Shakespeare's Fools: Touchstone in As You Like It
From The Fools of Shakespeare by Frederick Warde. London: McBride, Nast & company.
"A Worthy Fool"
To term Touchstone a clown, as he is called
in the cast of characters of "As You Like
It," seems to me both a misnomer and an injustice.
His knowledge, his wisdom, his wit and his faculty -
of observation, raise him far above the condition
that such a term would imply.
Fool to the court of The Duke, whose dukedom
is not named, the character of Touchstone is a
most positive and complete conception of the
mediaeval jester, and he more fully realizes the
accomplishments essential to that office, as described by Viola in the "Twelfth Night," than any other of the motley-minded gentlemen that
the poet has created.
He is a man of considerable learning, his wit is
never lacking in wisdom, he chooses the object of
his jests with prudence, the time with discretion, the matter with judgment, and he is never at a
loss for a reply that is apt and to the point.
Touchstone scorns mere persiflage, is happily
free from the punning habit, and is seldom a corrupter of words; he makes his jests by logical deductions, with a good premise, a sound argument, and a positive conclusion.
This same happy quality may be found in his
encounters with the gentlemen of the court, the
ladies in their disguises, the simple shepherds in
the forest, and with the grave philosopher Jaques;
indeed, it is the latter gentleman who most accurately summarizes the accomplishments, and gives
the keynote to the jester's character, when he presents him to the Duke: "Is not this a rare fellow,
good my lord? he is as good at anything, and yet
The wit of Touchstone does not scintillate, but burns with a steady flame; it is not like the sparks
that fly from the contact of tempered steel, but the bright and ruddy glow that radiates from
molten metal in the crucible. It is sententious rather than brilliant, more philosophic than frivolous, and invariably epigrammatic. His hutpor
is never malicious, nor his satire bitter; he shoots his wit at every mark that presents itself, but his
shafts are harmless; they have no barb and leave
Touchstone is not a buffoon, he does not play
practical jests nor indulge in such pranks as did
that "mad rogue" Yorick. Had it been. Touchstone in the churchyard at Elsinore when the sexton was digging a grave, he would not have poured
a flagon of wine over the old grave-digger's head; he would probably have leaned against one of the
old yew trees, watched the proceedings with quiet
reflection, and if the old sexton had advanced any
of his socialistic theories, the jester would have
argued the matter to the end, and no doubt have
beaten him on his own proposition.
There are no demonstrations or expressions of affection by Touchstone, as by the fool in "King
Lear," yet he is not lacking in loyalty; he leaves
the court of Duke Frederick to follow the fortunes of Celia, the Duke's daughter, out of sincere
regard, running the risk of the Duke's displeasure and probably of punishment if discovered; he accepts the fatigues of the journey and the discomforts of life in the forest of Arden without hesitation or complaint; he readily adapts himself to
his new environment, keeps his own counsel, as well as that of his mistress, and holds the secret
of the disguises of Celia and Rosalind inviolate.
My first acquaintance with Touchstone was
made many years ago, at Manchester, in England.
A very elaborate production of "As You Like It"
was presented at the Prince's Theater there. I
played the part of Orlando to the Rosalind of that
beautiful and incomparable actress, Miss Adelaide
Neilson. Mr. Compton was the fool. I cannot
imagine a more adequate and effective performance
of the part than Mr. Compton gave; his quaint
personality, his unctuous humor, his artistic instinct, added to his ripe experience, combined to
present a complete embodiment of the poet's design. The mobility of his features reflected the
spirit of every line he uttered; and though he seldom smiled, under the gravity of his expression
you seemed to feel there was the keenest appreciation of the humor of the occasion, which laughter
would have failed to convey.
The memory of Mr. Compton's performance
will ever remain with me as the living embodiment
It is a pleasing pastime to conjure up in one's
mind the pictures that Shakespeare has drawn, and
give them vitality, form and color. I have endeavored to imagine the scene of the first meeting
of Touchstone with the gloomy philosopher Jaques, in the forest, as described by that eccentric gentleman.
