Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
Jaques approaches Rosalind, who is still in her disguise as Ganymede, wishing to become better acquainted. Rosalind criticizes Jaques for the extremity of his melancholy. When Jaques claims that “’tis good to be sad and say nothing,” Rosalind compares such activity to being “a post” (IV.i.8–9). Jaques defends himself, outlining for Rosalind the unique composition of his sadness, but Rosalind gets the better of him and he departs.
Orlando arrives an hour late for his lesson in love. As agreed, he addresses Ganymede as if the young man were his beloved Rosalind and asks her to forgive his tardiness. Rosalind refuses, insisting that a true lover could not bear to squander “a part of the thousand part of a minute in the affairs of love” (IV.i.40–41). She goes on to suggest that Orlando’s love is worse than a snail’s, for though a snail comes slowly, he carries his house on his back. Eventually, though, Rosalind relents and invites Orlando to woo her. The lesson begins: when he says that he desires to kiss her before speaking, she suggests that he save his kiss for the moment when conversation lags. What, Orlando worries, should he do if his kiss is denied? Rosalind reassures him that a denied kiss would only give him “new matter” to discuss with his lover (IV.i.69–70). When Rosalind refuses his affections, Orlando claims he will die. She responds that, despite the poet’s romantic imagination, no man in the entire history of the world has died from a love-related cause.
Rosalind then changes her mood, assuming a “more coming-on disposition” (IV.i.96). She accepts and returns Orlando’s declarations of love and urges Celia to play the part of a priest and marry them. Rosalind reminds Orlando that women often become disagreeable after marriage, but Orlando does not believe this truism of his love. He begs leave in order to dine with Duke Senior, promising to return within two hours. Rosalind teasingly chastises him for parting with her but warns him not to be a minute late in keeping his promise. After Orlando departs, Celia berates Rosalind for so badly characterizing the female sex. Rosalind responds by exclaiming how vast her love for Orlando has grown. Only Cupid, she says, can fathom the depth of her affection.
Jaques and some of Duke Senior’s loyal followers kill a deer and decide to present it to the duke. They plan to set the animal’s horns upon the hunter’s head as a crown of victory. Jaques asks the men to sing a song that fits the occasion. They launch into a tune about cuckoldry, which is symbolized by a man with horns on his head. The song proclaims that cuckoldry is timeless and borne by all men, and thus it is not something of which to be ashamed.
When Rosalind chastises Jaques for his oppressively melancholy ramblings, her words serve as a general criticism of the extremes to which the characters go in the play. Jaques admits that he is indeed the “melancholy fellow” of whom Rosalind has heard tell, and Rosalind upbraids him by saying, “Those that are in extremity of either [laughter or melancholy] are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards” (IV.i.3–7). Here, Rosalind speaks out not only against Jaques’s willful sadness, but against the myriad excesses found around her. From Silvius’s whimpering devotion to Phoebe’s hauteur, to the crudely physical attraction of Audrey and Touchstone, to Jaques’s melancholy, every type of extreme behavior in As You Like It is subject to mockery.
It is a testament to the clarity of Rosalind’s vision that she does not spare herself or Orlando from this condemnation of extremes. When Orlando claims that he will die of love, Rosalind disproves him with one of the play’s most famous and delightful speeches. Her insistence that literature has misrepresented and unduly romanticized the world’s greatest lovers is a stringent antidote to Orlando’s mewling, and supports Touchstone’s earlier observation that “the truest poetry is the most feigning, and lovers are given to poetry; and what they swear in poetry it may be said, as lovers, they do feign” (III.iii.15–17). After dismantling Orlando’s model of love, Rosalind goes on to assail the men who follow the model, claiming that the greatest romantics are transformed by marriage into inattentive, uncaring dictators. In addition to the jesting, there is a serious element of self-preservation in Rosalind’s famous observation that “men are April when they woo, December when they wed” (IV.i.124–125). When, on two occasions, Orlando is late for their appointment, Rosalind fears that her lover’s devotion might not be steadfast, but she also knows that the thrill of romance is short-lived. Over time, love weathers and even dulls, an unhappy but inevitable truth that only Rosalind stops to consider: “the sky changes,” she admits, “when [maids] are wives” (IV.i.126–127).
Rosalind might be construed as a spoilsport, out to ruin everyone else’s fun by exposing the crumbling foundations of their love fantasies, but there is much more to her than this simplistic interpretation. Certainly, even her closest confidante Celia misunderstands her, claiming that Rosalind, in her attempts to drain the excess of Orlando’s romanticism, has succeeded in disparaging the entire female sex. Rosalind’s goal is less to represent the female gender than to show Orlando that, just as there is no such thing as a perfect and heroic love, there is also no such thing as an ideal and ideally worthy woman. By stripping Orlando and herself of the ideals that preoccupy him, Rosalind prepares them both for love in the real world, for a love that strikes a balance between the transcendent and the familiar, and for a love that blends the loftiness of Silvius’s poetry with the baseness of Touchstone’s desires. Thus, Rosalind’s attacks on Orlando’s idea of love are not an attack on love itself. After all, Rosalind herself is clearly and deeply in love. Her attempts to furnish Orlando with a more realistic understanding of love are a means of ensuring that their relationship will thrive in a world less enchanted than Ardenne.
This Sparknote for Act II, Scene IV states that Corin is the young shepherd and Silvius is the old shepherd. It is the other way around. The Oxford Shakespeare's character list states:
Corin, an old shepherd
Silvius, a young shepherd, in love with Pheobe
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