Characters have always been and still are the focal point of every play. This is not surprising, since it is they who make up the whole story. Judging by the way they talk and gesticulate, they do not only determine their own personality but also develop the plot, the social context, the atmosphere and the theme of the whole play.
Language is the most important factor when it comes to identifying and analysing a certain character type. The picture that we, as the reader, get off a character is, on the one hand, a reflection of what he says, and, on the other hand, of how he says it. This will become clear if we look at the opening scene of As you like it. Here, Orlando complains in an inexorable stream of words about his upbringing – if he has had one at all -, in which he was treated like the black sheep of the family.
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He keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more
properly, stays me here at home unkept…His horses
are better bred, for, besides that they are fair with
their feeding, they are taught their manage. (1.1. 6-11)
This extract from Orlando’s first speech is ‘a shout of protest.’ (Doebler, 111) In twenty-three lines Orlando gives vent to his wrath, wrath he has choked back for much too long. He tries to portray himself as an uneducated and foolish person, a person who has been kept like a menial. Yet, it is made quite clear to the reader that this is not the case at all.
Orlando draws a parallel with his brother’s cattle, thus, becoming aware of the fact that even the horses and oxen are superior to him, for ‘they are taught their manage.’ (1.1. 11) Orlando chooses here the word ‘manage’, a technical term that derives from the French word ‘manege’ (Shakespeare, Commentary) referring to the action and paces to which a horse is trained in the riding-school, particularly for military purposes.
Orlando expresses himself in such a sophisticated manner, which a person who had not obtained a good education would have never been able to do. But it is not only the choice of words used that suggest that Orlando is actually far from being reduced to the state of an animal, but it is the length of this passage as well. Orlando does not get rid of his anger by simply throwing together a few sentences – I am so stupid. I have never had a good education, for which I loathe my brother -, but he does that in a much more round-about and sophisticated manner. This can be easily exemplified by looking at the individual sentences of this first speech. No matter which one we pick out, every single one is at least four lines long.
Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the
something that nature gave me his countenance seems
to take from me: he lets me feed with his hinds, bars me
the place of a brother, and, as much as in him lies, mines
my gentility with my education. (1.1. 15-19)
All that Orlando states within these five lines are the fact that his brother denies him everything he is actually entitled to. But he did not need 49 words to say so.
By looking at the language Orlando uses, the reader can surmise that, despite his lack of formal education, he is very well aware of formal manners and is by no means as uneducated as he takes himself for. This assumption that the reader makes right at the very beginning of the play is also confirmed by his brother Oliver. In a soliloquy, Oliver broaches the subject that he ‘hates nothing more than he [Orlando].
Yet he is gentle, never schooled and yet learned, full of noble device, of all sorts enchantingly beloved.’ (1.1. 154-59) Since a soliloquy is a monologue that conveys a character’s thoughts or other information to the audience whilst no other characters are on stage, we can assume his speech to be credible. Thus, the reader does not place his trust in Orlando by taking everything he says for granted. It is the language Orlando uses that reveals his personality.
This is one way of analysing a character’s personality. Another way, one that complements the first one, occurs by means of expectations. This simply means that we already have a preconceived notion or idea in our minds of how a certain character should behave, act, etc. This is based on our personal experience as well as on the force of habit. We have learned that, in a play, a whole range of characters exist which are all organised in a particular pattern.
There is the protagonist of the play, a young, beautiful, innocent person. Then a mean, wicked scoundrel knew as the antagonist, a brave soldier, a foolish lover, a lonesome father, an uneducated fool, etc. We all have an idea of how these types of characters ought to behave. In other words, we place them in different categories, where each category represents one prototype, one archetype.
The archetype in Jaques’ speech of ‘Seven stages in a man’s life’
An archetype is an original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based.’ (Flexner, s.v. archetype) Now, archetypes do not only occur in the fictitious world of a play in the form of certain character patterns, but they are also present in real life.
Jaques, the second Son of Sir Rowland the Boys, realises that every human being has to pass through various stages in life, each of which has an archetypal function, i.e. in each phase of life we are expected to behave in a certain, almost inescapable manner. This, Jaques brings home to the reader in a vivid description of the seven stages in a man’s life.’
And all the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
Then, the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school; and then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow; then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth; and then, the justice,
In fair round belly, with good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances,
And so he plays his part; the sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound; last Scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Jaques sees life as a stage-play with seven acts, each act representing an important phase in life. Stage one, he describes as infancy, followed by stage two defined as childhood. In stage three we find the sighing lover and in stage four the swearing soldier.
