Touchstone: Character Analysis in As You Like It

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      Shakespeare's Dramas are all found replete with some memorable clowns and fools, who provide pure fun laughter and amusement to the audience. In both tragedies and comedies these fools and clowns provide a new dimension to the performance.

      The fools of Shakespeare are not fools. They are wise. Some of the wisdom comes through the lips of these fools. Shakespeare does not introduce his fools merely for the sake of exciting laughter. One of the wisest fools of Shakespeare is the Fool in King Lear. Touchstone comes next to him. Introducing him J.D. Wilson observes: ‘‘Touchstone mocks Jaques as he mocks all the other characters he encounters in Arden. He is the second critic of the pastoral world and like Jaques an addition by Shakespeare to the characters lodge gave him. It is the realist of the play, or one of the two realists (for Rosalind is another)”


      In As You Like It Touchstone is the professional court fool at the royal court of Duke Frederick and performing his role to who entertain others. By nature Touchstone is extremely witty, wise and straight forward in his comment on various incidents and situations. Touchstone by nature is a much searched after man and among the court personalities. Even Rosalind and Cilia take him and seek his company for comfort and support when both the sisters have decided to move into the forest. It is Touchstone who who gives a good account of the life of the royal peoples who dances, flirts at the court and has been the cauge of fun and entertainment for his fellow peoples.

By nature Touchstone is extremely witty, wise and straight forward in his comment on various incidents and situations.
Touchstone (As You Like It)

      In the Forest of Arden the royal intellectual nature of Touchstone as a witty person comes out. He indulges in sweet debate with Audrey, with Rosalind, with Silvius and many others. In those debates Touchstone reveals his extremely humorous and witty nature and it appears that he can never be we defeated in verbal debate. Touchstone, despite of all his mistakes clownish behaviour remains a very interesting figure throughout the entire play. He is the man who has easily given up the comfortable life at court to suffer the hardship of the country life of the forest of Arden with Cilia and Rosalind.

      Touchstone is a master of using his language brilliantly. He represents the earthly comic and sensual type of love. And forest of Arden, Touchstone has given out of his best portion of his witty language. As love is treated in this play from various perspectives and Touchstone as a character performs a vital role to emphasize those various corners of love. He becomes the connecting link between court love royal favour and the love found in pure ideal atmosphere and setting in the forest of Arden. In this way in the whole play the royal found the court fool Touchstone becomes an important personality and a character who is unavoidable with his inborn gift of wit, intelligence and a brilliant sense of humour.

Touchstone Compared with Jaques

      Both serve as the Chorus to the play because both of them are the critics of society and manner. The only difference is that one has the positive attitude while the other has the negative attitude towards the world. Both are in a way fools. A critic has said that there are two fools in the play. One is the happy fool while the other is a melancholy fool. Both do not justify their existence in the play. They are not necessary to the plot. The plot could very well go on without them. ‘‘Neither Touchstone nor Jaques plays any part in the story as such; their contribution is to the play’s atmosphere, and it is no surprise to turn to the source and find them both missing: they are purely Shakespearean addition.” Jaques does not act at all. He only contemplates. And Touchstone either cuts jokes or indulges in wit. He has an unromantic romance with Audrey only because he has got nothing to do. Sen Gupta says,

      “A peculiar feature of As You Like It is that two important figures—Jaques and in lesser degree Touchstone—stand aloof from the main action in order to be free to comment on it”

      In some of the comedies of Shakespeare, there is an outsider. Such is Malvolio in Twelfth Night who thinks that because he is puritan there will be no cakes or ale. Such is Jaques in As You Like It from beneath whose legs the life slips away. Such characters neither deserve pity nor compel our admiration. They are censured. But Touchstone is a loving character. He enjoys life. Though not necessary to the plot, he is a decoration of the play.

      Touchstone as a critic is different from Jaques. Priestley says, “Motley (Touchstone) is better critic than Melancholy” (Jaques). He is a better critic because, unlike Jaques, he does not detach himself from the fellow mortals but identifies himself with them: he does not say, in effect, “What beasts you are!” but “What fools we are” and so, like a true comic genius he is universal. Helen Gardener also raising the same point says:

      “The two commentators of the play are nicely contrasted. Touchstone is the parodist; Jaques the cynic. The parodist must love what he parodies. We know this from literary parody. All the best parodies are written by those who understand, because they love, the thing they mock.....In everything that Touchstone says and does gusto, high spirits and a zest for life ring out. Essentially comic, he can adapt himself to any situation in which he may find himself. Never at a loss, he is life’s master. Touchstone sustains many different roles..... It is right that he should parody the rest of the cast, and join the procession into Noah’s ark with his Audrey. Jaques is his opposite. He is the cynic, the person who prefers the pleasures of superiority, cold-eyed and cold hearted. The tyrannical Duke Frederick and the cruel Oliver can be converted but not Jaques. He likes himself as he is. He does not wish to plunge into the stream, but prefers to stand on the bank and fish for fancies as they pass .....There are some who will not dance, however much they are piped to any more than they will weep when there is mourning. “In this theatre of man’s life,” wrote Bacon, “it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookerson.” Jaques arrogates to himself the divine role. He has opted out from the human conditions”.

      So Touchstone is Parodist and Jaques is satirst. It is to Jaques, rather than to Touchstone, that the function of voicing the satire of the play upon contemporary civilization chiefly belongs. Jaques is always ready to rail against anyone.

      Touchstone is in every way a better character than Jaques. He is more than a match to Jaques. He can fool Jaques and drive him away.

