Character of Touchstone
The fool in Shakespeare’s time was a familiar personage in the houses of the great nobles and kings Henry VIII had his Fool William Somers, and the famous Clown Tarlton was a privileged person at the court of Queen Elizabeth. Fools were to be found not only in the courts of monarch and the castles of barons; they were to be met with also in the halls squires or beneath the roofs of the Churchmen.
“Touchstone, though he nowhere strikes so deep a chord within us as the poor Fool in King Lear, is I think, the most entertaining of Shakespeare’s privileged characters And he is indeed a mighty delectable fellow.”
He is wise too and full of the most insinuative counsel. How choicely does his grave, acute nonsense moralize the scene wherein he moves. Professed clown though he may be, and as such ever hammering away with art awkwardness at a jest, a strange kind of humorous respect still aw upon him notwithstanding.
Duke Senior sums up the character of Touchstone in a very pregnant statement which gives us the very essence of his character and the most accurate estimate of his role : “He uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit.” He is essentially a very wise man who poses to be a fool and thus deceives people; folly camouflages wisdom. Throughout the drama he has played the role of a comic critic of follies and foibles of men and manners; and his criticism when rightly understood is found to be full of practical wisdom.
Touchstone in As You Like It Supplies the place of the chorus in a Greek play. He is an unfeeling spectator where all the other characters are interested persons. He wittily unmasks the follies of others. As the Duke observes, he “uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under presentation of that he shoots his wit.” He is the satirist of the follies of the Court of the affected language of the courtiers, of their false standards of honour, and their foolish books of etiquette. He is who tells us that a certain knight, swearing by his honour was not forsworn, “for he never had any; or if he had, he had sworn it away before ever he saw those pancakes or that mustard.” He, too, decides the question as to whether or not wrestling is a sport meet for ladies to witness.
“Thus men may grow wiser every day; it is the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport for ladies.” (I. ii)
He is a Courtier. And by his presence in the forest, his behaviour towards the rustics whom he meets there, and his introduction into his speech of language peculiar to the Court, he heightens the contrast between court and the country of which the play affords so many illustrations. Jaques speaks of him as “one that hath been a courtier”.
Touchstone himself says:
“If any man doubt that, let him put me to my purgation. I have trod a measure; I have flattered a lady; I have been politic with my friend, smooth with mine enemy; I have undone three tailors; I have had four quarrels, and like to have fought one” (V. iv)
His Marriage with Audrey is a parody upon the marriages of the other pairs of lovers in the forest. Others fall in love at first sight with beauty, Touchstone takes a fancy to ugliness. Whilst others profess faith and adoration, duty, purity and observance for the object of their love, Touchstone as though in mockery of them all thus describes the object and the reason of his choice :
“A poor virgin, sir, an ill favoured thing, sir, but mind own, a poor humour of mind, sir, to take that no mar else will.” (V. iv)
Touchstone is the Hamlet of Motley. He is bitter, but there if often something like sadness in his jests. He mocks, but in his mockery we seem to hear echoes from a solitary heart. He is reflective, and melancholy wisdom, and matter aforethought are in his quaintness. He is a thinker out of a peace, a philosopher in a mistaken venture, a gentleman without benefice, a genius by nature, an out-cast by destiny.
Touchstone does not always quibble with words or ideas like other fools of Shakespeare. His wit had these distinct elements sadness, bright humour and satire. Dowden says:
“The wit of Touchstone is not mere clownage nor has it any indirect significance, it is a dainty kind of absurdity, worthy to hold comparison with the melancholy of Jaques.”
Touchstone is a True Ambassador of the Comic Spirit. As the sunlight filters through the leaves of Arden, scattering gold along its paths and deep into its glades, and the persons of the company there, who “fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden age.” pass and repass in their travel-stained russet and green from the background of forest, we notice that two figures stand out in sharp relief. One is the sad-suited Jaques, and the other is Touchstone, bright in his motely. The eye sets these two apart from rest of the company…….. They are in the forest, but unlike the as they are not of the forest, they remain detached, unconquered by any prevailing enthusiasm.
Touchstone is sincerely loyal and devoted to Celia. Celia says about him: “He’ll go along o’er the wide world with me.” For her sake, he leaves the comfortable life of the court and gets ready to face all possible hardship and inconvenience of a journey to the Forest Arden. This shows his genuine and unselfish regards for Celia. Thus with all his cynicism disillusionment, he is aware of the moral values of life.
