Significance of The Title As You Like It

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      The titles of Shakespeare are misleading. They do not abide by the universal law that the title should be matter-of-fact, precise, accurate and suggestive of the content of the play. Today we live in a scientific era and have very little time at our disposal. We want to read everything in the title. Shakespeare disappoints us by giving tantalizing titles. He is guided by no principles in giving name to the play. He names them as his whim or fancy works. The titles Julius Ceasar and The Merchant of Venice are quite misleading. One thinks that Julius Ceasar and Antony are heroes. But Julius Ceasar is murdered before half the play is over and Brutus dominates the stage like a hero. In The Merchant of Venice Bassanio is the main character. But he is not the merchant. Such is also Twelfth Night with its sub-title What You Will. And such is As You Like It.

The Source that Suggested the Title

      The title As You Like It is probably suggested by a phrase in Lodge’s preface to his novel, “If You Like It, so; and yet, I will be your in duties if you will be mine in favor.”

Significance of the Title Evident from the Prologise

      The prologue suggests the title of the play:

      “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.

      Herein lies the keynote of the play and the significance of the title is suggested from these lines.

Title Depends upon Character

      Ulrici thinks that the title depends upon the characters. He thinks that Shakespeare allows them to indulge in their own caprices. He says, “Each acts not as he pleases; every character, according to its humor, indulges its inclination to good and evil, as the idea suggests itself the humor and caprice of persons in their influence one upon another is the basis of the whole action, and the cause, at the same time, of the fantastical character of the piece.”

Depends upon Audience and Not on Character

      Stenley Wood does not agree with this view and thinks that the title depends on audience and not on charcter. He says:

But does not the sentence of the epilogue, “to like as much of this play as please you” indicate that the title appeals to audience? Does the play please them? Do they desire for instance, the happy union of the lovers; the reconciliation of the brothers; the restoration of the banished Duke, the repentance of Duke Frederick? Do they appreciate the method by which Shakespeare attains these ends? And the various scenes of life-court, sylvan and pastoral which do they prefer? Shakespeare sketches all these and leaves the choice to his audience.”

Fancy Explains the Title

      Some critics think that Shakespeare had in view the happy drift of the play which brings content to all. And they might have said to each other “this is indeed as you like it.” Others interpret the title as a glance at the careless ease of the forest life which the play picture—a life unfettered by the artificial restraints of the society, and untainted by its evils. Verity thinks that Shakespeare’s pen follows the free bent of his fancy. No principles are applied. Unappreciative criticism may object that in some things fancy has passed the limits of probability. Sudden conversions of the usurping Duke and Oliver are incredible. But the poet seems to forestall objection by saying “Here is the piece:interpret it in any spirit you like.”

      The keynote of the play is imagination. It is given free play. It wanders at will and acts as it likes in shaping the incidents and developing the characters. So the poet seems to tell the reader that he may enjoy the play to the extent that he is able to like it It is written to make him like it.

The Significance of the Title Lies in the Variety and Many sided Elements of the Play

      In the play As You Like It there is God’s plenty. Here there is everything to please all the tastes. The title of the play is therefore appropriate, because it is a comedy which is expected to please all tastes, one which you will like. Helen Gardner also says, “As its title declares, this is a play to please all tastes.” The play is a radiant blend of fantasy, romance, wit and humor. It provides matters for everyone. For the simple, it provides the stock ingredients of romance: a handsome well-mannered young hero, two disguised princesses to be wooed and wed, and a banished, virtuous Duke to be restored to his rightful throne. For the sophisticated, it propounds a question which is left to answer “How Like You this shepherd's life, Master Touchstone?” asks Corin, and receives a fool’s answer: Truly shepherd in respect of itself it is a good life; but in respect that it is shepherd's life, it is naught. The pastoral romance of princesses playing at being a shepherd boy and his sister is combined with the pastoral love-eclogue in the wooing of Phebe. There is burlesque in the wooing of Audrey. For the learned and literary this is one of Shakespeare's most allusive play. Then there are the songs. The forest is foil of music. And there is spectacle: a wrestling match to delight lovers of sport. There are rituals like the procession with the deer. Finally, there is the Masque of Hymen to end the whole with courtly grace and dignity.

      So there is God’s plenty. There is comedy and romance, there are hatred and malice, love and devotion quarrels as well as reconciliations, intrigue as well as repentance, parting followed by reunion, banishment followed by restoration. There are various scenes of life.....court sylvan and pastoral. Shakespeare sketches all these and leaves the choice to his audience. “Take it As You Like It, in whatever way it may please you.”

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