“Last scene of all,/That ends this strange eventful history,/Is second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

As You Like It

Another Perspectives

By Dennis Abrams


From Marjorie Garber:

“The Forest of Arden, then, is a golden world, an Eden, an Arcady, and in some sense a tongue-in-cheek parody of all these.  But what is it like?  What is the experience of Arden as its travelers experience it, and as the audience experiences it?  Arden has an intriguing range of fauna and flora.  There are lions and serpents, oak trees and palm trees – and, at least in a song, if not in ‘real life,’ winter weather.  In short, the world of Arden is not so much a real ‘English’ forest (although the coast of Cornwall, far from Warwickshire and washed by the Gulf Stream, has its palm trees), but rather a place of imagination and possibility, perhaps one enriched by tales of colonial exploration.  In the court Rosalind complains to Celia, ‘O how full of briers is this working-day world!’  In Arden she will say to Orlando, ‘I am in a holiday humour, and like enough to consent.’  The opposition of working-day and holiday is a familiar dichotomy:  Prince Hal averred in his ‘I know you all’ soliloquy that ‘[i]f all the year were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work.’  In As You Like It, the two states are aligned with geography.  As Celia says when the two women, and the reluctant Touchstone, decide to enter the forest, ‘Now we go in content,/To liberty, and not to banishment.’  To liberty and not to banishment – expulsion from the court world is liberation into Arden, a liberation signaled, as so often in Shakespearean comedy, by transformation in costume and in name.

In a play in which all names have significance, Rosalind has taken the name of Ganymede, the cupbearer of the gods, a lovely Trojan youth who was carried off by Zeus because of his beauty – a beauty that made him sought after by women as well as by men.  The tale of Ganymede was understood as the model of male-male love among the Greeks, and still carried that connotation in the humanist Renaissance, which studied the Greek and Roman classics.  Celia, whose own name means ‘heavenly,’ adopts the name Aliena, ‘the lost one,’ a typical pastoral name, but one also linked to the familiar Shakespearean pattern of losing oneself in order to find oneself.  Celia has no political need to leave the court, where her father is the usurping and reigning Duke.  But in leaving home to travel with her cousin, beloved friend, and virtual sister Rosalind, she estranges herself from her former live as the Duke’s daughter, and is able to find and fall in love with a stranger who turns out to be Oliver, Orlando’s brother.

The forest they enter, with its oddly mixed flora and fauna and its mythic associations, is a place of extreme variability.  Just as time – in Rosalind’s phrase – ambles with some people and trots with others, so Arden changes its nature depending upon the temperament and character of the observer.  Arden is a projection of one’s own beliefs, dreams, or fears – a psychological mirror of the self.  As Touchstone says, tellingly, ‘Ay, now am I in Ardenne; the more fool I’ – recalling, surely intentionally, ‘Et in Arcadia ego.’  Arden is an intensifier, a mirror that magnifies both fantasies and preconceptions.  Thus, for example, Duke Senior, the exiled ‘good’ Duke, Rosalind’s father, begins act 2 with a resounding speech on the moral value of the simple forest life, free from the ‘penalty of Adam,’ the cost of the fall or expulsion from paradise:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,

Hath not old custom made this life more sweet

Than that of painted pomp?  Are not these words

More free from peril than the envious court?

Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,

The season’s difference, as the icy fang, L:

And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,

Which when it bites and blows upon my body

Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say

‘This is no flattery. These are counselors

That feeling persuade me what I am.’

Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

There are sermons in the stones and books in the brooks – but only because Duke Senior puts them there, just as Orlando will put tongues in the trees.  Duke Senior sees the landscape as a moral exemplum, and it becomes one.  The forest itself is a blank canvas, on which he is projecting his own interpretation.  And what he sees is that the country is more honest, less duplicitous than the court.  ‘T’he icy fang/And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,/Which, when it bites and blows upon my body/Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say, /’This is no flattery.  These are counselors/That feeling persuade me what I am.’  These views will, indeed, resurface later in Shakespeare’s career in another brilliant play about man and nature, King Lear.


