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This article is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

Melancholy: Uncertain Aspects Christopher Middleton

Melancholy Jacques, in As You Like It, hardly conforms to type: far from drifting about in a more or less permanent cloud of unknowing, he has analysed some symptoms of his malaise and can explain to Rosalind that its particular degrees correspond to a person's activity:

I have neither the scholar's melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician's, which is fantastical; nor the courtier's, which is proud; nor the lawyer's, which is politic... but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects; and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness. (IV,1).

Apart from implying that those several activities, each having its own degree or mode of melancholy, must for Jacques be precipitated out of a persistent 'humour', atmosphere or condition of soul, this curious statement suggests that rumination itself is for him the source of a sadness. Analytic as his thinking is (with a distinct function in the comedy) he cannot therefore analyse melancholy itself away: for all the parts played it remains a steady reminder of a nothingness to come - 'sans eyes, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything' (II,7).

From there one might argue that, as some activities induce a ruminative sadness, so too cultural conditions generally shape different modes and degrees of melancholy in peoples. To each people its own slant, at least, ...

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