Love's Labor's Lost

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The Nine Worthies Symbol Analysis

The Nine Worthies Symbol Icon
In Act Five, Scene Two, Armado puts on a performance of the Nine Worthies, a pageant showing nine famous men from mythology, history, and the Bible. These men—such as Pompey and Alexander the Great—are exemplary ideals of masculinity in their strength, bravery, and military prowess. The actual performance of the Nine Worthies is somewhat farcical, though, as those playing the nine heroes fall pathetically short of their roles. The Nine Worthies can thus be seen as symbolizing the ideal masculine gender roles that the actual men of the play aspire to but comically fail to live up to. Additionally, the performance provides a valuable way to test the intelligence of various characters of the play. For example, Boyet, Berowne, and Dumaine mix up Holofernes’ character Judas Maccabaeus (of the Old Testament) with Judas Iscariot, who betrays Jesus in the New Testament. Finally, as a play within the play, the pageant can be seen as a microcosm of the performance of Love’s Labor’s Lost itself (and its heckling audience could even be Shakespeare’s nod toward the rowdy theater audiences of his day).

The Nine Worthies Quotes in Love's Labor's Lost

The Love's Labor's Lost quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Nine Worthies. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Love's Labor's Lost published in 2005.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

I will hereupon confess I am in love; and as it is base for a soldier to love, so am I in love with a base wench. . . . I think scorn to sigh; methinks I should outswear Cupid. Comfort me, boy. What great men have been in love?

Related Characters: Armado (speaker), Jacquenetta
Related Symbols: The Nine Worthies
Page Number: 1.2.57-65
Explanation and Analysis:

Armado and his page Mote begin this scene with an exchange of wits, discussing the nature of melancholy and the predicament of studying with King Ferdinand for three years. Here, Armado confesses that he is in love with a woman named Jacquenetta. He describes this woman as "a base wench" whom he seems to wish he did not love in the first place. He believes it is "base" for him to be in love, and believes that love is dangerous since it takes away his self-control.

Armado also feels emasculated by his love, thinking it makes him weak and less of a man. Here, love is dangerous, unwieldy, womanly, and unwanted. Wishing to feel better, he asks his page to remind him of the "great men" of history who have previously been in love. He believes that thinking of these great men will help him, since it will signal that even masculine heroes feel love. The two then discuss these great men, a scene which seems to look forward to the play's exploration of the Nine Worthies in later acts. 


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Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

Now step I forth to whip hypocrisy.
Ah, good my liege, I pray thee pardon me.
Good heart, what grace hast thou thus to reprove
These worms for loving, that art most in love?
. . .
O, what a scene of fool’ry have I seen,
Of sighs, of groans, of sorrow, and of teen!
O me, with what strict patience have I sat,
To see a king transformed to a gnat!
To see great Hercules whipping a gig,
And profound Solomon to tune a jig,
And Nestor play at pushpin with the boys,
And critic Timon laugh at idle toys.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Ferdinand
Related Symbols: The Nine Worthies
Page Number: 4.3.158-178
Explanation and Analysis:

Ferdinand is scolding Dumaine and Longaville for violating their oaths, but Berowne, who has been hiding, knows that Ferdinand has also violated the oath. Here, he comes out of hiding to "whip hypocrisy" and criticize the King and his other friends. He asks Ferdinand how he can call out Dumaine and Longaville for loving when he himself is in love as well.

In the second part excerpted, Berowne speaks of the foolishness he sees in the other men, saying that until now he has sat patiently. But now he has seen "a king transformed to a gnat," and "great Hercules whipping a gig," as well as other historical figures acting ridiculously. By comparing them to great, heroic men in pitiful states, Berowne suggests that love has made Ferdinand, Longaville, Dumaine act like fools and hypocrites. Of course, the irony here is thick, as we know that Berowne himself is in love too! Just as he tells them he feels betrayed, Costard and Jacquenetta will enter and reveal that Berowne, too, is in love and has broken the oath.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

The very all of all is—but sweetheart, I do implore secrecy—that the King would have me present the Princess, sweet chuck, with some delightful ostentation, or show, or pageant, or antic, or firework.
. . .
Sir, you shall present before her the Nine Worthies.
. . .
Where will you find men worthy enough to present them?

