Act IV - Act IV, Scene 2

SCENE II. Another part of the Forest.

[Enter JAQUES and Lords, in the habit of Foresters.]

JAQUES.
Which is he that killed the deer?

LORD.
Sir, it was I.

JAQUES.
Let's present him to the duke, like a Roman conqueror; and
it would do well to set the deer's horns upon his head for a
branch of victory.--Have you no song, forester, for this purpose?

LORD.
Yes, sir.

JAQUES.
Sing it; 'tis no matter how it be in tune, so it make noise
enough.

SONG.

1. What shall he have that kill'd the deer?
2. His leather skin and horns to wear.
1. Then sing him home:
[The rest shall bear this burden.]
Take thou no scorn to wear the horn;
It was a crest ere thou wast born.
1. Thy father's father wore it;
2. And thy father bore it;
All. The horn, the horn, the lusty horn,
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.

[Exeunt.]

Footnotes

  1. During the era of the Roman republic and early empire, conquering Roman generals were celebrated in victory marches. As part of the ceremony, the general was crowned with a set of laurel branches. Jaques’s allusion to the laurels is ironic, and serves as an insult to Duke Senior. The Duke is by no means victorious. He is set to receive deer horns—symbolic of the cuckold—not the laurels of a conquering hero.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The deer is a thematic motif throughout this play that reveals character’s interior identities and their relationships with one another. The deer is both symbolic of the natural world and taken up as a symbol of man’s relationship with this natural world. In the beginning of the play, Jaques contemplates his role as a guardian of nature over a dead deer. Here a dead deer is used to show the Duke’s fall from power and loss of title. Deer’s horns are also used throughout the play as symbols of being cuckolded—which both symbolizes a failure of the love contract and a usurpation of aristocratic social order.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. “His” in this context refers to the Duke. Jaques suggests that they arrange the deer’s horns on top of the Duke’s head to signify the Duke’s victory. However, horns were also symbolic of being cuckolded. Metaphorically, Jaques gives the horns to the Duke because something has been taken from him—his throne and title.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The implication of this song is that every married man bears the horns of a cuckold.  And according to Jacques, being a cuckold has a long tradition--"it was a crest ere you were born."

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Jacques is making a play on words--horns on a man is a symbol that he is a cuckold.  Although the duke has not been cuckolded in a sexual sense, he has had his birthright stolen, a kind of non-sexual "cuckolding."

    — Stephen Holliday