A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
The description is brief, but it suggests to the imagination a scene of rare sylvan beauty, and
striking human contrast. An opening in the trees
where the sun, unimpeded by the heavy foliage of
the deep forest brightens the landscape, and the
atmosphere is redolent with the fragrance of the
wildwood flowers. The bees are humming drowsily, the birds flit by on speedy wings to reach their
nests, and from their leafy homes trill out their
joy in sweetest melody. Touchstone is lying upon the soft green turf; he imagines himself to
be alone, unseen, unheard. He is soliloquizing, speaking his thoughts aloud, as many thinkers do,
possibly contrasting the beauties of nature with which he is environed, with the frowns of fortune
that have banished his mistress and himself from the luxurious life of the court to the plain, homely
existence in the primitive forest. But he is not alone. Jaques, wandering through the forest, observes the motley figure reclining on the ground, and hearing his voice but seeing no auditor, stops and listens. Noting his motley coat, Jaques at
first takes the fellow for an ordinary fool, for
which most people at that time, including Shakespeare himself, had a profound contempt; but
Touchstone's railing is no ordinary abuse; it is in such "good terms," such "good set terms,"
that the philosopher not only stops to listen to
"the motley fool," but is so entertained that he
finally accosts, and greets him with a salutation
that invites conference.
A motley fool! - a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms, and yet a motley fool.
After the greeting there is another picture. The
background is the same, but the figures have
changed their position. The fool is still lying
upon the ground, now alert and responsive; while
Jaques has found the trunk of a friendly tree,
against which he leans in contemplative curiosity.
It would be interesting to hear the whole of the
dialogue between the recumbent fool and the
standing philosopher; but the dramatist was too
wise to make such an error of construction. He
gives us the main points and leaves the rest to the
imagination. That Touchstone was fully equal
to the occasion, and "vented from the strange
places in his brain, crammed with observation,
mangled forms" that impressed and astonished
"Good Monsieur Melancholy," is proved by the
fact that the latter's usual gravity is changed to
the broadest merriment, culminating in his expressed desire to emulate the province of the
O that I were a fool!
But to return to that portion of this interesting interview the poet has given us. It is narrated
by Jaques himself:
I am ambitious for a motley coat.
"Good morrow, fool," quoth I. "No, sir," quoth he,
We are not informed of the effect of the interview on Touchstone but, doubtless, like a good
soldier that appreciates a foeman worthy of his
steel, he esteemed the philosopher the more after
the combat of their wits.
"Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune."
And then he drew a dial from his poke,
And looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, "It is ten o'clock;
Thus may we see," quoth he, "how the world wags.
'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale." When I did hear
The motley fool thus moral on the time,
My lungs began to crow like chanticleer,
That fools should be so deep-contemplative,
And I did laugh sans intermission
An hour by his dial. - O noble fool!
A worthy fool! Motley's the only wear.
Henry Giles, in his "Human Life of Shakespeare," calls Touchstone "The Hamlet of motley," and finds "a sadness in his jests" and "in his
mockery seem(s) to hear echoes from a solitary heart." He epigrammatically summarizes the
character as follows: "He is a thinker out of place,
a philosopher in mistaken vesture, a genius by
nature, an outcast by destiny." It may be presumption on my part to differ from so distinguished an authority, but, while I approve the
application of the term "Hamlet of motley" as justified by Touchstone's analogy to the Danish
prince in his reflective philosophy on the mutability of life, I fail to find any evidence of "sadness
in his jests" or the "echoes from a solitary heart"
in his sentiments or conduct. As I have before
observed, his jests are not frivolous, but they are
characteristic of the man, quaint and sententious,
and never lacking in humor.
