Jaques is a melancholy lord attending Duke Senior in banishment. Jaques is commonly considered Touchstone’s foil, as he provides commentary on the play’s diverse issues from a completely different perspective. Jaques’s misanthropy, or distaste for humanity, initially casts a dark shadow over the events in Arden forest. Where Duke Senior expresses regret at the killing of the ‘‘native burghers of this desert city’’ (2.1.23)—the deer—‘‘in their own confines’’ (2.1.24) essentially as an afterthought, Jaques weeps at the sight and sound of a wounded deer pouring forth tears and heaving its last breaths. As reported by a lord, Jaques goes so far as to ‘‘most invectively . . . pierceth through / The body of the country, city, court, / Yea, and of this our life, swearing that we / Are mere usurpers, tyrants’’ (2.1.58–61). Thus, while Duke Senior has already been cast as a virtuous man, in contrast to the usurper Frederick, Jaques characterizes not only the elder duke but also all the men who have invaded the forest as usurpers in turn. The melancholy philosophizer can be seen as something of an environmentalist. Jaques’s antihumanism is highlighted when Duke Senior’s party is unable to locate him and one lord remarks, ‘‘I think he be transformed into a beast, / For I can nowhere find him like a man’’ (2.7.1–2).
Overall, the audience does not develop a favorable impression of Jaques. While Jaques reveals a certain fondness for Touchstone and professes his own desire to become a fool, so as to better ‘‘Cleanse the foul body of th’ infected world’’ (2.7.60), Duke Senior promptly discredits him for having been a ‘‘libertine, / As sensual as the brutish sting itself’’ (2.7.65–6). Indeed, Jaques is something of a parody of an Elizabethan stereotype (and of a number of Shakespeare’s contemporary satirists), the traveler who returns from abroad only to become discontented with domestic life. Shakespeare shows no sympathy for Jaques throughout the play: his cynical statements are rebuked time and again by Rosalind, Orlando, Touchstone, and Duke Senior. Even the initial portrayal of Jaques as an environmentalist is negated when he revels later in the killing of a second deer, hailing the successful hunter as a ‘‘Roman conqueror’’ (4.2.3–4); the text gives no evidence that the line would have been delivered ironically.
In the end, Jaques refuses to take part in the wedding celebration even vicariously, noting, ‘‘I am for other than for dancing measures’’ (5.4.193), and many commentators have read this as Shakespeare’s ultimate condemnation of Jaques’s character: he simply can not take part in life’s joys. Yet while most of the protagonists will be returning to the oft-decried courtly life, Jaques intends to join the newly religious Duke Frederick, remarking, ‘‘Out of these convertites / There is much matter to be heard and learned’’ (5.4.184–85). His final lines, which are somewhat cryptic—‘‘what you would have / I’ll stay to know at your abandoned cave’’ (5.4.195–96)— at the very least indicate that he is devoted to the ideal of the pastoral world, rather than having merely vacationed there out of necessity.
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