Stage five deals with a man following a profession, stage six with a man at an advanced age and, finally, stage seven, with a man in the last stages of life. This system is clearly laid out and represents a kind of order in our lives. Every one of us has to undergo these changes, one after the other, and no matter which one we think of, a certain idea associated with this particular stage enters our head.
In stage four, for instance, comes ‘the lover, Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow;’ (2.7. 148-150). This is exactly the stage, Orlando and Oliver are in, with the only difference being that in the case of Orlando it becomes obvious right at the very beginning of the play.
Orlando, the archetypal character
Orlando is a good-looking¹ young man, who is head over heels in love. Due to the fatal intrigue of his brother Oliver, he has to leave the court to seek his fortune elsewhere, and he does so with fearless bravery and boldness. Upon arriving in the Forest of Arden, Orlando hangs poems in praise of his beloved Rosalynd on trees. After a short game of disguise, which Rosalynd initiates in order to put Orlando’s love to a test, they get happily married.
Throughout the play, Orlando behaves in every possible way how we, having this archetypal concept of stage four of Jaque’s speech in mind, would expect him to. But let us look at the way in which he fulfils this expected archetypal pattern in more detail.
As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed
me by will, but poor a thousand crowns, and, as thou sayest,
charged my brother on his blessing to breed me well;
This first speech by Orlando, who is the romantic hero of the play, is the
opening scene of Shakespeare’s As you like it. Upon reading the first four
¹ Rosalynd indicates that Orlando has not only defeated his component Charles but that
his charm and good-looks have ’overthrown’ (1.2. 243) her as well.
lines, the reader finds himself situated right in the middle of the story of the two brothers. Shakespeare did not start off with a lengthy description of how Sir Rowland de Boys’ death came about but plunged right into the action. In other words, he started in medias res. So, all we get to know is that Orlando was supposed to obtain a thousand crowns from his father which his elder brother keeps for himself.
It is merely due to Orlando reaching manhood that he realises that he has to do something about his miserable situation, for he has been treated unfairly and unjustly by his brother Oliver. Whereas Jaques, the third son of Sir Rowland the Boys, has had the pleasure of obtaining a good education, Orlando has not. The latter was kept ‘rustically at home’ in a manner that differs not from the stalling of an ox.’ (1.1. 6-10)
He was exploited
by the ‘older generation’ in the person of an eldest
brother. Ever since the death of their father Oliver
has treated Orlando shamelessly, denying him a
relevant education by setting him to mindless tasks.
Orlando recalls that even the horses and the oxen led a better life and that all he basically gets from his brother, is the right to grow.
But Orlando is not at all the uneducated and foolish backwoodsman he sees in himself. He is the more noble one and, despite less power, the stronger one, according to Ornstein, the one with ‘chivalric manliness.’ (Ornstein, 148) This reveals itself in two ways: physical strength as well as moral courage.
Orlando’s physical strength becomes visible to the reader in many instances. The first two and most obvious ones are when Orlando fights with Oliver, on the one hand, and with Duke Frederick’s wrestler Charles, on the other hand. He defeats both of them. In the quarrel with Oliver, Orlando ‘seizes him by the throat.’ (1.1. 50) When Oliver utters ‘Let me go, I say’ (1.1. 61), we know that Oliver has won. As far as the wrestling with Charles is concerned, Orlando’s strength becomes even more visible to the reader.
When Rosalynd encourages Orlando with the words ‘Now Hercules be thy speed, young man!’ (1.2. 197), she invokes the typical archetype of strength, namely Hercules. Since the reader sympathises with Orlando, he is very likely to equip him with ‘Hercules-like’ features and as we find out a few lines later, the strength of Hercules has been really applied to Orlando. When Duke Frederick shouts ‘Bear him away’ (1.1. 208), we know that Charles is defeated.
In the Forest of Arden Orlando also displays his bravery. When Orlando and Adam have arrived in the forest, Adam is exhausted and extremely weak from lack of food. Without hesitation Orlando threatens to kill Duke Senior and his followers – ‘He dies that touches any of this fruit’ (2.7. 99) -, who are sitting around a table, just about to have something to eat.
Finally, Orlando, who had found Oliver sleeping in the wood, does not even recoil from defending him from a lioness. Oliver recounts that ‘kindness, nobler ever than revenge, And nature, stronger than his just occasion, Made him give battle to the lioness.’ (4.3. 129-131) That this undertaking was extremely dangerous becomes clear, since Oliver does not mention a weapon in his report. This leads to the assumption that Orlando must have killed the lioness with his bare hands. He even wounded himself. ‘Here upon his arm The lioness had torn some flesh away, Which all this while had bled.’ (4.3. 147-149)
But Orlando’s physical courage is matched by moral courage, which is especially evident at the very beginning of the play. Here he stands up to his brother by giving vent to his feelings. For so many years he had not dared to fight back against all injustice that had been done to him. But finally, he builds up enough courage and defends himself.
