Page of Crowns - Touchstone
Dramatis Personae: Touchstone.
Text & Context: Touchstone, like his namesake, is a way to assay each character's mettle. As with the fool character by nature, Touchstone stands just outside the play - or perhaps at its core. Where his core is, or whether he has one, is as his own great "If" - contingent. In this way, he weighs As You Like It itself - its constant reference of character, conduct, and clime, to the test of nature, the measure between what romance permits and reality prohibits.
Touchstone is a natural philosopher. There is a tendency to take characters at their own valuation - not so with Touchstone, even in the scrupulous evaluating of his own character. His romance with Audrey is a self-conscious counterfeit; the formal inversion of the earnest romances otherwise permeating the play. With her as audience, Touchstone takes authorial authority, making short shrift of her titular Arden boob, William.
The real test for Touchstone comes not from the fickle Audrey but from Jacques, who openly courts the fool. Touchstone's response to Jacques' brown-nosing is a simple "Good-even, good Master What-ye-call't" and a complex quibble on the quarrel on the seventh cause - Jacques' Seven Ages of Man pearl, bearded by his foul oyster lie, seven times removed. Jacques, it will be seen, gets his own back, in what Freud centuries later called "subconscious motivation". The erstwhile chanticleer cock-blocks Touchstone's "If" by publicly impugning the spurious vicar Sir Oliver Mar-text, thereby marring the fool's wedding plan: "not being well-married, it will be a good excuse hereafter to leave my wife."
But perhaps, in the end, the joke is on Touchstone. Jacques is only happy inflating himself with the glamorous puncture. Touchstone is only happy deflating, if at all. The fact Monsieur Melancholy, a Renaissance figure of fun, remains in pastoral Arden, prefigures the sorrowful Werthers and mysterious Manfreds who come to populate 18th & 19th Century Romanticism. In As You Like It, the characters overcome by romance nonetheless retain their civilized ways; their love is as they like it, and like Arden: a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. Touchstone is to the contrary, restless and flinty; how you don't like it. His noisy urbanity is highly affected, and thereby - counter-intuitively - natural. Dismantled, he may prove nothing but an array of reactions. In this he is a valuable guide, counsellor, and even friend, to an Arden over-grown and altogether too ardent.