Jaques in Shakespeare’s "As you like It" : Inconsistent and Choric

“I can suck melancholy out of a song,
as a weasel sucks eggs.”

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
English poet and playwright.
As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 5

The chapter of Jaques is of abiding interest among the critics for his worldly wisdom, antiromantic stance, privileged criticism, melancholia and complex individualism. In fact, the introduction of Jaques is As You Like It adds nothing in the development of plot. Yet it carries a deep rooted design of motley-minded gentelmanliness, ripe observation, cynical pasturing and learned found. Now take a few sketchy details of the character to learn its diversity , Inconsistent and  Choric in As You like It.

Jaques is Shakespeare’s rare creation-as various as Ariel, Caliban or Iago. He is at once ‘the first hand, light and brilliant pencil sketch for Hamlet’ or a miserable, beaten Macbeth’. He is a melancholic and an intolerable misanthrope. He thinks and does nothing ,as Hazlitt points out, is a ‘purely contemplative character’, Jaques has come to the forest with Duke senior to accompany him in his adversity but what he does here is opposed to convention. He is a foil to the Duke in his melancholy, to the lovers in his philosophy, and to Touchstone in his humour. Being a category by himself, Jaques in fact heightens the effect of the high wrought comedy of the play.

Jaques’ melancholy is a conscious study from his past till date. He has been a libertine as sensual as the brutish stings it self. Gradually, he learns his melancholy and sums up thus:
“I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is
emulation, nor the musician's, which is fantastical,

nor the courtier's, which is proud, nor the

soldier's, which is ambitious, nor the lawyer's,

which is politic, nor the lady's, which is nice, nor

the lover's, which is all these: but it is a

melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples,

extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry's

contemplation of my travels, in which my often

rumination wraps me m a most humorous sadness.

William Shakespeare
Being a dissatisfied man and morose is nature he abandons the world and hates its pleasures. The song brings in him sadness. The extensive travel and learning at court and others have transformed him as a morbid existence. He finds goodness in sad and prefers melancholy to laughter. He can suck melancholy out of a song of life as weasel sucks eggs. It is boredom and histrionic pessimism is a kind of aloofness too. But it cannot be denied the world of struggle-its folly, selfishness, misery and starvation. Thus, at this world he sees love as ‘the worst fault’, a folly of brain, a kind of Madness. Stopford A. Brook regards Jaques not as a mere cynic:”He is satirical, but not venomous”. Jaques is fond of solitude and prefer the world of adversity. But he is through social and composed. Yet in Jaques the self contempt and personal disgust at misfortune deserves our censure rather than our admiration or our pity. His jaundiced eyes of misanthropy are quite unwelcome.

Jaques has profuse of poetry and stylistic expression. Particularly in his famous poetic speech he says:
“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.

And then the whining school-boy, 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.
Taking his cue from the famous comment of Petronious about the world being a stage, he points out the seven stages of man-of the in fact, the whining schoolboy, the lover sighing like furnace, a soldier, full of strange oath, the justice ,the age of lean and  slippered  pantaloon and finally, the second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. Despite of its poetic excellence it can not be denied that the passage lacks passion, sympathy and warmth of pity. The cynical heartlessness, bitter contempt and a scornful melancholy in the lines must have a shadow of Macbeth.

Jaques is thus often charged with insincerity, cynicism and incomplete view of life. But from the close scrutiny his observation is vivid and compact life to Jaques is a pageant of folly and futility, and the entirely sour and discordant are the spirit of Arden. Jaques may oppose others, but his own one sided view it completely his own Further, he has the courage to leave the Duke, as soon as he is restored to sovereignty, to seek his brother out who has quitted it and turned hermit. Again he tries to prevent the illegal marriage of Touchstone and Audrey.

Dr. Johnson finds Jaques as natural and well preserved. Jaques, the gravest, the most intellectual and philosophical idler, might have a Hamlet’s contemplation: ‘how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seems to me all the uses of the world” or "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." He is indeed a somber reflection in a gay comedy like As You Like It. He is Shakespeare’s genius.