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

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ACT II. Scene I.


Introduction to the Scene

      At the beginning of the second act we come to the heart of the play.

      We now leave the Court, and come to the Forest, and so we get a descriptive scene which performs three functions—

      It gives the description of the forest scenery and life. Rosalind and Orlando will both come to the forest. There they will meet and woo.

      It presents a moral lesson ‘‘Cheerfulness in Adversity.” The happy contented life of the Duke and his followers is in contrast with the satire of Jaques. Content depends upon the disposition, not upon circumstance.

      It comes appropriately between Act I and Act II, providing a natural transition from the harsh feature of the one, to the bright contest of wit between Orlando and Rosalind in the other.


Here feel we but die penalty of Adam,
The season’s difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind.
(Act II, Scene I, Lines 5-7)

      In these lines we get a first glimpse of the life led by the banished Duke and his fellow exiles in the forest of Arden and a contrast between life at a court and cities and life away from their influence. The senior duke finds peace and contentment in the banished life of the Forest of Arden. The senior duke says to his companions that they are more happy in the forest than they were amid the jealousies and the intrigues of the court life. The only discomfort they feel there is the variation of temperature in the different seasons, which was the penalty inflicted on Adam when he was expelled from the garden of Eden after his fall. Life of nature is not wholly smooth and lovely. There are the inconveniences of the changing seasons. The penalty of Adam is punishment to which every man is subject to.

      According to the story of the Fall of man in the Old Testament, It is said that Adam and Eve who lived an idyllic life in Paradise knowing no hardships, had to experience all the sorrows and tribulations of this world only after being driven out of it God cursed them saying that they would have to earn their bread with the sweat of their brow, and suffer sorrow. According to the second interpretation, the sorrows of men after Man’s fall are intended as against the happiness of men in the golden age. Since the idea of the Forest of Arden being a sort of golden age, is frequently referred to in the course of this play, there is something in the second suggestion which is more appropriate in the present context.

Sweet are the use of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.
(Act II, Scene I, Lines 12-14)

      The Duke Senior is contented and finds happiness in the hard life of the forest. The contentment the Duke feels is not in the circumstances but in his attitude to life.

      Much depends upon one’s attitude to life. There are persons who can never be contented or happy, even though they may lead a life of luxury, and God’s plenty be with them. On the other hand, there are persons who are contented even in the worst circumstances. Mind is its our place, And in itself can make hell of heaven or heaven of hell’.

      The Duke Senior expresses his happiness he builds up for himself in the hard life of the forest. He contrasts this life of freedom with that of fear and suspicion in the court. Much depends upon the use of a thing. If we make good use of our adversity (hard life full of inconveniences), the result will be welcome. In itself hardship is repelling like the poisonous toad. Yet it brings its own advantages as compensation to the hardships. Just as the poison and the ugliness of the toad are redeemed by the precious jewel, so adversity brings its own advantages. The forest life, in spite of its hardships showers many blessings on those who dwell there in the forest.

      These lines show the moralizing nature of the Duke Senior. He is not practical but ideal and philosophical. His knowledge is bookish.

      The reference to the jewel in the head of the toad recalls an ancient and almost universal belief in the possession by a certain poisonous toad of a precious Jewel in its head. The belief is shared by the Indians as well. In addition to this there was a further belief in the middle ages in Europe among the physician's that the toadstone had medicinal virtue.

And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks sermons in stones and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
(Act II, Scene I, Lines 15-18)

      The Duke Senior is moralizing and reflecting on the life of the forest. Here he is concluding his remarks. The forest is full of trees, streams and bushes. We can learn lessons even from them. Our present life, he says, which is cut off from the inroads of people in general, finds in every thing in nature, such as trees, flowing streamlets and stones, something that can teach man a lesson. The sentiments expressed here can be compared to those of Wordsworth. Like the poet, the Duke Senior is able to draw lessons from all objects of nature.

“Poor dear’’, quoth he, thou mak’st a testament
As worlding do, giving thy sum of more
To that which had too much.”
(Act II, Scene I, Lines 46-48)

      The first Lord is telling the Duke Senior what Jaques said on seeing the deer shedding his tears in the river. Jaques is melancholic and moralizes on life in general. In these lines he moralizes on the fate of a deer who had been wounded by the hunter and was standing beside a river shedding his tears into the water (of the stream), Seeing him thus weeping and shedding hot tears into the river already full of water and not needing any addition from his tears, Jaques said: unfortunate animal, at the time when your death is approaching fast, you are behaving as foolishly as worldly-minded people do when they make a will. He was giving all that he had (the deer had only tears to give) to add to the rivulet which was already overbrimming with water. Thus he was doing like some rich men who bequeath their property to men who are already rich.”

      The idea contained in these lines resembles the remark of Christ ‘To him that hath more would be given; but he that hath not, even the little that he hath will be taken away from him.’

      There is exaggeration in the remark that the volume of the water of the stream was increased by the tears of the deer. This is an example of the far-fetched conceit. The idea as well as the language is euphuistic. Shakespeare is ridiculing the affected language of his time. There is a tone of unreality and of exaggeration for the sake of effect, in many of Jaques’ reflections.

      We are introduced here to the character of Jaques. Jaques is an observer, not an actor on the stage of life. His rumination often wraps him in a most humorous sadness. He is extremely sensitive but has no reverence in his composition. His misanthropy is amiable. The character of Jaques does not help in the development of the plot. Yet his personality is so attractive that it soon arrests the attention of the reader or the spectator.

O what a world is this, when what is comely
Envenoms him that bears it.
(Act II, Scene I. Lines 14-15)

      When Orlando returns after victory in the wrestling bout, Adam the faithful family servant informs him of the development in the family. The news of Orlando’s victory had reached home before he himself reached his home. Adam tells Orlando the reaction of Oliver, his elder brother who wants to get rid of his younger brother. He informs him of the plot of his brother. He tells him of the plot of burning him alive in his own room. Adam feels sorry that even the qualities of Orlando should prove poison and bring about his downfall.

      In the phrase ‘envenoms that bears it’ there is metaphor with an allusion. The idea here is conveyed in terms of the legendary manner of death which overtook the fabled hero of the Greek, Hercules. Once when he ordered one of the centaurs Nessus to carry his wife, the centaur tried to run away with her. Thereupon Hercules killed him. But before he died the centaur gave his bloodstained shirt to his wife telling her that if she could persuade Hercules to wear it she could count on his love for her forever. The wife of Hercules was a bit jealous and he thought that it would be a sure way of keeping him to herself. But when Hercules wore the shirt he felt a burning sensation of such extreme pain that he found life unbearable and threw himself on a funeral pyre. His wife also committed suicide when she found that she was the cause of his agonizing experiences. So what Hercules wife thought was good for her, proved to be disastrous. Here the qualities of Orlando compel him to leave his home.

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