What does Shakespeare's title As You Like It mean or refer to?
Shakespeare's As You Like It was written as a representation of a very popular pastoral novel also written and published in Shakespeare's time. The play is a representation of Thomas Lodge's novel, Rosalynde. Not only was the novel popular, the entire pastoral literary genre was very popular and dated back all way back to Ancient Greek and Roman literature. However, Shakespeare's play is a bit more than just a representation of the popular novel; it also serves to satirize certain conventions within the pastoral genre. While the fun, festive, comic spirit of Shakespeare's play does not show that he disapproves of the genre entirely, some of the comic elements certainly do point to problems within the genre. Literary critic Kenneth Muir points out that some fellow critics have argued that the title As You Like It, with an emphasis on you--meaning you, the audience and your tastes--serves to show that Shakespeare disapproves of his audience's tastes in the pastoral genre. However, Muir himself argues that Shakespeare was not showing total disapproval for the pastoral genre, but rather taking an interpretation of the pastoral genre and using it for "his own dramatic purposes," such as pointing out the weaknesses as well as the virtues in the genre (Muir, "As You Like It"). All in all, the title As You Like It serves to refer to relative taste preferences.
Muir points out that Shakespeare's play refers to and pokes fun of many different conventions that would be found in typical pastoral literature, conventions that fans of the genre would particularly like. One example is the convention of the shepherd, such as Silvius, who falls madly in love with a shepherdess that cruelly rejects him, such as Phebe. However, beyond using Silvius and Phebe to illustrate this popular convention, Shakespeare also twists the convention to his advantage by having Phebe fall in love with Rosalind as Ganymede who is able to con Phebe into promising to marry Silvius, creating a happy ending. The happy unity of Silvius and Phebe, which wouldn't have otherwise been present in the genre, also helps to show just how ridiculous the popular convention really is, a convention that fans would nevertheless admire.
A second convention that Shakespeare debunks is the notion that pastoral life is some form of utopia. Shakespeare especially uses Jaques to illustrate this point. It is Jaques who points out that even life in the forest is corrupt when he points out how villainous it is of man to kill animals in the woods simply because they need food, thereby usurping the animals of their peaceful life in the forest, as we see in his lines:
... swearing that we
Are mere usurpers, tyrants and what's worse,
To fright up the animals and to kill them up
In their assign'd and native dwelling-place. (II.i.60-63)
However, at the end of the play, even melancholy Jaques receives healing from the forest and decides to stay there to learn the ways of the religious man who transformed Duke Frederick, rather than return to society. This ironic ending for Jaques serves to show that, while Shakespeare may be pointing out some of the ridiculousness of the pastoral genre, he is also using the enjoyable parts of the genre to please his audience, because it is "as [they] like it."