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).