A Study Guide
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Make rich the ribs, but bankrupt quite the wits. (1. 1. 27-29)........Dumain then signs the contract, declaring To love, to wealth, to pomp, I pine and die (1. 1. 33). Berowne, however, balks at the strictness of the contract. First, it forbids all discourse with women. Next, it requires the four men to fast one day a week and eat but one meal on the other days. Finally, it dictates that they may sleep no more than three hours a night. But after the king tells Berowne their study time will yield hidden pearls of knowledge, Berowne, too, signs the contract.
........One of its conditionsthe prohibition of womenapplies to every man in the service of the king, not just to the king and his three fellow scholars. The only diversion they will have from their studies will be provided by the kings clown, Costard, and a Spanish knight, Don Adriano de Armado. The king says Don Adriano knows many entertaining tales and has a way with words. In truth, though, Don Adriano is little more than a pompous buffoon who cannot even out-duel his own page, Moth, in a battle of wits (1. 2. 3-69). (Don Adriano appears to symbolize King Philip of Spain and his vaunted Armada, which was defeated by the English in 1588. Through Adriano, Shakespeare pokes fun at Philip.
........After the contract takes effect, Costard violates it by wooing a comely maid named Jaquenetta. Don Adriano, who has seen them together on the grounds of the kings estate, tattles on Costard in a letter to the king. Adriano isnt just trying to be a good citizen; hes trying to save Jaquenetta for himself. He loves her with a passion that has driven him to poetry. Costard is taken into custody and sentenced to a diet of bran and water for one week.
........Soon thereafter, the beautiful Princess of France arrives at Navarre on a diplomatic mission in which she and the king are to discuss a financial matterspecifically, whether France owes Navarre money, as the king contends, or whether France has already paid the debt, as the princess contends. In her entourage are three lovely attendants: Rosaline, Maria and Katherine. Because the contract among the men forbids interaction with women, the king lodges the ladies in a tent in the park of his palace estate. However, once the king sees the princess, he immediately falls for her. At the same time, his three companions also take a tumble: Berowne for Rosaline, Dumain for Katherine, and Longaville for Maria. Love now usurps the throne of Navarre. Scholarly pursuit has become an ugly hag with a wart on her nose.
........Meanwhile, Don Adriano frees Costard and gives him three farthings to deliver a love letter and a poem to Jaquenetta. Berowne gets in on the act, giving Costard a letter and poem for Rosaline. Costard, who is small of brain, delivers Jaquenettas letter to the princess, telling her it is for Rosaline; Rosalines letter goes to Jaquenetta. The princess, who is hunting deer with the other ladies, tells her male attendant, Boyet, to open the letter. Before he does, he notices it is addressed to Jaquenetta, not Rosaline. The princess then tells him to read it anyway. It praises Jaquenetta with bloated prose and imagery, as well as Latin phrases, and the princess mocks the author, Don Adriano. When Jaquenetta, who is illiterate, receives the letter to Rosaline, she takes it to Sir Nathaniel, the local parson, to read it for her. Sir Nathaniel is in the company of Holofernes, a know-it-all schoolteacher. When Sir Nathaniel reads the letter, Holofernes realizes it is not meant for Jaquenetta and tells her to take it to the king. After all, such a brazen love poem violates the first rule of the contract: that no man should communicate with women.
........But, by this time, the king and his three lords are all writing and reciting love poetry about their ladies fair. When the king and the three lords overhear one another reciting the poetry, they chide one another in turn for breaking their vow. However, Berowne concludes that it was wrong to take the vow, for it was against nature. Longaville then proposes that they woo the women, and the king replies that they should not only woo but also win them.
........The four men send the ladies gifts and poems that heap lavish praises upon them. The princess and her attendants think the attentions they are receiving are silly and excessive, and they make sport of the poetry. The princess, highly intelligent as well as beautiful, observes, We are wise girls to mock our lovers so (5. 2. 62).
........Boyet interrupts the conversation to report that he overhead the men planning a mischief: They will come to the ladies disguised as Russians with a page who has mastered a Russian accent. The princess then decides that the ladies should wear disguises of their own to confuse the men. Their scheme succeeds, for everybody ends up with the wrong partner. When the men later return without their disguises, the women tease them about the foolish Russians who had been there earlier, then reveal that they knew of the mens masquerade all along.
