Forest Life Changes the Characters in As you like it, do you agree? Essay

Published: 2020-02-07 15:11:30
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Category: William Shakespeare

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In Shakespeares As you like it, we find the characters attempting to escape the court. What they specifically are escaping from are the briars of the working day world. The imagery of briar bushes specifically enacts a form of entanglement; that the world of the court is entrapping and the people in it are reflected as such. What is comely envenoms him that bears it, highlighting a reverse polarisation of morality, that what is good is a hindrance in the world of the court. This is paralleled by what Touchstone (who represents the court as a jester, whom were always in the service of the court) says; The sweetest nut hath the sourest rind. Indeed, the usurper is viewed as the rightful ruler of the court whereas the rightful ruler is branded an outlaw.

So the characters escape to the forest in order to cleanse themselves of thinfected world (Playing upon the previous mention of envenoms as a form of physical affliction that requires cathartic release). One can argue that the characters do respond to the forest, and their characters change as such. One particularly significant example is how Shakespeare constructs the forest as a place of alternative knowledge; Duke Senior finds that the winds are his councillors and that the trees shall be my (his) books, that they find sermons in stones. This highlights the homiletic edification that occurs when one engages with nature, and indeed, this is paralleled by the discourse expressed between Rosalind and Celia in Act I, where they comment on how fortune (A product of the court) and nature (Of the forest) are at odds with one another; Fortune reigns in gifts of the world/not in the lineaments of nature.

The escapism of the forest is further expressed when the gentlemen become merry men and brothers in exile highlighting how they are able to fleet time as they did in the golden age, with the merry men alluding exclusively to the notion of Robin hood, who represents an active rebellion against the court, suggesting an underlying romanticisation of what it is to be an outlaw. Indeed, defying social norms appears to be what the forest epitomises, and as such, Rosalind even changes all perception of her by becoming Ganymede, she essentially dresses up to become someone different.

Finally, we find the two main villains of the story; Duke Frederick and Oliver have a very quick change of heart from the forest, which in both cases turn out to be spectacular examples of Deus Ex Machina, both being equally contrived but portrayed as legitimately woven into the story. So in that sense, the forest is a healing force.

However, there is an argument for the opposite; that the forest is exactly the same as the court and no significant change occurs. One of the biggest examples of this lies in the speech of Lord 1 regarding the murder of a deer. The deer are portrayed as native burghers in their own desert city, who retreat from the hunters aim into a sequestered languish. Jaques remarks then about how the foresters are the mere usurpers who kill them up/in their assignd and native dwelling place. This is particularly significant because a parallel is drawn between the deer and the foresters, the deer is escaping usurpation in much the same way the foresters are, this is further enhanced by the fact that the deer has a leathern coat, a deliberate wording by Shakespeare to highlight the parallels it has with its human usurpers. This usurpation is shown elsewhere in the book, Rosalind who buys the shepherds passion (Livelihood) because it is much upon her fashion, suggesting a transitory or arbitrary desire, devoid of consideration for the fact that the shepherd derives his survival from his flock. Indeed, she wishes to waste her time here, rather than use it for any meaningful purpose.

Other aspects of the court are also filtered into the forest to enact a distinct lack of change. The notion of the merry men and brothers in exile is immediately undermined by the fact that the duke is referred to as your grace, implying that the hierarchy of society is still in place, despite their attempts to gloss over it. Indeed, the very nature of them dressing up as foresters when they are in fact gentlemen enacts the nature of the painted pomp that is alluded to when referring to the court. The word pompous implies a level of self-importance and unnecessary grandiose, which is ever present in the forest; to blow on whom I please (IE, to do as I wish).

Conventionally in the pastoral, the return to reality (In this instance, the court) is forced due to the ephemeral nature of Arcadia. However, at the end of the play here, we find that the characters easily cast off their disguises as if they had never left, willingly returning to the court, signifying that there must have been little difference between the two worlds, and emphasising the fact that the court has been a constant throughout the play.

One of the most famous quotes of the play, All the world is a stage is particularly significant here also. Throughout the story, the motley coat (Emblematic of the fool) has been alluded to, and it represents the players and by extension, the audience as a whole. If we are all players as in a play, with their exists and entrances/and many parts, then we are all fundamentally acting like the foresters all the time, we all are part of the same outcome. Indeed, at the very end, we all are sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything, emphasising the fact we all end up subjected to time and age, no better for our experiences in life. This is particularly ironic of course, because earlier on in the story, the forest is described as having no clock, but it is infact time that undoes all as expressed in this passage, enacting the futility of escape and the absence of any change in outcome from action.

Finally, we have the ephemeral nature of the escape for the audience. As alluded to in the preceding paragraph, the audience are players and actors in the play to, but do they change? At the very end, within the epilogue, Rosalind breaks the fourth wall, essentially undermining the experience of the play, returning the audience from the forest (The imaginative space of the play) to the court (Reality). She directly remarks upon the fact that it is a play, that it is a constructed narration and further commends it to be watched by the friends of the audience (Cementing the notion of realism in the fact that the play is a commercial enterprise at heart, not a creative escape).

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