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 woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the 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 counsellors
That feelingly 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.
These lines, spoken by Duke Senior upon his introduction in Act II, scene i, establish the pastoral mode of the play. With great economy, Shakespeare draws a dividing line between the “painted pomp” of court—with perils great enough to drive the duke and his followers into exile—and the safe and restorative Forest of Ardenne (II.i.3). The woods are romanticized, as they typically are in pastoral literature, and the mood is set for the remainder of the play. Although perils may present themselves, they remain distant, and, in the end, there truly is “good in everything” (II.i.17). This passage, more than any other in the play, presents the conceits of the pastoral mode. Here, the corruptions of life at court are left behind in order to learn the simple and valuable lessons of the country. Shakespeare highlights the educational, edifying, and enlightening nature of this foray into the woods by employing language that invokes the classroom, the library, and the church: in the trees, brooks, and stones surrounding him, the duke finds tongues, books, and sermons. As is his wont, Shakespeare goes on to complicate the literary conventions upon which he depends. His shepherds and shepherdesses, for instance, ultimately prove too lovesick or dim-witted to dole out the kind of wisdom the pastoral form demands of them, but for now Shakespeare merely sets up the opposition between city and country that provides the necessary tension to drive his story forward.
As I do live by food, I met a fool,
Who laid him down and basked him in the sun,
And railed on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms, and yet a motley fool.
’Good morrow, fool,’ quoth I. ‘No, sir,’ quoth he,
’Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune.’
And then he drew a dial from his poke,
And looking on it with lack-lustre eye
Says very wisely ‘It is ten o’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 ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’
In Act II, scene vii, melancholy Jaques displays an uncharacteristic burst of delight. While wandering through the forest, he relates, he met a fool, who entertained him with rather nihilistic musings on the passage of time and man’s life. According to Touchstone, time ensures nothing other than man’s own decay: “from hour to hour we rot and rot” (II.vii.27). That this speech appeals to Jaques says much about his character: he delights not only in the depressing, but also in the rancid. Practically all of Touchstone’s lines contain some bawdy innuendo, and these are no exception. Here, by punning the word “hour” with “whore,” he transforms the general notion of man’s decay into the unpleasant specifics of a man dying from venereal disease. Touchstone appropriately, if distastefully, confirms this hidden meaning by ending his speech with the words “thereby hangs a tale,” for tale was Elizabethan slang for penis (II.vii.28).
No, faith; die by attorney. The poor world is almost six thousand years old, and in all this time there was not any man died in his own person, videlicet, in a love-cause. Troilus had his brains dashed out with a Grecian club, yet he did what he could to die before, and he is one of the patterns of love. Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun if it had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and, being taken with the cramp, was drowned; and the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was Hero of Sestos. But these are all lies. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
In Act IV, scene i, Rosalind rejects Orlando’s claim that he would die if Rosalind should fail to return his love. Rosalind’s insistence that “[m]en have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love” is one of the most recognizable lines from the play and perhaps the wisest (IV.i.91–92). Here, Rosalind takes on one of the most dominant interpretations of romantic love, an understanding that is sustained by mythology and praised in literature, and insists on its unreality. She holds to the light the stories of Troilus and Leander, both immortal lovers, in order to expose their falsity. Men are, according to Rosalind, much more likely to die by being hit with a club or drowning than in a fatal case of heartbreak. Rosalind does not mean to deny the existence of love. On the contrary, she delights in loving Orlando. Instead, her criticism comes from an unwillingness to let affection cloud or warp her sense of reality. By casting aside the conventions of the standard—and usually tragic—romance, Rosalind advocates a kind of love that belongs and can survive in the real world that she inhabits.
O sir, we quarrel in print, by the book, as you have books for good manners. I will name you the degrees. The first, the Retort Courteous; the second, the Quip Modest; the third, the Reply Churlish; the fourth, the Reproof Valiant; the fifth, the Countercheck Quarrelsome; the sixth, the Lie with Circumstance; the seventh, the Lie Direct. All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may avoid that, too, with an ‘if’. I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an ‘if’, as ‘If you said so, then I said so’, and they shook hands and swore brothers. Your ‘if’ is the only peacemaker; much virtue in ‘if’.
In Act V, scene iv, Touchstone delivers an account of a recent argument he has had. His anatomy of the quarrel, as this speech might be called, is a deftly comic moment that skewers all behavior that is “by the book,” whether it be rules for engaging an enemy or a lover (V.iv.81). The end of the speech, in which Touchstone turns his attentions to the powers of the word “if,” is particularly fine and fitting. “If” points to the potential of events in possible worlds. “If” allows slights to be forgiven, wounds to be salved, and promising opportunities to be taken. Notably, within a dozen lines of this speech, Duke Senior, Orlando, and Phoebe each usher in a new stage of life with a simple sentence that begins with that simple word.
It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ‘tis true that a good play needs no epilogue. Yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play! I am not furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not become me. My way is to conjure you; and I’ll begin with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you. And I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women—as I perceive by your simpering none of you hates them— that between you and the women the play may please. If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not. And I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths will for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.
The Epilogue was a standard component of Elizabethan drama. One actor remains onstage after the play has ended to ask the audience for applause. As Rosalind herself notes, it is odd that she has been chosen to deliver the Epilogue, as that task is usually assigned to a male character. By the time she addresses the audience directly, Rosalind has discarded her Ganymede disguise. She is again a woman and has married a man. Although we may think the play of gender has come to an end with the fall of the curtain, we must remember that women were forbidden to perform onstage in Shakespeare’s England. Rosalind would have been played by a man, which further obscures the boundaries of gender. Rosalind emerges as a man who pretends to be a woman who pretends to be a man who pretends to be a woman to win the love of a man. When the actor solicits the approval of the men in the audience, he says, “If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me”— returning us to the dizzying intermingling of homosexual and heterosexual affections that govern life in the Forest of Ardenne (Epilogue, 14–16). The theater, like Ardenne, is an escape from reality where the wonderful, sometimes overwhelmingcomplexities of human life can be witnessed, contemplated, enjoyed, and studied.