Jaques is a self-diagnosed melancholic who evidently finds great pleasure in his perpetual brooding. Indeed, his sullenness is something of an affectation that his companions find more amusing than depressing. Even so, his commitment to melancholy places him at odds with many of the views and values expressed in the play, and eventually it results in him deciding not to return to the city with the rest of Duke Senior’s retinue. Instead, he will withdraw into an ascetic lifestyle. But prior to this withdrawal, Jaques attempts to fit in by fashioning himself on the model of Touchstone, the court fool he meets in the forest one day and whose incisively critical wit delights him. Jaques believes that serving as Duke Senior’s fool will “[g]ive me leave / To speak my mind,” generating insightful criticism that will “[c]leanse the foul body of th’ infected world” (2.7.60–62). Duke Senior is rightly cautious about making Jaques his fool, fearing that the prickly melancholic would do little more than attack others for sins that he himself is guilty of. Moreover, Jaques lacks the keenness of insight of Touchstone, not to mention of Shakespeare’s other great jesters: Twelfth Night’s Feste or King Lear’s fool.

Just as Jaques’s faculties as a critic don’t quite match those of Touchstone, the professional fool, they are also considerably diminished in comparison to Rosalind, who understands so much more and conveys her understanding with superior grace and charm. When Rosalind issues criticism, she does it to transform the world and improve people’s relationships with one another. By contrast, Jaques’s observations are often banal and implicitly disproven by the events unfolding around him. For instance, his famous “All the world’s a stage” speech is full of commonplace ideas that the play puts into question. Jaques concludes by insisting that humans spend the final stages of their lives in “mere oblivion, / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” (2.7.173–73). But no sooner does he finish than Orlando’s aged servant, Adam, enters the scene, bearing with him his loyalty, his incomparable service, and his undiminished integrity. When, in the play’s closing scene, Jaques decides not to return to court, he confirms our sense of him as a self-declared outside. Yet he also implicitly affirms the meaning of the play’s title, which promises that everyone will get just what he or she wants.