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Literary Devices in As You Like It

Literary Devices Examples in As You Like It:

Act I - Act I, Scene 1

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"and the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude..."   (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.”

"The more pity that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly...."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 2)

This line is an example of chiasmus, a rhetorical device in which concepts are repeated in a reverse order. Touchstone uses this chiasmus to invert the social order: the “wise men” are figured as doing foolish things and the “fools” are figured as speaking wisely. This line introduces the theme of inversion within this play.

"Well, I will forget the condition of my estate, to rejoice in yours. ..."   (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.

"no, no brother; yet the son-- Yet not the son; I will not call him son-- Of him I was about to call his father,..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 3)

Adam has a hard time identifying Oliver through his familial connections because Oliver’s actions break these bonds. In a class system organized by primogeniture, actions should not matter. One’s identification comes from one’s lineage regardless of action or merit. Adam’s attention to Oliver’s cruelty demonstrates disorder in this system: as a servant he should be less concerned with Oliver’s actions and have more reverence for his title.

"but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly...."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 4)

After spinning an account of his past adventures in love, detailing the “strange capers” he found himself in, Touchstone reflects on the passing nature of it all. Through a confounding chiasmus—a repeated phrase that is reversed—Touchstone muses that “all nature in love [is] mortal in folly.” In other words, the natural silliness of love is fleeting, just as everything else in nature is.

"me..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 5)

While Amiens sings a romanticized song about being exiled to the forest, Jacques’ verse is a cynical take on the pastoral song. He imports realism into the pastoral trope and mocks the tradition of the pastoral. While the pastoral attempted to create an edenic paradise within nature, the reality of the countryside, and these characters’ place within it, was much less ideal. Jaques uses his pastoral song to challenge the idea that these nobles are better off in Arden away from the city.

"More at your request than to please myself. ..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 5)

The pastoral song generally appeared when it was thematically apt and disappeared after it had run its course, much like a song in a musical. However, here Jaques interrupts this trend to demand the player keep singing. Jaques leverages his social power to force Amiens to perform the pastoral; in essence, he ruins the pastoral by bringing his urban perspective into the forest space.

"What would you have? your gentleness shall force More than your force move us to gentleness. ..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

In a subtle chiasmus—a repeated, reversed phrase—Duke Senior chides Jaques for his boldness. The Duke remains unprepared for Jaques’ newfound role as Fool, and the necessary forcefulness of that role.

"I am ambitious for a motley coat...."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

This ambition is markedly different from the ambition that is usually present in Shakespeare’s plays. Typical heroes in Shakespearean drama long for wealth, power, or fame. But here, Jaques longs to be a fool and to gain the insight that comes with being a fool. This inversion of ambition signifies the inverted nature of the green world.

"To blow on whom I please; for so fools have:..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

Jaques further details the Fool’s role, using a metaphor of the Fool as the wind, “blow[ing] on whom I please.” The purpose of this metaphor is to describe how the Fool, like the wind, serves as an equalizing force. Peasants and kings,lords and servants, men and women: all are subject to ridicule by the Fool.

"I think he be transform'd into a beast; For I can nowhere find him like a man...."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 7)

This scene begins in the middle of a conversation between Duke Senior and Amiens about a mysterious “he.” While the audience will come to find out that this “he” is Jaques, Shakespeare suspends the audience’s imagination by not directly referencing him by name. This is a literary device used to make theatrical life appear more like real life: the conversation begins in the scene as if it has been going on between two characters who are not speaking lines but rather having an actual conversation.

"bring him dead or living Within this twelvemonth, or turn thou no more To seek a living in our territory...."   (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.

"A Room in the Palace. ..."   (Act III - Act III, Scene 1)

Shakespeare crafts Act III, Scene ii as a mirror opposite of Act II, Scene vii. The setting, themes and characters in the previous scene find their double here. The Forest of Arden is contrasted with the “Room in the Palace.” The exchange between Duke Senior and Orlando is mirrored by the exchange between their respective doubles, Duke Frederick and Oliver. Shakespeare carefully structures his plays to play on and draw out these doubles.

"Nay, you might keep that check for it, till you met your wife's wit going to your neighbour's bed...."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

If we consider this scene Rosalind’s attempt to teach her lover how to love her, these lines could be a way in which Rosalind trains Orlando to respect her “wit.” While Orlando initially paints Rosalind as an archetypal love object—an ethereal, chaste, and passive woman—the actual Rosalind has sharp wit, strong opinions, and a sexual appetite. Rosalind uses this discussion of “wit” and poses as a “difficult woman” in order to retrain Orlando’s mind; women are not the objects found in love poetry.

"a woman's thought runs before her actions...."   (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.

"But these are all lies..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

In calling these stories from mythology “all lies,” Rosalind places love in the realm of mythology: it is a fabricated emotion used to drive plots. Rosalind plays herself as a cynic who does not believe in love to mock Orlando’s conventional wooing.

"He that will divide a minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part of the thousand part of a minute in the affairs of love, ..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

The “he” to which Rosalind refers in these lines is slightly unclear. She could mean Cupid, the god of love, lengthening an hour by dividing it into excruciatingly smaller units of time. She could also mean the man who divides the hour but does not do so on behalf of love. In either reading, fragmentation is used to signify the anguish that comes with love and reflects the poetic blazon that characterized much of the sonnets. This is why Rosalind’s characterization of Orlando as “whole-hearted” is negative: he cannot be in love if he is not fragmented.

"it is a melancholy of mine own..."   (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.

"you a man?--You lack a man's heart...."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)

Here, Oliver repeats Rosalind’s own reasoning from the beginning of the play: she wears a man’s clothing but carries within her a female disposition. Notice that Oliver is the only character thus far who has questioned Rosalind’s manliness.

"tyrant..."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 3)

Phebe’s letter resembles typical love poetry in which a speaker gazes on a desired object who is indifferent to him. However, here Phebe takes on the role of the love poet and reverses the gaze: it is from a woman to a man instead of a man to a woman. This makes Phebe a “tyrant” rather than a lover, revealing a disparity between gender expectations in love.

",--which is in the vulgar, leave,-..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 1)

Touchstone defines each word in this sentence by its simplest definition. The hyperbole of this defining functions to mock William and his lack of intelligence.

"in these degrees have they made pair of stairs to marriage,..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)

Rosalind breaks love at first sight into multiple steps. This long list of their infatuation is comic: her description takes more time than they did to fall in love.

"And I for Ganymede. ..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 2)

This repetition mimics a refrain in a song in a round. This style fits in with the backdrop of the pastoral, and transforms what could be dramatic romantic entanglement into a comic space.

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