“Touchstone is one of the most engaging of Shakespearean fools.  At around the time this play was written a new comic actor, Robert Armin, joined Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  Armin succeeded Will Kemp, the principal clown of the earlier years, whose comedy was often broad and physical.  Kemp, one of the original shareholders, was famous for his dancing, and especially for a performance known as Kemp’s Jig.  Kemp had originated such Shakespearean rustic roles as Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Armin’s specialty was wit.  Shakespeare created for him the deft and subtle comedy of Feste in Twelfth Night, and the Fool in King Lear, and it is thought that Touchstone, too, may have been a role written with Armin in mind.  Certainly he made it successful, and this new kind of clown, more often now called a ‘fool,’ became one of the most visible elements in Shakespearean drama, balancing and undercutting the attitudes of the onstage ‘nobility.’  Paid or professional fools, of course, had long been members of royal and noble households throughout England and Europe.  Richard Tarleton was a favorite in the court of Queen Elizabeth and is sometimes said to have been the model for Hamlet’s beloved jester Yorick.  Many, though not all fools, jesters, and harlequins wore motley, a multicolored cloth, as a recognizable badge or costume.  Known as ‘allowed fools’ or ‘licensed fools,’ because they were permitted to say dangerous things without incurring punishment, such court figures functioned both as inside critics and as safety valves.  Touchstone, like Feste and Lear’s Fool, is permitted to speak truth to power, and to escape unscathed, despite periodic threats of discipline or punishment.

Touchstone the licensed fool is, then, in some sense another aspect of ‘liberty,’ and of the fact that Arden leads ‘[t]o liberty and not to banishment.’  Like all allowed fools, h e is himself a mirror, reflecting and commenting on the life and times around him.  His name, Touchstone, means ‘a stone used to test the purity of gold or silver,’ and thus more generally a test or criterion by which things are judged.  [‘L]et the forest judge’ is his pronouncement, as is ‘Ay, now am I in Ardenne; the more fool I.’  Touchstone is the personal equivalent of the forest, an index of human behavior and a way by which other characters come to confront themselves.  Consider his answer to Corin’s innocent question ‘And how like you this shepherd’s life, Master Touchstone?’

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 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 well; but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much against my stomach.  Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?

In essence, Touchstone defines ‘philosophy’ as seeing both sides of every question, providing suitable language (solitary versus private, in the fields versus in the court, and so on) in order to bolster each argument.  The baffled and outmatched Corin is not his only target.  Touchstone will articulate the arguments for and against pastoral, for and against court life, arguments that affect and afflict most characters in the play.

Touchstone is fittingly associated with the issue of time, which will play so central a role in the dialectic of holiday and working-day worlds.  We have heard Jaques’ description of the fool in the forest, drawing his dial from his poke, and saying very wisely, ‘It is ten o’clock.’  When he ‘morals’ on the time, drawing a moral or aphorism from it (‘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’) he speaks both what the play will call ‘philosophy’ and also what it will call ‘bawdry,’ since the word ‘hour’ was pronounced like the word ‘whore.’  Rotting thus becomes a specific affliction with venereal disease as well as transcendental memento mori, and his moral ‘tale’ hangs, rhetorically, adjacent to the more anatomical ‘tail.’  Orlando will later protest to ‘Ganymede’ (the disguised Rosalind), that ‘[t]here’s no clock in the forest’ and she will rebuke him by asserting that [t]ime travels in divers paces with diverse persons.’  Time in the forest is relative, an aspect of experience and personality.  Time ambles with some, and trots with others, and gallops with a thief to the gallows.  In fact, Rosalind’s catalogue of what time does with whom greatly resembles, although it also differs from, that other time catalogue in As You Like It, Jaques’ great set piece on the seven ages of man.