Related Characters: Armado (speaker), Holofernes (speaker), Nathaniel (speaker), The Princess of France
Related Symbols: The Nine Worthies
Page Number: 5.1.109-125
Explanation and Analysis:

After failing to present himself as intellectual, Armado tells Holofernes and Nathaniel that Ferdinand is planning on making some sort of theatrical production to impress the Princess. This production (or "delightful ostentation, or show, or pageant, or antic, or firework") will make a play within the play, and will mirror and (self-ironically) mock Love's Labor's Lost itself. Armado asks what he should prepare and present.

Holofernes suggests that they present "the Nine Worthies," a pageant of nine famous, heroic men from ancient and Biblical to medieval times. This production follows the pattern which has developed in the play, where men, feeling self-conscious or emasculated by love, remind themselves of the great men of history and lore who have loved before them. Nathaniel then asks where they will ever find men "worthy enough" to play the Nine Worthies, prompting Holofernes to cast himself, Armado, Nathaniel, Costard, and Mote in the play, noting that he will play three parts himself. This production is ultimately a hysterical failure which prompts the women to say that, of course, these men were not worthy to portray the Worthies.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

Judas I am—

A Judas!

Not Iscariot, sir.
Judas I am, yclept Maccabaeus.

Judas Maccabaeus clipped is plain Judas.

A kissing traitor.—How art thou proved Judas?

Judas I am—

The more shame for you, Judas.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Dumaine (speaker), Holofernes (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Nine Worthies
Page Number: 5.2.662-670
Explanation and Analysis:

The presentation of the Nine Worthies - a play within the play- is underway, and it is going terribly. Here Holofernes enters as Judas Maccabeus, a famous leader from the Old Testament, but introduces himself only with "Judas I am." This introduction allows Dumaine to make fun of Holofernes, shouting out "A Judas!" and implying that Holofernes is playing Judas Iscariot, the famous traitor to Jesus in the New Testament. Though he tries to correct Dumaine, Holofernes is interrupted again with the assertion that Judas without Maccabeus is definitely the other Judas, and Berowne interjects that he must be a "kissing traitor" (as Judas Iscariot famously betrayed Jesus with a kiss).

This interaction is a prime example of how poorly the presentation of the Nine Worthies is orchestrated, and the continual need of the male characters to assert their wit. The women, who already know that they have the superior wits, tend to wait for the actors to finish before interjecting their ironic praises and jokes.

God save you, madam.

Welcome, Marcade,
But that thou interruptest our merriment.

I am sorry, madam, for the news I bring
Is heavy in my tongue. The King your father—

Dead, for my life.

Even so. My tale is told.

Worthies away! The scene begins to cloud.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), The Princess of France (speaker), Monsieur Marcade (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Nine Worthies
Page Number: 5.2.790-797
Explanation and Analysis:
Everyone has become completely captivated by the play and their desire to enjoy its humor. Costard and Armado are preparing to duel, and the audience members (within the play) are joking that the characters which Costard and Armado are playing are going to fight. But Marcade suddenly interrupts the pure merriment and comedic high point with a more serious, tragic note: the King of France (the Princess's father) is dead. We can note that before he can say this news, the Princess prophetically predicts that he is "dead, for my life." Upon this knowledge, Berowne ends the play within the play and banishes the actors with "Worthies away! The scene begins to cloud." This line can be seen as meta-theatric, as the very scene in Love's Labor's Lost has become clouded with bad news and the introduction of a tragic element. Here we also begin to get the indication that this play will not end in the classic comedic form of happy marriages with all loose ends tied up.
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The Nine Worthies Symbol Timeline in Love's Labor's Lost

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Nine Worthies appears in Love's Labor's Lost. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 5, Scene 1
Men and Women Theme Icon
Work, Pleasure, and Comedy Theme Icon
Armado asks Holofernes what he should perform, and Holofernes suggests “the Nine Worthies ,” a pageant of nine famous men from ancient and biblical to medieval times. He... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Intelligence Theme Icon
Work, Pleasure, and Comedy Theme Icon
Costard arrives, asking whether it is time for the performance of the Nine Worthies . He, however, calls it the “three Worthies,” to the confusion of Berowne. Costard explains... (full context)
Work, Pleasure, and Comedy Theme Icon
...he has unfortunate news: her father has died. Berowne tells all the actors of the Nine Worthies to leave, and says that “the scene begins to cloud.” Armado and Costard leave. The... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Work, Pleasure, and Comedy Theme Icon
...there was supposed to be a song at the end of the performance of the Nine Worthies , and Ferdinand tells him to perform the song now. (full context)