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

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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 manage to break that rule, and merely by coexisting seem to compete. Both live up to some part of our expectation of the fool, but neither manages to fill the role entirely. Which one comes closer is a matter worthy of some debate.

In her book The Fool: His Social and Literary History, Enid Welsford devotes a chapter to “The Court-Fool in Elizabethan Drama” and briefly discusses As You Like It specifically. She at one point describes fools as being “…partly within and partly outside the action of the drama.” (244). This idea is applicable to Touchstone and Jaques, but in a slightly different way than she intended it. She was describing characters placed by circumstance in that liminal state--characters with no desire to move to either side of their middle ground. Also, she describes the differences between Touchstone and Jaques, both in appearance and attitude. Most importantly, she mentions that Touchstone “…exposes affectation; but he is capable of…criticism, and his judgments are r...


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... encroaching on his territory. Jaques is a sort-of fool in a sort-of court, but Touchstone’s presence brings in a glimmer of the rest of the world—a real fool from a real court—that shatters Jaques before he ever has a chance to throw a single stone at Touchstone. Jaques’ attempts to find a place for himself, then, simply read as a strange, lost man making faces in a glass. There is no way that Jaques can surpass Touchstone’s inherent liminality—where Touchstone slips seamlessly from one world to the next, in and out of the action, Jaques just hops jerkily back and forth like someone walking on hot coals. He never lands in any one place long enough to really establish himself. It is for this reason that Touchstone fills every facet of the fool’s role more ably than Jaques, up until the bitter end when Jaques takes the traditional fool’s ending and stands alone.


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