Love's Labor's Lost

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Themes and Colors
Love Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Work, Pleasure, and Comedy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Love's Labor's Lost, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Intelligence Theme Icon

Shakespeare’s play is filled with characters representing different kinds of learning, intelligence, and cleverness; and it tends to pit these different kinds of intelligence against each other. Characters repeatedly trade one-liners and clever quips in battles of the wits. Most of the wealthy, male characters exemplify traditional, formal education. Ferdinand and his men swear off of love, food, and sleep in order to devote themselves fully to study, seeing learning from books as the most important kind of intelligence. Somewhat similarly, the schoolteacher Holofernes and Nathaniel offer two more examples of traditional education, both of whom intersperse Latin phrases in their erudite speech. But they are also ridiculous characters; the play seems to poke fun at their overly pedantic conversations. Also, the clever page Mote is able to outwit them, and jokes that “they have been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps.”

As for Ferdinand and his lords, Berowne persuades them all when he argues that they can learn as much from love as from books. Importantly, as the oath at the beginning of the play illustrates, women are generally excluded from the limited model of traditional education. However, they are perhaps the most clever characters in the play, tricking the men by wearing masks and exchanging their identities, for example. The play thus raises serious doubts about the simplistic model of intelligence exemplified by Holofernes and idealized by Ferdinand. Holofernes and Ferdinand like to think of a particular kind of learning as real intelligence, but the play shows this to be only one kind of learning (and one that is more often than not simply used to assert social class and authority). Real intelligence isn’t necessarily learned from intense study or arcane scholarship, and can come from nobleman or commoner, man or woman.

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The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Intelligence appears in each scene of Love's Labor's Lost. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Intelligence Quotes in Love's Labor's Lost

Below you will find the important quotes in Love's Labor's Lost related to the theme of Intelligence.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Therefore, brave conquerors, for so you are,
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world’s desires,
Our late edict shall strongly stand in force.
Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.

Related Characters: Ferdinand (speaker), Berowne, Longaville, Dumaine
Page Number: 1.1.8-14
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines come from the play's opening speech, in which Ferdinand, King of Navarre, introduces his oath and his plan to devote three years time to study only. He invokes honor and fame, which will outlive them well beyond their deaths and the passage of time. Here, he refers to Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine as "brave conquerors" in "that war against [their] own affections / And the huge army of the world's desires."

The effort to conquer their own desires and affections hints at the contents of the king's "edict" which the men will all sign and agree to. This oath will be to devote three years only to the serious study of academics, with the purpose of making Navarre "the wonder of the world," and the court like "a little academe" (academic community). Ferdinand idealizes intelligence and places it as his highest priority. He swears to pursue intelligence and academics with a serious, solemn dedication, and appears to have no time for pleasure, play, or love. This intense plan to work is made more explicit by the specific contents of his oath, below.


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O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,
Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

Longaville and Dumaine agree to and sign the oath without revealing the exact contents; we only know it is a three-year fast during which they will live and study with Ferdinand. Berowne, though, says he has already sworn to the three years of study, and he doesn't want to swear to anything more, believing it to be too harsh. We then learn that the oath requires them not to see women during the three years, to fast one day out of every week, to eat one meal only on all other days, and to sleep but three hours each night.

Berowne says all of these requirements are too strict and "too hard to keep." He also ends in a rhyme, quickly re-summarizing the oath with "not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep." Note that his rhyme launches a pattern of rhyming that will continue for much of the remainder of the scene. The oath shows Ferdinand's view on women and work: women (and love) are a distraction to study, and discipline and diligence are required for excellence, intelligence, and achievement. Through his denial, we also learn that Berowne has a more relaxed worldview, and that even from the start of the play he desires the company of women (and the ability to nap during the day).

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

I do affect the very ground (which is base) where her shoe (which is baser) guided by her foot (which is basest) doth tread. I shall be forsworn (which is a great argument of falsehood) if I love. And how can that be true love which is falsely attempted? Love is a familiar; love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love, yet was Samson so tempted, and he had an excellent strength; yet was Solomon so seduced, and he had a very good wit. Cupid’s butt-shaft is too hard for Hercules’ club, and therefore too much odds for a Spaniard’s rapier. . . . Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise wit, write pen, for I am whole volumes in folio.

