Summary: Act 2: Scene 5
As Amiens strolls through the Forest of Ardenne with Jaques in tow, he sings a song inviting his listeners to lie with him “[u]nder the greenwood tree” (2.5.
Summary: Act 2: Scene 6
Orlando and Adam enter the Forest of Ardenne. Adam is exhausted from travel and claims that he will soon die from hunger. Orlando assures his loyal servant that he will find him food. Before he sets off to hunt, Orlando fears leaving Adam lying in “the bleak air” and carries him off to shelter (2.6.
Summary: Act 2: Scene 7
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.
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Duke Senior returns to camp to find that Jaques has disappeared. When a lord reports that Jaques has last been seen in good spirits, the duke worries that happiness in one who is typically so miserable portends discord in the universe. Just after the duke commands the lord to find Jaques, Jaques appears. He is uncharacteristically merry and explains that while wandering through the forest, he met a fool. He repeats the fool’s witty observations about Lady Fortune and proclaims that he himself would like to be a fool. In this position, Jaques reasons, he would be able to speak his mind freely, thereby cleansing “the foul body of th’infected world” with the “medicine” of his criticism (2.7.
The playful argument is interrupted when Orlando barges onto the scene, drawing his sword and demanding food. The duke asks whether Orlando’s rudeness is a function of distress or bad breeding and, once Orlando has regained his composure, invites him to partake of the banquet. Orlando goes off to fetch Adam. Duke Senior observes that he and his men are far from alone in their unhappiness: there is much strife in the world. Jaques replies that the world is a stage and “all the men and women merely players” (2.7.
Analysis: Act 2: Scenes 5–7
Both Act 2, Scene 5 and Act 1, Scene 6 deal primarily with the melancholy lord, Jaques, who offers a sullen perspective on the otherwise comedic events in Ardenne. He turns Amiens’s song about the pleasures of leisurely life into a means of berating the foresters, and he comes close to playing the part of the fool, in the sense that he turns a critical eye on a world in which he lives but does not fully inhabit. But unlike Feste in Twelfth Night or the fool in King Lear, Jaques does not demonstrate the insight or wisdom that would make his observations truly arresting or illuminating. His most impressive speech in the play begins with a familiar set piece in Elizabethan drama: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (2.7.
Jacques goes on to describe the seven stages of a man’s life, from infancy to death, through his roles as lover and soldier, but his observations may strike us as untrue or banal. His estimation that lovers sigh “like furnace, with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress’ eyebrow” is humorous, and it certainly describes the kind of intemperate, undiscriminating affection that Silvius shows to Phoebe, or Phoebe to Ganymede (2.7.
Jaques’s sullenness blinds him to his own foolishness regarding life. Jaques goes on to describe man’s later years, the decline into second childhood and obliviousness, without teeth, eyesight, taste, or anything else. Countering Jaques’s unflattering picture of old age, Orlando carries Adam to the duke’s banquet table, the old man entering his final years with his loyalty, generosity of spirit, and appetite intact. Although the thought of serving as Duke Frederick’s fool appeals to him, Jaques ultimately lacks the wit, wisdom, and heart to perform the task.
When Jaques meets Touchstone in the forest, he sings the clown’s praises, quoting with glee Touchstone’s nihilistic musings on the passage of time: “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, / And then from hour to hour we rot and rot” (2.7.