Shakespeare's As You Like It - The Philosophy of Jaques


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The Philosophy of Jaques in As You Like It  

 

Jaques is one of the characters in Shakespeare`s comedy As You Like It. We- as audience and readers- learn that although he was previously a libertine, he now seems to have turned to philosophy in his quest for a new identity. As a philosopher he questions much of what he sees around him.

            At one point Jaques analyses what it is to be a man (II,vii, 60-166). He sees the world as a stage wherein men and women are players, and their different ages represent different acts and scenes in the play. His descriptions suggest that the roles are largely beyond the players` control; that a script for the play has already been written by an exterior force. But there is a sense of contradiction in all this; the stages Jaques outlines for us (presented to his audience as universal) do not account for his own role. Since this is the case we must either presume that Jacques is somehow exceptional or that the roles are not as fixed as people imagine. One can always argue that Jaques is an outcast of some sort. On the other hand, the Duke Senior is eager to offer him a position at court, thereby giving him an opportunity to obtain an acceptable role within the framework of a hierarchical, society, but Jaques turns down the offer. He needs to widen his horizon, and is so impatient about learning more that he does not even stay to celebrate with the rest of the uke`s men."To see no pastime, I." (V,iv,194). Instead he wants to go to Duke Frederick: "Out of these convertites,/ There is much matter to be hear`d and learn`d" (V,iv,183-184).

            Jaques has no particular interest in being part of an established society. He creates his own role and his own destiny. By his mere presence in the play we are made aware of the infinite choices that confront human beings in their lives. Rosalind is the only other character in As You Like It who really challenges established roles, but whereas she (in all likelihood) returns to court and is satisfied with the new development (after all, she brought it about), Jacques is unwilling to let go of his freedom and independence introduced to him in the green world.

            Jaques first attempts to challenge established norms by putting on a fool`s appearance: "O that I were a fool!/ I am ambitious for a motley coat.

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" (II,vii,42-43) He further announces: "Give me leave to speak my mind" (II,vii,58-59).In this way he can serve as a cleanser of "the foul body of th`infected world" (II,vii,60). He knows that at "the pompous court" (V,iv,181) he can only speak his mind if people think him a fool, whereas here in the woods, in the green world, he is free to say and do as he chooses. He seems to have no wish to be bound by courtly rules or any other rules for that matter. Jaques is on the whole very much a contrast to the other characters in the play, what they take seriously he does not, what they think is funny, he does not. He fascinates as well as annoys his companions; among other things he ridicules Orlando`s infatuation with Rosalind, showing a very cynical side of himself. But he too can on occasion be happy and agreeable (IV,ii).

            Jaques`s main concern seems to be freedom to say and do what he wants. He is not willing to compromise as he must do if he returns to court. He sticks to his principles and is not overly concerned with what other people think of him. In this sense he is very much like *"The Contrary Woman",a woman who never gives in. He goes in the opposite direction of his friends, both physically and spiritually. They follow the roles as set up for them in Jaques`s speech about a man`s seven ages, he proves their potential invalidity.

 

* "The Contrary Woman" is a Norwegian folktale about a woman who even floats upstream.

 


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