Jaques (As You Like It)

Jaques in Love

What Jaques is in Shakespeare's pages most people know. In the very first reference made to him he is described as ‘melancholy,' and as ‘weeping and commenting' upon a stricken deer. He has ‘sullen fits,' we read. He himself tells us he ‘can suck melancholy out of a song.' He protests that the banished Duke is ‘too disputable' for him—that he (Jaques) thinks of as many matters, but makes no boast of them. The Duke, on his side, speaks of Jaques as ‘compact of jars' (made up of discords), and when Jaques offers to ‘cleanse the foul body of the infected world,' retorts on him that it would be a case of ‘most mischievous foul sin chiding sin,' Jaques having been himself a notorious evil liver. To Orlando Jaques suggests that they should rail at the world and their misery, while to Rosalind he confesses that he loves melancholy better than laughing. ‘'Tis good to be sad and say nothing.' He has, he says, a melancholy of his own, the result of his experience and reflection, which wraps him in a most humorous sadness. Jaques, in fact, is a rake turned cynical philosopher. He regards man and nature as only so much material for observation and for moralizing.

Such is the Jaques of ‘As You Like It'—a purely original creation, embodying a familiar type of humanity, but nevertheless not good enough for certain of Shakespeare's successors in the dramatic art. Jaques has more than once been revised and edited, in common with other characters in the sylvan comedy. He did not quite satisfy the fastidious taste of Mr. Charles Johnson, the ingenious author of ‘The Country Lasses' and other pieces, who, as was said with more point than truth, was ‘famous for writing a play every year and being at Button's coffee-house every day.' Still less did Shakespeare's Jaques commend himself to the ‘J. C.' who was so kind as not merely to adapt ‘As You Like It,' but to elaborate and paraphrase it. Nor did the ‘melancholy' one prove acceptable even to the judgment of Georges Sand, when that intellectual lady set to work to ‘arrange' the play for the French stage. Shakespeare, it appeared to all these writers, had perpetrated an unaccountable mistake. He had failed to make Jaques pair off with Celia. That charming maiden is handed over to the converted Oliver, while Jaques goes off to study the humours of the repentant Duke. Happy thought! Transform Jaques and Celia into a species of minor Benedick and Beatrice, and marry them in the end!

Mr. Charles Johnson adopted this idea almost literally. His ‘Love in a Forest'—brought out at Drury Lane in 1723—is ‘As You Like it' cut down and altered, with scraps from ‘Much Ado About Nothing,' ‘Love's Labour's Lost,' and other Shakespearean pieces, introduced at various points, the whole welded together by means of wondrous emanations from the compiler's fancy. To Jaques are assigned a number of lines spoken elsewhere by Benedick or by Biron. We have the well-known gibing scene between Jaques and Orlando up to a certain stage, when, commenting on Jaques' questions about Rosalind, Orlando says: ‘But why are you so curious?—you who are an obstinate heretic in the despight of beauty and the whole female world?' Then Jaques replies to this speech, which belongs to Don Pedro in ‘Much Ado,' in the familiar words of Benedick in that play, asserting that he will ‘live a bachelor,' and that if ever he breaks that vow his friends may put round his neck the legend, ‘Here you may see Jaques, the married man.' At this juncture Rosalind and Celia appear, and, while Rosalind as Ganymede has her first colloquy with Orlando, ‘Jaques talks with Celia—they walk in another glade of the forest.' When they return it is at once evident that Jaques' celibate intentions have already been shaken. He calls the lady ‘destructively handsome,' and says his heart ‘gallops away in her praise most dangerously.' She avers he will be in love if he does not take heed, and he says, ‘I doubt so—yet I hope not.' A moment or two after, encouraged and fired by her words, he asks her plump to marry him, and she promises so to do, ‘two years hence, if my brother Ganymede consents.' Then he admits, in soliloquy, that he is ‘in love, horribly in love,' his spirits ‘caught at last by a pair of bugle eyeballs and a cheek of cream.' And then come more quotations from Benedick, as well as an annexation of Touchstone's remark about the honourableness of the forehead of a married man. Celia by-and-by confesses to Rosalind that ‘her heart doth incline a little to the philosopher,' whose love, she allows, ‘does not sit easy upon him,' but whose words are ‘full of sincerity.' Still later Jaques comes to Rosalind for her approval of the match, speaking this time in language used by Biron. She, however, refuses, declaring that he cannot be polished into a modern husband; and he retires disconsolate. But with Orlando he is more successful. He is promised that Ganymede shall give way, and that his wedding shall take place to-morrow. And so all ends happily.

