Jaques delights in being sad—a disparate role in a play
that so delights in happiness. Jaques believes that his melancholy
makes him the perfect candidate to be Duke Senior’s fool. Such a
position, he claims, will “Give me leave / To speak my mind,” and
the criticism that flows forth will “Cleanse the foul body of th’infected world”
Jaques’s own faculties as a critic of the goings-on around him are considerably diminished in comparison to Rosalind, who understands so much more and conveys her understanding with superior grace and charm. Rosalind criticizes in order to transform the world—to make Orlando a more reasonable husband and Phoebe a less disdainful lover—whereas Jaques is content to stew in his own melancholy. It is appropriate that Jaques decides not to return to court. While the other characters merrily revel, Jaques determines that he will follow the reformed Duke Frederick into the monastery, where he believes the converts have much to teach him. Jaques’s refusal to resume life in the dukedom not only confirms our impression of his character, but also resonates with larger issues in the play. Here, the play makes good on the promise of its title: everyone gets just what he or she wants. It also betrays a small but inevitable crack in the community that dances through the forest. In a world as complex and full of so many competing forces as the one portrayed in As You Like It, the absolute best one can hope for is consensus, but never complete unanimity.