How does Shakespeare explore genre, themes and the character of Jacques in Act 2 Scene 1 of his play "As You Like It"?

Essay by sgalson1High School, 12th gradeA, May 2004

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Act 2 Scene 1 is our introduction to the forest of Arden and the banished Duke Senior. It lies between scenes which illustrate the corruption of the court, the stress of court life, and the aggressive, merciless character of the "angry Duke". In such a position it is perfectly placed to emphasise the contrast between the fickleness of court life and the honesty and simple joy of country life. This contrast forms the essence of the 'pastoral' genre, very popular in Elizabethan times, and of which As You Like It is an example. The pastoral genre typically centres around troubled courtiers who leave for the country and learn important lessons from the 'pure' and 'simple' lifestyle and wise rural folk, before returning, reinvigorated, to the court. In exploring the theme of truth and artifice, partly through the character of Jacques, Shakespeare examines and questions the pastoral tradition

In his opening speech, the Duke Senior establishes the contrast between court and country.

He compares the "painted pomp" and "flattery" of the "envious court" to the honest "counsellors" found in the harsh weather that "feelingly persuade" him what he is. He finds "good in everything" around him, and lessons to be learned ("sermons in stones"). These sentiments are all traditional of the pastoral genre, and yet Shakespeare introduces a note of irony in the response of Amiens: that the Duke is only "translat[ing]" what Amiens still regards as the "stubbornness of fortune". Furthermore, the retention of official titles (the Duke is addressed as "my Lord") suggests that the exiles are still grasping for the life of the court, and that the Duke is only attempting to make his "brothers and co-mates" (although there is clearly not equality) feel better. The Duke's self-deception is one way in which Shakespeare explores the theme...