Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Who's Fooling Whom?




Touchstone is a professional Fool, a court jester. Like Feste in Twelfth Night, he is “an allowed fool” – someone permitted to speak unpleasant truths, as long as it's done in an entertaining way. As Frederick grows more and more insecure about his status as Duke, he becomes less and less willing to hear witty criticisms of his rule and of his followers. One courtier describes Touchstone to Frederick as “the roynish [mangy or annoying] clown, at whom so oft your Grace was wont to laugh”: the Fool has clearly fallen out of favor. Celia is worried that he'll be whipped for overstepping the new bounds of acceptable jesting. Touchstone responds to her warning with the rueful observation, “The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.” The Forest of Arden, with all its inconveniences (which Touchstone will eagerly catalog), is still more welcoming than Frederick's court, so Touchstone accompanies Rosalind and Celia in exile.

Jaques, impressed by Touchstone's cynical wit and unaware of the practical limits that professional jesters often face, naively thinks that Fools enjoy utter liberty in speaking their minds. Although he announces himself “ambitious for a motley coat,” the jester's uniform, he helps Touchstone find new employment in the service of Duke Senior. Touchstone's audition piece is a tour de force critique of notions of honor (his first topic with Rosalind and Celia, as well): his seven degrees of the lie map out how much one can take until one is socially obligated to fight a duel for honor's sake – and even then how one might avoid the duel by enlisting the power of If.

Fool, however, is also an insult. A “natural” fool suffers from a lack of wit – meaning intelligence. Rosalind and Celia teasingly refer to Touchstone as a “natural”; Frederick repeatedly tells his daughter that she is a fool for not being suspicious of Rosalind. Jaques and Orlando exchange barbs by indirectly calling each other fool; before that, Jaques is able to "call fools into a circle" with his new lyrics for one of Amiens' songs. Even Touchstone dismisses William, his rival for Audrey, as the wrong kind of fool: when William compliments himself for having a “pretty wit,” Touchstone reminds him that “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” The idea of a fool having “little wit,” however, contributes to the element of surprise in the professional Fool's critiques and also softens the blow . . . somewhat.


Flatwater Free Shakespeare's As You Like It wraps up its summer tour this weekend! Thursday at Densmore Park, 6761 S. 14th. Friday at Lincoln Community Foundation Garden, near 14th and N. Saturday and Sunday at The Swan Theatre at Wyuka Stables, 3600 "O" Street. Showtime 7 p.

 Photo: Megan Higgins as Rosalind, Emma Gruhl as Celia, and Tom Crew as Touchstone in Flatwater Shakespeare's As You Like It. Photo Credit: Mark Lee.

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