On the arrival of
the fool in the forest of Arden, with Celia and
Rosalind, he jests at the love tale which he and
the ladies overhear Sylvius relate to Corin, and
burlesques the amatory verses that Orlando has
written to Rosalind. He meets and courts Audrey, the country wench, with the usual attentions
and compliments of a lover in his station, and in
the third act arranges to marry her; in fact, he
would have done so, but for the advice of Jaques,
who urges him to postpone the ceremony till a
more favorable opportunity. This opportunity
presents itself at the conclusion of the play, and
Touchstone is there with his sweetheart, eager, as
he declares, to "swear and forswear, according as
marriage binds." These conditions do not seem
to indicate a solitary heart. As to Mr. Giles's
final summary of Touchstone's character, his genius I admit; but a thinker is never out of place:
there is no distinctive vesture for a philosopher:
and the jester to so important a personage as the
Duke can scarcely be termed an outcast.
It would seem by the initial appearance of
Touchstone that Shakespeare intended to represent him as the ordinary type of "a dull fool," and
later endowed him with the wealth of wit and wisdom that has so enriched the character, and
made it so conspicuous in the comedy.
This has caused so eminent an authority as Dr. Furness to conclude that Shakespeare intended to
present two separate and distinct characters: an
ordinary "roynish clown" or "clownish fool," as
he is called in the first act, and the keen and witty
philosopher, the "worthy fool" we find in the
Again, I am compelled to differ with a distinguished scholar.
I can find nothing inconsistent in the character. In the first act, Touchstone's jests are light and
frivolous, but in perfect keeping with the duties of his office, which were to entertain and amuse
his master and his household; and even that trifling example of the knight and the pancakes
is an apt illustration of his argument on "swearing by his honor"; while his sarcastic reference to
"breaking of ribs" as "sport for ladies" is entirely consistent with his philosophic satire in the later
The unities of the character are well preserved,
and the link connecting Touchstone at the court
with Touchstone in the forest is clearly defined.
Rosalind and Celia, having decided to leave the
court and seek security in the forest, Rosalind
What if we assay'd to steal
To this proposal Celia eagerly assents:
The clownish fool out of your father's court?
Would he not be a comfort to our travel?
He'll go along o'er the wide world with me;
That her wooing was successful is obvious, for
the next time we meet them they are at the edge of
the forest, Touchstone is with them, and like
themselves wearied by the journey they have
made. The continuity is complete. The same
trenchant wit that satirized the "breaking of ribs"
at the court, humorously exclaims against the
fatigues of the journey, and the discomforts of
Leave me alone to woo him.
Ros. O Jupiter! how weary are my spirits!
It is obvious to me that the characters developed
in the mind of the author as he progressed in the
construction of the play, and however clear may
have been his first conception of the part, he elaborated and perfected it as the possibilities presented themselves.
Tou. I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not
Cel. I pray you bear with me; I cannot go further.
Tou. For my part, I had rather bear with you than bear you; yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you,
for I think you have no money in your purse.
Ros. Well, this is the forest of Arden.
Tou. Ay, now I am in Arden; the more fool I!
when I was at home, I was in a better place: but
travelers must be content.
Dr. Furness, however, is most emphatic against this view of Shakespeare's methods. He says: "I cannot suppose - it is unthinkable - that from
the first instant each character was not present before him in perfect symmetry and absolute completeness."
This is the natural point of view of such an accomplished scholar and scientific literary critic as
Dr. Furness; but Shakespeare had not the Doctor's
advantages of a systemized education, nor such
profound literary culture. Shakespeare adopted
methods of his own, which were at variance with
conventionality; he discarded the scientific rules
of construction, followed the natural instincts of
his own mind, and established a new standard
of dramatic writing.
