Character Analysis in As You Like It
Character Analysis Examples in As You Like It:
Act I - Act I, Scene 1
"you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities:..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
Orlando’s separation from the courtly education and upbringing he desires places him in between the two thematic spheres of court and country. The tension between these two cultures is one of the play’s central themes.
"and the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)
By “spirit of my father,” Orlando means his father’s noble birth, blood, and attitude. Orlando uses this reference to claim that his noble blood cries out against this treatment that degrades him. However, rather than strongly claiming this right to his title, Orlando says “I think,” which undermines his argument. Because of the system of primogeniture, he cannot know with certainty that he can “mutiny against his servitude.”
Act I - Act I, Scene 2
"you have deserv'd High commendation, true applause, and love, Yet such is now the duke's condition,..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
Ironically, even after Orlando has proven himself to the Duke and his ministers, his birth still holds him back from a prosperous future. Orlando cannot escape his birth, both in terms of being born the second child and being born to an enemy of the Duke.
"if you saw yourself with your eyes, or knew yourself with your judgment, the fear of your adventure would counsel you to a more equal enterprise. We pray you, for your own sake, to embrace your own safety and give over this attempt...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
This line reveals Orlando’s need to prove himself. He cannot accept the proof of his eyes that wrestling Charles will be dangerous; he must experience it for himself. This drive to prove himself reveals the chaos in the social system: as a nobleman, he should be able to fall on his title for definition. But because his brother denies him access to nobility, he does not know himself.
"Were you made the messenger?..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
Touchstone embodies the mythological archetype of the Trickster, a character who crosses boundaries and breaks societal rules in order to bring about a new order. In Greek mythology, Hermes is both the Trickster and messenger god. When Celia asks whether Touchstone was “made the messenger,” she points to his secret identity and role.
"TOUCHSTONE..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
Touchstone’s name draws attention to his role in the play. The word “touchstone” refers to a variety of dark marble upon which samples of gold and silver are rubbed to determine their purity. Figuratively, a touchstone then refers to any object that tests the value of other objects. In As You Like It, Touchstone puts the attitudes and values of the other characters to the test through his cryptic, often foolish phrases.
"hath sent this natural for our whetstone: for always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits.-..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
A “whetstone” was a tool used for sharpening knives or smoothing surfaces. Celia uses this metaphor to suggest that the fool approaching is like a whetstone while they are like the knife. This metaphor speaks to the theme of gender boundary crossing in which both Celia and Rosalind assert power and intellect beyond their expected gender roles.
"when he dies thou shalt be his heir: for what he hath taken away from thy father perforce, I will render thee again in affection: by mine honour, I will..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
Celia reveals another important sibling rivalry in the play: the conflict between Duke Senior, Rosalind’s exiled father, and his brother Duke Frederick, Celia’s usurping father. Celia promises to pass the right of governance to Rosalind rather than keep it for herself. The relationship between Celia and Rosalind represents a departure from the sibling rivalries between the two dukes as well as Oliver and Orlando.
"Well, I will forget the condition of my estate, to rejoice in yours. ..." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
The relationship between the cousins Celia and Rosalind offers a parallel to the relationship between Oliver and Orlando. While the two brothers are locked in a vicious rivalry, the two cousins share a significantly more caring relationship. Shakespeare often crafted these parallels or “doubles,” as some scholars prefer, in his plays. This pair of familial relationships represents an example of a double.
"that was laid on with a trowel...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)
Celia criticizes Touchstone's inflated language by claiming it is "laid on with a trowel," or with unsubtle force, as though he's a bricklayer or mason guilty of poor workmanship.
Act I - Act I, Scene 3
" outface it with their semblances...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Rosalind claims that masculinity can be put on and taken off like a costume, pointing to an underlying logic of internal versus external states. She claims that in her heart, “women’s fear” may still exist, but in her external appearance she will be fiercely masculine. She speaks about the human tendency to “outface” one’s internal feelings with “semblances.”