Here it is important to remind ourselves that this concept – ‘All the world’s a stage’ – was in Shakespeare’s time already a cliché.  For the post-Shakespearean world of readers this is perhaps the most famous articulation, but when Shakespeare put these words in the mouth of one of his most affected poseurs he was making a deliberate theatrical decision.  The eloquence of the speech and the appeal of its primary metaphor does not diminish with the knowledge that this is not a ‘new’ idea for Shakespeare and his colleagues, but rather a very old and indeed a tired one. This is entirely typical of Shakespeare, who does something similar in a number of other plays, putting Ulysses’ speech on ‘degree’ in the mouth of a character who will not hesitate to violate social hierarchy for political ends, and setting Hamlet’s sublime ‘What a piece of work is a man!’ in the context of a coarse and jesting conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Putting the familiar cliché in an unfamiliar context is one way of making it dramatically effective, and this is what the playwright does with Jaques:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and 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. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The choice of seven for the ages of man was a popular one in Shakespeare’s time, although some experts contended that there were three, or four, or six.  But seven was the number of the planets, and the virtues and vices, and the liberal arts, and so on.  the character types mentioned by Jaques do match up with the planets – the schoolboy is mercurial; the lover, venereal; the soldier, martial; the justice, jovial; the old man, saturnine.  More strikingly, in a play so concerned with language and poetry, each ‘age’ is described in terms of speech.  The infant mewls; the boy whines; the lover sighs and writes poems; the soldier’s speech is full of strange oaths; the justice utters wise saws, or sayings, and modern instances, or examples; the old man’s voice turns higher and thinner, as he returns from ‘manly’ maturity back toward childhood.  Speech is here a rite of passage marking the ages of man.  But what is perhaps most central is again the sense of ongoing time.  Like Touchstone’s ‘hour to hour we ripe and ripe,’ this is time outside the forest, working-day time, time that will lead to death.  It is thus in sharp contrast to the relative, subjective, and imaginative time within the forest world, where there is ‘no clock,’ and time ambles or gallops as it pleases.  Jaques’ great set piece is memorable, but like its speaker it has limitations, limitations shrewdly inserted by the playwright – not errors, but rather qualifications.  Take, for example, the portrait of the last stage, ‘[s]ans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’  Jaques’ speech has been a long one – we can only imagine that he milks it, too, for every bit of satirical drama – and this is in part a device to give Orlando time to go back and fetch the loyal old Adam, as he has said he will do.  Thus the speech will be winding to its conclusion as old Adam reenters the stage.  And as he does so, in his dignity and self-awareness he gives the lie to everything Jaques has just said about the depredations and mortifications of old age.”


“These reflections bring us to a key question about the structure of the play’s plot, one frequently overlooked because its strategy of delay and deception is, theatrically speaking, what makes the play so delightful.  Nonetheless, here is the question:  Why doesn’t Rosalind reveal her identity to Orlando?  Why, long after she has seen that she is safe in the forest – her original, ostensible reason for disguise – does she remain Ganymede rather than Rosalind, a boy rather than a woman?…There are at least two kinds of answers to this question:  one might be described as instrumental, practical, and functional, and another as symbolic.  The first is conscious, the second unconscious; the first has to do with the realm of human psychology, and the second with fantasy and desire.  Let me consider them in turn.

The first answer, then, to the question of why Rosalind remains in disguise is related to the necessity of education in love, not so much for herself as for Orlando.  Rosalind seems almost instinctively to comprehend some essential truths about love, which is why she is so effective a stage manager of others’ loves, and ultimately of her own.  She understands that love is the next thing to folly, that to be a lover is to be a fool, as Touchstone says:  ‘We that are true lovers run into strange capers.  But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.’  His sentiments are very close to those of Puck, who spoke more dismissively of human love as an occasion for amusement:  ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’  Rosalind receives Touchstone’s pronouncement with approbation;  ‘Thou speak’st wiser than thou art ware of.’

By contrast, Orlando is not so immediately wise about love.  In fact when they first meet at the wrestling match, he does not speak to Rosalind at all, though he is as smitten as she.  ‘Can I not say ‘I thank you?’ he asks himself.  And then, when Rosalind has left:

What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue?

I cannot speak to her, yet she urged conference.

