Jaques (As You Like It)

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As You Like It character
William Hodges - Jacques and the Wounded Stag- 'As You Like It,' Act II, Scene I - Google Art Project.jpg
Jaques and the Wounded Stag by William Hodges (1790)
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
AliasMelancholy Jaques

Jaques (/ˈkwz/) is one of the main characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It. The 'Melancholy Jaques', as he is known, is one of Duke Senior's noblemen who lives with him in the Forest of Arden (or Ardennes). The role has long been a favourite for famous Shakespearean actors.

Jaques' cynicism[edit]

Jaques' distinguishing characteristic is his unmitigated cynicism. He is the only purely contemplative character in Shakespeare. He thinks, and does nothing. His whole occupation is to amuse his mind, and he is totally regardless of his body and his fortunes. Hazlitt describes him as "the prince of philosophical idler; his only passion is thought; he sets no value upon anything but as it serves as food for reflection".[1]

Role in the play[edit]

Jaques' role in the play is more of an observer than an actor. Early in the play, Jaques remains a mystery to the audience, being discussed extensively by fellow characters.

Though much about Jaques' past is obscure, his conversations with Rosalind show that he lost his optimism while traveling the world. Whatever the root of his bitterness, Jaques always places himself outside the group of happy characters who populate Arden.

His function seems to be to provide a sharp foil for the wit of other characters, but also to create a shadow within the sunny forest. Jaques is a constant reminder that in the real world time is not suspended, and grief, sorrow and death provide a counterpoint to all human joys, a kind of embodied presentiment of Poussin's 'Et in Arcadia ego'.

Relations with Duke Senior[edit]

Duke Senior is particularly interested in Jaques as he finds Jaques as a moral philosopher when he's in a melancholic mood. Jaques on the other hand constantly criticises the Duke. He humorously curses the Duke because he and the other noblemen had to lose their wealth and comfort to please the stubborn Duke and live an uncomfortable life in the Forest of Arden.

Jaques leaves the Duke, as soon as he is restored to his sovereignty, to seek his brother, Duke Frederick, who has stepped down and turned hermit.