As You Like It

“A comedy (c. 1600) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The story is based on Rosalynde: Euphue’s Golden Legacy (1590), a romance by Thomas Lodge (1557-1625), although the clown touchstone and the gloomy philosopher Jaques are purely Shakespeare’s inventions. Orlando is forced to flee the court of the usurping Duke Frederick. He takes refuge in the forest of Arden, where the usurping Duke and his followers are now living. Rosalind, the daughter of the usurped Duke is also obliged to flee, having previously fallen in love with Orlando (and he with her). Disguised as the youth Ganymede, she befriends Orlando and encourages him to practice his wooing of Rosalind on him (i.e. Ganymede). There are certain complications, involving various other sets of lovers. In the end, all is revealed, four pairs of lovers marry and Frederick the usurper surrenders the dukedom to its rightful owner.

The title indicates the playwright’s desire to please with his offering. At the end, Rosalind addresses the audience directly:

‘I charge you, O woman, 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.’           V. iv, Epilogue

‘What You Will,’ the subtitle of Twelfth Night, has an equivalent implication. Similar epilogues, asking the audience for their approbation and indulgence, were something of a theatrical convention at the time; for example, at the end of The Tempest Prospero speaks the epilogue, ending:

‘As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.’        V. i, Epilogue

There is another example in All’s Well that Ends Well.

There have been two film versions of As You Like It. The 1936 version includes Laurence Olivier in the cast, and J.M. Barrie co-wrote the screenplay. The 1992 version turns the Forest of Arden into a London ‘cardboard city’ for the homeless.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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