As we have seen repeatedly, language is the index of full humanity in Shakespeare.  When characters cease to speak, or cannot bring themselves to do so, they seal themselves off from society…Orlando’s failure of language in love, however adorably adolescent, is in part a sign that he does not yet understand what it is to be a lover.  From his tongue-tied inability to speak he progresses to a kind of ‘literary’ love, from silence to writing, hanging his poems on trees in the forest, fulfilling in a comically literal way Duke Senior’s prophecy of sermons in stones and books in the running brooks.  Orlando:  ‘O Rosalind! These trees shall be my books,/And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character.’  He has no idea, of course, that Rosalind is anywhere nearby to read these poems, much less that Touchstone is, to write parodies of them, imitating ‘the very false gallop of verses.’  In fact, Orlando’s poetical love is rather solipsistic, though again not without its charm.  He is another of Shakespeare’s parody Petrarchan lovers (like the Romeo of the opening scenes of Romeo and Juliet), writing his fruitless poems because, as he thinks, his lady is unattainable and far away, while in reality she is just on the other side of the tree, picking off the poems as fast as he hangs them up.  Orlando needs to be brought into direct contact with Rosalind, to stop thinking of her as some idealized, unreal lady, and instead to recognize her particular qualities of generosity and wit.  He needs to speak to her rather than about her.

‘Truly the tree yields bad fruit,’ says Touchstone, after idly parodying Orlando’s poems:

Wintered garments must be lined,

So must slender Rosalind.


‘Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,’

Such a nut is Rosalind.

He that sweetest rose will find

Must find love’s prick, and Rosalind.

The ‘prick’ here is the thorn of a rose (‘Rosalind’ translates as ‘lovely rose’) but also contemporary slang for ‘penis.’  Mercutio had punned on the same word, which could also mean ‘a point on a dial.’  Shakespeare Sonnet 20, ‘A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,’ addressed to the ‘master-mistress of my passion,’ concludes with a more romantic version of the trope.  Having given his beloved the face and heart of a woman, but without woman’s changeability and falsehood, ‘nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,’ the poet writes,

And by addition me of thee defeated

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

    But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure

    Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.

For a moment the joke is on the boy-actor-as-Rosalind – but only for a moment – and only with a wink to the audience, before the onstage fiction resumes.  Rosalind plucking the ‘bad fruit’ of the tree becomes, instead, a comic version of Eve plucking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  Once she knows that Orlando is in the forest, Rosalind will seek to descend from the poetical pedestal on which he has placed her, and engage him instead in a play, a holiday pretense of love, which becomes a freeing rehearsal for love itself – if it is not love indeed.

Here, the pragmatic wisdom of her decision to remain in disguise becomes evident, for Orlando is comfortable and at ease with the ‘boy’ Ganymede, not tongue-tied as he was in court, or pretentious as he is in his poems.  Modern parlance calls such relationships by names like ‘male bonding’ and ‘homosocial’ love.  However we understand the relationship between Orlando and ‘Ganymede,’ or however a director chooses to manage it on stage, the connection with ‘Ganymede’ is a kind of breakthrough for Orlando, in which he becomes his easy, joking self.  Rosalind as ‘Ganymede’ undertakes to cure him of love, which, she says, is ‘merely a madness,’ even though Orlando protests, ‘I would not be cured, youth,’ and the nature of the proposed cure is a play-within-the-play.  ‘I would cure you if you would but call me Rosalind and come every day to my cot and woo me,’ she says.  ‘With all my heart, good youth,’ Orlando replies, and the rejoinder is swift:  ‘Nay, you must call me Rosalind.’  The play is case, the parts are given, yet Orlando does not know that the supposed fiction is truer than what he regards as reality.  Rosalind’s play will work for us and upon him as do all plays-within-the-play in Shakespeare, exposing the follies and limitations of the world of the onstage spectator – as well as the correlative blind spots of the audience in the theater.”


I found this absolutely fascinating…and I’ll post about the second reason for Rosalind’s remaining as ‘Ganymede” in my Sunday evening post.

Enjoy your weekend.

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