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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Multi-Color Graphics on Shakespearean Themes

"TOUCHSTONE: AS YOU LIKE IT"
Description of Wood-cut 15 colors 10" x 14"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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Touchstone is a traditional 'court fool'. He wears the customary garments of parti-colored cowl, cap and bells and long coat with pointed sleeves.
This bisection of his costume is symbolic of his role and the dichotomies he embodies, among which are:
Wisdom - Folly
Consciousness - Unconsciousness
Life - Death
Like all the brothers of this cloth, he serves as a commentator
on the human comedy which he observes at close range in Arden Forest.

Though he is witty and wise, it is a wisdom shackled to Folly and leavened with cynicism, so evident in his profound remark:
" from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
then from hour to hour we rot and rot."
     ( II.vi.)
Touchstone, in a posture of ascension, has climbed up and picked the rich, red, ripe fruit from a tree that partitions light and darkness, and in this environment is itself a divided victim of simultaneous life and death.

While holding the fruit in his grasp, the Fool looks wistfully at the withered core in his other palm, which is framed by a dead, broken branch on a ground of gray oblivion.

So too, we, in our myopic visions often focus on deceptive values.

In olden times, goldsmiths had a sure method for testing the true value of gold and silver alloys. It was a piece of black quartz or jasper, called a "Touchstone". The metal was streaked on the surface of the stone and then matched to a set of standards.
The term has also come to mean a determination of the genuiness or worth of anything.

The significance of both the name and the character cannot help but rub off on the ore of humankind, leaving a streak of "Touch" in all of us; part sage, part fool.


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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