[O]ur life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
The banished Duke Senior expounds on the wonders of life in the forest. He tells his associates that he prefers forest dwelling to the “painted pomp” of courtly existence (II.i.3). He reminds them that their existence in Ardenne is free from danger and that their greatest worry here is nothing worse than the cold winter wind. The woods provide Duke Senior with everything he needs, from conversation to education to spiritual edification, for he “[f]inds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything” (II.i.16–17). Lord Amiens agrees with him. The duke suggests that they hunt some venison, but he cannot help but mourn the fate of the deer, who, though natives of Ardenne, are violently slaughtered. One lord announces that the melancholy lord Jaques has seconded this observation, declaring Senior guiltier of usurpation than his loveless brother, Duke Frederick. Duke Senior, in good humor, asks one of his men to bring him to Jaques, because arguing with him is such fun.Read a translation of Act II, scene i →
Back at court, Duke Frederick is enraged to discover the disappearances of Celia, Rosalind, and Touchstone; he cannot believe that the three could leave court without anyone’s notice. One attending lord reports that Celia’s gentlewoman overheard Celia and Rosalind complimenting Orlando, and she speculates that wherever the women are, Orlando is likely with them. Frederick seizes on this information and commands that Oliver be recruited to find his brother.Read a translation of Act II, scene ii →
Orlando returns to his former home, where the servant Adam greets him. News of the young man’s victory over Charles precedes him, and Adam worries that Orlando’s strength and bravery will be the keys to his downfall. Adam begs Orlando not to enter Oliver’s house. Oliver, he reports, having learned of Orlando’s triumph, plans to burn the place where Orlando sleeps in hopes of destroying Orlando with it. “Abhor it,” Adam warns, “fear it, do not enter it” (II.iii.29). Orlando wonders about his fate, speculating that without a home, he may be destined to eke out a living as a common highway robber. Adam suggests that the two of them take to the road with his modest life’s savings. Touched by Adam’s constant service, Orlando agrees.Read a translation of Act II, scene iii →
Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone arrive, safe but exhausted, in the Forest of Ardenne. The three sit down to rest, but before long they are interrupted by two shepherds: young Corin and old Silvius. The shepherds are so wrapped up in their conversation about Silvius’s hopeless love and devotion to the shepherdess Phoebe that they do not notice the three travelers. Corin, who claims to have loved a thousand times, tries to advise Silvius, but the young man, maintaining that his companion could not possibly understand the depth of his feelings, wanders off. Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone approach Corin and ask where they might find a place to rest. When Corin admits that his master’s modest holdings are up for sale, Rosalind and Celia decide to buy the property.Read a translation of Act II, scene iv →
Pastoral literature makes a clear distinction between the quality of life and benefits of living in the city versus the country. The stresses of the former, this genre romantically suggests, may be healed by the charms of the latter; thus Act II introduces us to the Forest of Ardenne after we witness characters undergo banishment from courtly life. Although supposedly situated in France, Shakespeare’s forest bears closer resemblance to the fantastical getaway of A Midsummer Night’s Dream than to any identifiable geography. It may not be overrun with mischievous fairies and sprites, but it serves the function of correcting what has gone wrong with the everyday world. However, even with that purpose in mind, Ardenne is no Eden. Though Duke Frederick praises the forest as preferable to the artificial ceremony of the court, he takes care to describe its hardships. With its wild animals and erratic weather, Ardenne can hardly be called a paradise, and at the same time the duke celebrates Ardenne, he also draws attention to the difference between that forest and Eden or the Golden Age.
The forest is a lovely but ultimately temporary haven for the characters who seek refuge from exile. One reason for the transience of this sanctuary is that the city dwellers are, by the play’s end, ready to return to court. Jaques, a stock character who represents the melancholy brooder, suggests a more troubling reason for the temporary nature of the forest’s pristine state and restorative powers. Man, he suggests, will sooner or later mar the forest’s beauty. Grieved by the killing of the deer, Jaques claims that Duke Senior is guiltier of usurpation than his crown-robbing brother, Duke Frederick. According to Jaques, wherever men go, they bring with them the possibility of the very perils that make life in the “envious court” so unbearable (II.i.4). None of Duke Senior’s courtiers disagrees with Jaques, but the melancholy lord’s criticism lacks real sting. Indeed, Duke Senior sees Jaques as little more than entertainment, for the extremity of Jaques’s mood prompts Senior to declare amusingly, “I love to cope him in these sullen fits, / For then he’s full of matter”—matter being the word for pus in Shakespearean English (II.i.67–68). In a play that celebrates the complexity and the range of human emotions, there is little room for someone like Jaques, who knows how to sing only one tune.