(This essay describes time’s two functions in As You Like It: first, as a foil whose two extremes— timelessness and time-consciousness—favourably contrast virtuous rustic life in Arden with dissolute court life, and second, as timelessness alone, as a link between life in the present and life in an earlier, less corrupt, generally better time. The critic maintains that Shakespeare perceives the city and court to be ruthless and degenerate, threatening places from which Arden’s timeless world is a refuge, a world where past and present merge and people flourish. Surveying the dramatic and thematic juxtapositions of these two worlds, Halio especially focuses on Rosalind’s awareness of time; he notes how, unlike Touchstone’s fascination with time’s power to ripen things and rot them, Rosalind is strongly influenced by time’s regenerative power, particularly as it concerns lovers.)
In As You Like It Shakespeare exploits timelessness as a convention of the pastoral ideal along with other conventions taken from pastoralism, but unlike his treatment, say, of Silvius and Phebe, his treatment of time is not so thoroughly satirical. Though neither will quite do, timelessness in Arden (on the whole) contrasts favorably to the time-consciousness of court and city life which Touchstone, for example, brings to the forest. In addition, timelessness links life in Arden with the ideal of an older, more gracious way of life that helps regenerate a corrupt present.
Orlando’s first speech immediately voices several aspects of the time theme. Speaking to Adam, he recalls his father’s will and its provision that Oliver, the eldest son, should educate the younger brothers. This Oliver has failed to do, at least with respect to Sir Rowland’s youngest son; but despite his enforced rusticity, Orlando reveals an innate gentility so wonderful that even his tyrannical brother is brought to remark: ‘‘Yet he’s gentle, never schooled, and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved … ’’ [I. i. 166–68]. These innate qualities derive directly from old Sir Rowland, for the identification between Orlando and his father, as we shall see, is repeatedly and pointedly made. Moreover, Orlando twice remarks in this scene that it is his father’s spirit within him that prompts him to revolt against his present humiliation—a revelation which has more than ordinary implications later.
Unlike his counterpart Sir John of Bordeaux in Lodge’s Rosalynde, Sir Rowland de Boys is dead before the play opens, but his memory is kept studiously alive. In the opening lines of Lodge’s novel we can get some idea of what he stood for:
“There dwelled adjoining to the city of Bordeaux a knight of most honorable parentage, whom fortune had graced with many favors, and nature honored with sundry exquisite qualities, so beautified with the excellence of both, as it was a question whether fortune or nature were more prodigal in deciphering the riches of their bounties. Wise he was, as holding in his head a supreme conceit of policy, reaching with Nestor into the depth of all civil government; and to make his wisdom more gracious, he had that salem ingenii and pleasant eloquence that was so highly commended in Ulysses: his valor was no less than his wit, nor the stroke of his lance no less forcible than the sweetness of his tongue was persuasive; for he was for his courage chosen the principal of all the Knights of Malta.”
But we need not go outside the play to discover what Sir Rowland represents. Adam, the old retainer of the de Boys household and himself a living remember of the former age, provides some important clues. When Oliver apparently consents to his brother’s departure, he throws Adam out, too:
OLIVER: Get you with him, you old dog.
ADAM: Is ‘‘old dog’’ my reward? Most true, I have lost teeth in your service. God be with my old master! He would not have spoke such a word.
[I. i. 81–4]
Later, when Adam warns Orlando to run from Oliver’s treachery and even offers his life’s savings—and his life—to assist in the escape, Orlando recognizes the gesture for what it is— the product of a gracious ideal:
O good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed!
Thou art not for the fashion of these times,
Where none will sweat but for promotion,
And having that do choke their service up
Even with the having. It is not so with thee.
[II. iii. 56–62]
The two dukes also furnish evidence of the esteem in which Sir Rowland was universally held: Duke Frederick, villainously, found him an enemy, but Duke Senior (to Rosalind’s evident gratification) ‘‘loved Sir Rowland as his soul’’ [I. ii. 235]. Orlando, who functions in the play partly to bear out the spirit of his father, naturally attracts similar feelings. It is not for nothing that he attaches to himself repeatedly the clumsy-naive epithet ‘‘old Sir Rowland’s youngest son’’ [I. iii. 28]; besides, his name is both as anagram of Rowland and its Italian translation. The predicament in which the young man eventually discovers himself will test his true mettle and, more importantly, the worth of all that he and his name may symbolize. Adam awakens in him some sense of his plight when Orlando returns home after throwing Charles the wrestler:
O you memory
Of old Sir Rowland!
Why, what make you here?
Why are you so virtuous?
Why do people love you?
And wherefore are you gentle, strong, and valiant?
Why would you be so fond to overcome
The bonny prizer of the humorous Duke?