"Now go we in content To liberty, and not to banishment...." See in text (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)
Though Celia and Rosalind have been banished to the Forest of Arden, Celia seems to think it will be more liberating to live in the woods. "Banishment" frees them from the tense jealousies of the court.
Act II - Act II, Scene 1
"swearing that we Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what's worse, To fright the animals, and to kill them up In their assign'd and native dwelling-place...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
These reported words of Jaques solidify his status as a steward of the natural world. Jaques takes it upon himself to represent the animals from the humans, whom he characterizes as “usurpers, tyrants.” Jaques thus serves as an archetypal Trickster—much as Touchstone does—occupying a space between the split realms of man and nature. While Jaques is himself a man, he identifies more closely with the law of the woods.
"and thus the hairy fool, Much marked of the melancholy Jaques, Stood on the extremest verge of the swift brook, Augmenting it with tears...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
From the first appearance of Jaques, it is clear that he is different from his companions, the other men in Duke Senior’s cohort. Much of the scene is devoted to the telling of an encounter between Jaques and a dead deer. One lord teases Jaques for his grief, calling him “the hairy fool.” Jaques has a connection to the natural world that his companions cannot comprehend. It can be said that Jaques represents the mythological archetype of the Wild Man, a hairy man with a deep, intuitive connection with nature. It is this connection that accounts for the depth of his grief.
"That can translate the stubbornness of fortune Into so quiet and so sweet a style. ..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
From the perspective of Amiens, Duke Senior’s speech serves as an attempt to make the best of the sorrows of his exile. Thus far in the play, it is not clear whether Duke Senior genuinely relishes his new life in the country or whether he is putting on a cheerful mask for his men in the face of his misfortunes.
"Did he not moralize this spectacle? FIRST LORD. O, yes, into a thousand similes...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
To “moralize a spectacle” is to make meaning out of an seemingly meaningless event. The lords mock Jacques for making meaning out of the deer’s death with “a thousand similes.” From their standpoint, the event is not a cause for grief. Though they cannot see it, the Lords are creating their own “thousand similes” to make sense of Jaques’ melancholic response. In this way, Jaques becomes a mirror that reveals the Lords’ characters and one of the main themes of the play: all men “moralize” and make meaning out of meaningless events based on their perspective–we’re all writing the world as we experience it.
"'Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens; 'Tis just the fashion; wherefore do you look Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there?'..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
Jaques uses cosmopolitan and monetary language to refer to the deer and their fallen comrade: the fleeing deer are “citizens” who follow the “fashion” to look upon the dead; the fallen deer is “bankrupt.” Notice that though this account of his language comes from the Lords, it is filtered through their perspective. This either signals that the Lords have shaped his woe into their own frame of reference, the moral landscape of the city, or that Jaques had to explain his woe using their frame of reference. Jaques’ language, imagined or real, reveals the Lords’ distance from the green world.
" needless stream..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
“Needless stream” means that the stream does not need Jaques’ tears. Using this metaphor, the First Lord mocks Jaques’ reaction to the deer’s death. However, it also demonstrates the First Lord’s serious misreading of Jaques’ melancholy. Jaques weeps for the deer because he is connected to the natural world and its beings while the Lords are disconnected from nature because they maintain an urban mindset.
"worldlings..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
The word “worldling,” a cosmopolitan or sophisticated person, furthers the Duke’s personification the deer as a member of polite society. In this way, the Duke and his Lords project the cityscape onto the green world. They read the beings and events of the green world through their social structures and moral code. This demonstrates that the Duke and his Lords are out of touch with the woods and nature. Though they live in the green world, they are not part of it.
"Sweet are the uses of adversity; ..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)
The Duke is trying to comfort himself after being banished to the Forest of Arden by his villainous brother. Instead of dwelling on his misfortune, he considers the perks of being banished—such as being free from society, or the "public haunt."
Act II - Act II, Scene 2
"gallant..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 2)
“Gallant” means heroic or chivalrous. Duke Frederick’s favorable characterization of Oliver underscores the larger parallel between these two sets of brothers: Duke Frederick is to Oliver as Duke Senior is to Orlando. With this scene, Frederick and Oliver are no longer just comparable but allies.