Such evidence as we have, indicates that nearly
all of the poet's play-writing was hastily done,
and as he then thought, but for temporary use on
the stage. We have no evidence of revision either
for publication or for subsequent reproduction,
but much that justifies the inference that he was
indifferent to the merits of his dramatic work;
so that while his plots may have been carefully
prepared, the characters grew in detailed importance as they developed in the mind of the actor-dramatist, and the construction of the play proceeded. It must also be remembered that Shakespeare worked from more than one point of view;
he possessed the creative faculty of the author,
the ideality of the poet, the constructive ability
of the dramatist, as well as the actor's instinct of
delineation. This condition I assume to have
existed in the construction of "As You Like It,"
and the result was the evolution of Touchstone.
The story of the knight and the pancakes, referred to in the foregoing lines, is told by Touchstone in the second scene of the first act; his initial
appearance in the play.
Rosalind and Celia are in the gardens of the
Duke's palace, when they are approached by
Touchstone, who addressing Celia, says: - "Mistress, you must come away to your father." Celia
responds with the question, "Were you made the messenger?" "No, by mine honor," asserts
Touchstone, "but I was bid to come for you."
Honor being a quality with which a fool was not
supposed to be familiar, his asseveration draws
from Rosalind the query, "Where learned you that
oath, fool?" to which Touchstone replies as follows: "Of a certain knight who swore by his
honor they were good pancakes, and swore by his
honor the mustard was naught. Now I'll stand
to it, the pancakes were naught and the mustard was good, and yet was not the knight forsworn."
The ladies at this apparent trifling, grow sarcastic, Celia asking, "How prove you that in the
great heap of your knowledge?" Rosalind
echoes her cousin's sentiment by adding, "Ay, marry, now unmuzzle your wisdom." For answer, Touchstone requests the ladies, "Stand you
both forth now; stroke your chins, and swear by your beards that I am a knave." The ladies do
as requested, passing their hands over their faces, Celia exclaiming, "By our beards, if we had them,
thou art." Touchstone concludes the story and the argument by asserting: "By my knavery, if
I had it, then I were; but if you swear by that that
is not, you are not forsworn. No more was this
knight, swearing by his honor, for he never had
any; or if he had, he had sworn it away before
ever he saw those pancakes or that mustard."
Learning from the fool that the story has reference to a friend of her father, Celia threatens
him with the whip, for "taxation." Touchstone's reply is worthy of the keenest satirist:
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely when wise men do foolishly."
The advent of Le Beau, a courtier, puts an
end to the discussion. Le Beau invites the ladies to
see some wrestling, which he terms "good sport,"
and describes with much detail the bouts that have
already occurred, in which Charles, the champion
wrestler, has overthrown and broken the ribs of
three young men, brothers, who have essayed to
compete with him. Le Beau reports the young
men as having been apparently fatally injured,
and that some of the more sympathetic spectators
have joined the aged father of the boys in his
lamentations at their hurts. At the conclusion of
Le Beau's narrative Touchstone gravely inquires,
"But what is the sport, Monsieur, that the ladies
have lost?" "Why, this that I speak of," returns
the courtier. "Thus," replies Touchstone, "men
may grow wiser every day! It is the first time
that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport for
In the early days of my dramatic experience,
there was an unworthy "gag" introduced into this
scene by comedians who played Touchstone. At
the conclusion of the wrestling, which is witnessed
by the ladies and Touchstone, the champion is
worsted by Orlando, and thrown senseless to the
ground. The duke, with whom the wrestler is
a favorite, inquires with some anxiety, "How
dost thou, Charles?" in reply to which Le Beau
should answer, "He cannot speak, my lord."
Comedians, however, were permitted to appropriate this line and would preface it with the words,
"He says," making the sentence in its entirety read, "He says he cannot speak, my lord!"
a poverty-stricken jest of which Touchstone
would have been incapable. Happily, this "gag"
is now omitted.
The journey of Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone
to the forest of Arden has been already referred
to, together with the latter's witticisms on the
subject, but there is one passage of the fool's I
cannot refrain from repeating, "Travelers must
Speaking from many years of experience over
many miles and in many lands, I know of no bit of
wisdom, wit, or philosophy in the realm of literature that expresses a more emphatic truth than
those four words of Touchstone.
