A Critical Analysis of the Title of William Shakespeare’s Play As You Like It

As You Like It is a light-hearted comedy which appeals to the readers at all stages and all in lighter moods. It pleases some by its idyllic romance, others by its optimistic philosophy of simple goodness, and yet others by its cynical ironies. Indeed you can take this as you like it.” G. B. Harrison {ed. Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952 (Page 776).}

It is always seen that the titles of the plays of Shakespeare are less significant than the plays themselves. However, while analyzing the title of As You Like It, it can be said that Shakespeare uses this title in a spirit of playfulness. On the other hand, he seems to be saying in a lighthearted vein to his audiences, “here is something to your own taste.” Indeed title promises entertainments and heartiest delight and solicits the approval of the audiences. Most interestingly, the title suggests not merely the theme of the play but also the attitude towards the play. It also reminds up the subtitle of his play Twelfth Night ‘what you will’. Again it looks that the title was probably suggested by a play in Lodge’s preface to his novel, Rosalynde, particularly epistle dedicatory “to the gentlemen readers”. However the significance of the title is apparent from the epilogue in As You Like It :
 “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.”

The title was particularly suited to the do-as-you please atmosphere of the Forest of Arden, a place where different kinds of persons go about happily seeking their own different kinds of satisfaction. The title refers to the carefree life of the Arden forest where each one is at liberty to live as he pleases and what he desires. This far from this material world of ‘sick hurry and divided aims’, the beautiful and romantic forest of Arden becomes a favorite haunt for love- the likes of everybody. There are merry notes unto the sweet birds’ throat.

 Alike the dreamland in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the magic Island in The Tempest or Elyria in Twelfth Night ,Arden in As You Like It is saturated by love and love pairs. The amorous lovers in the scene are Rosalind-Orlando, Celia-Oliver, Phebe-Silvius, and Audrey-Touchstone etc.   Love comes to fruition and comedy ends with the ringing of marriage bells. Love is life's greatest joy and greatest healer. Romantic, brotherly, and humanitarian love all bring great joy to the major characters in the play after they abandon their ill feelings for one another and open their hearts. Moreover, the natural settings of the Forest of Arden make them do, as they like. Not only the love affairs but also the laughter arising out of the witty humorous dialogue makes the play entertaining and likable. Rosalind’s remarks are most brilliant and amusing. Celia is witty and then of course Touchstone who pokes fun at almost everything and everybody. The disguised episode helps the audience to understand lovers’ intensity and buffoonery.        

As You Like It
Shakespeare tries to please his audiences with their likes in certain make up of the plot. Thus, the presentation of the conflicts as well as the use of Rosalind's disguise to create suspense takes place quickly in the play. The audiences can then settle back and delight in the complications that follow. Overall, the plot structure moves along smoothly and plausibly, with Rosalind an appealing, well-developed character controlling the direction of the story. However, the change of heart of the two villains, Oliver and Duke Frederick, seems contrived and forced. Oliver reforms, heartily contrite, after his brother Orlando saves him from a lion. Then, Orlando's other brother, Jacques de Boys, pops up from nowhere in Act V to tell us that an "old religious man" has converted Duke Frederick, turning him into an upright man who has yielded his crown to his banished brother, Duke Senior.                                                                                              

The title also strikes the chord of the play As You Like It. Shakespeare’s purpose is not to write it for the didactic purpose. The play is not a problem, a moral tract and least of all an advice. The duke’s cheerfulness under adversity, Oliver’s banishment order after Orlando’s exit, the conversation of the ushering duke, the general triumph of love and reconciliation over revenge and hate –all bear the unmistakable stamp of moralities. However, Shakespeare does not proceed to tease humankind and this desire is suggested by the title As You Like It.      

Ardhendu De                        


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