Your praise is come too swiftly home before you.
Know you not, master, to some kind of men
Their graces serve them but as enemies?
No more do yours. Your virtues, gentle master,
Are sanctified and holy traitors to you.
Oh, what a world is this when what is comely
Envenoms him that bears it!
[II. iii. 3–15]
Orlando’s world of court and city is a far different world from his father’s. It is a perverse world, where brother plots against brother and virtues become ‘‘sanctified and holy traitors’’ [II. iii. 13]. It is a world ruled over by the usurping Frederick (the ‘‘new’’ Duke), who banishes his elder brother (the ‘‘old’’ Duke) and keeps his niece only so long as convenience allows. When he fears Rosalind as a threat to the fame and popularity of his own daughter, he drives her out also—just as Oliver plans to kill the brother he fears he can no longer suppress. In short, it is a world based on expediency and the lust for power [III. i. 15–18], not a brave new world, but a degenerate new one. With no obligation to tradition—to the past—it is ruthless in its self-assertion. But while this ‘‘new’’ world may banish its principal threats, Rosalind and Orlando, it does not thus destroy them (we are, after all, in the realm of romantic comedy). In the timeless pastoral world of the Forest of Arden, where past and present merge, they find refuge and there flourish.
The first mention of the life led by Duke Senior and his fellows in the Forest of Arden occurs early in the play in the dialogue between Charles and Oliver. Oliver has decided to use the wrestler to rid himself of Orlando (thus perverting the intention of Charles’s visit), but first he inquiries into the ‘‘new news at the new Court’’ [I. ii. 96–7]. Charles recounts what Oliver already knows: the new Duke has driven out the old Duke, and a number of lords have voluntarily accompanied him into exile. For no apparent reason, Oliver next inquires into Rosalind’s position, and then asks where the old Duke will live. Charles replies:
“They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England. They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet their time carelessly as they did in the golden world.” [I. i. 114–19]
Here Oliver abruptly changes the subject to the next day’s wrestling match. Now, merely as dramatic exposition this dialogue is at least ingenuous—if not downright clumsy. Obviously it must serve another function to justify itself; that is, by describing the conflict between the two dukes, it provides a parallel to the decisive quarrel between Orlando and Oliver which has just taken place. The inversion of roles played by the younger and older brothers is merely a superficial variation of the plot; the point is to suggest an alignment between Duke Senior and Sir Rowland de Boys, between the ‘‘golden world’’ and the ‘‘antique world,’’ which coalesce in the fabulous Robin Hood life now led by the banished Duke. Should we require any further evidence of this significance, the change in Sir Rowland’s name from its source is clear enough The anagram Rowland-Orlando has already been explained, but the change from de Bordeaux is otherwise meaningful: de Boys is simply de Bois, ‘‘of the forest.’’ Elizabethan spelling commonly substitutes y for i, as everyone knows, but the pronunciation is the same. While older editors, such as Malone and Dyce, modernize the spelling (without comment), more recent ones prefer the spelling of the Folios, a practice which tends to obscure the reference. And Dover Wilson’s note [in his New Cambridge edition of the play], recording the fact that the de Boyses were an old Arden family, gives us more light than it perhaps suspects—or intends.
Lest there be any mistake about the kind of forest in which Duke Senior and (later) Orlando, Rosalind, and the others find themselves, we must listen carefully to the Duke’s first speech [II. i. 1ff.]. Its theme is ‘‘Sweet are the uses of adversity’’; only in this way can he and his followers discover ‘‘tongues in trees, books in the running brooks / … and good in everything.’’ Here, unlike the conventional pastoral, others besides unrequited lovers may feel the shrewdness of the winter wind; shepherds will confess to smelling of sheep dip; and a Sir Oliver Martex is available for weddings as well as Hymen. The forest may be enchanted—the appearance of a god is only the least subtle indication that it is— but the enchantment is of an unusual kind; the forest still admits of other, qualifying realities. For the right apprehension of a natural, humane order of life, which emerges as Shakespeare’s standard, takes account of both the ideal (what should or could be) and the actual (what is). By contrast, the standard of life in court and city is unnatural insofar as it stifles the ideal aspirations of the human imagination and sinks to the level of a crude, animal existence. If Duke Senior finally returns along with the others to his dukedom (despite his earlier assertion that he would not change his ‘‘life exempt from public haunt’’), he returns not only because his dukedom is ready to receive him, but also (we must infer) because he is prepared to resume his proper role. Tempered by adversity, his virtue matures. To provide this temper, or balance, is the true function of the forest, its real ‘‘magic.’’ Neither the Duke nor anyone else who comes to Arden emerges the same.