It is while resting "in the skirt of the forest"
that the travelers, unperceived, overhear a lover's
complaint by a young shepherd, Sylvius, to his
more mature friend Corin. The relation of the
passion of the young shepherd brings from Rosalind the acknowledgment that she is similarly
affected; and Touchstone declares he too has suffered, and humorously describes his experiences
with Jane Smile, concluding with the sage averment: "We that are true lovers run into strange
capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly." The sentiment
is approved by Rosalind, who remarks, "Thou speakest wiser than thou art ware of." "Nay,"
modestly replies Touchstone, "I shall ne'er be
ware of mine own wit till I break my shins against
Touchstone's adaptability and good nature
soon make him friends and in the third act we
find him in pleasant converse with the old shepherd Corin, who evidently has considerable respect
for him, for he addresses him first as "Master Touchstone" and subsequently as "Sir." Corin's
homely wit, however, is no match for that of Touchstone, but the latter is compelled, in justice,
to acknowledge that even in the limited sphere
of his pastoral life the shrewd observations of the
old shepherd have made him a natural philosopher. The dialogue is bright and characteristic
throughout the scene, but the passages quoted below are especially good examples of Touchstone's
Cor. And how like you this shepherd's life, Master
Tou. Truly, shepherd, in respect of itself, it is a
good life; but in respect that it is a shepherd's life,
it is naught. In respect that it is solitary, I like it
very well; but in respect that it is private, it is a very
vile life. Now, in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is
tedious. As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my humor well: but as there is no more plenty in it, it
goes much against my stomach. - Wast ever at court,
Cor. No, truly.
Tou. Then thou art damned.
Cor. For not being at court? Your reason.
Tou. Why, if thou never wast at court, thou never
saw'st good manners; if thou never saw'st good manners, then thy manners must be wicked; and wickedness is sin, and sin is damnation.
A little more reasoning, and Corin confesses
himself unable to cope further with Touchstone:
Cor. You have too courtly a wit for me; I'll rest.
It is evident that at this time Touchstone has
not yet fallen a victim to the bucolic charms of
Audrey; for he ridicules, with extemporaneous
doggerel, the very interesting love verses that
Rosalind has found hanging on the forest trees,
and so seriously offends the lady that he is summarily dismissed from her presence.
Tou. Wilt thou rest damned? God help thee, shallow man. If thou be'st not damned for this, the devil
himself will have no shepherds.
Shortly after, however, in spite of his sad experience with Jane Smile, we find him paying
assiduous court to the rustic maiden, Audrey; offering "to fetch up her goats," plying her with
the usual questions, and awaiting her replies with
the usual anxiety of a lover; but the court fool's
language and references to classic Ovid are beyond
the understanding of the simple country wench,
who ingenuously asks for further information.
This is somewhat discouraging to the motley lover,
and he thus complains: "When a man's verses
cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit
seconded with the forward child Understanding,
it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning
in a little room."
He then expresses the wish that the gods had
made her poetical. This, too, is beyond Audrey's
comprehension, and she artlessly inquires, "Is it
honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?"
In spite of Touchstone's desire that Audrey should
be poetical, he has apparently no very exalted
opinion of poetry, for in reply to her query he
replies, "No, truly, for the truest poetry is the
most feigning; and lovers are given to poetry; and
what they swear in poetry may be said as lovers
they do feign."
I must confess that I find almost as much difficulty as Audrey in comprehending the argument
of Touchstone in the following passages.... These words are clear enough,
even to the simple understanding of Audrey, who
asks in surprise, "Would you not have me
honest?" It is Touchstone's reply to this question
that I find confusing. He evidently has a sincere
affection for this homely country girl; he admires
her ingenuous simplicity in spite of her ignorance,
and his intentions are honorable, for he proposes
to make her his wife; yet he answers Audrey's
question, first, with an emphatic negative, "No,
truly," and then makes the following reservation,
"Unless thou wert hard favour'd," and gives the
concluding illogical reason, "For honesty coupled
to beauty is to have honey a sauce to sugar."