I am no villain: I am the youngest son of Sir Rowland the Boys;
he was my father, and he is thrice a villain that says such a
father begot villains. Wert thou, not my brother, I would not take
this hand from thy throat till this other had pulled out thy tongue
for saying so; thou hast railed on thyself. (1.1. 53-58)
Orlando also shows moral courage when he garnishes the forest trees with the most ridiculous love poems without letting a single tree be spared. He totally ignores Jaques, who pokes fun at his writings. ‘I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love- songs in their barks.’ (3.2. 253) In spite of having less power, Orlando is the stronger one, strong in both senses: physically and mentally.
In the course of the play, Orlando’s courage and his love for Rosalynd are constantly put to the test, but he manages to tackle all kinds of tasks so perfectly well, just as we would expect from a lover. Initially, he is confronted with sheer insoluble problems, but due to his courage and boldness, his faith and love, finally, everything takes a turn for the better and there is no obstacle to a marriage. In other words, Orlando ‘represents all that is virtuous in opposition to all that is corrupt.’ (Doebler, 117)
2.2. Oliver – an archetypal character?
Oliver, by contrast, is sly and crafty. When Charles expresses his fear that Orlando might be hurt in the fight, Oliver fires back that Orlando is ‘the stubbornest young fellow of France’ (1.1. 132-33) and, what is more, ‘a villainous contriver against me, his natural brother.’ (1.1. 135) He also makes Charles believe that if Orlando does not gain honour at Charles’ expense by defeating him, he will keep at him until he is dead.
For if thou dost him any slight disgrace, or if he do
not mightily grace himself on thee, he will practise
against thee by poison, entrap thee by some treacherous
device, and never leave thee till he hath ta’en thy life
by some indirect means or other. (1.1. 138-44)
With this act of cunning, Oliver wants Orlando to be assassinated. The one and the only reason why Oliver behaves so unnaturally towards his brother is that he is terribly afraid that Orlando might put one over on him, for Oliver is obsessed with wealth and power. It is he, after all, who has a hold over their father’s inheritance and he does not see why he should split up his fortune amongst others. Oliver is such an unscrupulous tyrant, occupied with the issue of power, that he does not even possess an ounce of warm-heartedness.
The selfishness and lust for power that prevails in Oliver are, however, his downfall. When Duke Frederick sends him off to seek Orlando, the self-destructive nature of Oliver’s qualities is shown. Upon telling the Duke that ‘[he] never loved…[his] brother in…[his] life’ (3.1. 14), the Duke answers ‘More villain thou’ (3.1. 15) and orders his officers to ‘turn…[Oliver] going.’ (3.1. 18)
In the case of Oliver, we are not dealing with a harmonious kind of character, since he violates our preconceived idea of the ‘ideal lover’ by ‘leaving the track.’ His malice and viciousness destroy the whole harmony, the whole order of the play, which leaves behind an uneasy feeling with the reader.
Even though Oliver and Orlando are brothers, they have distinct personalities and it is not until the very end that Oliver becomes aware of his evil personality and mends his ways. This happens by means of conversion. When Orlando goes to great length to rescue his brother from a lioness, there is nothing to stop the reconciliation of the two brothers, during which Oliver undergoes a change of heart. So, the character change that takes place in Oliver – as well as in Duke Frederick – is a sudden one, with no preceding inner struggle or self-doubt.
In the twinkling of an eye, Oliver is converted
from being a murderous, avaricious scoundrel
with no redeeming characteristics into a pleasant
and acceptable husband for Celia. (Muir, 88)
All of a sudden Oliver is converted and just as quickly falls in love with Celia, Rosalynd’s cousin and Duke Frederick’s daughter. The reader can finally breathe a sigh of relief when the treacherous and ungrateful tyrant has found his way back to where he belongs.
3. Jaques’ speech – a caricature
Jaques is the only one who realises that life does not always take its normal course, neither in the fictitious world of a play nor in real life. In his speech, which is a caricature, he states that, though certain archetypal patterns are imposed on every individual, he does not believe in the existence of an archetypal character, since ‘every single character…is as much an individual as those in Life (sic!) itself; it’s impossible to find any two alike.’ (Popper, 25) This becomes quite clear when we look at Jaques’ speech, which ridicules man’s preposterous behaviour.
