Peradventure this is not Fortune’s work neither, but Nature’s, who perceiveth our natural wits too dull to reason of such goddesses, and hath sent this natural for our whetstone, for always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits. (I.ii.45–50)
Celia speaks to Rosalind while they ponder the difference between fortune and nature. Touchstone, a fool, has just walked in, which prompts Celia to make this clever remark about the special function of fools in the nature of life. Celia states that Touchstone, like all fools, has been sent by nature to interrupt them to sharpen their wits. In the play, nature functions as the great leveler of both people and situations, a force that equalizes and restores order.
Now show the wound mine eye hath made in thee. (III.v.20)
Phoebe, a shepherdess, speaks to Silvius, a shepherd after her affections. Moments earlier, Silvius, playing the figure of the tortured lover, claimed that Phoebe’s eyes have the ability to pierce his heart with a mortal wound. In response, Phoebe asks him to show her where her eyes have actually wounded him. Such discourse pokes fun at both the conventions of courtly love and the pastoral, two modes that tend to idealize love and nature. Phoebe shows a cleverness not typically associated with an uneducated shepherdess, and Silvius’s posturing falls flat.
Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile, Hath not old custom made this life more sweet Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods More free from peril than the envious court? (II.i.1–4)
After being usurped by his brother Frederick, Duke Senior lives a life of exile in the forest of Ardenne. Readers first meet the Duke as he utters these lines, espousing the virtues of the simple life in the countryside. As the Duke points out, the woods feel blissfully free from the complications associated with life in the court. Throughout As You Like It, Shakespeare continually plays with the dichotomy between country and city life as well as nature and artifice, demonstrating the virtues and vices of each to reveal a larger, truer picture of both.
Not a whit, Touchstone. Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court. (III.ii.40–43)
Touchstone, a clown in Duke Frederick’s court, and Corin, a shepherd of Ardenne, compare life in the court with life in the countryside. Touchstone argues that Corin seems “wicked” since he’s never been exposed to good manners of the court. Corin, in response, argues that Touchstone’s point is moot, since having good manners in the countryside would seem as foolishly out of place as having the shepherding skills in the court. Such practical wisdom seems surprising coming from an uneducated shepherd, a subtle twist that blurs the lines between nature and artifice.
’Twas I, but ’tis not I. I do not shame To tell you what I was, since my conversion So sweetly tastes, being the thing I am. (IV.ii.161–163)
Throughout the play, nature possesses an almost magical quality. As soon as the characters step into the Ardenne forest, they seem to change instantly. When Oliver arrives in Ardenne, he changes from a cruel and divisive brother to a humble and repentant one. Oliver plays up Orlando’s virtues to Rosalind, who is meeting Oliver for the first time. Here, Oliver claims that the evil he seemed to be before is “not I” now and adds that his personality change feels so complete that he feels no shame in telling her how he used to be.