Act II - Act II, Scene 3
"Yet fortune cannot recompense me better Than to die well and not my master's debtor...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 3)
Adam is motivated by a continued desire to serve Sir Rowland, and not by the more selfish urges that motivate some of the other characters in the play. For Adam, that service takes the form of loyal assistance to Orlando, whom he views as the rightful heir to Rowland.
Act II - Act II, Scene 4
"[Enter CORIN and SILVIUS.]..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)
Corin and Silvius are representative of the pastoral world and its culture. Silvius’ name—drawn from the Latin “silva,” which means forest—highlights this point. The fact that Corin and Silvius are talking about matters of the heart in their opening conversation establishes the forest of Arden as a place where romantic relationships unfold.
"ROSALIND. Thou speak'st wiser than thou art 'ware of. TOUCHSTONE. Nay, I shall ne'er be 'ware of mine own wit till I break my shins against it...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)
This exchange between Rosalind and Touchstone offers self-conscious commentary on the role of the archetypal Fool in Shakespearean drama. Fools often offer profound and thematically revealing pieces of wisdom to both the characters on stage and the audience. However, they often do it despite themselves; they are unaware of their own wit.
"true lovers..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)
Touchstone the jester tells a ridiculous anecdote about being so in love with a milkmaid that he kissed her batlet (a wooden paddle used to beat clothes during washing) and her cow's teats. Touchstone argues, though, that true love is not the ideal we want it to be; "as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly."
Act II - Act II, Scene 7
"Welcome. ..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Notice that Duke Senior does not address Jaques’ philosophical musings on the stages of life. He moves on as if Jaques has not spoken, further demonstrating Jaques’ position on the border outside of the courtly space the Duke occupies.
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind, Thou art not so unkind As man's ingratitude; Thy tooth is not so keen, Because thou art not seen, Although thy breath be rude. Heigh-ho! sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly: Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly: Then, heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly...." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Amiens is the melancholic bard. He uses song to transform the sorrows of the world into moments of great joy. Notice the progression that takes place over the course of each of his stanzas. The first stanza begins, “Blow, blow thou winter wind,/Thou art not so unkind/As man’s ingratitude.” In the seventh line, Amiens willfully shifts the song’s tone and content from the sorrowful to the joyful. With the exclamation, “Heigh-ho! Sing heigh-ho!,” Amiens pushes the song to the conclusion that “this life is most jolly.” Amiens thus consciously transforms pain into joy.
"Fie on thee!..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Notice that the Duke immediately revokes his initial “and you shall have” a motley coat after Jaques’ speech. In his speech, Jaques suggests that the duke will “receive my medicine,” which suggests that Jaques would have insight beyond the Duke’s perception. This could anger the Duke because it suggests that he has lost the power that he wielded within the city.
"I think he be transform'd into a beast; For I can nowhere find him like a man. ..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Duke Senior’s characterization of Jaques portrays him as more “beast” than “man.” This depiction underscores Jaques’ embodiment of the archetypal Wild Man, a figure who exists between the worlds of humanity and nature.
"Cleanse the foul body of the infected world,..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Jaques points to the ultimate goal of the Fool: to, through his jesting, “cleanse the foul body of the infected world.” The Fool identifies that which each person cannot see in himself. The Fool heals by bringing the unconscious into consciousness.
"transform'd into a beast;..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Remember that Jaques referenced King Midas, who was transformed into a donkey after judging a contest between two gods, in his pastoral song from Act II, scene iv. Here, “beastliness” is equated with melancholy rather than actual physical transformation. Jaques is a beast because he does not fit in with the attitudes and behaviors of the other men in camp.
"we have seen better days..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
When Orlando chances upon the Duke and his men in the Forest of Arden, he initially mistakes them for savages or criminals. The Duke, even in his exile, has not forgotten his manners; after delivering the pitiful speech about his men having seen better days, he complies with Orlando's demands.
