Love is usually depicted in literature as a period of all-consuming emotion that excludes all else. That is, it is depicted as a main theme to the exclusion of everything besides it. This resonates with the ḥadīth in Sunan Abū Dāwūd: ḥubuka al-shay yucmī wa yuṣim [your love of a thing makes you blind and deaf].
In placing Jacques in the play a sense of gravity and realism is added to the play’s gaiety and frivolity. It is now not just a play depicting a series of lovers and their adventures against the backdrop of a little political intrigue, gender confusion, and sibling discontent. With the inclusion of Jacques these disparate threads are tied together. He provides context through which the plot and subplots are read. A symbol of realism, Jacques represents life as it is. He shows that love is part of the warp and weft of human experience. Love is a segment of existence but not the whole thing. It is merely one of the stages of life.
This idea is brought up by Jacques in one scene when he paints a metaphor of life calling the people populating it ‘actors on a stage’. He claims that “one man in his time plays many parts”(264), one of which is “the lover,/ sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad”(264). This description of his is in keeping with another description of love, given elsewhere when Rosalind declares: “Love is merely a madness.”(277) It is not /a/ madness, it is madness itself, through and through and has no other parts. Oddly, where Rosalind claims she can cure the fits of love, Jacques suggests there is no need for the procurement of potions and elixirs. According to him, the passage of time will nurse one slowly to a new stage of life.
Another place they differ, is that Rosalind alludes to a possible outcome of love: marriage. Bandying words with Orlando, she states that time “trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized”(275). Whereas, Jacques skips marriage altogether; after lovesick mooning there is war and the bombastic chivalry of soldiers seeking a name “in the cannon’s mouth”(264). Marriage, it would appear, does not have a place in the stages set forth by this somber philosopher. This may have something to do with his disbelief in that emotional attachment that is a soothing balm to the vagaries of life. He castigates love itself by saying, “The worse fault you have is to be in love.”(274)
Shakespeare balances out the seven ages proposed by Jacques by another seven, uttered by Touchstone who mentions seven degrees of a quarrel. The seventh degree seems to be the last before the interlocutors come to blows. However, it is possible to avoid this with an “If”, as Touchstone states, “but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If… and they shook hands and swore brothers”(308). In this argument, the virtue of forgiveness is shown, something that will come to fruition later when Orlando and his brother are reconciled. Indeed, the need for magnanimity is extremely important in the political sphere where angry words can lead to entire countries being torn to shreds and soaked in blood.
Whereas, Jacques proposes a view of the world, he offers no concrete solutions. Touchstone, however, does. Balanced against these other seven points, Jacques’ habitation in the forest, away from court, appears to be an act of extremism. He was once as Duke Senior explains, “a libertine,/ As sensual as the brutish sting itself”(262). Like a pendulum he has swung from one extreme to the other. He is unbalanced and as Rosalind wisely pronounces, “Those that are in extremity are abominable fellows, and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.”(287)
While he adds a counter balance to the play he also points to the harms of immoderate temperaments whether that be in love, hatred, joy, war, etc. “Love your beloved moderately,” the ḥadīth tells us, “perhaps [they may become] hated to you someday. And hate whom you hate moderately, perhaps [they may become] your beloved someday.”(Tirmidhī)