The English Satirists on The Play As You Like It

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      The character of Jaques has been recognized not only as a fairly common Elizabethan literary personage - the traveler who has returned home to be generally discontented with life but also as a representative of a group of satirists writing during Shakespeare's lifetime. Englishmen who had Elizabethan era: Marriages are often conducted not for the sake of love but for the sake of money, property, or even reputation. Especially among the upper classes, brides brought substantial dowries to their husbands, and the consolidation of wealth between two families could shape political alliances. By law, firstborn sons always inherited the estate of the father, where in families with no sons, the firstborn daughter inherited the estate, to be passed on to her future husband.

      Modern era: Marriages among most people in most Western countries are conducted for the sake of the romantic interests of the two parties. Personal wills, rather than estate laws, govern the passing of property and capital from the deceased to their descendants, such that a marriage is no guarantee of earning a substantial inheritance. Still, people occasionally marry more for the sake of money than for the sake of love; some notorious modern cases include those in which the very young have married the very old, if not the dying, Elizabethan era: With portable clocks still large enough to be cumbersome and only accurate to the nearest fifteen minutes, the passage of time cannot be conceived of definitely. People would not carry timepieces on their person except sundials, such as the one Touchstone pulls from his pocket while speaking with Jaques. A forested area would truly have no clocks about; people familiar with courtly life might have appreciated that absence of timepieces.

      Modern era: Clocks are constructed in all shapes and sizes, analog and digital, and are everywhere. Virtually all activities conducted availed themselves of the satiric format to address the era's social conditions including John Davies, John Harington, Ben Jonson, Thomas Bastard, within the confines of greater civilization revolve around the precise passage of time. In the age of cell phones, digital signals ensure that the time shown on displays is exactly correct. Many people, especially those involved in the business world, carry watches to ensure their awareness of the hour and their ability to arrive at certain places at certain times. Perhaps especially in the wilderness, most people are careful to bring timepieces so as to know the nearness of sunset and not be caught in the dark.

      Elizabethan era: In 1599, by royal order some satires were removed from circulation and the future publication of satires was banned outright. Consequently, the demolition of London playhouses was ordered. Modern era: While laws against libel and slander prevent fabricated and hurtful accusations against any individuals, honest and biting commentaries are allowed in almost all forms of media. However, in certain media the content conveyed to audiences is regulated outside the legal system by entities other than governmental ones; for example, television programs are largely sponsored by advertisers and if advertising dollars cannot be raised, programs cannot be broadcast, meaning that corporate commercial interests often control the kinds of information and images available to television viewers. In media realms where the audiences pay the bulk of revenues, content is usually tailored to a target audience. The advent of the Internet and the widespread production of personal Web sites have both increased and distilled the dissemination of ideas and information and John Weaver. An order put forth by the monarchy on June 1, 1599, called for the burning of many satirical works and banned any future production of work of that genre. Shakespearean scholars have assumed that when Celia states, "Since the little wit that fools have was silenced, the little foolery that wise men have makes a great show", the line is meant to refer to the 1599 order.

      One characteristic of the English satirists was that they restricted their commentary to impersonal, generic claims, such that they could not be accused of targeting any individuals in particular. In expressing his desire to become a fool so as to safely comment on society's ills, Jaques notes that he would not "tax any private party" but would speak broadly and allow anyone who has done wrong to suit "his folly to the mettle of my speech". In his text Shakespeare's Satire, Oscar James Campbell offers a succinct description of what the author may have intended to communicate to his audiences through his depiction of Jaques: "Shakespeare's ridicule of amused disapproval of the headlong moral ardor which the satirists in both poem and play felt or pretended to feel. Such a temper, Shakespeare says, is ridiculous and utterly destructive to the comic spirit."

      Critical commentary on As You Like It over the centuries has tended to focus on two facts: first, that the plot itself is thin and treated perhaps with excessive haste by its author, and, second, that the essence of the play - ruminations on love, time, and nature is certainly best conveyed in the context of a play that treats the plot in just such an offhand fashion. Different critics, then, have weighed the importance of these two factors differently. As quoted in The Complete Illustrated Shakespeare, edited by Howard Staunton, the German scholar August von Schlegel perceived the play quite positively, summarily remarking:

      Throughout the whole picture, it seems to be the poet's design to show that to call forth the poetry which has its indwelling in nature and the human mind, nothing is wanted but to throw off all artificial constraint, and restore both to mind and nature their original liberty. In the very progress of the piece, the dreamy carelessness of such an existence is sensibly expressed: it is even alluded to by Shakespeare in the title.

      As quoted in the same volume, the English scholar Nathan Drake notes, "Though this play, with the exception of the disguise and self-discovery of Rosalind, may be said to be destitute of plot, it is yet one of the most delightful of the dramas of Shakespeare." He goes on to observe:

      From the forest of Arden, from that wild wood of oaks,...from the bosom of sequestered glens and pathless solitudes, has the poet called forth lessons of the most touching and consolatory wisdom. The effect of such scenery, on the lover of nature, is to take full possession of the soul, to absorb its very faculties, and, through the charming imagination, to convert the workings of the mind into the sweetest sensations of the heart, into the joy of grief, into a thankful endurance of adversity, into the interchange of the tenderest affections.

      In his introduction to the play, Albert Gilman notes, "Some critics have complained of inconsistencies in the plotting," as the length of time for which Duke Senior has been banished and the respective heights of Rosalind and Celia are referred to differently in different passages. Also, Shakespeare has perhaps for no good reason given the name of Jaques to both the melancholy philosopher and the brother of Oliver and Orlando. Regarding this fact, Helen Gardner notes:

      It seems possible that the melancholy Jaques began as this middle son and that his melancholy was in a origin a scholar's melancholy. If so, the character changed as it developed, and by the time that Shakespeare had fully conceived his cynical spectator, he must have realized that he could not be kin to Oliver and Orlando. The born solitary must have no family: Jaques seems the quintessential only child.

      Gilman adds, "These bits of carelessness, if that is what they are, are not unusual in Shakespeare and not peculiar to this play." Gilman does note that another cause for critical concern is the lack of psychological complexity: "The motives of the chief characters in As You Like It are as simple and abrupt as the action of the play, and they could surely be put in evidence by those who think the play a piece of indifferent craftsmanship."

      A somewhat comically negative take on the work can be found in George Bernard Shaw's play entitled The Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Gilman quotes a scene in which the character of Will Shakespeare remarks to Queen Elizabeth:

      I have also stole from a book of idle wanton tales two of the most damnable foolishness in the world, in the one of which a woman goeth in man's attire and maketh impudent love to her swain, who pleaseth the groundlings by overthrowing a wrestler I have writ these to save my friends from penury, yet showing my scorn for such follies and for them that praise them by calling the one As You Like It, meaning that it is not as I like it.

      Helen Gardner sums up the appeal of As You Like It by calling it "a play to please all tastes." After citing the simple asset of the romantic aspect of the tale, she observes:

      For the learned and literary this is one of Shakespeare' most allusive plays, uniting old traditions and playing with them lightly. As You Like It is the most refined and exquisite of the comedies, the one which is most consistently played over by a delighted intelligence. It is Shakespeare's most Mozartian comedy.

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