Sunday, February 12, 2006

The role of the Hodmandod in AS YOU LIKE IT

Some kind person (or persons) from MIT has put all of Shakespeare's plays on the internet, and since I have so much to do I keep myself awake wondering how I am going to do it all, and my arm is aching through too much time spent at my keyboard I am sad to report the start of another obsession - a study on the use of snails as a metaphor or simile in the works of Shakespeare. This is a direct result of my interview with the talented Mr Norminton so I am blaming him.

I have to report there is no reference to snails in ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL...

But two separate references in AS YOU LIKE IT.

The first is in Act 2 Scene 7 where JAQUES describes the ages of man. The snail is used as a simile for a school boy creeping to school with his satchel (amazing to see how little changes over the years). I find this piece profoundly depressing because it is still so recognisable. JAQUES makes the slow trudge to old age and the unpleasant second childhood of senility sound inevitable. But it is not, of course...

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,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like SNAIL
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The second reference in Act 4 scene 1 is a lot more amusing. Rosalind expresses her admiration for the snail because although he advances slowly at least he can offer a woman a place to live (the house on his head) and also comes armed with a horn so that he can defend her honour.

Shakespeare, quite obviously, was a snail enthusiast.

Nay, an you be so tardy, come no more in my sight: I
had as lief be wooed of a snail.
Of a snail?
Ay, of a snail; for though he comes slowly, he
carries his house on his head; a better jointure,
I think, than you make a woman: besides he brings
his destiny with him.
What's that?
Why, horns, which such as you are fain to be
beholding to your wives for: but he comes armed in
his fortune and prevents the slander of his wife.
Virtue is no horn-maker; and my Rosalind is virtuous.
And I am your Rosalind.


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