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).
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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)