He is One of The Galaxy of Fools

      A fool in the service of first Oliver, then Rosalind and Celia, Touchstone is all that his name implies: he acts as a touchstone, testing the qualities of the other characters both at Duke Frederick's court and in the forest. He also is an apt persona for conveying bits and piece of philosophy to the audience, whether they be genuine or ironic. Many commentators have noted that Touchstone differs from the fools in Shakespeare's preceding plays largely because the playwright shaped the part to a different actor: Robert Armin. Armin, who himself wrote a work on the varying natures of court fools, was perhaps fit to play a jester of greater sophistication than the man he replaced within the Lord Chamberlain's Men, Will Kempe, who had proven successful playing strictly comic roles. In fact, Armin may have joined the company midway through Shakespeare's writing of As You Like It, which would account for the difference in Touchstone's temperament in the first act as compared to the later acts; in "Touchstone in Arcadia," Robert H. Goldsmith notes that this change may also simply reflect the respective degrees of intellectual freedom that Touchstone felt at court and in the forest, as any court fool would have been wise to restrain his wit somewhat in the presence of a usurper.

      Touchstone is perhaps more out of place in the Forest of Arden than any other character in the play. while Touchstone marries Audrey at the end, the audience understands that he does so merely to enjoy the associated conjugal rights.

      Touchstone, the court fool, is the first example of that dramatic type which was afterward to yield Feste of Twelfth Night, Lavache of All’s Well that Ends Well, and the nameless fool of King Lear.

      Shakespeare’s fools usually have choric function. They are commentators rather than actors. Touchstone should be regarded as something of a variation upon the type.

Contradictory Traits in his Character

      Touchstone participates in two episodes in the play, namely the flight of Rosalind and Celia in which he is their trusted companion, and the marrige of Audrey in which he is protagonist. As these traits bring out contradiction in his character, he seems to be a critical puzzle. How is it possible that the man on whom Celia depends so unquestioningly should marry Audrey with the intention of abandoning her whenever it suits his convenience? Is not his loyalty to Celia and Rosalind incompatible with his intended infidelity to Audrey? Priestley, who tries to reconcile these apparently contradictory features in his character, warns us against taking an exaggerated view either of his loyalty or of his unfaithfulness. He suggests that romantic lovers may not be true to one another for ever, and that it is possible that Touchstone may cleave to his Audrey a little longer than a couple of months or so.

His Marriage with Audrey

      It seems to have been a part of the dramatist’s intention that in Touchstone’s wooing of Audrey there should be a parody of romantic love-making. Others fall in love at first sight with beautiful girls. Touchstone takes a fancy to ugliness. While others profess faith and adoration, duty, purity and observance for the object of their love. Touchstone as though in mockery of them all, thus describes the object and the reason of his choice.

      A poor virgin, sir an ill-favored thing, but mine own, a poor humor of mine, sir, to take that no man else will

      That Touchstone did not honestly love Audrey is made clear in the scene in which Sir Oliver Martext plays a part, and in which the clown makes the observation.

      I am not in the mind, but I were better to be married of him than of another; for he is not like to marry me will and not being will married, it will, be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my wife.

      And as there can be no happiness in a marriage where there is no true love, we cannot doubt but that Jaques makes a true prophecy when he promises the ill-assorted couple a life of wrangling.

For thy loving voyage
Is but for two months victuall’d

A Critic and a Clown

      The peculiarity of Touchstone is that he is nothing if not a critic. With his remarkable command of the grotesque, he easily reduces and exuberance to absurdity. His keen sense of humor does not spare even Rosalind whenever she transgresses the bounds of normality. When Rosalind says that by Silvius’ wound she has found her own. Touchstone, keenly aware of the awkwardness of the comparison, conjures up ludicrous images in order to burlesque Rosalind’s romance. His comic sense is so acute and pervasive that it not only brings out the ludicrous element in the fantastic vagaries of love-lorn maiden or forsworn knights but also reveals a core of absurdity even in the most normal and universal thing, the passage of time.

A Realist

      He embodies Shakespeare’s conunent upon romance, but it is rather by what he is than by anything he consciously says. In Arden it is left for the fool to realize that when he was at home he was in a batter place. The graces of love at first sight cannot hold their own against Touchstone's ready offer to ‘rime you so eight years together.’ He performs exactly the same office of disillusion to the Knighterrantry of Rosalind and Orlando as is performed by Sancho Panza to that of Don Quixote.

Function of Touchstone

      He supplies the place of chorus. He wittily unmasks the follies of others. He uses his folly like a stalking horse, it is to him that we must turn if we would learn what was Shakespeare's own opinion on the relative advantages of a country and town life,

‘Truly shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect that it is naught.’

      Such is Shakespeare's method of teaching us that the true source of happiness is to be found not in one's surroundings, but in oneself alone. Touchstone has to say nothing against the shepherd's life, but nothing also against the country life. In his respect J.D. Wilson observes: “His (Touchstones) long discussion with carin, the old shepherd on the comparative merits of life in the court and life in the country leaves little to be said in defense of either state. But the humor of it is in the superior airs which the fool puts on as of a thinker and a wit, leaving the poor simpleton before him denied, ‘like on ill roasted egg all on the side’.

Summing Up

      Touchstone has a lively sense of the fineness of things. His part is to shed the light of reality and commonsense upon the fanciful figures. He is interested in people and ways, of life. His wooing Audrey is irony in action. He is life-like, charming, comic figure. The forest of Arden without Touchstone will be robbed of its honey, charm and magic.

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