........More merriment takes place, including the Pageant of the Nine Worthies,1 starring Costard, Sir Nathaniel, Holofernes, Armado, and others. During the presentation, the nobles heckle the actors: Costard, portraying Pompey the Great; Nathaniel, portraying Alexander the Great; Moth, portraying baby Hercules killing the serpents in his crib; Holofernes, portraying Judas Maccabeus; and Don Adriano, portraying the Trojan hero Hector. Costard ad-libs in one scene, revealing that Jaquenetta is quick (5. 2. 680) by Don Adrianothat is, pregnant. Costard and Armado then begin fighting over Jaquenetta.
........Just as a duel appears imminent, the princess receives news from France from a messenger, Mercadé, that her father, the king, has died. A pall of silence falls over the gathering. The princess then announces that she and her entourage must return to France. Before the ladies quit Ferdinands court, the men all make a last-minute plea for the hands of their loves and ask them to remain at court. The princessaware that the men have broken a vow and concerned that their love might be mere infatuationsays the king and his friends have been pleasant company, providing the ladies much merriment. However, she says that she and the other women will not entertain proposals until after the men discipline themselves in worthy pursuits lasting fully a year.
........Ferdinand is to spend the year in a hermitage. Berowne, who has always been quick to engage in jest and laugh at others, must make the rounds of hospitals, there to provoke patients to laughter. Dumain and Longaville must spend the year tempering their characters, becoming thoughtful and mature. Don Adriano de Armado makes a promise of his own, telling King Ferdinand , I have vowed to Jaquenetta to hold the plough for her sweet love three years (5. 2. 870). Holofernes, Sir Nathaniel, Costard, and the other actors from the pageant then present a song about spring and winter. Don Adriano speaks the last line of the play, You that waywe this way.
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Plot Summaries of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background | Glossaries
Protagonists: King Ferdinand, the Princess of France (They Dictate and Control the Destiny of the Other Lovers)
Antagonists: The Immaturity of the Men, the Wise Reluctance of the Women to Believe in Love at First Sight
Ferdinand: King of Navarre, who woos the princess of France.
Princess of France: Beautiful woman who captures the heart of the King of Navarre but tells him at the end of the play that he must spend a year in a hermitage before she will marry him.
Biron (Berowne): Lord at Ferdinand's court. Biron loves Rosaline.
Rosaline: Lady attending the Princess of France.
Longaville: Lord at Ferdinand's court. Longaville loves Maria.
Maria: Lady attending the Princess of France.
Dumain: Lord at Ferdinand's court. Dumain loves Katherine.
Katherine: Lady attending the Princess of France.
Don Adriano de Armado: Pretentious and long-winded knight who loves Jaquenetta with a passion. He appears to symbolize King Philip II of Spain and the Spanish Armada (hence the name de Armado). See Theme 3, below.
Jaquenetta: Comely country wench loved by Don Adriano.
Boyet: Lord attending the princess of France.
Sir Nathaniel: Curate (or parson).
Holofernes: Know-it-all schoolmaster.
Costard: Clown (jester).
Moth: Page to Armado.
Mercadé: French lord who brings sad news to the Princess of France.
Forester: Man who accompanies the Princess of France on a deer hunt.
Other Lords, Attendants
The action takes place in Navarre (Spanish, Navarra), originally a region in northern Spain and southern France (département of Basses-Pyrénées). At one time, Navarre was a kingdom. In 1515, Spain annexed most of Navarre; in 1589, France annexed the rest of the kingdom. The capital of present-day Navarre is Pamplona, on the Arga River, founded by the ancient Roman general Pompey the Great. The area was later occupied by Visigoths and Moors. Pamplona is famous for the Festival of St. Fermin (July 6-14), in which a chief attraction is encierrothe running of bulls each morning through the streets of the city.
The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Love's Labour's Lost occurs, according to both definitions, in Act V, Scene II, when the four women reject the love suits of the four men. Up to this moment, the women have regarded the antics of the king and his comrades as amusing flirtations and the king's realm as almost a chimerical world, although the men may have thought otherwise. Then Mercadé's announcement that the father of the princess has died jolt's everyone back to reality. When the princess decides to leave immediately for France and the men importune her and the other ladies to remain, pledging their love, the princess recites the climactic passage:
..............We have received your letters full of love;
..............Your favours, the ambassadors of love;
..............And, in our maiden council, rated them
..............At courtship, pleasant jest and courtesy,
..............As bombast and as lining to the time:
..............But more devout2than this in our respects
..............Have we not been; and therefore met your loves
..............In their own fashion, like a merriment. (5. 2. 761-794)
That she would call their letters and their favours "bombast" and their wooing mere "merriment" sobers the men, who have been acting with the immaturity of college students on a spring break, and prepares them for the year-long test they must undergo to prove that their love is genuine.
