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Discuss Shakespeare’s presentation of Jaques as the “odd man out” in As You Like It Essay

It can be argued that Shakespeare continuously presents Jaques as the odd man out throughout the romantic comedy As you like it through a range of methods. Jaques’ melancholy character would have been a solid portrayal of man courtiers at the time both in society and in literature as this misanthropic attitude was perceived as fashionable.

As You Like It is based on Thomas Lodge’s “Rosalynd” – Jaques is not a character in this, he is Shakespeare’s own creation, prominent character who provides balance, through his cynicism, from the pastoral and romantic idyll. As You Like It is not wholly a pastoral piece however, as Shakespeare diverges slightly from the conventional pastoral tradition throughout As You Like It. To be continued…

Paragraph One – Act 2, Scene 1:
Act 2, Scene 1 is the first time we are introduced to Jaques, despite him not being present, his absence from stage immediately depicts him as an odd man out as he is not with the people he has chosen to be exiled with, he is apart from the group he is supposedly part of. Although Jaques is not in this scene, this scene is vital in beginning to mould our impressions of Jaques, through reportage one of the Lords gives Jaques the epithet “the melancholy Jaques” this is the first time he is mentioned and it singles him out as rather strange, as a “melancholy” man he certainly stands out in such a light hearted play.

Being introduced as “melancholy” would have led the Elizabethans to believe that Jaques had an excess black bile leading to his unbalanced behaviour; this imbalance of the four humours would have singled him out as an odd man out. Jaques bemoans how the exiled Duke and his courtiers are usurping the deer of the forest by hunting them: “You do more usurp than doth your brother that hath banished you.” This reaction is rather expansive and it contrasts with Duke Seniors more moderate view of realising the necessity of hunting.

This idea of hunting is where Shakespeare falls slightly away from the conventional pastoral tradition. Shakespeare probably chose to incorporate the more realistic aspect of hunting so he was able to present Jaques as a courtier struggling to adjust to forest life. This contrasts with the other courtiers who are trying to adjust to life in Arden. The initial visual image of Jaques, again created through reportage: “as he lay along under an oak whose antic root peeps out upon the brook” this depiction of Jaques under a tree beside a brook presents Jaques here yet again as an odd man out through this pose which was a prominent pose for a philosopher in contemporary Elizabethan art, and the Elizabethan audience would have recognised this.

The Lords quotes Jaques, “Poor deer, thou maks’t a testament as worldlings do, giving thy sum of more to that which had too much.” Shakespeare presents Jaques, through dialogue, as the commentator who connects the rather irrelevant death of the stag to his cynical view of the world, this commentating role that Jaques adapts reaffirms our initial impressions of him as an odd man out.

He “weeps” for the deer and seems greatly affected by such a trivial event. Jaques’ view of hunting in Act 2, Scene 1 juxtaposes the celebratory tone in reference to hunting in Act 4, Scene 2: “Let’s present him to the Duke like a Roman conqueror.” This precarious attitude towards hunting makes us question whether Jaques’ melancholy is merely an affectation.

Jaques cannot, however, be classified, in Act 2, Scene 1, as a complete malcontent as Duke Senior desires his company, “I love to cope him in these sullen fits” and whilst Jaques is separate from the other exiled courtiers in this scene; he is not alienated by them. In this scene he is presented as an odd man out, but only to a certain extent. Paragraph Two – Act 2, Scene 5:

In Act 2, Scene 5, Shakespeare use of the simile “I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.” to show how Jaques relishes in his melancholy, he is almost boasting the fact that he can find melancholy in anything, this furthers our impression of him as an odd man out in this sportive play. Jaques compares himself to a weasel, a disagreeable, sharp toothed animal, out of place in this pastoral idyll; this comparison strongly presents him as an outsider.

Jaques’ satirical verse of song gives an alternative view of the courtiers’ situation, he parodies Amiens’ song and by putting his own idiosyncratic twist on it, he is showing himself to be the odd man out, he is not adjusting to the forest as the others have. He calls the courtiers “gross fools” for leaving the comfort of court for country life, although it was not their choice.

He seems to forget that he is one of the “fools” that has left his “wealth and ease” for exiled life in Arden, in this way it could be argued that he is not in fact an odd man out to the extent that he is a complete outsider, rather he is actually part of the ensemble of Duke Senior and the other exiled Lords. Paragraph Three – Act 2, Scene 7:

Act 2, Scene 7 is arguably the most important scene of the play for Jaques, in this scene Jaques is presented as being envious of the license of the fool which Touchstone holds, “I am ambitious for a motely coat” he says that the metaphorical motely coat is his only “suit” playing on the word “pursuit”, to have the license of the fool is the only thing he will pursue. Shakespeare uses the simile “I must have liberty withal, as large a character as the wind to blow on whom I please” to reinforce this ambition to be a commentator.

This audacious satire presents him as an odd man out because he wants to separate himself from society and be able to comment and criticise the world around him freely. The 1590’s were a great time of censorship, satire was under threat and Shakespeare takes this opportunity to address the issue that writers should be allowed to use satire.

The idea that Jaques wanted to “cleanse the foul body of th’infected world” would have resonated with the Elizabethan audiences who lived in a corrupt world, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth’s Dictatorial court. However DS is quick to chastise Jaques through badinage, saying that Jaques has been a “libertine” he suggests that it would be hypocritical for Jaques to attempt to cleanse the world of its’ vices and follies because he is just the same as the rest of us, for he has been a hedonist, this suggests that Jaques is not an odd man out, he attempts to present himself as being a patrician but he is in fact no better than the rest of us. Jaques’ Seven Ages of Man extended metaphor is the longest speech in the entire play; it gives Jaques’ bleak view of life.

His very ideas of life are melancholic; the image of the “mewling and puking” baby is not what comes to the common persons mind when they would think of a baby, showing Jaques to be a contrarian. The entire speech is about the cyclical pattern of loss throughout life, in the beginning we have nothing and anything we gain in life we end up losing anyway. Jaques presents himself as the commentator, commenting on the different stages of life that people aspire to such as that of the lover, he presents the lover as “sighing like furnace with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow” he presents the lover as then he satirises the parts of life which should be honourable; he mocks the soldier with his “bubble reputation” and the corrupt judiciary.

As he continues, what he says grows continuously morose, the sibilance in “Shrunk shank” suggests the muscle wastage in old age; Jaques suggests that life is ultimately about loss. This bleak outlook on life shows Jaques to be a misanthropic odd man out. The way Jaques compares the world to theatre was quite conventional of literature at the time, but it is quite interesting that Shakespeare chose to compare life to a “history”, with Jaques’ melancholia it may have been more suitable for him to compare life to a tragedy but perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that Jaques does see that life is a mixture of comedy and tragedy so maybe his view isn’t so unique, maybe he is only an odd man out to some extent.

The juxtaposition of the following scene shows that Jaques melancholic view isn’t quite universal, neither Orlando the romantic hero of the play, nor Adam the old man fit their stereotype, Orland is seen as greater than just the lover, he is honourable and shows compassion to Adam and Adam is referred to as a “venerable burden” he does not fit the scathing analysis of the elderly by Jaques. Through this juxtaposition Jaques is clearly presented as the odd man, he has his own separate view of life, which does not really reflect reality.

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