As far as is known, the plays we watch penned by Shakespeare do not have the titles which Shakespeare gave them. In fact, Shakespeare might not have had any titles for his plays.
The titles we are used to are often bluntly straight forward: Hamlet; Macbeth; Henry Six Part Two; Henry Six Part Three. Happily, there is certainly a ring to Much Ado About Nothing.
Kafka was also not much concerned with titles (he was not much concerned with even finishing his novels). His famous Amerika was actually entitled The Man Who Disappeared. His friend Max Brod gave his works their titles.
Here is a list of famous titles and how they were chosen. [DE]
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The Fascinating Stories Behind Classic Book Titles
By Emily Temple
A book title can make a big difference. After all, as much as our mothers warned us against it, as humans we can never seem to help ourselves from judging books by their covers. And some book titles — whether we’ve read the attendant books or not — are just burned into our brains, ushered in by the collective consciousness. But how did they come to be? After the jump, a few of the fascinating stories behind the titles of classic books, sprung from poems, paintings, and saloon bathroom stalls. Hey, inspiration can come from anywhere.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee
Edward Albee found the title of his most famous work in the bathroom of a saloon in Greenwich Village in 1954. He explains, “I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.”