True love must be tested in the crucible of time. The princess and her company of ladies find their wooers entertaining, but they do not commit to a relationship with them immediately. Wisely, they realize that true love does not strike like lightning but instead develops over time, like a rose growing from seed to full bloom. At the end of the play, they tell the men that they must wait and undergo tests to prove that their love is not mere infatuation. In this respect, these ladies contrast with other Shakespeare heroines, such as Rosalind (As You Like It), Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Hero (Much Ado About Nothing), who all fall in love at first sight and never doubt their feelings or the intentions of their lovers.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. This paraphrase from the Bible (Matthew 26: 40-41) aptly sums up the state of mind of the king and his three compatriots. For a moment, they become idealistic scholars who renounce the world and its pleasures. But the princess and her companions bring them down from the rarefied clime of academe to the sensual world of perfume and feminine beauty.
Love of learning cannot vie with love of a man for a woman. This theme is a variation of the second theme. King Ferdinand and his compatriots decide to isolate themselves for three years to study great books and great ideas, vowing that they will keep no company with women during this period. However, when beautiful women arrive on a diplomatic mission, the men immediately forswear their oaths.
Spain's King Philip II is a pompous bumbler. In 1588, Philip attacked England with his supposedly invincible Armada but was soundly defeated by a smaller English force. In the play, Philip and his Armadaand all of the high hopes for itbecome Don Adriano de Armado (Armada), a pretentious aristocrat who is thwarted in his verbal forays by his lowly page, Moth, and in his wooing by the illiterate Jaquenetta, a country girl.
Key Dates and Sources
Date Written: Probably 1594, just before Shakespeare's thirtieth birthday. However, it could have been written a few years earlier or even a few years later.
Probable Main Sources: Not established. Shakespeare may have based his plot on ideas in L'Académie Françoise (1577), by Pierre de la Primaudaye, about a society of scholars. He may also have drawn upon Endimion, by John Lyly (1554-1606).
Number of Words in Complete Public-Domain Text: 22,994
Love's Labour's Lost is a romance comedy that evidence indicates was probably first performed in December of 1597 at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, although G.B. Harrison notes that the New Cambridge Shakespeare says: "In our opinion its first performance had Christmas 1593 for date and for place some great private house, possibly the Earl of Southampton's" (Shakespeare: The Complete
Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952. Page 395). If the play was performed before the queen in 1597, an intriguing question for scholars might center on how the queen responded to the performance. When she viewed it, she would have been 64 and, of course, still a spinster. She had had many opportunities to marryfor love, for political advantage, for who knows how many other reasonsbut seized
upon none of them. She died in 1603, still unmarried. All of love's labours showered on herand all of love's labours she showered on otherswere lost.
Mercadés announcement that the father of the princess has died presents the main charactersand the audiencewith a dramatic, unexpected turn of events. The announcement curtails the jollity the little courtship games played by Ferdinand and his comrades with the princess and her ladies. It also enables Shakespeare to present an unconventional ending in which boy does not get girl. However, Shakespeare leaves room for hope that the men and their ladies will eventually reunite. A startling turn of events in a play, when successful, is called a coup de théâtre. This French term is also used to refer to an exceptional play or performance.
Shakespeare wrote Loves Labours Lost early in his career (about 1594), when he was concerned more with words than with characters. Consequently, the play abounds in repartee, epigrams, rhyming lines, and other devices, including the following:Pun
A pun is a play on words. In the following passage, the princess prepares to hunt deer at the edge of a wood while a forester tells her where to position herself to make the fairest shoot, a phrase which the princess repeats playfully in reference to herself.
FORESTER Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice;3
A stand where you may make the fairest shoot
PRINCESS I thank my beauty, I am fair that shoot,
And thereupon thou speakst the fairest shoot. (4. 1. 11-14)
Two Characters Speaking in Rhyme
One Character (Princess) Speaking in Rhyme
Sung Poetry That Rhymes
1. Which character in the play is the most admirable? Which is the least admirable?
1. Nine worthies: Nine heroes whom writers in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance lionized as exemplary leaders for their military ....exploits and chivalric qualities. They include three pagan heroes: the mythological Trojan warrior Hector, the Macedonian general ....Alexander the Great, and
the Roman general Julius Caesar; three Old Testament Jewish heroes: Joshua, David, and Judas ....Maccabaeus (also spelled Maccabeus); and three European Christian heroes: the legendary King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of ....Bouillon.
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