One of the most prominent and exciting features of As You Like It is the three-fold manner in which Shakespeare presents humor. One can observe in this connection that Shakespeare has employed the word “humor” in a different sense.
Humor, as used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, is a particular individual trait of a person’s character by the presence of which the person is distinguished from his fellowmen. There are three clearly distinguishable formed wits in this play.
In the following passages, we shall explore the three distinguishable formed wits in “As You Like It” in the following passages.
The Healthy And Sprightly Humor of Rosalind
There is the healthy and wholesome wit of Celia and Rosalind. Then there is the professional wit of Touchstone, and there is also the Cynical wit of Jaques. The fact is that the play keeps us happy and laughing most of the time because of the abundance of wit and humor in it.
Rosalind represents sprightly, natural, and healthy types of humor. By natural and healthy, we mean a type of humor that is spontaneous and unsophisticated. She responds to life naturally, appreciating as she does the ridiculous and the funny sides of life.
Rosalind has a gift that once she seizes on what is abnormal and uncommon, she endeavors to set it right by pointing out the absurdity. In this connection, we sense that the standard of Rosalind’s observation of life keeps to the golden mean, avoiding extremes.
Rosalind is full of fun, vitality, and delight in every form of sport. We find her laughing over a secret joke with Celia teasing Orlando; and tantalizing Phoebe with Silvius; she laughs out her sadness and plays out her seriousness.
We feel that we can listen to her by the hour without tiring when Celia shows tardiness in revealing the identity of the man who put those verses on the tree, Rosalind says,
“I prithee, take the cork out of thy mouth that I may drink thy tidings.”Rosalind, As You Like It.
The Professional Yet Bitterless Humor of Touchstone
The humor of Touchstone is also healthy because it is free from bitterness. However, he holds the office of a court-jester, and therefore his humor is professional. Touchstone lives by his wits. As a professional fool, he has his privileges. He has the right to attack everything and everybody.
However, equally, Touchstone has professional duties. He must use his folly as a mask under which to present wisdom.
The professional wit of Touchstone does not possess that quality of spontaneity that we find in Rosalind’s natural wit. In the course of the play, Touchstone has to draw fun on demand from such various topics as courtiers’ oaths, travelers, complaints, the course of time, etc.
About his would-be wife Audrey, Touchstone says,
“A poor virgin, sir, an ill favoured thing, sir, but mine own.”Touchstone, As You Like It.
Touchstone has been thought to be the most entertaining of Shakespeare’s clowns.
Jaques’ Cynic Humor of Melancholy
Lastly, we have to consider the humor of Jaques. This character is thoroughly imbued with what he calls the humor of melancholy. Obviously, Jaques’ humor is in direct contrast with that of Rosalind. It is not humor because humor is the guarantee of sanity, and it sounds common sense.
Jaques’ melancholy takes him to the extreme instead of “keeping him gay” and happy. Jaques’ humor makes him more and more dissatisfied with life. Undoubtedly, some of his observations are full of point and interest, but on the contrary, Jaques’ humor has made him a pessimist and almost a cynic. He says:
“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”Jaques, As You Like It.
Jaques remains a single, solitary soul after the play, and the characteristic is that he does not wish for a change.
Humour, as we know, is fun, laughter, and satire, which are also there in As You Like it. The antics of Audrey, Phoebe, Silvius, and Touchstone provide laughter.
The wit of Rosalind and Celia is sparkling. Moreover, Jaques melancholic disposition itself arouses a smile in the audience.