The Passionate Pilgrim 1.4: Will, Audrey and Touchstone

It is difficult to say whether or not Shakespeare actually intended to respond to Ben Jonson’s ridicule of him via the role of Sogliardo. In fact, he appears not to have acknowledged it at all. What happened instead is that As You Like It took Jonson’s mockery to a new level.

Shakespeare's_Heroines_-_Rosalind
Rosalind as Ganymede in The Forest of Arden. By Robert Walker Macbeth (artist), Sampson Low, Marston & Co. (publisher), via Wikimedia Commons

The main plot of As You Like It concerns Rosalind, daughter of the falsely accused and unfairly exiled Duke Senior, and her adventures in the forest of Arden where she takes the disguise of a young man, attempts to rescue and exonerate her father and falls in love with Orlando who has also earned the Duke’s displeasure and has traveled to Arden.

There is also a secondary plot, which has very little, if anything, to do with Rosalind’s quest. This plot involves Touchstone, a clown, Audrey, a country wench, and William, a country youth, in love with Audrey.

These two plots travel upon somewhat parallel tracks, with Rosalind accomplishing all of her goals, including restoration of her father to his rightful position and marriage to the once but no longer disfavored Orlando, while Touchstone deposes William in Audrey’s favor and subsequently marries her.

I intend to examine the role of Rosalind and the difficulties facing her, why she chooses to travel in disguise and how she manages to turn the tables on her opponents, in later installments. What I want to focus on now is Touchstone.

Touchstone, whose name is derived from an alchemical term meaning:

  1. a type of black stone formerly used to test the purity of gold or silver by the streak left on it when it was rubbed with the metal 2. any test or criterion for determining genuineness or value.

Webster’s Second College Edition.

spots William approaching Audrey and himself and immediately calls him a “clown”. Subsequently, he calls him a “clown” to his face and chases him offstage, threatening to kill him one  hundred fifty ways. In between, Touchstone tells William:

“Then, learn this of me. To have is to have. For it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other; for all your writers do consent that ‘ipse’ is he. Now, you are not ‘ipse’, for I am he.”

As You Like It, V. 1. 39-43

There are a lot of ways to interpret this passage, none of which I can imagine fall to the advantage of William. One interpretation that I can imagine is that if Touchstone is Ben Jonson, then he is once again accusing William Shakespeare of being a fraud. Except that, in this instance, it is the author of As You Like It who is repeating this accusation using Touchstone as a stand in for Jonson.

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Touchstone,_The_Jester
Touchstone, the Jester, John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, Touchstone may not be representative of Jonson at all. Keep in mind that Jonson never accused Shakespeare of plagiarizing his poetry, so the glass to glass metaphor does not quite fit between these two. Which is to say that, whatever glass is filling William’s, it probably isn’t Jonson’s.

William never gets another chance to stand up for himself. In fact, Touchstone has the pleasure of describing this encounter at some length, all to his own credit, at the end of Act V.

So, did Shakespeare decide to take the high road and lampoon himself by taking Jonson’s accusations to the next level, transforming a minor dispute over his dearly purchased heraldic emblem into a more personal attack on his legitimacy as an author (ie: drink poured from one full vessel, the original, into another, the empty recipient)? Was he perhaps disputing Jonson’s claims by showing them to be overheated, an invented heraldic emblem being much less significant than claims of authorship? If so, why? Why go to such an extreme?

Perhaps it had to do with yet another remarkable correspondence between As You Like It and Every Man Out of His Humor.

Next: Touchstone and “A Great Recknynge”

PeteHeadshot Dr. Peter Hodges holds a BFA in Acting from the University of Washington (class of ‘75), an M.A. in Directing and a Ph. D. in Literature from The City Graduate Center of The City University of New York City, New York (1986 and 1992).  Dr. Pete (as he is sometimes known among his friends) is a 30 year veteran of the Wall Street wars, author and producer of more than a dozen plays, a novel, and a critical study of Sadakichi Hartmann’s plays.

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