Significance of the Title As You Like It
If we examine the titles of the plays of Shakespeare in general, we will be struck by the apparent distinction which he observes in the entitling of his comedies and tragedies. We note, for example that the tragedies bear the name of the hero (or of the hero and heroine) for their title while the comedies have fanciful names such as, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night or What You will, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It etc.
We should observe that the titles of the tragedies being the names of their heroes (or, in some plays, of their heroines and heroes are obviously meant to denote that the chief, if not the only, interest of these serious plays is to be had in those characters of the plays.
The comedies in Shakespeare’s treatment possess an elaborate story interest, whereas tragedies possess the human interest of character, not, let it be remembered, as their sole orbit of interest, but as their distinguishing feature.
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The title, As You Like It was probably suggested by a phrase in Lodge’s preface to his novel. The significance of the title is apparent from the epilogue :
“I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you; and, I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women as- I perceive by your simpering none of you hates them- that between you and the women the play may please.”
Notwithstanding this, the title is a very suitable one, for it strikes the chord of this gay, and graceful play. Shakespeare does not seem to have written it with any didactic purpose. It is true there is much matter in it, as there is in life, which a moralist may use for pointing to a thesis. The Duke’s cheerfulness under adversity, Oliver’s banishment order after Orlando’s exit, the conversion of the usurping Duke, the general triumph of love and reconciliation over revenge and hate-all are full of considerable moral import. But there seems to be no special desire on the part of Shakespeare to teach mankind, and this desire is suggested by the title he chooses. The moralist may read anything in the play.
The play is full of gaiety and mirth, plenty of sweetness and sunny happiness. Even the melancholy of Jaques is a study in “humour”, and as such, is intended to raise a laugh. The title seems to reflect this happy drift of the play which brings content to all. Everyone gets what he likes. The Duke gets his dukedom, his lords get their estates, the lovers get their lasses, and ‘nought goes ill’ as the proverb says. Thus the play ends in the largest happiness of the largest number possible. Not only that, the title suggests the fantastical character of the play, in which “each acts as he pleases, every character according to its humour and caprice.” This “humour and caprice of persons in their influence upon one another is the basis of the noble action and the cause, at the same time, of the fantastical character of the piece”. The title, suggests this meaning, for here every one behaves as they like- carefree as the Forest itself.