Jaques from As You Like It is one of the exiled Duke Senior’s courtiers, but plays no role in the plot. Instead, he spends the entire play providing ironic, outwardly disinterested commentary. I have frequently seen him played on stage as though this disinterested commentary masks a deeply wounded soul. I identified with him immediately the minute I was introduced to the play, and began wondering how he got to be the way he was.
Sometimes I wish I never had a window;
then I would never have to see the street
and everyone who walks it, looking happy,
flushed with high favor, or pleasures of their own—
or even smelling perfume, hearing music
or thinking of their dinner. Silly fools.
When I was of their number, they were not fools,
but I was young then, and the world my own.
I greeted friends along a wider street,
was lost in seeing women, writing music—
music for women, sung under each window—
was happy. In that foolish time, was happy.
I cannot think it without scorning—happy,
happy, until the first deaths came to the first fools,
to my companions that once stood at this window.
A bit too happy, they; drunk on the street,
singing at last a loud and untuned music
when evening came and dark made them its own.
I loved her then, too, and love made her my own,
proud to display her in the muddy street,
until she said I was no longer happy,
no longer sung so well—and out the window
I called to her. She said men were but fools
and left; I shut the casement, searched for music.
Alone, walking the streets, hating my own music,
I played what once I wrote to make men happy
and saw dark alleys, full of pitiful fools
begging a hungered bed under a cold window
while rich whims stole the little they did own
as drinking and dying they scratched out the street.
I knew the world then as a lonely street,
dark and unfair; all that was once my own,
the friends and love men hoard to make them happy,
all gone, all idle dreams of fattened fools,
and men’s lives greed, ingratitude—no music
for those in need who lie beneath each window.
I dreamed I’d ring this street with happy music,
Sing out this window, and love all God’s fools.
Now only melancholy is mine own.
Jennifer Woodruff Tait is the managing editor of Christian History magazine and an Episcopal priest. Her academic books include The Poisoned Chalice and Christian History in Seven Sentences, and she has also published the poetry chapbook Histories of Us. She lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband and two children.
Jennifer Woodruff Tait, “Jaques Tells His Story,” An Unexpected Journal: Shakespeare & Cultural Apologetics 5, no. 4. (Advent 2022), 147-148.