Instead of waxing stronger…and flourishing biologically,
the babe pukes up his milk. Instead of delighting in his
increasing mastery of his intellectual (letters), artistic (lyre),
and physical (wrestling) powers, the schoolboy creeps
unwillingly to…[school]. Instead of getting a wife with child,
the lover expends his sexual vigor in sighs and woeful ballading.
Instead of successful military conquest, the soldier is suicidally
obsessed with personal honour and is futilely bellicose and
quarrelsome. Instead of being a productive and effective public
and private citizen, economical in the original Aristotelian sense,
[man] is an epicurean justice vain of his apophthegms and the
cut of his beard. The old man…is now incapable of any kind of
activity: educational, sexual, martial, the regulative and
providential activity of the active man. At the end he is able to do
nothing. (Allen, 340-41)
Every stage described has an extremely negative connotation leaving no place for joy or happiness.
Yet, in the play, the speech is juxtaposed by dramatic events that show that some characters contradict Jaques’ speech. Let us take Adam, for instance. He would perfectly fit into this sixth pattern, a ‘lean and slippered pantaloon…his youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice…pipes And whistles in his sound.’ (2.7. 159-64) Yet, this old servant does not resemble this described pattern at all. Though he ‘look[s] old, yet…[he is]…strong and lusty.’ (2.3. 47) He proves his courage by offering Orlando his whole fortune of 500 crowns – ‘I have five hundred crowns…Take that.’ (2.3. 38;43) – and by accompanying him to the Forest of Arden, leaving a secure life behind. ‘Let me go with you.’ (2.3.53), Adam says.
Real-life, however, is not like a romance with a happy ending, but in real life, the archetypal pattern is hardly ever fulfilled. And that is what Jaques wants us to become aware of, namely that people are puzzling, inscrutable human beings, each of whom is an individual.
In the previous chapters I have been trying to comment on two important points that follow from Jaques’ speech:
Firstly, I wanted to prove that in every piece of fictitious art the characters are organised in a particular pattern, a pattern that we, as the reader, are totally aware of. This is necessary since the reader is already used to a certain characterisation, which (s)he feels comfortable with. In the case of As you like it, I chose Orlando to illustrate how he fulfils the archetypal function that is inflicted on him. He shows courage, boldness as well as strength.
Oliver, however, violates his pattern from the very beginning onwards. He tries to deviate from the role which the reader believes he should act out. But in the end, he cannot help but give in and he does so almost unconsciously. It just happens to him. This is simply because a play and its characters have to stick to certain conventions.
Secondly, I pointed out that Jaques is very well aware of the importance of archetypal patterns since they put the reader at ease and make his life much more comfortable. But Jaques also realises that in real life it is sheer impossible to conform to this expected pattern.
This he brings home to the reader by ridiculing every single stage in life. He shows that human beings are inscrutable. That is why we always have to be prepared for new changes since we know what we are but know not what we may be.’ (Shakespeare – Hamlet, 4.5. 44)
Allen, Michael J. B., ‘Jaques against the Seven Ages of the Proclan Man’, MLQ:
A Journal of Literary History, 42 (1981), 331-346.
Bradford, Alan Taylor, ‘Jaques’s Distortion of the Seven-Ages Paradigm’, SQ,
27 (1976), 171-176.
Doebler, John, ‘Orlando: Athlete of Virtue’, ShS: An Annual Survey of
Shakespearian Study and Production, 26 (1973), 111-117.
Hutchinson, D. S., ‘The Cynicism of Jaques: A New Source in Spenser’s
Axiochus?’, N&Q, 39 (1992), 328-330.
Flexner, Stuart B., ed., The Random House Dictionary of the English Language,
2nd edition (New York, 1987).
Kay, Dennis, Shakespeare – his life, work and era (London, 1992).
Muir, Kenneth, Shakespeare’s Comic Sequence (Liverpool, 1979).
Ormerod, David, ‘Orlando, Jaques, and Maurice Sceve’, N&Q, 36 (1989),
Ornstein, Robert, Shakespearean Comedies (New York, 1986).
Pope, Alexander, ‘Critics on Shakespeare’, in Andrews, W. T., ed., Readings
on Literary Criticism (London, 1973), 24-25.
Rogers, Pat, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature (Oxford,
Schabert, Ina, ed., Shakespeare-Handbuch (Stuttgart, 1992).
Shakespeare, William, As you like it, ed. by Oliver, H. J., The New Penguin
Shakespeare (London, 1968).
Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, ed. By Schücking, L.L.,
William Shakespeare Complete Edition, 4 vols. (Darmstadt, 1996).
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