It may be that Touchstone's worldly wisdom sees
danger in too many virtues, and the honesty of
Audrey is sufficient attraction without beauty.
There is a ring of sincerity in Audrey's rejoinder; a note that argues well for harmony,
and a longer voyage on the sea of matrimony than
Jaques allots them. Audrey may not be learned
or poetical, but neither is she shallow nor vain like
the little shepherdess, Phoebe; she is not coquetting for a compliment, but with refreshing candor
admits: "Well, I am not fair, and therefore I
pray the gods to make me honest." I find in Audrey's simple prayer and womanly candor qualities
indicating that in the choice of a wife Touchstone
has neither been unwise nor unfortunate.
It would appear that Touchstone had little
doubt of the success of his suit, for he not only
tells Audrey that he will marry her, but has anticipated matters by engaging Sir Oliver Martext,
the vicar of the next village, to meet them "in this
place in the forest, and to couple us."
That Audrey approves of this hasty wooing is
evidenced by her characteristically implied consent, "Well, the gods give us joy!" to which
Touchstone adds, "Amen!"
As the fateful moment approaches, however,
Touchstone indulges in some self-communion:
"A man may, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger
in this attempt; for here we have no temple but
the wood, no assembly but horn-beasts. But
what, though? ... Is the single man therefore
blessed? No; as a walled town is more worthier
than a village, so is the forehead of a married man
more honorable than the bare brow of a bachelor;
and by how much defense is better than no skill,
by so much is a horn more precious than to want."
Having arrived at this conclusion, Sir Oliver
Martext having arrived also, Touchstone is anxious that the ceremony shall proceed, and asks of
the vicar, "Will you despatch us here under the tree, or shall we go with you to your chapel?"
For reply, the vicar, looking around, asks, "Is there none here to give the woman?" to which the
fool, who is obviously unfamiliar with the marriage service responds, "I will not take her on gift
of any man."
As this attitude of Touchstone
seems liable to postpone indefinitely, if not prevent
the ceremony altogether, Jaques, who has been listening unobserved to the entire scene, steps forward and offers his services. Having, however,
acquired a profound respect for Touchstone, and perceiving that he is in earnest in his desire to be
married to Audrey, Jaques urges him to have the
ceremony performed in a church by a properly ordained minister, and the appropriate surroundings
of a gentleman; rather than by a hedge-priest in
the forest, like a beggar. Touchstone hesitates
before adopting this course, and Shakespeare has
put an aside speech into his mouth, which if taken
seriously would destroy much of our respect for
him. Some of the commentators have taken it
seriously, and have deduced the conclusion that
Touchstone intended to deceive Audrey ; but I cannot think it. Every action of the fool, and every
other line that the author has given him, expresses
sincere regard and indicates honorable intentions.
The entire speech seems to me to be the spontaneous expression of the humor of the situation,
as it appears to the keen sense of our motley
friend. The subject matter is not new nor the
treatment of it original. Marriage has been the
theme of jest at all times, to all conditions of
people, and Touchstone was too instinctively a
jester not to appreciate the possibility of a jest,
even on himself. The lines are as follows:
(Aside) "I am not in the mind but I were better
to be married of him than of another, for he is
not like to marry me well, and not being well
married, will be a good excuse for me hereafter
to leave my wife."
However, Touchstone and Audrey accompany
Jaques to discuss the matter further, leaving the
despised Sir Oliver in high dudgeon, and without
Jaques evidently succeeded in convincing
Touchstone of the propriety of his suggestion, but
Audrey fails to comprehend the necessity of delay. To her limited understanding, one priest is
as good as another. In the first scene of the fifth
act she emphatically expresses her impatience, indicating that she has an opinion, if not a will, of
her own, and protests, "Faith, the priest was good
enough, for all the old gentleman's saying."
