As Amiens strolls through the Forest of Ardenne with Jaques in tow, he sings a song inviting his listeners to lie with him “[u]nder the greenwood tree” (II.v.1), where there are no enemies but “winter and rough weather” (II.v.8). Jaques begs him to continue, but Amiens hesitates, claiming that the song will only make Jaques melancholy. The warning does not deter Jaques, who proudly claims that he can “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs” (II.v.11–12). While the other lords in attendance prepare for Duke Senior’s meal, Amiens leads them in finishing the song. Jaques follows with a verse set to the same tune, which he himself wrote. In it, he chides those foolish enough to leave their wealth and leisure for life in the forest. Amiens leaves to summon the duke to dinner.Read a translation of Act II, scene v →
Orlando and Adam enter the Forest of Ardenne. Adam is exhausted from travel and claims that he will soon die from hunger. Orlando assures his loyal servant that he will find him food. Before he sets off to hunt, Orlando fears leaving Adam lying in “the bleak air” and carries him off to shelter (II.vi.12).Read a translation of Act II, scene vi →
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.
Duke Senior returns to camp to find that Jaques has disappeared. When a lord reports that Jaques has last been seen in good spirits, the duke worries that happiness in one who is typically so miserable portends discord in the universe. Just after the duke commands the lord to find Jaques, Jaques appears. He is uncharacteristically merry and explains that while wandering through the forest, he met a fool. He repeats the fool’s witty observations about Lady Fortune and proclaims that he himself would like to be a fool. In this position, Jaques reasons, he would be able to speak his mind freely, thereby cleansing “the foul body of th’infected world” with the “medicine” of his criticism (II.vii.60–61). The duke laments the sin of “chiding sin” and reminds Jaques that he himself is guilty of many of the evils he would inevitably criticize in others (II.v.64). Their playful argument is interrupted when Orlando barges onto the scene, drawing his sword and demanding food. The duke asks whether Orlando’s rudeness is a function of distress or bad breeding and, once Orlando has regained his composure, invites him to partake of the banquet. Orlando goes off to fetch Adam. Duke Senior observes that he and his men are far from alone in their unhappiness: there is much strife in the world. Jaques replies that the world is a stage and “all the men and women merely players” (II.vii.139). All humans pass through the stages of infancy, childhood, and adulthood; they experience love and seek honor, but all eventually succumb to the debility of old age and “mere oblivion” (II.vii.164). Orlando returns with Adam and all begin to eat. The duke soon realizes that Orlando is the son of Sir Rowland, the duke’s old friend, and heartily welcomes the young man.Read a translation of Act II, scene vii →
Both Act II, scene v and Act II, scene vi deal primarily with the melancholy lord, Jaques, who offers a sullen perspective on the otherwise comedic events in Ardenne. He turns Amiens’s song about the pleasures of leisurely life into a means of berating the foresters, and he comes close to playing the part of the fool, in the sense that he turns a critical eye on a world in which he lives but does not fully inhabit. But unlike Feste in Twelfth Night or the fool in King Lear, Jaques does not demonstrate the insight or wisdom that would make his observations truly arresting or illuminating. His most impressive speech in the play begins with a familiar set piece in Elizabethan drama: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (II.vii.138–139). He goes on to describe the seven stages of a man’s life, from infancy to death, through his roles as lover and soldier, but Jaques’s observations may strike us as untrue or banal. His estimation that lovers sigh “like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress’ eyebrow” is humorous, and it certainly describes the kind of intemperate, undiscriminating affection that Silvius shows to Phoebe, or Phoebe to Ganymede (II.vii.147–148). But the criticism seems ill-suited to a play as aware and forgiving of love’s silliness as As You Like It. As a philosopher, Jaques falls short of accurately describing the complexity of Rosalind’s feelings for Orlando; his musings bear the narrow and pinched shortcomings of the habitually sullen.
Jaques’s sullenness blinds him to his own foolishness regarding life. Jaques goes on to describe man’s later years, the decline into second childhood and obliviousness, without teeth, eyesight, taste, or anything else. Countering Jaques’s unflattering picture of old age, Orlando carries Adam to the duke’s banquet table, the old man entering his final years with his loyalty, generosity of spirit, and appetite intact. Although the thought of serving as Duke Frederick’s fool appeals to him, Jaques ultimately lacks the wit, wisdom, and heart to perform the task. When he meets Touchstone in the forest, he sings the clown’s praises, quoting with glee Touchstone’s nihilistic musings on the passage of time: “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, / And then from hour to hour we rot and rot” (II.vii.26–27). Jaques does not realize that Touchstone’s “deep--contemplative” speech is a bawdy mockery of his own brooding behavior (II.vii.31). Indeed, throughout the play, Jaques remains so mired in his own moodiness that he sees very little of the world he so desperately wants to criticize. Knowing that Jaques’s eyes are trained on men’s baser instincts, the duke doubts Jaques’s ability to serve as a proper and entertaining fool. Jaques, he feels, would be a boor, berating the courtiers for sins that Jaques himself has committed. This exchange points to an important difference between Jaques and the duke: the former is committed to being unhappy in the world and will suffer in it, while the latter is happy to make the best of the world he is given and will thrive, as the title of the play seems to promise.