The ‘J. C.' who, in 1739, published ‘The Modern Receipt, or a Cure for Love,' as ‘altered from Shakespeare,' went much farther than Johnson in the way of embellishing the unhappy poet. He used his lines occasionally, but in general either turned them into prose or expanded them beyond all recognition. Virtually he supplies a comedy based, only, on ‘As You Like It.' Even the names of the characters are changed. Jaques now figures as Marcellus, ‘a sullen, morose lord, a great woman-hater, but at length in love with Julia'—the Julia being, of course, Celia. He is described by a shepherd as ‘a melancholy sort of fellow,' who ‘reads much, thinks more, eats little, sleeps little, and speaks least of all. And if he sees a woman he runs away, shuts himself up in his cave, and prays for an hour or two after.' Julia, hearing this, cries: ‘Oh, the brute! I'm resolved to take a revenge upon him in behalf of the whole sex.' Jaques, on his part, is struck by Julia's charms as soon as he beholds them—‘What can this mean? I'm wondrous ill o' the sudden'—and is fain to sit down, lest he should fall. In the scene which follows there is a great war of words. The lady talks, purposely, at an agonizing speed, and the gentleman roundly tells her that he would rather have her room than her company. At last the wrangle is interrupted, and Julia, as a parting shot, calls Marcellus ‘a bear in breeches.' He himself is inclined, after all, to think her ‘something more than the rest of her detested sex—some being, perhaps, of a superior order.' He praises her gay innocence and noble simplicity. Julia, on her side, ‘prays Heaven that she is not in love with the brute,' but is afraid she must be. Then there is a scene in which, by way of drawing him on, she pretends to love him, but afterwards says that she was mocking him, and so covers him with confusion. Nevertheless, he is not cured. He is still her slave, and, as he says, what is love ‘but an epidemic disease, and what all the world has, at one time or other, been troubled with as well as myself? Why should I endeavour to curb a passion the greatest heroes have with pride indulged? No.... He alone is wise who nobly loves.' So he returns to the charge, makes the lady admit the soft impeachment, and obtains the Duke's consent to their union. He says, in the end, that he is afraid he makes but an odd sort of figure—that he has acted a little out of character, and a great deal below the dignity of a philosopher. But, having the aforesaid disease, he has sought the remedy, and has found it; for, in his view, ‘Marriage is the surest cure of love.'

Georges Sand, in her ‘Comme il Vous Plaira'—a comedy in three acts, ‘tirée de Shakespeare, et arrangée'—diverges still further from the original text. Her work is, even more markedly than ‘The Modern Receipt,' founded, only, on ‘As You Like It.' ‘In dealing with this uncurbed genius, which owned no restraint,' she thought herself justified in ‘condensing, abstracting, and modifying' his work. But, as a matter of fact, her play is indebted to Shakespeare only in idea. Jaques is introduced early in the piece as sent by the banished Duke with a message to Rosalind. Of course, he meets Celia, and at first is brusquerie itself. But in the second act he comes to think there is something in her name ‘qui résonne autrement que dans tout nature. Est-ce une douceur qui charme l'oreille?' Celia for a long time plays with him, but in the end they arrive at a mutual declaration of affection. ‘I have always tenderly loved Jaques,' says Georges Sand in her preface, and ‘I have taken the great liberty of bringing him back to love. Here is my own romance inserted in that of Shakespeare, and, although romantic, it is not more improbable than the sudden conversion of Oliver.' That may be; and yet one might have thought that Georges Sand, of all people, would not have set herself the interesting but somewhat futile task of improving upon ‘As You Like It.'