The trip to the forest is itself exhausting and fraught with danger. Rosalind and her little company are quite unable to take another step. Similarly, Adam is close to expiring when he arrives with Orlando. But on each occasion the forest at once works its charm. Corin and Silvius are at hand to entertain Rosalind and her friends and to provide them with a gentle welcome and a home. At the end of the scene even the fainting Celia quickens to remark, ‘‘I like this place, / And willingly could waste my time in it’’ [III. iv. 94–5]. Orlando, seeking food in what he calls an ‘‘uncouth’’ desert [II. vi. 6], comes upon the banquet of the banished Duke. Showing the valor of his heritage, he opposes single-handed the entire host of the Duke and his men. Under the conventions of this romance, this show of valor is not quixotic—it fits rather with Orlando’s defeat of Charles. But, though hardly despised (except by Jaques), it is misdirected; and Orlando is made to recognize the code that here reigns:
Speak you so gently? Pardon me, I pray you.
I thought that all things had been savage here,
And therefore put I on the countenance
Of stern commandment. But whate’er you are
That in this desert inaccessible,
Under the shade of melancholy boughs,
Lose and neglect the creeping hours of time,
If ever you have looked on better days,
If ever been where bells have knolled to church,
If ever sat at good man’s feast,
If ever from your eyelids wiped a tear
And know what ’tis to pity and be pitied,
Let gentleness my strong enforcement be.
In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword.
[II. vii. 106–19]
Gentleness joins with gentleness; golden world merges with antique world—at least through their modern representatives. If the parvenu at first mistakes the appearance of his surroundings, he is soon instructed: this is no ordinary forest. At the same time, he reminds us of what civilization might be like, or once was. Certainly he perceives another aspect of his new environment accurately, one he will quickly cultivate: the meaninglessness of time in the forest.
For unlike the life of the court and the city, ‘‘men fleet the time carelessly’’ in Arden, as Charles earlier remarked. Here are no powerseekers like Oliver and Duke Frederick, impatient to rid themselves of encumbrances [I. i. 124, I. iii. 52 ff.], but men who love to lie under the greenwood tree seeking—only the food they eat. Appropriately, this casualness is the theme of many of their songs. Touchstone’s comment on the last—‘‘I count it but lost time to hear such a foolish song’’ [V. iii. 39–40]—briefly expresses the opposing attitude brought from court into the forest. The attitude is shared by the malcontent Jaques, his fellow satirist, and in some respects by Rosalind. Touchstone is, in fact, the play’s timekeeper, as Harold Jenkins has called him [in his ‘‘As You Like It,’’ Shakespeare Survey VII (1955): 40–51], and his most extended disquisition on time is fittingly recounted by Jaques:
… he drew a dial from his poke,
And looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, ‘‘It is ten o’clock.
Thus we may see,’’ quoth he, ‘‘how the world wags.
’Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’’
[II. vii. 20–8]
Later in the same scene Jaques in propria persona also ‘‘morals on the time’’ in his speech on the Seven Ages of Man, calling our attention to the broader divisions of time’s progress and pageant. Between these speeches, it should be noted, occur Orlando’s entrance and his words, quoted above, on the neglect of time by the Duke and his foresters. Clearly, Shakespeare throughout the play contrasts the timelessness of the forest world with the time-ridden preoccupations of court and city life, but here the juxtaposition is both dramatically and thematically emphasized. For the court and city habitue´s, time is a measured progress to the grave—or worse! But for the foresters, time is merely ‘‘the stream we go a-fishing in’’ (to borrow the phrase of a later pastoralist [Henry David Thoreau in Walden]). Neither attitude, of course, will quite do in this sublunary world; hence, to present a more balanced view of time—as of love, pastoralism, and poetry—Shakespeare uses the dialectic characteristic of this play and centers it upon his hero and heroine.
For Rosalind’s awareness of time, however related to the preoccupation imported from the ‘‘outside’’ world, is different from Touchstone’s obsession with ‘‘riping and rotting.’’ It is, partly, the awareness of a girl in love and impatient for the attentions of her lover, a healthy consciousness that recalls Juliet’s except as it is undarkened by tragic fate. But her awareness has further implications. When she and Orlando first meet in the forest, their dialogue, appropriately enough, is itself about time. Rosalind’s question, ‘‘I pray you, what is’t o’clock?’’ [III. ii. 299], although banal, suits the occasion; for despite her boast that she will speak like a saucy lackey, she is momentarily confused by confronting Orlando and scarcely knows how to begin. What follows in her account of Time’s ‘‘divers paces’’ [III. ii. 308–33], however, is something more than a verbal smokescreen to help her collect her wits, detain her lover, and make sure he keeps coming back: it is a development of Jacques’ Seven Ages speech with important thematic variations. Jaques’ speech describes a man in his time playing many parts and suggests that his speed, or ‘‘pace,’’ will vary along with his role; the series of vignettes illustrates the movement of a person in time. Rosalind not only adds appreciably to Jaques’ gallery, but showing profounder insight, she shifts the emphasis from the movement of a person, to the movement of time as apprehended, for example, by the young maid ‘‘between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemniz’d. If the interim be but a se’ennight, Time’s pace is so hard that it seems the length of seven year’’ [III. ii. 314–17]. In this way, she more thoroughly accounts for duration, or the perception of time, which, unlike Jaques’ portrait of our common destiny, is not the same for everyone.
