Essay on The Fool in William Shakespeare's As You Like It

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The Fool in William Shakespeare's As You Like It

The fool is one of the first character archetypes that any student of literature learns how to analyze. Despite his seemingly light or even pointless chatter, the fool usually manages to say some fairly important things. Upon further study, the student may perceive that it is because of his penchant for silliness that the fool is given leave to express even offensive truths about the other characters. What happens, though, when one fool encounters another? Fools are not used to being subject to one another’s wit; this experience of being held up to a sort of mirror is generally reserved for the characters who must undergo some change to further the plot. Touchstone and Jaques
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Jaques feels this imbalance, as can be seen in his long and agitated description of his first encounter with Touchstone.
In Act II, scene vii, Jaques enters in a very strange state. The Duke, with what must be some surprise, bids him speak with the words, “What, you look merrily.” (II.vii.11). Already we know that something very strange is happening—this, the melancholy Jaques, now nearly hysterical? Suddenly the man who made a habit of lounging about watching animals die is animatedly throwing around exclamation points! The relation of this apparently comical meeting is Jaques’ most typically “foolish” monologue and yet he unconsciously gives us a harsh criticism of the role that he is stepping deeper into here. Quoth he, “My lungs began to crow like chanticleer that fools should be so deep contemplative…” (II.vii.30-1). His obvious contempt for the idea of a fool daring to engage in “contemplative” thought can be applied to himself—almost every other monologue Jaques has in the play is in the vein of Touchstone’s speech about time. It seems at first as if Touchstone has aroused merely disdain from Jaques. As he continues to speak, however, it begins to look like Touchstone struck something deeper—jealousy.

In the later parts of his conversation with the Duke, Jaques feigns a desire to be a fool himself. He comes straight out and says, “I am ambitious for a motley coat.” (II.vii.43). The language he uses in the speech that
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