'' As You Like It '' (1623) - Act II, Scene vii
This song is sung by Lord Amiens just after Jaques has made his famous speech which begins 'all the world's a stage' and goes on to detail the seven ages of man. The whole scene treats of the hypocrisy and ingratitude of man. In fact, hypocrisy and ingratitude are two of the central themes of the play as a whole, with the character Jaques brilliantly embodying the vituperative bitterness of one who has played the courtly game and lost. He rails against everybody and everything, but, in so doing, demonstrates that he is no better than the people against whom he rails. The trick is, of course, not to become embittered, as detailed very elegantly in this little song.
There are six syllables per line here, except the 'Heigh ho! ' line which has five, and gives us time to pause there, and look around to see if the audience has gone to sleep, and prepare ourselves to sing the final refrain with its terrible conclusions. And the conclusions really are terrible: 'most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly'. If there is anything that the poet was put on earth to celebrate, it was those two things, love and friendship. And yet the poetry goes on.
The use of the form of a ditty to convey these solemn and disconcerting thoughts is very effective. The strong contrast between the nature of the thoughts expressed and the form of the poem points up the horror, and also shows the way in which the faithless individuals, the hypocrites and the ungrateful, may be overcome, not in railing against them, as does Jaques, but in accepting that things are so, and seeking solace where it is to be found. 'And this our life, exempt from public haunt, / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything.' (The Duke, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii)
Shakespeare uses sound (onomatopoeia) to draw our instincts to the non-escaping memories of the winter wind and makes an inductive comparison of man's nature to that of the wind. Indeed a critical observer would be gay by the smell and feel of the smoothing wind.
Rain, rain thou summer yet?
I've never been so wet.
But naught besides the the soak
From tax and bankers' theft.
For we've been left bereft
If not quite broke!
Heigh-ho! Sing heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most days it's raining. You'll need a brolly.
Then heigh-ho, the holly!
This weather's most jolly.