As You Like It: Act 1, Scene 2 - Summary & Analysis

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ACT I. Scene II.

SUMMARY

Introduction to the Scene

      This scene introduces us to the heroine. It is divided into two sections—(1) conversation between Rosalind, Celia, Touchstone and Le Beau, introducing the two principal female characters and the clown. (2) The wrestling match, with the meeting of Rosalind and Orlando. They fall in love, and the interest in the plot now commences.

      “The conversation between Rosalind and Celia is introduced to give a preliminary insight into their characters, and as Touchstone is so prominent in the forest scenes, it is well that we have an opportunity of seeing him at court. Le Beau is clearly introduced for the purpose of describing the wrestling instead of its being represented on the stage. Thus the interest in the final bout is more intense. Rosalind and Orlando meet, and naturally, fall in love at first sight. Thus we are prepared for the love scene in the forest glades.”

      “Note also lines 287-293, in which Le Beau alludes to the change of feeling of the Duke to Rosalind. Thus we are prepared for the sudden outburst of the Duke in the next scene when he expels Rosalind from court.”

Importance of the Scene

      Lodge makes Rosalind a mere spectator of the wrestling match. Shakespeare gives her an active part so that we can see the match and Orlando through her eyes.

      This is a long scene full of hustle and bustle, of animation and action. There is rapidity and thrill in the movement of the incidents.

      The dialogues are brilliant and sparkle like fire-works with puns and conceits.

      The spirit of comedy is best illustrated through the conversation between Celia, Rosalind, Orlando and Touchstone. There is a touch of sadness at the banishment of the heroine’s father. But soon the clouds are uplifted and we find fun, mirth, love and laughter. The tone is frolicsome and the spirit of the scene lies in benevolence of love.

ANALYSIS

.....but love no man in good earnest, nor no further in sport neither, than with the safety of a pure blush thou may in honor off (Act I, Scene II, Lines 30-33)

      Rosalind is sad because she remembers her banished father. Celia tried her best to make her merry. At last Rosalind promises to forget and be cheerful, Rosalind suggests falling in love as a means of diversion and pastime. Celia who seems to be more prudent, warns her that she should cautiously fall in love. She should not fall in love seriously. She warns against intensity in love. Celia thinks that a game of falling in love might be played safely since it would be possible then to fall out of love without a heartbreak or a sense of shame. Nor should Rosalind go so far even in fun, as not to be able to retreat honorably. She should not fall in love “in real earnest” but should only pretend falling in love so that she may not compromise her maidenly modesty. If she only pretends, she will come off in (the possessions of her) honor, having saved (Preserved) a pure blush - a blush that has no shame in it.

      About the remark of Celia Verity says, this remark is characteristic of Celia, who is a personage with a pretty turn of smart saying, and rather affects a cynicism which is really quite foreign to her nature. But Time has something in store for her when his famous whirling conies “full circle’ and brings those revenges which belong to Act V.”

      Celia has no experience of love. She thinks that she can keep love at a distance. She herself falls in the very wrath of love. Prudence fails in the sight of Cupid. Celia’s advice of falling in love is mero sport which ends seriously almost immediately for Rosalind. This is dramatic irony.

Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune from her wheel, that her gifts may henceforth be bestowed equally. (Act I. Scene II, Lines 34-36)

      Celia feels the danger of falling in love seriously and therefore she advises Rosalind not to fall in love. Rosalind asks her what she should do to pass her time if she does not play at falling in love. Celia answers that we should drive out Fortune from her whim with jibes and mockery. Celia suggests that they should mock Fortune and drive her by taunts from her wheel. This will compel her to be impartial in her judgment. Fortune is blind. She has no principles and works solely on her whim. The case of the banished duke is there a specimen. Celia knows it. And therefore she wants that they (she and Rosalind) should laugh at her fortune so that she may be cured of her whims and should reward equally in future.

      Dr. Johnson thinks that the wheel of Fortune is not the wheel of a housewife. He thinks that Shakespeare has confused Fortune, who spins the thread of life, though not indeed with a wheel. In the opinion of Furness, this is one of Dr. Jolinson’s unhappy notes which must be offset by a hundred happy notes. There was no confusion in Shakespeare’s mind here nor any where else. He knew the symbolism in the wheel of Fortune quite as well as Dr. Jolinson. The wheel of fortune was an emblem of her mutability, from which Celia and Rosalind proposed to drive her by their wit, that she might ever after cease to be inconstant.”