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind, Thou art not so unkind As man's ingratitude;..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
Nature, though certainly harsh, is not as unkind as "man's ingratitude" because it is not evil or intentionally cruel. Though Duke Senior and his men have been banished to the woods, they are at least safe from the wretchedness of humankind.
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players;..." See in text (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)
The idea that "all the world's a stage" was already a cliché by the time Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. Jacques, the slightly pretentious pessimist in the Forest of Arden, deploys the metaphor of life's stage for his famous speech on the Seven Ages of Man.
Act III - Act III, Scene 1
"More villain thou..." See in text (Act III - Act III, Scene 1)
“Villain” in this context means someone low-born or base-minded. The word signifies how one’s class causes unprincipled or depraved behavior. Here, Frederick claims that Oliver’s hatred for his brother makes him a “villain,” or someone who is low-born, base. In not caring for his brother, Oliver defies the class system in which aristocrats are born into their social status. By rejecting his brother, Oliver diminishes Orlando’s class and by extension his own.
"bring him dead or living Within this twelvemonth, or turn thou no more To seek a living in our territory...." See in text (Act III - Act III, Scene 1)
In another use of doubles, Shakespeare shapes the primary tension of this scene to be the opposite of Act II, Scene vii. Just as the collaboration Duke Senior and Orlando in the previous scene is defined by collaboration, the relationship between Duke Frederick and Oliver is marked by coercion. While the two villains have similar goals, Frederick uses threats to move Oliver to action.
"Thy lands, and all things that thou dost call thine Worth seizure, do we seize into our hands,..." See in text (Act III - Act III, Scene 1)
Frederick’s ability to seize all of Oliver’s wealth and landholdings demonstrates the unstable nature of Oliver’s identity: though he is a landowner and a member of the nobility, his position is subject to the king’s discretion. It is something that can be given and taken away. Therefore, Oliver’s identity can be seen as a type of costume or pose; like many of the other characters in the play, Oliver plays his part as an aristocrat.
Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1
"a woman's thought runs before her actions...." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
By “woman’s thought runs before her action” Rosalind alludes to the expectations of her wedding night: a woman goes before a priest a “girl,” with her womanhood intact, and becomes a woman on her wedding night. This description of female sexuality reflects traditional conventions of virginity and marriage. However, Rosalind’s claim that she will not ask Orlando’s “commision,” or right to her hand in marriage, because “women’s thoughts” run before her suggests that her anticipation of the wedding night causes her to rush to the alter. Ironically, Rosalind both invokes traditional conventions for female sexuality and challenges it with her sexualized thoughts.
"Then you must say..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
Here, Rosalind plays the part of playwright orchestrating the events of the drama and dictating the other character's lines. She takes full control of her destiny and her romance in not only educating Orlando on how to woo her but also putting the words of the marriage vow in his mouth.
"to have rich eyes and poor hands...." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
Rosalind identifies Jaques as a “traveler” by choosing one of the qualities that he mentioned, contemplating his travels. The “traveler” is an essential quality of the trickster who lives on the boundaries of society. The trickster sees all with their “rich eyes’ but owns nothing. Even though Rosalind tries to pair down Jaques’ identity to its most essential part, she still identifies him as a character who does not fit into an easy category.
"it is a melancholy of mine own..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
Here, Jaques delineates each version of melancholy by ascribing it to a different person. Remember, that Rosalind made the same types of distinctions for Time and the experience of time in Act III, scene ii. In both instances, the characters seem to be making lists in order to categorize types of people and therefore define them. Jaques distinguishes himself from these people because he does not have a describable melancholy, but a “melancholy of his own.” Jaques exists outside the categories that regulate their society.
"too much of a good thing..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)
"Too much of a good thing" is a euphemism for male genitalia. Rosalind, who is cross-dressing as the male Ganymede, is testing Orlando's courtship skills; otherwise, she probably wouldn't (as a woman) speak so suggestively.
Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3
"counterfeited..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)
Rosalind’s fainting spell demonstrates her soft “woman’s heart” that she has insisted lies inside her throughout the play. When she wakes up she repeatedly says that this was not a genuine fainting spell but “counterfeiting.” In this way, Rosalind tries to rewrite the story and continues to exercise her control over the narrative—a characteristic that demonstrates her strength rather than her weakness.
"For well I know he was unnatural...." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)
Oliver’s claims about Orlando’s brother are an example of dramatic irony because the audience knows that Oliver is Orlando’s brother. Oliver does not reveal this fact until the end of this scene, perhaps because he wants to first explain that he has mended his relationship with his brother before revealing his identity.
"women's gentle brain..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)
This idea that a “woman’s gentle brain” could not produce such angry words is exactly opposite of the argument that Rosalind made in the previous scene. When educating Orlando on how to woo her, Rosalind emphasizes women’s wit. Here she denies the women are capable of this kind of thought. From this discrepancy, the audience learns that Rosalind is a type of Trickster: we cannot believe what she says to reflect her actual opinion.
"huswife's hand..." See in text (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)
Rosalind uses the color and texture of Phebe’s hands as proof that she could not have written this letter. Phebe has “leathern” hands the color of stone, so rough they look like leather gloves. These hands demonstrate that Phebe does manual labor and is therefore a member of the low working class. Rosalind takes this to mean that Phebe cannot write and is not clever enough to put these ideas and words on paper.
Act V - Act V, Scene 1
"ipse..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 1)
“Ipse” is an archaic form of itself, himself, or oneself. Here, Touchstone claims that all writers believe they are “he” who has it, just as William believes that he is “he” who has wit. Touchstone will go on to mock William’s intelligence and prove that William does not have the wit he boasts of.
Act V - Act V, Scene 2
"I have left you commands...." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)
This is another instance in which Rosalind writes the other character’s roles. Throughout the play, we have seen Rosalind’s ability to orchestrate and control the outcomes of her desires from her place on the boundary. With this final “command” Rosalind will bring about the comedic ending of the play.
"all the revenue that was old Sir Rowland's will I estate upon you, and here live and die a shepherd...." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)
Oliver’s vow to give up his estate and live with Celia as a shepherd demonstrates his changed nature: he is no longer the greedy older brother who sought to disinherit his younger brother.
Act V - Act V, Scene 4
"DUKE SENIOR. If there be truth in sight, you are my daughter. ORLANDO. If there be truth in sight, you are my Rosalind...." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
This pair of lines touches on the play’s theme of identity and illusion. Throughout the preceding three acts of the play, Rosalind has shifted between external identities. Thus, Duke Senior and Orlando each say, “If there be truth in sight,” before defining Rosalind. This pair of line cements Rosalind’s identity, bringing an end to her Trickster ways.
"According to the fool's bolt..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
In a fascinating move, Touchstone externalizes his foolish qualities. He places the responsibility for his musings on “the fool’s bolt.” Such an image brings to mind Cupid’s arrow, and suggests that “the fool” is its own deific archetype. The characters in the play who embody the archetype of the Fool are not fools themselves so much as individuals momentarily struck by “the fool’s bolt.”
"If I were a woman,..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
Rosalind’s epilogue once again plays with the boundaries of gender roles. At the beginning of this speech she claims that it is odd to see a woman play the Epilogue; yet by the end she makes her female identity once again hypothetical— “If I were a woman.”
"as I perceive by your simpering, none of you hates them..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
“Simpering” means to smile affectionately. These two commands are interesting in that they are framed differently. To the women, Rosalind is able to give a direct commandment because she understands their emotional landscape —she assumes to know that the women love their men. To the men, however, Rosalind must draw on an external show of their affection in order to identify their internal emotions. This difference suggests that though she plays with boundaries Rosalind still interacts with the world from a female perspective.
"conjure..." See in text (Act V - Act V, Scene 4)
Once again, Rosalind “conjures,” implores someone to do something, other people to do her will. Even after she has orchestrated the happy ending of this play, she continues to command the audience and act as a playwright.