The Passionate Pilgrim 1.10: Why Jacques?

A performance in progress at the Swan theatre in London in 1596.

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;”

Thus begins one of the most memorable speeches ever written. Everyone in the English-speaking world has heard it. They may not know who speaks it or why, but they will probably know that what follows is the seven ages of man.

What is odd about this speech is that, unlike “To be or not to be” or “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” it really doesn’t seem to have any purpose. For that matter its speaker, Jacques, does not seem to have any purpose. Neither he nor his most famous speech make any connection to the action of As You Like It. They are there, they are amusing, but they could both be easily pulled straight out of the play and nothing much would change for any of the characters, the plot or the outcome. So, what are they doing there?

I think that this speech is a direct reply to Ben Jonson’s Prologue in Every Man In His Humor. I have several reasons for thinking this. First is that Jonson made a very direct attack on the type of play that had been most successful on the London stage, in particular Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (co-written I believe by Marlowe) and any number of the bold historical plays attributed to Shakespeare, including most recently at that time Julius Caesar.

Jonson explicitly advocated a theater that paid more attention to “deeds and language such as men do use” rather than one that depicted “Monsters.” Every Man In His Humor was Jonson’s alternative type of play.

A performance in progress at the Swan theatre in London in 1596.
A performance in progress at the Swan theatre in London in 1596. By Arnoldus Buchelius (Aernout van Buchel) (1565-1641), after a drawing of Johannes de Witt (1566-1622). Utrecht, University Library, Ms. 842, fol. 132r. (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the second act of Jonson’s play, his lead character, Know-well, makes a long speech about how difficult it is to be the father of a ne’er-do-well son. In a lot of ways, this speech can be seen as a precursor to Jacques famous speech. It is not quite so well written from a poetic perspective, there are none of Jacques memorable lines, but it deals with similar issues, with a father reflecting on wayward youth and generational discontent.

Many scholars have convinced each other that Shakespeare “probably” played the role of Know-Well, based on the prominence of his name in the cast list and the importance of the role. I don’t believe that tradition has much supportive evidence. Shakespeare would have been in his mid thirties at the time of the play’s production, 1598, and should not be assumed to have been preferable to an actor old enough to play an elderly man.

I do believe that, regardless of whether or not Shakespeare played Know-Well, a second reason for Jacques’ speech was as an appreciation of Jonson’s premise. In a way, Jacques expands on Jonson. Where Jonson says he wants to focus on real men, Jacques reminds us that men are changeable and that they have more capacity than Jonson describes.

The irony is that Jacques is As You Like It’s Jonson. Jonson already had a reputation for being melancholy, as Jacques is repeatedly described, he was known for private study, which Jacques eventually decides to pursue, and they both reject the fanciful world of Arden.

All of which returns us to the war of the poets. There is no doubt that Jonson wanted to make a name for himself. He was not just a capable writer, he had a point of view and a theory of what drama should present that was demonstrated in his own work. As You Like It responded to this generously and it is notable that Jonson did not take offense at Jacques the way he did with Marston’s much less pointed critique.

In the long run, Jonson was never able to banish grand spectacles from the stage, who could? But his advocacy of domestic drama and domestic comedy has proved successful. While Jonson’s own plays are not produced with anything like the frequency of those attributed to Shakespeare, domestic comedy and drama dominates a variety of venues, including television, film (with the exception of super-hero epics) and the modern stage, saving only musicals.

Jacques, therefore, is not a mere melancholic. He is a voice from the past’s future. If he is nostalgic, it is because he knows that he will miss some of those epic spectacles that Jonson wants to replace on stage. Fortunately, for each of them, there has been plenty of room for both.

Next:     Acting in the Age of Elizabeth

PeteHeadshotDr. 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.

The Passionate Pilgrim 1.9: Rosalind, Celia and Jacques

Bristol Branson (Celia) and Olena Hodges (Rosalind), ISF 2010, Directed by Susannah Rose Woods

Both Celia and Jacques exist primarily as contrasts to Rosalind. Touchstone also carries this task, but he has more independence than the other two and thus is not as limited.

When Celia is introduced with Rosalind she appears somewhat smug. She is, after all, the beneficiary of her father’s usurpation of Rosalind’s father’s dukedom and although she professes friendship for Rosalind, her companion is essentially a political prisoner. The idea that Duke Senior’s exile could have been accomplished without months and months of preparation and intrigue strains credulity. Nevertheless, Celia wants to maintain the relationship with Rosalind that existed before their social positions were upended. Rather than challenge her friend, Rosalind decides to change the subject, saying in effect: Let’s talk about boys.

Bristol Branson (Celia) and Olena Hodges (Rosalind), ISF 2010, Directed by Susannah Rose Woods
Bristol Branson (Celia) and Olena Hodges (Rosalind), ISF 2010, Directed by Susannah Rose Woods

When Celia is challenged, however, her loyalty proves to be absolute. This is as much a credit to Rosalind as it is to Celia herself. Not only does she immediately defend Rosalind, but she is no sooner banished than Celia resolves to join her. Rosalind’s means of rewarding her is circuitous and unexpected but is consistent with her overall view of the appropriate nature of human relations. That Celia accepts this without question might make her appear a trifle shallow, but compared to Rosalind, we are all shallow.

