Act Two: Into the Woods

The second act of As You Like It takes us to where Rosalind and Celia are heading: the Forest of Arden.

And who do we find? Rosalind’s pops, of course: Duke Senior, and he’s holding court (sort of) with his “co-mates and brothers in exile” (II.i.1). He expounds on the idyllic nature of their current state, a wonderful statement of optimism (though bordering on Pollyanna-ism). And there’s even a bit of foreshadowing here, when he speaks of “find(ing) tongues in trees” (II.i.16), as we will when Orlando comes to hanging his love poems on the trees of the forest.

He calls for a deer hunt, and almost immediately finds regret in the death of the wood’s native inhabitants. Of course, his reservation is nothing compared the that of “the melancholy Jaques” (II.i.26), an absent member of the duke’s party, who is so brokenhearted over the killing of a stag that he “stood on th’ extremest verge of the swift brook, // Augmenting it with his tears” (II.i.42-3), going as far as to accuse (like in a campaign for PETA) the duke and his followers of being “mere usurpers, tyrants…to fright the animals and kill them” (II.i.61-2).

The second scene takes us back to the court of Duke Senior’s younger brother and a real usurper, Duke Frederick, and he is not a happy man: he cannot believe that both his daughter and Rosalind have fled the court and “no man saw them” (II.ii.1). Learning that both Celia and Rosalind had been speaking highly of Orlando, Frederick demands,

Send to his brother; fetch that gallant hither;
If he be absent, bring his brother to me;
I’ll make him find him: do this suddenly,
And let not search and inquisition quail
To bring again these foolish runaways.
  • II.ii.17-21

It’s an interesting speech, and a confused one. He wants his men to go to Oliver (“his brother”), but to bring the “gallant” to him, but that would seem to be Orlando, and the next two lines support that: if Orlando is not there, bring his brother, and the duke will make Oliver find Orlando. Regardless of his confusion (or incoherence), we wants his daughter and Rosalind back (the plural on “runaways”).

The third scene takes us to the “gallant’s” home, where Adam implores Orlando to flee as the old man has heard that

this night (Oliver) means
To burn the lodging where you use to lie
And you within it.
  • II.iii.22-24

Orlando refuses, saying that he will not leave without his inheritance, forcing him to take on “a thieving living on the common road” (II.iii.33). Adam has a solution for that: he has five hundred crowns, which he will give to Orlando, as long as Orlando leaves. The old man then asks Orlando to take him with him, even though he may “look old… (he is) strong and lusty” (II.iii.47). Only he is old, eighty (“fourscore” [II.iii.74]) and nearing the “last gasp with truth and loyalty” (II.iii.69); but Orlando is willing to take him on.

When we return to the Forest of Arden in the fourth scene of the act, we see a familial connection between Duke Senior and his daughter: a sense of optimism. Rosalind’s spirits are “merry” (II.iv.1) though her traveling companions are “weary” (II.iv.3). She “could find in (her) heart to disgrace (her) man’s apparel, and to cry like a woman” (II.iv.4-5) [remember she’s in disguise], but she she won’t, and she urges on her cousin–even if Celia “cannot go no further” (II.iv.9).

As they rest for the moment, they overhear the conversation between two inhabitants of the woods, Corin and Silvius. Silvius is in love with a woman named Phebe, and his attempts to woo her are not going well… so “not well” as to have the older man tell him “this is the way to make her scorn you” (II.iv.19), but Silvius believes that the old man cannot possibly know anything about love. And as the young man leaves, Rosalind sees a kindred spirit; “this shepherd’s passion // Is much upon my fashion (II.iv.56-7), as she, too, is in love.

Now, while Silvius has exited, Corin in still there, and they ask him for a “place to rest (them)selves and feed” (II.iv.71). He cannot help them, as he is but a servant and his “master is of churlish disposition” (II.iv.78). Plus, his master is about to sell his properties, and so he doesn’t have anything to spare. This, of course, gives Rosalind her opening: if Corin will show them his master’s land, and they like it, they will buy it from him.

In the short Act Two, Scene Five, we find Jaques and some of the duke’s men, singing songs, and the Jacques is the happy melancholic that was described to us back at the beginning of the act. He “can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs” (II.v.9-10); and those are his own words.

And in the even shorter Scene Six, we find a companion piece to Scene Four as Orlando and Adam enter the woods and Adam is on his last legs like Celia: “O, I die for food” ( While Orlando feels that Adam’s “conceit is nearer death than (his) powers” (, he leaves the old man to find him food.

The seventh and final scene of Act Two takes us back to Duke Senior’s camp. The duke and one of his followers talk of another member of their group, one who was “merry, hearing of song” (II.vii.4), and before we have to think too hard on his identity, Jaques arrives, even merrier. He tells a tale of meeting a fool in the forest–Touchstone, perhaps? Jaques then goes on to wax rhapsodic on how he would love to be a fool, as well, but the duke tells him that he would make an awful one, as he would “disgourge” “embossed sores and headed evils (II.vii.69, 67) onto the world.

In the midst of Jaques’ self-defensive response, Orlando comes charging into the group, his sword drawn, proclaiming that no one of the group can eat until “necessity be served” (II.vii.89). [now, doesn’t he sound like the common road thief he feared he might become in the third scene of this act?] When he is met with the duke’s “civility” and “gentleness” (II.vii.93, 101), Orlando apologizes and puts his sword away, and when he is offered food, he refuses until he can bring Adam to them.

In the wake of his exit, Duke Senior comments on how, even though they have been exiled to the forest, there are those worse off in life, which he calls “this wide and universal theater” (II.vii.136). And this prompts Jaques to deliver on the of most famous speeches in Shakespeare:

                   All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
  • II.vii.138-65

We’ll delve into this speech later in the month, but here Jaques takes the duke’s play metaphor and runs with it, and it is beautiful run. And as is fitting, as Jaques ends his speech with a description of old age, Orlando brings Adam in.

lots of song in this play, no?

The duke calls for song. During the song, it’s obvious that the actors playing the duke and Orlando are directed to “whisper…faithfully” (II.vii.191) to another because the scene’s final speech finds the duke welcoming “the good Sir Rowland’s son” (II.vii.190) into his merry band.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *