Jaques is the kill joy of Shakespeare’s ebullient comedy “As You Like It”. He’s the dark cloud on the sunny day, the droll melancholy, the one who sucks joy out of life around him, the Eeyore in the Forest of Arden, always moping, never joining the party, refusing to join into even the spirit of romance which runs riot through the rest of the play. He’s has the woe-is-me of Hamlet without the cause. He also speaks one of the Bard’s most famous soliloquies:
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…
(Act II, Scene VII)
But Jaques is not the “bad guy”. He’s not a villain, a turncoat, a fool (though he wishes he were!), nor a schemer. He merely is the cynic that voices the fears of the time, and rather than rail against them, he embraces them. When performed by an exceptional actor, the role is magnificent and devastating.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
He’s also one of my favorite Shakespearean characters. He may be droll, he may be dark, he may be dreary, but he’s no poser. He embraces his melancholy and couldn’t give a rat’s ass if anyone else cares. My kind of guy! At least on these final dregs of winter days.