As You Like It by William Shakespeare is a pastoral drama, where love plays an important role in bringing people together from various sides of life and different class. It is meant to contrast and show to the audience, usually of an urban background, that love can be found outside the society’s restrictions and guidelines. This freedom of love is emphasized by the lesser degree of naturalism present in these types of plays; events can occur without any logical reason, and the existence of fairies, spirits, magic in general is not completely out of the question. So, amidst these contradictions of the constructed values of urban life, as the plays seen by Shakespeare are usually seen in, what role does Jacques play to further shed light on the point of the pastoral drama?
Jacques plays an extreme melancholic in As You Like It. Not only so, but he genuinely enjoys being sad and depressing. He thrives on making snide comments and mocking people. In this sense he is a very important character in the overall story and morale of the play even though he seems to be bringing everybody down. The play, as I mentioned above, is about contrast and opposing conventional views of society, something which Shakespeare does through characters such as Touchstone, the wise clown. I do not believe that the same level of explicitness of sending a clear message or idea to the audience through Touchstone exists with the character of Jacques. Rather, I believe the character of Jacques to play a part of balancing the whole play; toning the levels of joy from love down, and not essentially not making the whole play a ‘happily ever after’ story. This way there are two counter-forces; the love cynical Jacques and the group consisting of the ‘young love birds’ Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phoebe, and Touchstone and Audrey.
A plausible reason for the overall unhappy personality of Jacques is that he was in fact one of the young lovebirds once. In fact, he was Orlando but “suffered from a loss in love that he’s never recovered from” (Cooke, 146). This does present a convincing argument, and as Cooke further explains that the play is about the different ways of falling in love, which Jacques is an example of, though a rather sorrowful one. This reason has a meaning of it’s own though. Shakespeare’s meanings in the comedy is to show the different ways of love, how it might find itself in unlikely combinations between gentleman of the court and the maidens of the farms, and so the personality of Jacques presents a future theme in the play; one that shows the audience that love is clearly not always successful, and can in fact ruin a man or woman. Although I believe that this theme fits in with the other present themes of the search for love and breaking society’s boundaries, it is not one that is overly optimistic as the others, but neither is Jacques. He does play a sad role, yet necessary at the same time for the other ideas of Shakespeare in As You Like It to shine through.