Touchstone is a clown, or fool, in Duke Frederick’s household. He may not be a vigorous male character, but he is a man nonetheless, and Celia and Rosalind decide to take him along as an extra measure of security on their journey to the Forest of Arden. When he arrives in the forest he finds that his familiarity with the language and customs of the court impress the simple shepherds and goatherds, so he uses this advantage to further his lustful designs on Audrey and marry her in what is typically described as a travesty of romantic love and marriage.
The Elizabethan term “clown” could be applied to any simple yokel. The term ”fool” referred to a court jester often wearing motley, a kind of multi-colored and outlandish attire. Elizabethan fools were very often “naturals,” simple unassuming idiots who amused the courtiers with their naivete or misunderstanding. In Shakespeare’s plays, fools arguably function as either the conscience of some basically noble but misled character (for example, in King Lear) or as a device to deflate and expose the pomposity of characters who overstep their proper positions (for example, in Twelfth Night).
Additionally, Shakespeare’s fools amuse with their convoluted logic and witty plays on words. In As You Like It, Touchstone, although he delights with his wit, serves a somewhat different purpose. A “touchstone” was a stone that was used to determine if metals were precious. Rubbed against a touchstone, gold and silver would leave a distinguishable mark. ”Touchstone” has come to signify anything that tests and reveals virtue or worth. This is the purpose Touchstone serves in the play. When he is in the company of other characters, he brings out their true virtue.
For example, when he debates Corin, the audience sees the true value of Corin’s simple philosophy in contrast to Touchstone’s argument for argument’s sake, and Corin’s pastoral life seems to have real substance—it is not a life based solely on witticisms and conventional language. In another example, Touchstone discusses with Jaques the “lie circumstantial,” one step in an elaborate form of argumentation that replaces genuine passion with social convention. The fact that Jaques participates in this discussion at all reveals that he values that social convention beyond the simple life he is trying to imitate.
Jaques, who is greatly amused by Touchstone, reports that the clown has produced a timepiece from his pocket during their encounter in the forest. Touchstone has brought the “dial” with him from Duke Frederick’s court where the timepiece was perhaps essential. In the timelessness of the Forest of Arden, the appearance of the watch draws attention to the conflicting values the two different realms place on the experience of time, and the timepiece is as out of place in the forest as Touchstone himself.