Touchstone finds it quite a task for his wit to
pacify the lady, and is only successful by diverting her attention to the claims of another to her
affections; a certain forest youth named William.
It is a shrewd piece of diplomacy on the part of
the fool, and not new to the world by any means;
to terminate an argument by changing the subject, and affecting reproach, or of meeting one
accusation by making another. Audrey, however,
denies the soft impeachment, and fortunately the
bucolic gentleman referred to appears most opportunely on the scene.
Touchstone regards the newcomer critically,
and complacently observes, "It is meat and drink
to me to see a clown. By my troth, we that have
good wits have much to answer for; we shall
be flouting, we cannot hold."
It is a curiously contrasted group we have before us now: The country girl, awkward and
embarrassed in the presence of her rustic suitor,
and her court trained lover; the forest youth, ill
at ease, nervously shifting from one foot to the
other, as he stands, hat in hand before her; and
the smug, self-satisfied court fool, who conscious
of possession, revels in his superiority, and rejoices in the discomfiture of his unsuccessful rival.
With what a delightful assumption of patronage, Touchstone questions the simple William,
encourages, emboldens, then confuses, and finally
drives the poor fellow from the field with the most
terrible threats of disaster and death. The scene
is rich in comedy, but beneath the surface may be
appreciated a deep satire on the world.
One passage especially, presents a most wholesome truth, that it is superfluous for me to emphasize, but which I cannot forbear quoting.
Amongst other questions, Touchstone asks of William, "Art thou wise?" William incautiously replies, "Ay, sir, I have a pretty wit."
This is Touchstone's opportunity, and he retorts: "Why, thou sayest well. I do now remember a saying, The fool doth think he is wise, but the
wise man knows himself to be a fool."
Touchstone is now summoned by his "master
and mistress" (Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede,
and Celia), who evidently acquaint him of their
matrimonial intentions, and approve of his; for
the next time we meet the motley "lover and his
lass," the former tells her, "To-morrow is the joyful day, Audrey; to-morrow will we be married,"
to which she candidly and sensibly replies, "I do desire it with all my heart; and I hope it is no
dishonest desire to be a woman of the world."
Audrey's wishes are shortly realized; Rosalind,
the good fairy, waves her wand, and the forest of
Arden becomes a veritable Temple of Hymen.
All differences are adjusted, all wrongs righted,
and true love receives its reward. It is a joyous
meeting of their betters, to which Touchstone
brings his prospective bride, and to which they
are heralded by Jaques in his characteristic
fashion: "There is, sure, another flood toward,
and these couples are coming to the ark! Here
comes a pair of very strange beasts, which in all
tongues are called fools."
However, on their appearance he bespeaks a
welcome for them from the Duke: "Good my
lord, like this fellow," to which the Duke courteously replies, "I like him very well."
Touchstone's acknowledgment is characteristic,
if not especially gallant; but his self-abnegation
is scarcely consistent with his previously expressed
declaration, that he would not take Audrey "on
gift of any man." However, his concluding epigram is convincing, and his metaphor perfect:
"God 'ield you, sir! I desire of you the like. I
press in here, sir, amongst the rest of the country
copulatives, to swear and forswear, according as
marriage binds and blood breaks. A poor virgin,
sir, an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own; a
poor humor of mine, sir, to take that that no
man else will. Rich honesty dwells like a miser,
sir, in a poor house, as your pearl in your foul
The completeness of the character of Touchstone is achieved in his last scene.... Here Touchstone is in his element. Surrounded by persons who understand his office and
can appreciate his wit, he appears at his best. The various accomplishments by which he claims
the title of a courtier, are irresistibly amusing,
and the humor may be applied to some modern
views on gallantry, as well as to mediaeval standards of courtesy.
How to cite this article:
Warde, Frederick. The Fools of Shakespeare. London: McBride, Nast & company, 1915. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/asu/touchstone.html >.
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