sir, we quarrel in print, by the book, as you have books for good
manners. I will name you the degrees. The first, the Retort Courteous;
the second, the Quip Modest; the third, the Reply Churlish; the
fourth, the Reproof Valiant; the fifth, the Countercheck Quarrelsome;
the sixth, the Lie with Circumstance; the seventh, the Lie Direct.
All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may avoid that,
too, with an ‘if’. I knew when seven justices could not take up
a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them
thought but of an ‘if’, as ‘If you said so, then I said so’, and
they shook hands and swore brothers. Your ‘if’ is the only peacemaker;
much virtue in ‘if’.
In Act V, scene iv, Touchstone delivers
an account of a recent argument he has had. His anatomy of the quarrel,
as this speech might be called, is a deftly comic moment that skewers
all behavior that is “by the book,” whether it be rules for engaging
an enemy or a lover (V.iv.81). The end of
the speech, in which Touchstone turns his attentions to the powers
of the word “if,” is particularly fine and fitting. “If” points
to the potential of events in possible worlds. “If” allows slights
to be forgiven, wounds to be salved, and promising opportunities
to be taken. Notably, within a dozen lines of this speech, Duke
Senior, Orlando, and Phoebe each usher in a new stage of life with
a simple sentence that begins with that simple word.