There is an element of contradictoriness his character. He ridicules the illusion of romantic love but himself falls in love with Audrey in the Forest of Arden and marries her Again, he satirizes the various aspects of court life but in his behavior towards the rustics he tries to establish his superiority by affecting court language and manners.
He has many qualities of head and heart, and a few defects too. First of all, he has that rare thing a touching tenderness of heart. He sympathizes with the sufferings of others. The innate tenderness of his heart is vividly expressed when he objects to the young princesses witnessing the wrestling of a giant who has already killed the three sons of an old man. The story of the pathetic tale touches him to the quick and he exclaims:
“Thus men may grow wiser every day, it is the first time that ever I heard breaking of ribs was sport for ladies” (I. ii).
This is not the utterance of a court fool, a ‘nature’s natural’, but that of a deep, philosophic observer through whom universal humanity loudly protests against the gross customs of the day.
The close secrecy which he observes in not disclosing to the world the confidential proposal of Celia and Rosalind shows Touchstone to be capable of devotion He might be taking folly from time to time, but almost all his acts smack of wisdom.
He has splendid qualities of head-superb intellectual qualities without which he could not be the witty humorist that he is. He has a keen, sharp and piercing power of observation wherewith he see through the character of a man. He sees through the wickedness of Duke Frederick, and does not hesitate to point it out even in the presence of his daughter. He is above the foolish fashion of the day. another but prevalent fashionable vice. Touchstone discharges his mighty function of criticism under the cloak of folly, which in his case, serves as a convenient medium.
Touchstone is the most important of the “comedy characters.” He is the fool or the clown in the play. Of all the fools created by Shakespeare Touchstone is the most entertaining. He is a rich source of comedy. “He is indeed a mighty delectable fellow” (Hudson). He is the professional jester whose business it is to make others laugh. He is dressed in motley as the court jesters were supposed to do and he plays the same part as the chorus in a Greek play. He is an unfeeling spectator of all that happens. He wittily exposes or unmasks the follies of others. His foolery has a hidden depth of meaning. As the Duke Senior says :
“he uses his folly like a stalking-horse and under presentation of that he shoots his wit.”
He throws a comic light on every topic. He satirizes the follies of the court, the artificial language of the courtiers, their false standards of honour and their foolish books of etiquette. He tells us of the knight who having no honour, yet swore by it. He ridicules the idea of rib breaking being shown as a sport to ladies. He makes fun of Orlando’s verses in praise of Rosalind. In answer to Corin’s question how he likes the life of a shepherd, Touchstone gives him a confusion and bewildering reply. His answer evenly balances the pleasures and pains of a shepherd’s life.
He sums up the entire futility, insincerity and diplomacy of a courtier’s life in masterly fashion. He makes us laugh at his account of a lie seven times removed and the tricks by which two gentlemen in those days could challenge each other to a duel and then avoid it. He ridicules too, the romantic illusion of love, when he narrates his own experience with Jane Smile. When Audrey asks him whether he would like her to be honest, he replies that a pretty woman need not be honest because honesty to beauty is like adding honey to sugar. His comment on the desirability of marriage is also very amusing. He believes that it is better to run the risk of the unfaithfulness of one’s wife than to remain a bachelor.
It is noteworthy that in each case Touchstone is seen moralizing the scenes in the midst of which he has moved or is moving. With his grave, acute nonsense, he hints at deep truth. He is the comic philosopher of life. He thus prevents the play being too sugery. He is rightly named, too-Touchstone i.e. a test of the unreality of life in the Forest of Arden and at court. He has a fond of ripe common sense. There is no bubble that he does not prick. But his criticism is delivered with a smile, not with bitterness.
Shakespeare’s ‘Fool’, in the words of Prof. Dixon,
“is a wise person, having ocean of intellect and sea of wit flowing through, yet he wears the mask of foolery for a deliberate purpose.”
Amongst the clowns of Shakespeare Touchstone occupies a place just below the first rank. The foremost place is, by Coleridge, assigned to the Fool in King Lear, of whom he says :
“the contrast of the Fool wonderfully heightens the colouring of some of the most painful situations… He is as wonderful a creation as Caliban; his wild babblings and inspired idiocy articulate and gauge the horrors of the scene.”
Hello, Viewers! Besides being the Founder and Owner of this website, I am a Government Officer. As a hardcore literary lover, I am pursuing my dream by writing notes and articles related to Literature. Drop me a line anytime, whether it’s about any queries or demands or just to share your well-being. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by!