Jaques’s Melancholy in “As You Like It”

June 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

“Cleanse the foul body of th’infected world / If they will patiently receive my medicine” (Shakespeare 304). William Shakespeare addresses an ailment known as melancholy through the character Jaques in As You Like It. In this quote, Jaques blames the outside world for imposing their “infections” upon him. Robert Burton defines this condition in Anatomy of Melancholy: Jaques’s symptoms indicate that he suffers from what Burton defines as habitual melancholy of emulation and love.In order to understand Jaques’s disease, it is vital to study his symptoms. Robert Burton explains that signs of melancholy within the body are “obvious and familiar,” and that the afflicted “voluntarily betray themselves, they are too frequent in all places…their grievances are too well known” (Burton 382). In Act 2, Scene 1 of As You Like It, Shakespeare introduces the readers to Jaques through a revealing conversation with Amiens. Amiens recognizes Jaques’s discomfort with a song he performs. The lyrics encourage others to sing along together, and to fear nothing except “winter and rough weather” (Shakespeare 302). Jaques responds with cynical comments about this positive message. He wants Amiens to continue singing, while prolonging his sad feelings. His interaction with Amiens reveals his well-known melancholic nature. Amiens openly addresses the fact that Jaques, who can “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs,” is unable to be pleased (Ibid. 302). In addition, Jaques admits in Act 4, Scene 1 to suffering from “a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness” (Ibid. 315). This reveals Jaques’ comfort and openness with his grievances; he is willing to make everyone aware of his sickness. The melancholy humour arising from the body “makes some laugh, some weep, some sleep, some dance, some sing, some howl, [and] some drink” (Burton 383). Jaques’s inconsistent behavior includes moments of sarcasm, contemplation, and silliness. In Act 2, Scene 5, Jaques sardonically comments on his enjoyment of the music, and decides to create his own verse. His production includes words that are cold and dry; he criticizes “dog apes” that have fled the courts: “Here shall he see / Gross fools as he / An if he will come to me” (Shakespeare 303). This song presents Jaques as a playfully sarcastic character who promotes his melancholic attitudes. In Act 4, Scene 3, Jaques insists that the lords “Sing it. ‘Tis no matter how it be in tune, so it make noise enough” (Ibid. 317). This desire for noise arises from melancholy in the body. In addition to playful sarcasm, Jaques revels in contemplation. He expresses a philosophical concept underlying a deceptively simple idea. For example, in Act 2, Scene 1, Jaques describes a motley fool whom he meets in the Forest of Arden. He talks with youthful excitement – a stark contrast from his darker moments – when describing this fool: “And in his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage…Oh, that I were a fool! I am ambitious for a motley coat” (Ibid. 304). This statement represents Jaques’s conflicting nature. Jaques wears a coat of dry wit and melancholy that becomes part of his perpetual costume, yet shows a philosophical and intellectual side, much like the motley fool. This proposes a bit of irony in Jaques’s disposition because his adamant wish to transform into the motley fool has already evolved. Another example of his contemplative nature occurs as he preaches about the passage of time and the inevitability of mortality. The constant shadow of melancholy that hangs over Jaques results in the development of his disease. It becomes evident through the study of Jaques’s symptoms that his melancholy is of a habitual nature. Robert Burton states that the difference between melancholy of habit and melancholy of disposition lies in the way that infected individuals handle themselves during periods of suffering. Life is a “succession of pleasure and pain,” and all humankind experiences melancholic feelings regardless of their social, mental, or physical situation (Burton 144). Some learn to develop patience during times of sickness, while others become their disease, frequently exposing their constant state of despair. Jaques represents those whose melancholy defines their lives. He refuses to confront periods of despair with inner patience, and rather “gives way to [his] passion, voluntarily subject…labyrinth of cares, woes, miseries, and suffer (his) soul to be overcome by them…dispositions become habits” (Ibid. 145). Evidence of this appears in Act 2, Scene 7, when Jaques explains that “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare 305). He believes that human nature is only a performance, and emphasizes the fact that life assigns certain roles. This corresponds with his earlier comments about how society does not expect a fool to speak profoundly or intellectually. Jaques accepts his role in society as “Monsieur Melancholy” (Ibid. 309), and therefore participates in this dramatic world he describes. Moreover, society encourages his despair, causing Jaques to transform his melancholy into a habit. Jaques’s interaction with society indicates that his melancholy is rooted in both emulation and love. Many aspects of emulation and love intertwine into a single category, for love inspires thoughts of emulation and jealousy. Cyprian describes emulation as a “consumption to make another man’s happiness his misery, to torture…they do always grieve, sigh, and groan day and night without intermission” (Burton 266). This “nurse of wit and valor” (Ibid. 267) occurs between Orlando and Jaques as they walk together in the Forest of Arden. Orlando writes love poems to Rosalind on trees, while Jaques develops an intense disgust towards his overly romantic acquaintance. He judges Orlando harshly, expressing negativity towards Rosalind and the entire, miserable world. “The worst fault you have is to be in love” (Shakespeare 309). Jaques attempts to convert Orlando’s feelings of love into feelings of indifference. He tries to convince Orlando that his actions are shallow, and that only a foolish woman would enjoy the superficial love poems. A similar circumstance takes place in Act 2, Scene 7: “And then the lover / Sighing like furnace with a woeful ballad / Made to his mistress’ eyebrow” (Ibid. 315). Jaques mocks Renaissance love conventions, but his apparent hatred for lovers is simply a costume. He secretly envies couples like Orlando and Rosalind, but cannot escape his melancholic role in the world. This example crosses the boundary between emulation and love melancholy. According to Burton, those who suffer from love melancholy become angry when they hear talk about and between lovers: “What greater contrast can there be than between a lover and a man of self restraint, an admirer of beauty and a madman?” (Burton 5). Jaques’s philosophic nature refuses to accept love, and he develops into a bitter, mad, melancholic being. Shakespeare, however, believes Jaques’s melancholy to differ from Burton’s definition: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 contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness (Shakespeare 315). Shakespeare presents his view of melancholy through Jaques, and challenges Burton’s categorization of the disease. Burton attacks melancholy with precision; a certain formula which Shakespeare does not believe holds true for Jaques. In this passage, Shakespeare writes that Jaques’s melancholy cannot be specifically defined and that the structure of humankind’s melancholic disposition is too complex to be generalized, as it varies case by case. In addition, Burton wishes to educate others about a cure for melancholy, whereas Shakespeare believes that without melancholy, Jaques would no longer be Jaques. Robert Burton assumes that wit and negativity signify disease. According to Anatomy of Melancholy, the character of Jaques in As You Like It fits the mold of a melancholic spirit in need of a cure. Jaques may suffer from melancholy but his sharpness of wit and awareness of the world outside the Forest of Arden proves his strong self-awareness and sanity as opposed to the lives of his friends. In modern society, a re-examination of Jaques would most likely reveal a normal and wise disposition ahead of his time. Works CitedBurton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy. Ed. Holbrook Jackson. New York: New York Review of Books, 2001.Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 4th ed. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Longman, 1997. 288-325.

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