Love’s Labor’s Lost

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



The Princess of France with her three attending ladies — Rosaline, Maria, and Katherine — and three lords, one named Boyet (pronounced as a diminuative of “boy”), have come to negotiate the King of France’s debt of 100,000 crowns to Navarre, incurred when the current King of Navarre’s father spent that much in the wars. Navarre currently retains a portion of Aquitaine as equity for the loan. The Princess puts an end to Boyet’s flattery and sends him to Navarre since she knows about the Academe deal regarding women.

J. Thomas Looney and Oxfordians since have identified Boyet as a send-up of Philip Sidney (Farina 52), although Boyet as a “light-hearted caricature of Cecil” has also been put forth (Anderson 29). The phrase “a boy yet” occurs in The Merry Wives of Windsor (I.i.268) and seems pertinent to a Sidney identification (Ogburn and Ogburn 745), especially due to an odd mention of “carving” (Ogburn and Ogburn 200).For the women, the Princess seems to represent Queen Elizabeth largely. Rosaline seems to depict Anne Vavasour (Clark 192f; Ogburn and Ogburn 305, 899) — who was the Rosaline of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar (Ogburn and Ogburn 193). And Maria is Mary Hastings in the early 1590s revision of the play (Anderson 260).

The reference to the Duke of Alençon (II.i.61) is pertinent to the French court and relevant to the English (Asimov 429). “We are given a vivid impression — if not indeed a kind of fictional recapitulation — of the persiflage and banter in which Elizabeth and her court frequently indulged, such as could have been written only by a member of the coterie, himself a polished courtier” (Ogburn and Ogburn 180).

A slight prehistory is evident: the ladies are smitten with Navarre’s rather feckless lords — Maria with Longaville, Katherine with Dumaine, and Rosaline with Berowne. Boyet returns and says that Navarre is having them camp in the field rather than break his rules, so she’s pretty snippy with him when Navarre arrives. Berowne and Rosaline (the attribution of the lines to Katherine makes less sense) seem to have a sort of love/hate Benedick/Beatrice thing going, noticeable from the start at Berowne’s pick-up line, “Did not I dance with you at Brabant once?” (II.i.114). “Brabant was a duchy located in what is now central Belgium” (Asimov 429). It was also where Helene de Tournon died (Ogburn and Ogburn 195). “The essence of Berowne is in that insouciant line” (Bloom 124). Berowne and Rosaline “seem to have a prehistory that Shakespeare evades foregrounding except for a few delicious hints such as this, when they first meet in the play” (Bloom 124). And the other men are obviously smitten with the women who like them, although they individually have to solicit Boyet for the women’s names. After the visit, Boyet says that given the way Navarre was looking at the Princess, she should be able to get the Aquitaine back easily.

“‘All senses to that sense did make their repair’ [II.i.234] is a pithy summary of the erotic despotism of the male eye” (Bloom 127).