As You Like It: Act 2, Scene 7 - Summary & Analysis

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ACT II. Scene VII.


Introduction to the Scene

      This scene is the commencement of bringing the characters together, though they do not appear all together till the last scene of the play.

      The encounter of Jaques with Touchstone brings the Duke’s company into touch with Rosalind and her companions.

The scene is divided into two sections

      The raillery of Jaques. Dramatically this serves to give time for the appearance of Orlando after leaving Adam to go in search of food; it also fills up the gap whilst he fetches Adam.

      The entrance of Orlando. his demand for food and his fetching Adam to the feast. As regards Orlando we note an apparent rudeness. The courteous reply of the Duke brings him back to his natural disposition. He explains that “he thought all things had been savage” and apologizes for his incivility.

      Orlando is revealed to the Duke as the son of Sir Rowland de Boys.

      Adam having served the purpose of bringing Orlando in touch with the banished Duke, now disappears from the play. We can leave him to be safely cared for by his master, Orlando.


If he, compact of Jars, grow musical.
We shall have shortly discord in the spheres.
(Act II, Scene VII, Lines 5-6)

      When the Duke Senior comes to know that Jaques was seen listening to a song, he (the duke) does not believe it. Jaques is churlish and out of tune with everything. He is a grumpy, sour and unpleasant type of person. He is a Kill-Joy. For Jaques, to be merry is somewhat unusual and unnatural. If such an unpleasant person becomes musical, then certainly there will be, instead of music, discord in the spheres. If there is such a wonder that Jaques may grow musical, then it may also be possible that the spheres may grow unmusical.

     The reference here is to an ancient belief that the nine spheres of which the universe was supposed to be made, according to the Ptolemic system, rotated round a common axis and that the friction of their movements produced the various hannonic sounds which produced universal music. But the capacity to hear it and enjoy it was supposed to be restricted to men with fine spiritual sensibilities. According to Pythagorean doctrine, the heavenly bodies in their motion produced a certain sound forming harmony. This is “the music of the spheres.” In Shakespeare the most beautiful allusion to it is in The Merchant of Venice:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings.
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins.
And in Twelfth Night III. 1.121. we have
I had rather hear you to solicit that
Then music from the spheres.

A fool, a fool, I met a fool the forest.
A motley fool! a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool.
(Act II, Scene VII, Lines 12-14)

      Duke and the lords are waiting for Jaques at their meals. Soon Jaques comes and expresses his wonder for having seen a fool. The Duke is much surprised at finding melancholy Jaques so cheerful and asks him the reason of his happiness.

      Jaques answers that he has seen a fool, a professional fool, dressed in multi-colored dress.The word motley is used sometimes for the fool himself sometimes for his dress and sometimes, dressed, as here, as an adjective. The Elizabethan fool was variously dressed. Sometimes in a hood resembling a monk’s cowl, a particolored coat, and long close-fitting breeches and hose, each of different color. Touchstone seems to be still in his court dress. Jaques shows dejected when he says that it is a miserable world so that one cannot escape meeting a fool even in a forest. Many critics have expressed their opinion about a ‘miserable world’. Johnson says that is a parenthetical exclamation, frequent among melancholy men, and natural to Jaques at the sight of a fool, or at the hearing of reflections on the futility of life.”

      Capell says that it is “a miserable world in the estimation to Jaques and others equally cynical, who disrelish the world arranging the dispensations of Providence in a number of articles, and in this chiefly—that it has created such beings as fools.”

      Deighton says “What a wretched world it is that such creatures should be allowed to exist in it.”

      Percival says, “You cannot escape meeting with a fool even in a forest, let alone cities and courts: and what is the world itself but one collective fool? call the world’s a fool!’ thinks Jaques.” Jaques says to the duke that he has seen the fool as surely as he survives by eating.

And in his brain
Which is as dry as the remainder biscuit
After a voyage, he hath strange placs cramm’d
With observation, the which he vents
In mangled forms.
(Act II, Scene VII, Lines 38-42)

      Jaques is giving a description of Touchstone whom he has seen in the forest, he says that the fool has seen much of the world and has had much experience of the court life. He says about the ladies that if they are young and, they have the faculty to know. It then Jaques describes about the understanding, intellect and wit of the fool. Let us first analyze the lines and then explain them. He says about the fool that—

His brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage.

In his brain, he has crammed strange places, with observation.

Which he vents in mangled forms.

      In the psychology of Shakespeare’s time a dry brain accompanied slowness of apprehension and retentive memory. Jaques means that the fool is stupid. His mind is somewhat dull. His mind is as dry the last biscuit left which will be stale. In the same way his intellect also stale and therefore inferior, the next characteristic of the clown is that he has seen the world and has amassed in his brain a fund of curious lore. He has collected a store of strange experiences concerning men and their manner. He has one more quality which adds to his personality, and it is the faculty of close observation. He has penetrating eyes and can look into the things with minuteness. But the defect with him (the fool is that he lacks art and restraint and makes irrelevant use of his knowledge.)

      There is a touch of jealousy in the remark of Jaques for Touchstone. Jaques has to admire the qualities of Touchstone, even in spite of himself. But then he is critical about him in his remark that his ‘brain is dry’ and that he vents it in mangled forms. Jaques and Touchstone are two of trade. And as we shall see later Jaques cannot get the better of Touchstone.

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts
His act being seven ages.
(Act II, Scene VII, Lines 139-143)

      When the Duke Senior says that they are not the only unhappy men in the world and that the universal theatre (this world) is full of woeful spectacles, Jaques grows philosophical and says that this world is just like a stage. This idea has almost passed into a proverb. In The Merchant of Venice we have similar lines ‘I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano’; A stage where every man must play a part.

      The whole world is a stage on which men and women simply play their parts. They are born and they die just as players enter and leave the stage. The life of a man is divided into many parts, and it can be compared to a drama of seven acts.

      Jaques’ All the world’s a stage is one of the half dozen most quoted lines of Shakespeare. These lines have become as proverbial as ‘The quality of Mercy, passage in The Merchant of Venice; ‘To be, or not to be passage in Hamlet; and ‘Friends, Romans, Country men passage in Julius Caesar.

      This speech serves dramatically to fill up the interval of Orlando’s absence.

      This speech expresses Jaques’s melancholy view of life because, according to him all the parts are presented in absurd and sordid lights “the infant mewling, the school boy whining, the lover sighing, and the soldier swearing.”

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