Love’s Labor’s Lost
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST
The Princess demonstrates her wit in an exchange with a forester during their hunting. Costard brings the letter to Rosaline, but the expected letter mix-up doesn’t matter much ultimately. Boyet immediately sees that this letter is addressed to Jaquenetta, so the mistake is immediately noted, but the Princess wants him to read it aloud anyway. Armado is at his idiotic, long-winded best in this prose epistle. Oxford’s self-mocking is carried out by Boyet here (IV.i.60f) and involves the words “fair” and “true” (Ogburn and Ogburn 912).
Boyet teases Rosaline, the intended recipient, and Costard is amused by apparently smutty dialogue between Boyet and Maria.
The reference to “A phantasime, a Monarcho” (IV.i.101) concerns “a harmless Italian madman who was tolerated at Elizabeth’s court because he was found to be amusing” in the 1570s (Asimov 432). There may have been a jester named after him also (Ogburn and Ogburn 196).
Dull, Holofernes the pedant or schoolmaster, and Nathaniel the curate speak at cross-purposes with their individual butcherings and idiosyncrasies of language. Holofernes especially is a real piece of work, sprinkling his utterances with Latin phrasings and thesaurus lists. He’s what our parents worry we’ll turn out like after we’ve gone off to college. Holofernes and Nathaniel “exemplify the intellectual sterility that will result if the lords’ determination is taken to excess” (Wells 59).
Holofernes is “named for Gargantua’s Latin tutor in Rabelais” (Bloom 132). “The descendants of Holofernes, endearingly absurd, were once to be found profusely on academic faculties, and I have a certain nostalgia for them, as they did no harm” (Bloom 132). The name appears originally in the apocryphal Book of Judith but the point would seem to be merely its obscurity (Asimov 433). Holofernes is “a most unbearable pedant, whose speech consists half of Latin and who spends all his time nit-picking the English language. He is a satire on what learning can come to if it is carried to extremes without even a modicum of good sense to go along with all the education” (Asimov 433). Punning on words connected to Leicester occur here (IV.ii.57f): “pricket” and “sorel” — since the city of Leicester is on the river Soar (Ogburn and Ogburn 206, 613, 683).
Although the London-born Italian scholar John Florio has been suggested as the inspiration for Holofernes (Asimov 433), it has been suggested that Holofernes may be a lampooning of Cambridge don Gabriel Harvey, nicknamed Hobbinol in Spenser’s 1579 Shepheardes Calender, a guy who began as respectful of Oxford but involved himself in the Leicester-Sidney faction at court and ended up mocking Oxford as an Italianate Englishman in 1580’s Speculum Tuscanismi (Farina 52-53; cf. Miller 139, 158; Ogburn and Ogburn 193). Harvey seems to have been somewhat deficient in a sense of humor and was probably hurt by the portrayal (Ogburn and Ogburn 180). The prototype for Nathaniel may have be Nathaniel Woods, minister in Norwich (Ogburn and Ogburn 180) or initially William of Orange (Clark 200ff). And in the much later revision, Holofernes may have become Chapman (Ogburn and Ogburn 893; see II.i.13f).
Jaquenetta asks Holofernes to read a letter for her: a sonnet actually by Berowne and intended for Rosaline. Holofernes pooh-poohs the work, has it delivered to the King, and promises to bend Nathaniel’s ear back at dinner blabbing about the rhetorical merits and shortcomings of the letter.
Holofernes exemplifies the sterility of extreme academic intellectuality. An expert on linguistics and rhetoric, he cannot even communicate. He peruses a forbidden love-letter and can see only literary style in need of evaluation. By contrast, Dull is phlegmatic, but somewhat eloquent in his silence.
Berowne reads an agonizing letter he has written about being in love. When the King enters, Berowne hides and hears the King reading from his own love letter. Then the King hides when Longaville enters, and so on with Dumaine, whose ode is “a little lacking in the ocular obsession” (Bloom 128). There is much “noting” here obviously. One by one, all are exposed as vow-breakers. An exchange about galloping and posting relates to Jerome Horsey, English envoy to Russia from 1573 to 1591 (Greenhill 17).
After getting on his high horse about the others, Berowne has the added humiliation of Costard and Jaquenetta appearing with the misdirected letter he had written already. Berowne takes a ribbing about the “darkness” of his love interest, Rosaline. A reference to “dun” (IV.iii.196) — the name of Oxford’s great grandfather — appears with a nearby anagram for “a drama dio” (Ogburn and Ogburn 197). The King requests that Berowne drum up some sophistry that will let them weasel out of their vows, and he complies, reasoning that wooing is a form of study. (Some repetition in the speech suggest that one passage should have been cancelled as Shakespeare revised.) “And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Make heaven drowsy with the harmony” (IV.iii.341-342).
At least the heroes are not deceived by their own cleverness. Dumaine and Longaville write fairly conventional tributes, Dumaine’s “an ode a little lacking in the ocular obsession” (Bloom 128). Navarre out-Donnes Donne in a metaphysical conceit of a lover’s tear. Multiple eavesdroppings means the stage is used as place for hide-and-seek, not just as a platform for witty exchanges. They are too good-humored to resent being spied on by each other. They are summoned to the hunt of love with Berowne’s chop-logic justification of their vow-breaking — done on demand. “In an extraordinarily beautiful and rhetorically powerful speech, Berowne find a way of rephrasing the vows the lovers have taken, locating the true ‘academe’ inside human love and passion rather than beyond it. Love is the best tutor, for moral as well as for aesthetic education” (Garber 180). In one of Berowne’s statements (IV.iii.335-336), “the familiar theme of losing oneself to find oneself resonates” (Garber 181). That one passage repeats (IV.iii.315-351 = 294-314) suggests unpolished revision (Ogburn and Ogburn 183).
Was Berowne’s tirade on education and women’s eyes added later? It contains repetitions and seems so superior to all else in play. It’s intended seriously, says Goddard, since it ties into Troilus and Cressida and other plays. The tirade is a balanced philosophy of yin and yang, but more so a parody of male triumphalism. And “outrageous narcissism” is celebrated by Berowne (Bloom 129). “Berowne’s passion is individualized only by its ruefulness, which is suitable, since his Rosaline is the thorniest of the four resistent noblewomen” (Bloom 134).