This true; for those that she makes fair she scarce makes honest, and those that she makes honest makes very ill-favorably. (Act I. Scene II. Lines 40-42)

      Celia thinks that fortune is a blind-folded goddess turning a wheel. The blindness is a symbol of her wayward, seemingly blind, dispensation of favors. The wheel is an emblem of mutability. made chastity and beauty two opposite virtues. Beautiful women are rarely pure, while the chaste women are rarely beautiful.

Nay! now thou goest from Fortune’s office to Nature’s; Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature. (Act I, Scene II, Lines 43-45)

      Celia has already warned against the danger of falling in love. She and Rosalind now talk about the mysterious and wayward nature of Fortune. Celia remarked that Virtue and beauty are contrary things. In reply to this remark Rosalind makes this observations. She says that fortune’s office is to dispense gifts, awards one person good looks and another ugly looks: fortune only deals in worldly, temporal gifts, such as wealth, power and fame. Virtue and vice are not the favors of fortune but the result of character. The reason why some are good and others bad is not due to Fortune, but due to Nature.

      Shakespeare constantly harps on the motive powers of human action; nature destiny, chance, art, custom. In this place he playfully distinguishes nature from chance; in Winter’s Tale iv, iii, he argues that the resources of art are themselves gifts of nature: Nature is made better by no mean. But nature makes that mean.’ Macbeth, I, iii he shows that destiny can work itself without our help (if chance will have me king, why chance may crown me’) and in Hamlet III, iv. 161, he splendidly exhibits the force custom in almost changing the stamp of nature.

No? When Nature hath made a fair creature, may she not by Fortune fall into fire? Though Nature hath given us wit to flout at Fortune, hath not fortune sent in this fool to cut off the argument (Act I, Scene II, Lines 46-50)

      When Rosalind says that it is not Fortune’s office but Nature’s to dispense beauty or ugliness as the case may be. Celia retorts that if Fortune does not bestow fair features, she can destroy them by accident. This she illustrates by saying that a beautiful person may fall into the fire by chance and lose beauty. Celia admits that though Fortune does not bestow fair features; she can destroy them by some accident. Though Nature has given us wits to enable us to philosophize, Fortune spoils our argument by sending us a fool to put an end to our discussion. Moberly paraphrases the whole speech thus, that Fortune does not make fair creatures, but she can mar them by some accident. So Nature makes us able to philosophize, chance spoils our grave philosophy by sending us a fool.”

Indeed there is fortune too hard for Nature, when Fortune makes Nature’s natural the cutter off of Nature’s wit. (Act I, Scene II, Lines 51-53)

      Rosalind and Celia are indulging in wit-combat. Celia had made a distinction between Fortune and Nature, and upheld the superiority of Nature. Rosalind turns the table on Celia and proves that chance is superior to Nature. She derives the contrary result by using the word fortune to convey the meaning of chance.

      When Touchstone appears and intrudes upon the conversation between Rosalind and Celia, Rosalind opines that fortune (in the sense of chance) proves to be more than a match for Nature. Fortune is too clever for Nature. She uses a child of Nature to intrude upon the talent of Nature (their witty conversation). Fortune sends Touchstone a natural fool to interrupt their conversation. Fortune is therefore stronger than Nature.

      About wit used in these Verity says. The oft recurrence in these lines of the words is suggestive. As You Like It had been happily called ‘‘One long festival of gaiety and wit, a soulful wit that vibrated into feeling,” The fool’s wit is the Touchstone of the Touchstone of character; distinguishes impure gold from pure. A Touchstone is a dark species of flint; if gold containing copper be rubbed on the stone, it leaves a reddish mark in proportion to the amount of its alloy, natural—a fool. Touchstone is described thus for the sake of the alliteration and a priming jingle onwards; but he is undoubtedly an artificial fool.”

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, (Act I, Scene II, Lines 54-58)

      Celia interprets the intrusion on the part of Touchstone from a different point of view and laughs at Touchstone. She suggests that the purpose of the intrusion on the part of Touchstone has been misunderstood. Nature, fearing that their wits are not Sharpe enough had sent the fool to sharpen their wits. The fool’s wit is the Touchstone of character: a test which distinguishes false things from true, just as a touchstone distinguishes impure gold from pure. By talking with the fool they will sharpen their wit. The dullness of the fool will enable them to break their jest upon him and thus preserve the brilliance of their wit. The fool gives an edge to a man’s wit as the whetstone does to the razor. So Celia suggests that the appearance to Touchstone may be the work of Nature. They should therefore make the best of the fool by directing their sallies of wit at his dullness.

