As You Like It

by: William Shakespeare

Touchstone

No, truly, for the truest poetry is the most feigning, and lovers are given to poetry, and what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign. (III.iii.15–16)

Touchstone, a fool from Duke Senior’s court, attempts to woo Audrey, a simple goatherd. In his attempt, he tries to be poetic, but his words’ meanings fly over Audrey’s uneducated head. Here, after Audrey asks if the word poetical means truthful, Touchstone replies no, since the truest poetry uses feigning and artifice to achieve its ends. Touchstone, like many of Shakespeare’s fools, functions as a source of many insightful truths.

I do, truly, for thou swear’st to me thou art honest. Now, if thou wert a poet, I might have some hope thou didst feign. (III.iii.17)

Touchstone makes a joke about Audrey’s virginity. Audrey asked Touchstone if he wishes she were more poetical, to which he replies yes, since she has just claimed she remains a virgin, and if she were a poet, there would be a chance she were lying. Touchstone’s bawdy joke pokes fun at the conventions of courtship, which abound throughout the play.

A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt, for here we have no temple but the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts. But what though? Courage. (III.iii.37–38)

In this scene, Touchstone, a court fool, is about to marry Audrey, a goatherd, in the woods. Touchstone calls himself courageous for marrying Audrey at this moment since they are not in a proper church, no priest leads the ceremony, and only animals bear witness to their vows. Touchstone feels all of these details indicate an ill-omened marriage. Readers may note, however, that Touchstone’s bravery here merely results from a matter of simple practicality.

As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires; and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling. (III.iii.70–71)

Touchstone speaks to Jaques, arguing that a man eventually must marry if he wants to keep his sexual impulses in check. Touchstone figures marriage is almost a natural progression, just as an ox has his bow and a horse his curb, a man must have his “yoke” of wedlock at some point to keep him on the right path.

A poor virgin, sir, an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own. A poor humor of mine, sir, to take that that no man else will. (V.iv.58)

Touchstone defends his choice of mate to Jaques. Touchstone acknowledges that, yes, Audrey the goatherd might be ugly and a virgin, but she is his alone, and this fact makes her special. Touchstone may be a fool, but he believes himself to be a reasonable fool. In fact, Touchstone does appear to be one of the more sensible characters in love in the play since he doesn’t view marriage or mating through rose-colored glasses.