Celia is honesty personified. She doesn’t need to be more subtle than Rosalind, she only needs to encourage her. She is the proper Horatio to Rosalind’s Hamlet and has the good sense (and good fortune) to follow her lead.

Jacques, on the other hand, is more of a puzzle. He has no real action in the play and yet he has some of its best speeches. Rosalind easily bests him at repartee and yet, of all the characters in her orbit, is unable at last to rehabilitate him.

Many commentators assert that Jacques is a stand-in for Ben Jonson, just as Sogliardo was for Shakespeare. (Interesting, isn’t it, that while they observe this, they simultaneously and very selectively overlook all of Jonson’s references to the “reckoning,” etc.?)

Harold Bloom is quick to point out that the English version of Jacques, jakes, is another word for a toilet. But Jaques is not served as rudely as Sogliardo; instead he maintains his dignity even as he departs the scene, resolving to remain in Arden.

Alan Rickman as Jacques in the Royal Shakespeare Company's "As You Like It" in 1985. Via americantheatre.org
Alan Rickman as Jacques in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “As You Like It” in 1985. Via americantheatre.org

Of course, Arden is a metaphorical stage, as Jacques makes abundantly clear, and although Rosalind leaves it behind she does so only to ascend to a larger stage. Should this action be interpreted as a comment upon Jacques/Jonson and his melancholy? That is one suggestion.

Arden has often been associated with the family name of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden. It is also the Anglicized version of Ardennes, not far from the site of Henry V’s greatest victory, Agincourt.

The commonly accepted source for the play, however, Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde clearly places the story in France and the forest of Ardennes. Which puts any reference to the Arden family, or for that matter the myth of Robin Hood, which has also been suggested, beyond necessity.

Rosalind accomplishes her purpose in what an English audience would have naturally perceived as a magical forest (one where a small band of men, armed only with longbows, defeated a French host at least ten times their size), a forest that many of them still believed belonged to them. In this sense, Rosalind’s success is England’s success.

The fact that she accomplished all of this, against all odds, and by way of stratagem, is only natural.

Next: Why Jacques?

PeteHeadshotDr. 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.

The Passionate Pilgrim 1.8: Themes that Repeat

“Again and again in his plays, an unforeseen catastrophe . . . suddenly turns what had seemed like happy progress, prosperity, smooth sailing into disaster, terror, and loss. The loss is obviously and immediately material, but it is also, and more crushingly, a loss of identity. To wind up on an unknown shore, without one’s friends, habitual associates, familiar network – this catastrophe is often epitomized by the deliberate alteration or disappearance of the name and, with it, the alteration or disappearance of social status.”

Greenblatt, Stephen, Will In the World, p 85

Not only is Rosalind not the first female character in these plays to act in the face danger by disguising herself as a man, as Julia precedes her by several years in Two Gentlemen of Verona, she is by no means the last. The list also includes Viola in Twelfth Night, Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Imogen in Cymbeline. To this list could be added Helena in All’s Well, who disguises herself as a “pilgrim,” and female characters who probably appeared in masculine battle-dress, Joan in Henry VI Part I, Margaret in Henry VI Part III, and Eleanor in King John.

About the first four of these characters, Phyllis Rackin in Cross-dressing in Shakespeare’s Comedies – and Beyond observed:

  1. The heroines construct their masculine appearance before traveling.
  2. [They] are active and determined rather than passive and submissive.
  3. All four heroines show their intelligence and capability, even better than the men.
  4. Although the heroines show their masculinity in cross-dressing, they are still biologically female and physically weak sometimes, and they still hold feminine characteristics like tenderness, affection, and chastity.
  5. All four heroines are admirable women, endowed with good feminine qualities like chastity, constancy, tenderness, affection, selflessness and proficiency in housework.

A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, Volume III: The Comedies Edited by: Richard Dutton And Jean E. Howard, eISBN: 9781405136075, Print publication date: 2005.

To this collection of women must be added all of the male characters who travel in disguise, in no particular order:

Master Ford   Brook     Merry Wives

Lucentio      Cambio    Shrew

Tranio        Lucentio     Shrew

Hortentio     Lito      Shrew

Hamlet        Madman    Hamlet

Henry         Soldier   Henry V

Duke Vinciente Gaoler    Measure for Measure

Camillo, Polixenes, Autolycus     Various   Winter’s Tale

And then we have characters who are transformed from one thing into another, including Bottom, Helena, Hermia and Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or those who are mistaken for others such as half of the cast of The Comedy of Errors or Sebastian in Twelfth Night. And then there are the men who actually disguise themselves as women in The Taming of the Shrew (Vincentio) and in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Falstaff disguised as Herne).

Falstaff in disguise led out by Mrs Page, Act 4 Scene 2, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, by James Durno
Falstaff in disguise led out by Mrs Page, Act 4 Scene 2, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, by James Durno

It just goes on and on. It is hard to think of any other author who has anything like this kind of fixation on the theme of disguise.

