Shakespeare's Morality Play: As You Like It

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Introduction

      There are two ways in which a poet or a playwright can teach moral lessons—the first is the obstructive way and the other is the unobtrusive way. Wordsworth is a preacher and teaches blatantly. One impulse from a vernal wood may teach him more than all the sages can. Though a dramatist should be objective and has to stand apart, yet he too like Shaw can pose to be a teacher and a prophet, and the play can be the mouthpiece of his ideas. Yet there is another way in which the poet can teach many lessons unobtrusively or rather the poet teaches nothing and we can ourselves draw moral lessons from whatever he writes. Shelley teaches us nothing, though sometimes he speaks in a divine fury against those who suck the blood of the oppressed. Keats is the pure poet lost in the realm of romance, mythology and art. Yet if we like we can learn many things from these poets. Shakespeare is the least obstrusive. He never teaches. He has sympathy with his characters and to that extent he is subjective. He is Othello, Hamlet, Prospero, Duke Senior, Viola, Rosalind, and yet he is none of them. He is only Shakespeare. His art is objective and he stands apart from his characters. Though we will see that Jaques and Duke Senior in As You Like It are moralists but it does not mean that Shakespeare is also a oralist.

Didactic or Moral Elements in As You Like It

      Unobtrusively the forest of Arden is an indirect criticism of the artificial life of the city and court. “It is done naturally, and it arises simply and inevitably from the context to seem part of the plot and is not something which is introduced for the sake of a moral.”

      Whatever we learn from the witty remarks of Touchstone is our searching for morals. He is a humorist and teaches unobtrusively. He is always correcting our views by exposing the real nature of things. When other characters are apt to go into raptures over the beauties of pastoral life, he steps in to show up the seamy side of it When he was at home, he says? he was at a better place. He thus curbs the enthusiasm for the romantic place like Arden, He also disparages romance by loving an ugly girl, and not even loving her, and getting married by a bogus priest, and thinking of divorcing her en before he has married her.

Obstructive Lessons in the Play

      The Duke Senior is a moralist. He thinks that ‘the world is too much with us’ and glorifies the life in the forest of Arden. He teaches that the simple life lived in the communion with Nature is far better than the life of intrigue, fraud and ambition in the court. He finds 

.....tonglies in trees, books in the running brooks
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

      He teaches that a life of contemplation is better than that of action. But Shakespeare has exposed the teaching of Duke Senior. Duke Senior is robbed of his throne only because he is not a man of action. And his embracing the quiet life of nature is deceptive. As soon as he gets back his throne he hugs it without a moment’s consideration, and gives farewell to the peaceful Arden.

‘Jaques is another moralist. For him.’

      All the world is a stage and men and women merely players. Jaques is a cynic. He has no sane positive outlook towards life. He hates whole of the world. He is a censorious critic. He lacks charity and catholicity. His setting up for a moralist is condemned by no less a person than the Duck Senior himself, for he has been a libertine in his time and been guilty of many those vices which he has now come to denounce.

      Jaques finds nothing to his taste in world. He likes neither the court life nor the forest life. He sees the dark side. He has nothing in his world. It is Sans everything. The teaching of Duke Senior is positive. It is not negative like that of Jaques, who says that human life ends at last in nothing. The philosophy of Duke Senior is full of wisdom. He has atleast the benign smile which promises hope.

      Jaques has ignored life. And that is why he defeats his own purpose. His moral outlook is distorted and perverted. His vision is dark. For him ‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. The teaching of Duke Senior is positive. He is a true Christian believing in the feelings of mercy, kindness and forgiveness. And yet his outlook is not wholesome. He ignores half of life by ignoring action. And the other half he seeks in the idyllic Arden, he forsakes as soon as he is crowned again. Only Shakespeare is wholesome. He finds perfection or happiness in neither this nor that. There can be no teaching for him.

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