act II he clings perversely to prose and discordant sounds while all around him the play is lifting into verse and song. As the comedy progresses, he continues to fare badly. Only Jacques fails to recognize that, in their encounter in the forest, Touchstone has cleverly parodied his own style:

And then he drew a dial from his poke [says Jacques],
And looking on it, with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, "It is ten a' clock.
Thus we may see, " quoth he, "how the world wags.
'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven,
And so from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale."                          (II.7.20-28)

These melancholy certainties which Jacques so much admires are platitudes of the most obvious kind. Even without the Duke's barbed reminder that Jacques own libertine past scarcely qualifies him to scourge vice in others, it would be hard to see what value a satirist could have who relied upon moralizings so dusty.

"Jacques famous account of the seven ages of man, for all its verbal poise and inventiveness, is also a set piece which, for Elizabethans, must have verged on the banal.  Moreover, it is generalized and demonstrably untrue. Orlando, Touchstone is quick to point out, may be absurd when he hangs love sonnets on trees. There is still far more value in his relationship with Rosalind than Jacques accounts for in his dismissal of man as lover. Again, Jacques reduces old age to 'second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything' (II.7.165-66). The words are no sooner spoken than Orlando enters bearing old Adam: a man enfeebled by his years, dependent now on a younger life, but also a living image of all that Jacques left out of his type picture: loyal, honset and discriminating. His age has its own kind of value, 'frosty but kindly', and the tenderness of Orlando, as well as the respect of paid Adam by Duke Senior, ridicules Jacques' despair. With Orlando and Rosalind, Jacques makes even less headway. Orlando flatly declines the satirists invitation to join him in a verbal assault on the world 'and all our misery': 'I will chide no breather in the world but myself, against whom I know most faults.' (III.2.278-81) Rosalind, even more crushingly point out that Jacques' ideal of silent unresponsiveness is one realized by the average fence-post (IV.1.8-9).

"Throughout As You Like It Jacques has functioned less as the representative of a valid point of view than as a measure of the essential sanity and balance of those characters who stand closer than to the center of the play. He too is a kind of touchstone testing the strength of that optimism and faith in the future characteristic of Rosalind, Orlando, Celia and Duke Senior with his continual reminders of death and decay. None of them attempt to deny the facts of death and time, but all reject the hopelessness of Jacques: the notion that life is without purpose or meaning because it finishes in the grave. The new society forged in Arden is not flawless. Nevertheless, the final dance is a triumph, an image of harmony, and its movements disciplined and artful though they are, are flexible enough to accommodate the awkwardness of the goat-girl and the fool. Jacques is respectful of what has been achieved, yet he insists at the end that there is a world elsewhere, beyond the scope of comedy. This why he casts in his lot with the penitent Duke Frederick, a man who is still asking questions, as opposed to celebrating a resolution. Jacques's response, here is, for once, justifiable. He right to remind us that the comic dance, for all its generosity, its vigor and grace, cannot hope to contain all aspects of human experience."