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.
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.
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?
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.