      Whetstone—this is a proverbial term, denoting an excitement to lying or a subject that gives a man the opportunity of breaking a jest upon another.

Speak on more of him! you’ll be whipped for taxation one of these days. (Act I, Scene II, Lines 89-90)

      There is a lot of controversy clustered round these lines. There are different emendations. Some think that Celia is the speaker while others think that Rosalind speaks. The difficulty arises from the fact that Frederick is the name of the father of Celia and so the words in the mouth of Rosalind would not fit. One of emendations suggested is a substitute Ferdinand for Frederick and to suppose that Ferdinand is the name of the senior duke. The remark of Celia is severe. She upbraids Touchstone for crossing the limits of propriety. In olden days there was a law against defaming the great persons. Persons who defamed great persons were punished mercilessly. They were even flogged. The professional fools were allowed to speak even things so that their speech should be inspiring. But whenever they crossed the limits, they were whipped.

If you saw with your eyes or knew yourself with your judgment the fear of your adventure would counsel you to a more equal enterprise, (Act I, Scene II, Lines 183-186)

      Orlando is going to fight the dangerous wrestling match, Celia and Rosalind are trying their best to dissuade the younger man because they think that he is tender in years. Both the young ladies are attracted by him and have a soft corner. They, therefore wish that young Orlando should withdraw from the wrestling contest lest he should be fatally wounded. The remarkable thing to note is that the first words of softness come out from the lips of Celia. It is she who is persuading Orlando to withdraw from the lips of contest. Celia tells him that if he could use his own eyes to see or his own judgment to know himself (i.e if he used his eyes and discretion) he would fight in a contest in which he would contest in which he would contend on more equal tennis. The spirits of Orlando are overbold, and therefore his judgment is deceiving him. If he would see himself with his impartial judgment, he would forbear. Celia wants that Orlando should think about the sad fate of the three youngmen cruelly wounded by Charles. This, she thinks, would surely open his eyes and would desist him from the fight.

      The idea of the unequal fight between Orlando and Charles is exssearres to raise the hero in stature and grandeur. He becomes heroic after braving the danger.

Had I before known this young man his son
I should have given him tears unto entreaties
Lest he should thus have ventured.
(Act I, Scene II, Lines 245-247)

      Orlando has overthrown Charles. The duke Frederick praises his adventure and bravery. But when he comes to know that he is the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, he upbraids him. When Rosalind comes to know of his parentage, she shows greater sympathy, tenderness and warmth of solicitude. This indicates that she has in her heart a soft comer for Orlando. And sympathy is but one step to love.

      Having come to know of the parentage of Orlando, Rosalind’s heart bursts out with solicitude for him and he says that if she had known this young man before he had engaged in this contest, to be sir Rosalind's son, she would have shed tears in addition to her entreaties to dissuade him from his purpose.

My better parts
Are all thrown down, and that which here stands up is but a quaintain, a more lifeless block. (Act I, Scene II, Lines 259-261)

      Orlando has won the duel and also won the heart of fair Rosalind. Rosalind has offered a chain to him as a mark of admiration. Orlando is exhilarated and for the displeasure and rebuff of the duke Frerick but in the presence of Rosalind he is tongue-tied and cannot speak even words of gratitude in response to Rosalind’s soft and admiring behavior. Therefore he thinks that, though he has vanquished the wrestler, he himself is vanquished by a woman. Though he has Charles in the bout his manliness is overthrown by the beauty of a woman. He has no power left and thinks that he is a wooden figure in the shape of a man.

      He has lost all his energy and is reduced to the state of a mere block of wood; the shadow of its former self.

      The Oxford and Cambridge Edition explains this passage thus it is doubtful if Orlando is suggesting a correspondence between himself and the quintain further than to describe himself as cast down or overwhelmed in the interview between himself and the two princesses.” Malone explains, ‘‘My intellectual powers’ which are my better parts, fail me, and I resemble the quintain, whose human or active part being thrown down, there remains nothing but the lifeless trunk or block which upheld it.”

      A quintain is a wooden figure at which to tilt. Tilting at the quintain was a favorite old English sport.

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