AS YOU LIKE IT.
SHAKESPEAR has here converted the forest of
Arden into another Arcadia, where they "fleet
the time carelessly, as they did in the golden
world." It is the most ideal of any of this author's
plays. It is a pastoral drama in which
the interest arises more out of the sentiments
and characters than out of the actions or situations.
It is not what is done, but what is said,
that claims our attention. Nursed in solitude,
"under the shade of melancholy boughs," the
imagination grows soft and delicate, and the
wit runs riot in idleness, like a spoiled child,
that is never sent to school. Caprice and fancy
reign and revel here, and stern necessity is banished
to the court. The mild sentiments of
humanity are strengthened with thought and
leisure; the echo of the cares and noise of the
world strikes upon the ear of those "who have
felt them knowingly," softened by time end distance.
"They hear the tumult; and are still."
The very air of the place seems to breathe
a spirit of philosophical poetry; to stir the
thoughts, to touch the heart with pity, as the
drowsy forest rustles to the sighing gale. Never
was there such beautiful moralising, equally free
from pedantry or petulance.
"And this their life, exempt from public haunts,|
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing."
Jaques is the only purely contemplative character
in Shakespear. He thinks, and does nothing.
His whole occupation is to amuse his
mind, and he is totally regardless of his body and
his fortunes. He is the prince of philosophical
idlers; his only passion is thought; he sets no
value upon any thing but as it serves as food
for reflection. He can "suck melancholy out
of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs;" the motley
fool, "who morals on the time," is the greatest
prize he meets with in the forest. He resents
Orlando's passion for Rosalind as some disparagement
of his own passion for abstract truth;
and leaves the Duke, as soon as he is restored to
his sovereignty, to seek his brother out who has
quitted it, and turned hermit.
--"Out of these convertites|
There is much matter to be heard and learnt."
Within the sequestered and romantic glades
of the forest of Arden, they find leisure to be
good and wise, or to play the fool and fall in
love. Rosalind's character is made up of sportive
gaiety and natural tenderness: her tongue
runs the faster to conceal the pressure at her
heart. She talks herself out of breath, only to
get deeper in love. The coquetry with which
she plays with her lover in the double character
which she has to support is managed with the
nicest address. How full of voluble, laughing
grace is all her conversation with Orlando--
--"In heedless mazes running|
With wanton haste and giddy cunning."
How full of real fondness and pretended cruelty
is her answer to him when he promises to
love her "For ever and a day!"
"Say a day without the ever: no, no, Orlando, men are
April when they woo, December when they wed: maids
are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when
they are wives: I will be more jealous of thee than a Barbary
cock-pigeon over his hen; more clamorous than a parrot
against rain; more new-fangled than an ape; more
giddy in my desires than a monkey; I will weep for nothing
like Diana in the fountain, and I will do that when you are
disposed to be merry; I will laugh like a hyen, and that
when you are inclined to sleep.|
Orlando. But will my Rosalind do so?
Rosalind. By my life she will do as I do."
The silent and retired character of Celia is a
necessary relief to the provoking loquacity of
Rosalind, nor can any thing be better conceived
or more beautifully described than the mutual
affection between the two cousins.
--"We still have slept together,|
Rose at an instant, learn'd, play'd, eat together,
And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable."
The unrequited love of Silvius for Phebe
shews the perversity of this passion in the commonest
scenes of life, and the rubs and stops
which nature throws in its way, where fortune
has placed none. Touchstone is not in love, but
he will have a mistress as a subject for the exercise
of his grotesque humour, and to shew his
contempt for the passion, by his indifference
about the person. He is a rare fellow. He is
a mixture of the ancient cynic philosopher with
the modern buffoon, and turns folly into wit, and
wit into folly, just as the fit takes him. His
courtship of Audrey not only throws a degree
of ridicule on the state of wedlock itself, but
he is equally an enemy to the prejudices of
opinion in other respects. The lofty tone of
enthusiasm, which the Duke and his companions
in exile spread over the stillness and
solitude of a country life, receives a pleasant
shock from Touchstone's sceptical determination
of the question.
"Corin. And how like you this shepherd's life, Mr.
Clown. Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good
life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life, it is naught.
In respect that it is solitary, I like it very well; but in respect
that it is private, it is a very vile life. Now in respect
it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in respect it is
not in the court, it is tedious. As it is a spare life, look
you, it fits my humour; but as there is no more plenty in
it, it goes much against my stomach."
Zimmerman's celebrated work on Solitude discovers
only half the sense of this passage.
There is hardly any of Shakespear's plays that
contains a greater number of passages that have
been quoted in books of extracts, or a greater
number of phrases that have become in a manner
proverbial. If we were to give all the striking
passages, we should give half the play. We
will only recall a few of the most delightful to
the reader's recollection. Such are the meeting
between Orlando and Adam, the exquisite appeal
of Orlando to the humanity of the Duke
and his company to supply him with food for
the old man, and their answer, the Duke's description
of a country life, and the account of
Jaques moralising on the wounded deer, his
meeting with Touchstone in the forest, his apology
for his own melancholy and his satirical
vein, and the well-known speech on the stages
of human life, the old song of "Blow, blow,
thou winter's wind," Rosalind's description of
the marks of a lover and of the progress of time
with different persons, the picture of the snake
wreathed round Oliver's neck while the lioness
watches her sleeping prey, and Touchstone's
lecture to the shepherd, his defence of cuckolds,
and panegyric on the virtues of "an If."--All
of these are familiar to the reader: there is one
passage of equal delicacy and beauty which may
have escaped him, and with it we shall close
our account of AS YOU LIKE IT. It is Phebe's
description of Ganimed at the end of the third act.
"Think not I love him, tho' I ask for him;|
'Tis but a peevish boy, yet he talks well;--
But what care I for words! yet words do well,
When he that speaks them pleases those that hear:
It is a pretty youth; not very pretty;
But sure he's proud, and yet his pride becomes him;
He'll make a proper man; the best thing in him
Is his complexion; and faster than his tongue
Did make offence, his eye did heal it up:
He is not very tall, yet for his years he's tall;
His leg is but so so, and yet 'tis well;
There was a pretty redness in his lip,
A little riper, and more lusty red
Than that mix'd in his cheek; 'twas just the difference
Betwixt the constant red and mingled damask.
There be some women, Silvius, had they mark'd him
In parcels as I did, would have gone near
To fall in love with him: but for my part
I love him not, nor hate him not; and yet
I have more cause to hate him than to love him;
For what had he to do to chide at me?"