Touchstone and a goatherd named Audrey wander through the forest, while Jaques follows behind them, eavesdropping. Touchstone laments that the gods have not made Audrey “poetical” (III.iii.12). Were she a lover of poetry, she would appreciate the falsehoods of which all lovers are guilty and would be dishonest, a quality that Touchstone prefers she possess. His reason behind encouraging her dishonesty is that to have beauty and honesty together, as he claims he does in Audrey, is “to have honey a sauce to sugar” (III.iii.25). Nevertheless, Touchstone has arranged to marry Audrey in the forest with Sir Oliver Martext, a vicar from a nearby village, officiating. Touchstone determines that many wives cheat on their husbands, but claims that the horns of cuckoldry are nothing of which to be ashamed. Oliver Martext arrives to perform the wedding ceremony and insists that someone “give the woman” so that the ceremony is “lawful” (III.iii.55–58). Jaques offers his services but convinces Touchstone that he should marry in a proper church. The clown counters that a nonchurch wedding will make for an ill marriage and that an ill marriage will make it easier for him to abandon his wife, but in the end he acquiesces. Jaques, Touchstone, and Audrey leave the rather bewildered vicar alone in the forest.Read a translation of Act III, scene iii →
Orlando has failed to show up for his morning appointment with Ganymede, the disguised Rosalind, and she is distraught. She wants desperately to weep. Rosalind compares Orlando’s hair to that of the infamous betrayer of Christ, Judas. Celia insists that Orlando’s hair is browner than Judas’s, and Rosalind agrees, slowly convincing herself that her lover is no traitor. Celia, however, then suggests that in matters of love, there is little truth in Orlando. A lover’s oath, Celia reasons, is of no more account than that of a bartender.
Corin enters and interrupts the women’s conversation. He explains that the young shepherd, Silvius, whose complaints about the tribulations of love Rosalind and Celia witness earlier, has decided to woo and win Phoebe. Corin invites the women to see the “pageant” of a hopeless lover and the scornful object of his desire, and Rosalind heads off to see the scene play out (III.iv.46). Indeed, she determines to do more than watch—she plans to intervene in the affair.Read a translation of Act III, scene iv →
Silvius has confessed his love to Phoebe, but his words fall on hostile ears. As the scene opens, he pleads with her not to reject him so bitterly, lest she prove worse than the “common executioner,” who has enough decency to ask forgiveness of those he kills (III.v.3). Rosalind and Celia, both still disguised, enter along with Corin to watch Phoebe’s cruel response. Phoebe mocks Silvius’s hyperbolic language, asking why he fails to fall down if her eyes are the murderers he claims them to be. Silvius assures her that the wounds of love are invisible, but Phoebe insists that the shepherd not approach her again until she too can feel these invisible wounds. Rosalind steps out from her hiding place and begins to berate Phoebe, proclaiming that the shepherdess is no great beauty and should consider herself lucky to win Silvius’s love. Confronted by what appears to be a handsome young man who treats her as harshly as she treats Silvius, Phoebe instantly falls in love with Ganymede. Rosalind, realizing this infatuation, mocks Phoebe further. Rosalind and Celia depart, and Phoebe employs Silvius, who can talk so well of love, to help her pursue Ganymede. Phoebe claims that she does not love Ganymede and wonders why she failed to defend herself against such criticism. She determines to write him “a very taunting letter,” and orders Silvius to deliver it (III.v.135).Read a translation of Act III, scene v →
Although we learn of the romance between Audrey and Touchstone rather late in the game, the relationship is important to the play for many reasons. First, it produces laughs because of the incongruities between the two lovers. Touchstone delights in words and verbiage. He obsesses over them, wrings multiple—and often bawdy—meanings from them, and usually ends up tangling himself and others in them. That he chooses to wed Audrey, a simple goatherd who fails to comprehend the most basic vocabulary—the words “features,” “poetical,” and “foul” are all beyond her grasp—ensures the laughable absurdity of their exchange (III.iii.4, 13–14, 31). Indeed, the play offers few moments more outrageous than Audrey’s declaration of virtue: “I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul” (III.iii.31).
The rustic romance between Audrey and Touchstone also provides a pointed contrast with the flowery, verbose love of Silvius for Phoebe or Orlando for Rosalind. Whereas Phoebe and Silvius are caught up in the poetics of love—with the man in agonizing pursuit of an unattainable but, to his mind, perfect lover—the attraction between Touchstone and Audrey is far from idealized. Indeed, if Audrey cannot grasp the meaning of the word “poetical,” there is little hope that she will be able to fulfill the part dictated to her by literary convention. Ideals have little to do with Touchstone’s affections for Audrey. By his own admission, the clown’s passions are much easier to understand. In explaining to Jaques his decision to marry Audrey, Touchstone says, “As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires” (III.iii.66–67). Here, Touchstone equates his sexual desire to various restraining devices for animals. Sexual gratification, or “nibbling,” to use Touchstone’s phrase, will keep his otherwise untamed passions in check (III.iii.68).