Naturally, Rosalind is most concerned with the perception of time by the lover, and here her behavior is in marked contrast to Orlando’s. Quite literally—and like any fiance´e, or wife— she is Orlando’s timekeeper. When he fails to keep his appointments, she suffers both pain and embarrassment (III.iv) that are relieved only by the greater follies of Silvius and Phebe that immediately follow. When he finally does turn up an hour late—as if to dramatize his belief that ‘‘there’s no clock in the forest’’ [III. ii. 300–01]—Rosalind rebukes him severely:
ROSALIND: Why, how now, Orlando? Where have you been all this while? You a lover? An you serve such another trick, never come in my sight more.
ORLANDO: My fair Rosalind, I come within an hour of my promise.
ROSALIND: Break an hour’s promise in love? 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, it may be said of him that Cupid hath clapp’d him o’ th’ shoulder, but I’ll warrant him heart-whole.
ORLANDO: Pardon me, dear Rosalind.
ROSALIND: Nay, an you be so tardy, come no more in my sight. I had as lief be woo’d of a snail.
[IV. i. 38–52]
Rosalind’s time-consciousness goes beyond the mere moment: she knows the history of love—witness her speech on Troilus and Leander [IV. i. 94–108]—and she predicts its future, as she warns Orlando of love’s seasons after marriage [IV. i. 143–149]. Her ardent impulse is thus in comic juxtaposition with her realistic insight, just as Orlando’s ‘‘point-device’’ attire and time-unconsciousness comically contrast with his rimes and other protestations of love.
In this fashion we arrive at the theme’s center, or balance. If Orlando, as we have seen, is an agent of regeneration, he appears through his forgetfulness of time to be in some danger of not realizing his function. He might like Silvius, were it not for Rosalind, linger through an eternity of unconsummated loving; certainly, like the Duke, he feels in the forest no urgency about his heritage—at least not until he comes upon his brother sleeping beneath an ancient oak tree and menaced by a starved lioness (the symbolism is obvious). Oliver’s remarkable conversion after his rescue and his still more remarkable engagement to Celia pave the way for Rosalind’s resolution of the action, for under the pressure of his brother’s happiness, Orlando can play at games in love no longer. And despite the play’s arbitrary finale—Duke Frederick’s conversion and the end of exile, in all of which she has had no hand—nevertheless, it is again Rosalind who has had an important share in preparing the principals for this chance. Like her less attractive counterpart Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well, she remains a primary agent for the synthesis of values that underlies regeneration in Shakespeare’s comedy. At the very outset we see her, the daughter of Duke Senior at the court of Duke Frederick, as a link between two worlds, not unlike Orlando’s representative linking of two generations. In love, she is realistic rather than cynical, but not without a paradoxical—and perfectly human—romantic bias. So, too, with regard to time she moves with Orlando to a proper balance of unharried awareness. For all of these functions—as for others—the timeless world of the forest, with its complement of aliens, serves as a haven; but more importantly, it serves as a school.
Neither the extremes of idealism nor those of materialism, as they are variously represented, emerge as ‘‘the good life’’ in As You Like It. That life is seen rather as a mean of natural human sympathy educated—since that is a major theme in the play—by the more acceptable refinements of civilization (II. vii) and the harsh realities of existence (‘‘winter and rough weather’’ [II. v. 8]). The ‘‘antique world’’ stands for a timeless order of civilization still in touch with natural human sympathy that, under the ‘‘new’’ regime (while it lasted), had been forced underground. To the forest, the repository of natural life devoid of artificial time barriers, the champions of regeneration repair in order to derive new energy for the task before them. There they find refuge, gain strength, learn—and return. (pp. 197–207)
Shakespeare for Students:Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays & Poetry, Second Edition, Volume 1, authored by Anne Marie Hacht & Cynthia Burnstein, published by Thomson-Gale, 2007
Jay L. Halio, ‘‘No Clock in the Forest: Time in As You Like It,’’ in Studies in English Literature, 1500– 1900, William Marsh Rice University, Vol. II, 1962, pp. 197–207.