Pastoral literature makes a clear distinction between the quality of life and benefits of living in the city versus the country. The stresses of the former, this genre romantically suggests, may be healed by the charms of the latter; thus Scene 10 introduces us to the Forest of Arden after we witness characters undergo banishment from courtly life. Although supposedly situated in France, Shakespeare’s forest bears closer resemblance to the fantastical getaway of A Midsummer Night’s Dream than to any identifiable geography. It may not be overrun with mischievous fairies and sprites, but it serves the function of correcting what has gone wrong with the everyday world. However, even with that purpose in mind, Arden is no Eden. Though Duke Frederick praises the forest as preferable to the artificial ceremony of the court, he takes care to describe its hardships. With its wild animals and erratic weather, Arden can hardly be called a paradise, and at the same time the duke celebrates Arden, he also draws attention to the difference between that forest and Eden or the Golden Age.
The forest is a lovely but ultimately temporary haven for the characters who seek refuge from exile. One reason for the transience of this sanctuary is that the city dwellers are, by the play’s end, ready to return to court. Jaques, a stock character who represents the melancholy brooder, suggests a more troubling reason for the temporary nature of the forest’s pristine state and restorative powers. Man, he suggests, will sooner or later mar the forest’s beauty. Grieved by the killing of the deer, Jaques claims that Duke Senior is guiltier of usurpation than his crown-robbing brother, Duke Frederick. According to Jaques, wherever men go, they bring with them the possibility of the very perils that make life in the “envious court” so unbearable. None of Duke Senior’s courtiers disagrees with Jaques, but the melancholy lord’s criticism lacks real sting. Indeed, Duke Senior sees Jaques as little more than entertainment, for the extremity of Jaques’s mood prompts Senior to declare amusingly, “I love to cope him in these sullen fits, / For then he’s full of matter”—matter being the word for pus in Shakespearean English. In a play that celebrates the complexity and the range of human emotions, there is little room for someone like Jaques, who knows how to sing only one tune.
With the introduction of Silvius, As You Like It begins to explore the foolishness of love as opposed to its delightfulness. Unlike Rosalind, who is equipped with enough wit to recognize the silliness of her sudden devotion to Orlando, Silvius is powerless in his attraction to Phoebe. In his laments to Corin, he presents himself as love’s only true victim, and he implies that no one has ever loved as he loves Phoebe. Although Rosalind at first pities the shepherd’s predicament as curiously close to her own, she soon enough comes to share Touchstone’s observation on the necessary foolishness of being in love. As he watches Silvius call out to the absent Phoebe, Touchstone says, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly”. Touchstone’s inarticulate and rude manner of speaking makes him a true touchstone for Rosalind, bringing into greater relief her supreme eloquence and wit. Here, however, he utters two essential pieces of truth: everything in the natural world is temporary, and every lover naturally behaves like a fool. But the fact that so many characters fall in love in Arden proves that they are less love’s victims than its willing subjects.