Motley's the Only Wear
"Motley's the Only Wear"
Throughout Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It, a number of characters play influential yet very distinct roles. Among these, one of the most distinct, almost to the point of contradistinction, is Touchstone the clown. Shakespeare utilizes the character of Touchstone to introduce into the play a materialistic and practical philosophy. Almost every time Touchstone appears in a scene, his words are a testament to his philosophy. On numerous occasions, it becomes apparent as to what Touchstone values: a life of comfort, and possibly luxury; practicality; and an awareness of the physical and tangible aspects of life.
By my knavery, if I had it, then it were;
but if you swear by that that is not, you are not for-
sworn; no more was this knight, swearing by his
honor, for he never had any; (I. ii. lines 72-75)
Nowhere is Touchstone's practical philosophy better demonstrated than in this passage, where he comments on the validity of oaths. According to Touchstone, if someone swears by something that he does not have, then that person is not accountable for the oath, since it is false. In this speech, Touchstone disregards the honor involved in giving one's word, and concentrates on the sheer technicality of swearing an oath. This "passion" for the practical is again demonstrated when he is about to be married to Audrey, a goat girl, by Sir Oliver Mar-Text:
I am not in the mind but I were
better to be married of him than of another; for he
is not like to marry me well; and not being well
married, it will be a good excuse for me hereafter
to leave my wife. (III. iii. lines 86-90)
In this passage, Touchstone is already thinking of leaving his wife if his marriage does not fare well. And, if he is not married lawfully or properly, he will have an excuse to have romantic affairs while in wedlock, and eventually, a pretext to rid himself of his rather homely bride. Again, Touchstone pays no attention to the sanctity of marriage, but instead he views it as a means to an end; that end being satisfying his sexual desires. Also in this scene, Touchstone expounds on the practicality of choosing an unattractive bride; since she is unattractive, no other men will be interested in her, and therefore she will have less opportunity to be unfaithful.
This example is also a testament to the fact that Touchstone is much more concerned with the physical aspects of life. By marrying Audrey, Touchstone hopes to satisfy his physical desires. Earlier in the play, when Rosalind, Celia, and he are nearing the Forest of Arden, Touchstone makes a comment that is representative of his values:
I care not for my spirits if my legs were not weary. (II. iv. lines 2-3)
Touchstone's materialistic philosophy of life also leads him to covet, since he is in the forest, the comfort and familiarity provided by the court. Nowhere is this more evident than in his dialogue with Corin, the shepherd:
Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth me
well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious.
As it is a spare life, look you, it fits my humor well;
but as there is no more plenty in it, it goes much
against my stomach. (III. ii. lines 17-21)
Here, Touchstone points out that life in the country is full of hard labor, and that
there is often not enough surplus or harvest to satisfy his hunger. This idea of the country and the Forest of Arden is quite contrary to that of the Duke Senior's. The Duke takes a more Romanticized view of his situation in the forest. While the Duke feels that he has been liberated from the superfluousness of the court, and delivered into the raw, yet sincere, Forest of Arden, Touchstone views the forest as a place filled with hardship and work. Throughout the play, there is the continuing theme of the influence of a materialistic and practical philosophy on Touchstone, and in turn, the contrast between Touchstone and those around him.
Truly, the most profound irony must be that of dubbing Touchstone a clown or fool, for he demonstrates his deep wisdom and knowledge in his insights and arguments throughout the play. His wisdom and insight earn him the respect of many, including Jaques, from whom Touchstone not only wins respect, but admiration as well. It is this admiration that compels Jaques to utter, "O noble fool, / A worthy fool! Motley's the only wear" (II. vii. lines 33-34). Jaques shares Touchstone's philosophy of life, but while Touchstone's is essentially practical and materialistic, Jaques' adds a flavor of pessimism and melancholy. The surest testament to the intelligence of Touchstone is the fact that Shakespeare bestows upon him many lines filled with puns and double meanings. Only Rosalind, and sometimes Jaques, match his wit.
Due to his philosophy, Touchstone's role in the play is that of the voice of reason. He seems to be the grounding, or stabilizing force for characters such as Rosalind and Celia. His practical views and interpretations of situations often give rise to ideas that are contrary to the Romantic ideas of other characters,
such as the Duke Senior. Because Touchstone does not seem to be as enwrapped in some of the Romantic ideas of love and life as are the others, he sometimes seems out of place among them. However, a reason for this may be that Touchstone comes to the Forest of Arden, not of his own accord, but under the direction of Rosalind and Celia. While they come to the forest in search of possible resolutions to their problems, Touchstone comes as a companion, but with no real dilemma that needs resolving. Because of this, and his practical and materialistic philosophy of life, from the point of view of Touchstone, the Forest of Arden must, in essence, take the form of a wilderness.