How do we explain this? Unfortunately, Shakespeare doesn’t provide many answers. As historian Hugh Trevor-Roper pointed out:

“Of all the immortal geniuses of literature, none is personally so elusive as William Shakespeare. It is exasperating and almost incredible that he should be so. After all, he lived in the full daylight of the English Renaissance, in the well‑documented reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I. Since his death, and particularly in the last century, he has been subjected to the greatest battery of organized research that has ever been directed upon a single person. Armies of scholars, formidably equipped, have examined all the documents that could possibly contain at least a mention of Shakespeare’s name. One hundredth of this labor applied to one of his insignificant contemporaries would be sufficient to produce a substantial biography. And yet the greatest of all Englishmen, after this tremendous inquisition, still remains so close to a mystery that even his identity can still be doubted.”

Trevor-Roper, Hugh, “What’s in a Name?” Réalités, November 1962.

So, does Shakespeare have a fondness for tales built on disguise, camouflage and concealment because it is his nature to be evasive? Or does he just know a good story when he sees one?

Fortunately, for Rosalind, the result is all to the good. And, in fact, in most cases this theme produces pleasing results. It is remarkable that when all the disguises are exposed very few of the characters suffer; they are for the most part rewarded.

I suspect that this is not how most people would perceive being deceived. Rosalind and her author, however, have a different point of view: deception may be a mixed blessing, but it can be a blessing nonetheless.

Next:     Rosalind, Celia and Jacques

PeteHeadshotDr. 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.

The Passionate Pilgrim 1.7: Disguises

One of the oddest things about As You Like It is the fact that Rosalind, confronted with exile, immediately decides to disguise herself as a man. There is no real reason for this; the plot does not demand it, her best friend Celia does not join her in the ruse, and Rosalind’s sanity might well be called into question for attempting it.

By Robert Walker Macbeth (British, 1848–1910) (Shakespeare Illustrated) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Robert Walker Macbeth (British, 1848–1910) (Shakespeare Illustrated) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is fair enough to observe that the play is closely following its probable source in this. Thomas Lodge’s story also features a Rosalynd disguising herself as a man and uses the same pretext that she is tall.

It is also true that by 1599 the business of women (played by boys) impersonating adult men on the English stage had been fairly well established. Starting with Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes (1570) and including The Wars of Cyrus (1576?), Promus and Cassandra (1578) [probable source for Measure for Measure], Gallathea (1583), Soliman and Persida (1589) and James the Fourth. In each case, however, the disguise was used for the purpose of escape.

Lodge’s innovation was to allow Rosalynd to do something more than hide. His male impersonator directly pursues her love. As You Like It takes this a major step further and has Rosalind not only secure her match with Orlando, but depicts her as the essential agent in the restoration of her exiled father.

Published December 24th 1997 by Edinburgh University Press
Published December 24th 1997 by Edinburgh University Press

By the time of the Restoration, Breeches parts, as they came to be known, were all the vogue. This appears to have had something to do with the fact that women were finally allowed to play women onstage and the other impression that women wearing men’s pants were more or less risqué (depending on the cut, etc.).

That particular aspect would probably have been lost on an Elizabethan audience accustomed to watching boys play women, some of which was alleged at the time to be deliberately provocative, but not out of a concern for women.

On the other hand, the onstage transformation of a boy playing a woman who decides to disguise him/herself as a man and/or boy is/was undoubtedly amusing. At that point, the surreal potential of the theatrical experience is fully engaged. But, from the reality of Rosalind’s situation, it is not necessary and makes no sense.

Because if, in the real world, she is discovered as a woman impersonating a man while attempting to escape the Duke’s verdict then she is in deeper trouble than she would ever have been if she had simply accepted the banishment which would have put her in the same forest and in the same company.

Comedies are built on these types of discontinuities, so I don’t intend criticize any of that. What I am trying to underscore is that the author was doing something very unusual, very improbable and that he was not merely being innovative: he had a real thing about it.

The play differentiates itself from the original in so many ways that any retention of the source should be considered more than a mere compliment. The author had a purpose.

In fact, half the major characters in the play are traveling in one form of disguise or another. In this I include not only Rosalind and Celia, but also Orlando, Jacques (as a stand in for Jonson), Touchstone, and even Oliver who does not reveal himself until he has confessed his shame. The play is a veritable epic of camouflage and revelation.

There was clearly a purpose in all of this. Rosalind, the woman who disguises herself as a man in a world where everyone important to her (excepting her exiled father and his company) travels in some form of disguise, is not selected as a heroine for no reason. This play is not merely a pastoral comedy of manners. Far from it.

As I have noted before, Rosalind is significant in so many ways. She is a flat departure from the depiction of women as inferior to men. She is the master of everyone she meets, yet she is gentle, empathetic and patient. Still, even she finds it necessary to engage in subterfuge to gain her ends.

It is this theme of deception, coming to its first full flower in the midst of the “Poet’s War”, which marks As You Like It as a turning point.

Next: Themes that Repeat

PeteHeadshotDr. 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.