Duke Senior is saying of someone that he must have become an animal, because he cannot be found anywhere. Just as he is ordering his lords to go find this missing man, however, Jaques, the man in question, approaches. Jaques proceeds to describe a fool he rant into in the forest, who philosophized on the passing of time, musing “thus we may see how the world wags. … from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot.” He describes the fool fondly.
From Jaques’s description, it seems that the fool in question is Touchstone. Jaques acknowledges the fool’s potential for great wisdom, which Touchstone himself hinted at earlier, and makes a fool’s life seem desirable and enviable. It also indicates how much Jaques wants to be seen as wise himself, and suggests that his whole insistence on being melancholy—on seeing everything as something that could or should make you sad—is what he considers to be wisdom. But remember also Touchstone’s earlier comments about how those considered to be wise are never recognized as saying things that are foolish.
Jaques concludes by declaring his own wish to be a fool and his ambition to have “a motley coat.” He elaborates that, when he becomes a fool, Duke Senior must still consider Jaques to be wise and that Jaques must be granted great liberty to speak with whomever he pleases, as all fools are. He theorizes on why those who are most galled by a fool’s folly are likely to laugh most at the fool, and suggests that it is because people whom fools mock do not want to appear foolish before the fool’s perceptive eye, and so protect themselves with laughter. Jaques asks the Duke to allow him to assume the role of the fool and promises in return to cleanse the Duke’s “foul body of th’infected world” with his honest criticisms.
The role of the fool becomes further developed. The fool, as Jaques understands it, is, at heart, a social critic and is extremely perceptive of others’ character traits. In laughing at the fool’s jests, Jaques suggests, people are merely trying to guard themselves against his critical eye and too-true words. If they laugh, then they show that they are in on the joke. Jaques further announces his own ambition to become a fool, but the fool he wants to be is one who levels “honest criticisms”—he doesn’t seem like someone who would make anyone laugh.
Duke Senior accuses Jaques of being hypocritical in pointing out the sins of others, having himself committed sins of the flesh. Jaques goes on to wax eloquent on the subject of pride, calling it a self-exhausting trait, and arguing that his criticisms will do no harm to those for whom they are inaccurate, and that, for those to whom they ring true, they will only point out the ways in which the victim “hath wronged himself.”
Duke Senior draws attention to the hypocrisy of faulting the sins of others while committing sins of one’s own. Jaques remarks that the fool’s critiques will only be painful for those for whom the fool’s criticisms are true. But note, in this speech in which Jacques mocks pride, just how prideful and self-serious Jaques his. He comes off like a guy who brags about how humble he is.
Orlando enters and orders, “eat no more!” With drawn sword he demands food. Duke Senior and Jaques are taken aback, and the former inquires if the intruder is distressed or simply poorly mannered. When Orlando continues to plead for food, they answer his entreaties very civilly, welcoming him to their table and thus shaming Orlando for having been so uncivil. Orlando apologizes, explaining that he assumed that all manners in the woods were savage. He gives an elegant lament, hopes that the men have lived some time in a more civilized circumstance and have been to church, and that they might therefore accept his renewed gentleness as compensation for his temporary misbehavior.
Orlando’s rude entrance exaggeratedly and humorously portrays the stark contrast between manners in the court and manners in the forest, or at least as Orlando sees it. The entrance is humorous because all characters in the scene are, in fact, from the court and have courtly manners, but Orlando assumes that because they are in the forest they must be savages. But, of course, his assumption results in him being the one who takes on those characteristics. Further, of all the characters who are originally from the forest, some are simple, but none are savages.
Duke Senior attests that they have seen better days and have been to church, and that they accept his forgiveness and hope to fulfill his needs. Orlando asks if they will wait a moment to eat their food while he goes to find his old servant, and the Duke accepts his request.
Duke Senior, in a humble gesture, does not explicitly mention his rightful royal status, and demonstrates noble generosity in inviting Orlando to dinner despite his rudeness. The duke’s openness and honesty mirrors Orlando’s own, and sets them in contrast to the courtly evil and power-hungry machinations of their respective brothers.
Duke Senior and Jaques comment on how their own unhappiness is matched by the unhappy situations of so many others. Duke Senior compares life to a theater and speaks of how many “woeful pageants” are played out in it. Jaques declares, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players,” and goes on to describe all the parts that a single man might play: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, old man.
In one of the most famous lines in the play, and in all of Shakespeare’s repertoire, Jaques compares life to a play, the world to a stage, and the people within it to performers. The speech, motivated by Jaques’s melancholy mood, paints a picture of life as inconsequential and predictable, with men obediently performing pre-determined roles. Yet there are some critics who point out that while Jaques lines have become famous, they are (and were even when Shakespeare wrote the play) kind of cliché, and that Shakespeare’s intent was for Jaques not to seem wise but to seem like he was trying to be wise.
Orlando and Adam return, and Amiens sings a depressing song about the unkindness and invisibility of man’s ingratitude, and the folly of love and friendship.
Amiens’s song contributes to the melancholy mood of the scene. And the play as a whole certainly does support the idea of love as full of foolishness, but in contrast to the mournfulness here on display here about that fact, those actually in love seem instead to be full of passion and deep feeling.
Duke Senior, having recognized Orlando as the son of Sir Rowland de Boys, tells Orlando that he truly loved his father and thus welcomes him all the more to his cave and asks him to tell his story.
Duke Senior and Orlando, who mirror each other in their respective roles as slighted brothers, here unite under the common cause of Sir Rowland de Boys. They become, themselves, a kind of family.