Related Characters: Armado (speaker), Jacquenetta
Page Number: 1.2.167-185
Explanation and Analysis:

Armado closes Act 1, Scene 2 with this soliloquy, in which he says he loves the very ground Jacquenetta steps on. He makes a play on base, saying that the ground is base, Jacquenetta's shoe is baser, and her foot is basest, using base both literally (low) and figuratively (inferior or bad). For Armado, love appears to be a negative experience. He says that if he really loves, he will be "forsworn" (a liar), and relates love to falsehood. Love, he says, is a devil.

He moves on, however, to remind himself of the strong men of history and and legend who have also loved, like Samson (who "had an excellent strength"), and King Solomon (who "had a very good wit"). Even the hero Hercules fell under Cupid's power. We can note that Armado must constantly reaffirm his manliness, his strength, and his intelligence, since he believes that love is a sign he is lacking in all three areas.

Moving from a devilish, false picture of love to masculine heroic love, Armado concludes with an apostrophe (a rhetorical call to someone who isn't present) to the gods of rhyme. Armado has been inspired by love to write poetry, saying that he will "turn sonnet." (A sonnet is an extremely popular form of love poem comprised of 14 lines—Shakespeare wrote and published many, and included some inside his plays). What's more, by the end of this speech, Armado himself has become a text: "I am whole volumes in folio." Armado takes many views on love, but ultimately concludes that love is rooted in language and poetry, and the possessive power of love is so great that he as a lover embodies whole volumes of poetry.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

If my observation, which very seldom lies,
By the heart’s still rhetoric, disclosed wi’ th’ eyes,
Deceive me not now, Navarre is infected.

With what?

With that which we lovers entitle “affected.”

Related Characters: The Princess of France (speaker), Boyet (speaker), Ferdinand
Page Number: 2.1.240-244
Explanation and Analysis:

The Princess of France has arrived with her attendants, Boyet, the only man in her company, and three ladies: Katherine, Rosaline, and Maria. Boyet is initially sent to court ahead, and Ferdinand and his men eventually greet the Princess and her ladies, apologizing that the women must sleep in the fields. Within the interaction the women display their dazzling, sharp wits, and the men all flirt. As they leave, each asks Boyet for one of the women's names.

After the departure of the men, the women begin making clever jokes with each other, but the Princess says they would make better use of their intelligence and gift of language in a "civil war of wits" with Ferdinand and his men. After this assertion, Boyet makes the observation quoted here. He says that, "by the heart's still rhetoric, disclosed wi' th' eyes... Navarre [Ferdinand] is infected." Here he touches on two tropes describing love: first, it is rooted in language and rhetoric. We have already seen this develop in Armado's thinking. Second, love is communicated and seen in the eyes.

To the suggestion Navarre is infected, the Princess responds with the simple, "with what?" Boyet responds by completing his wordplay: "With that which we lovers entitle "affected," meaning love. Thus Boyet suggests that Ferdinand is in love with the Princess, and at once continues their game of wordplay, puns, and witticisms.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

By heaven, that thou art fair is most infallible, true that thou art beauteous, truth itself that thou art lovely. More fairer than fair, beautiful than beauteous, truer than truth itself, have commiseration on thy heroical vassal. . . . Shall I command thy love? I may. Shall I enforce thy love? I could. Shall I entreat thy love? I will.

Related Characters: Boyet (speaker), Armado (speaker)
Related Symbols: Love Letters
Page Number: 4.1.68-89
Explanation and Analysis:

The Princess and her train are on a hunt, when Costard enters with a letter he claims is from Berowne and for Rosaline. However, Costard mistakenly delivers Armado's letter meant for Jacquenetta. Boyet receives the letter and quickly recognizes Costard's error, but he still reads the letter out loud to the bemusement of the Princess and the other women. The excerpt contains the beginning of the long letter, and another line towards the end.

Armado's letter is ridiculous, over-wrought, and verbose. In the first sentences we see the roundabout way in which he declares Jacqueneta's beauty. His lines say that she is the superlative of beauty, fairness, and loveliness, but at the same time they are so convoluted that they say nothing at all. The ladies ultimately mock him extensively for his letter, saying that it shows he is much less intelligent than he thinks he is. The final lines excerpted are from later in the speech, in which he finally makes a direct request for Jacqueneta's love. However, he still does so in an over-the-top way. The "shall I... I may/could/shall" phrasing is pure dramatic excess, and more evidence that the over-educated Armado (whom we know seems less intelligent than his page, Mote) thinks much too highly of himself.

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

If love make me forsworn, how shall I swear to love?
Ah, never faith could hold, if not to beauty vowed!
Though to myself forsworn, to thee I’ll faithful prove.
. . .
If knowledge be the mark, to know thee shall suffice.
Well-learned is that tongue that well can thee commend.
All ignorant that soul that sees thee without wonder;
Which is to me some praise that I thy parts admire.
. . .
Celestial as thou art, O pardon love this wrong,
That sings heaven’s praise with such an earthly tongue.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Nathaniel (speaker), Rosaline
Related Symbols: Love Letters
Page Number: 4.2.126-143
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene begins with Holofernes, Nathaniel, and Dull discussing the Princess's hunt and their own intelligence, the first two making fun of Dull for not knowing latin. Then Jacquenetta and Costard enter, with the latter carrying the letter he thinks is from Armado for Jacquenetta, but is actually the letter from Berowne for Rosaline. The excerpt here contains three sections of the letter, which contains verses of love poetry. Berowne attempts to use poetry, rhyme, and skillful language to woo Rosaline, but as is becoming common in this play, the words reach the wrong audience with the wrong effect.

In the opening lines, he assures Rosaline that although he is breaking the oath he made with Ferdinand by talking to her, he will never break oaths to her and will always be faithful. Here Berowne seems aware of the irony in pledging his faithfulness while simultaneously breaking a vow. In the next section, Berowne says that knowing Rosaline will give him all the knowledge he needs, and that "well-learned is the tongue" that can properly praise her. This point foreshadows the argument he will make in the next scene, and that will justify everyone breaking the oath: true knowledge and study comes from women and love as much as from books and fasting. Finally, Berowne concludes his poem by apologizing for describing such a "celestial" woman with his meager "earthly tongue," a common poetic technique in which the author acknowledges that his or her subject matter is beyond mortal capacity for language.

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.

O, we have made a vow to study, lords,
And in that vow we have forsworn our books.
For when would you, my liege, or you, or you,
In leaden contemplation have found out
Such fiery numbers as the prompting eyes
Of beauty’s tutors have enriched you with?
Other slow arts entirely keep the brain
And therefore, finding barren practicers,
Scarce show a harvest of their heavy toil.
But love, first learned in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immured in the brain,
But with the motion of all elements
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.
It adds a precious seeing to the eye.
A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind.
A lover’s ear will hear the lowest sound,
When the suspicious head of theft is stopped.
Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of cockled snails.
. . .
Never durst poet touch a pen to write
Until his ink were tempered with love’s sighs.
. . .
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive.
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire.
They are the books, the arts, the academes
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Ferdinand, Longaville, Dumaine
Page Number: 4.3.312-347
Explanation and Analysis:

Ferdinand, Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne have all discovered that each other man has fallen in love with a woman and is temped to break the vow; Berowne's letter for Rosaline, mis-delivered by Costard to Jacqueneta, has also been revealed. Realizing that everyone is in love and wants to break the oath, King Ferdinand asks Berowne to use his intelligence and clever language to get them out of it with their honor still intact.

Excerpted is Berowne's clever argument, which allows the men to forget about their vow to work and study for three years while keeping good conscience. He says that they "have made a vow to study" and have given up their books. But this practice is responsible and even in line with their vow, he argues, since the men could never have learned from their books what they learned from the "prompting eyes / Of beauty's tutors." Love, he says, much more than the other arts or anything else, leads to usable, important knowledge that cannot be learned anywhere else. Love, seen in a lady's eyes, teaches everything they need to know. At one point, he suggest that no poet ever wrote "until his ink were tempered with love's sighs." Women, he says, are the "books, the arts, the academes / That show, contain, and nourish all the world."

This argument presents a stark reversal from the initial vow and Ferdinand's apparent position at the start of the play, which suggested that women were only sexual distractions from true work and study. Now that they are in love, the men justify their oath-breaking by saying that women are the best tutors for true knowledge. What's more, they are the books, the arts, and the academies that sustain the world and the pursuit of knowledge. 

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

They have been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps.

Related Characters: Mote (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.38-39
Explanation and Analysis:

Holofernes, Nathaniel, and Dull have been conversing in some Latin, making fun of one another, and bragging about their intelligence as they usually do. But here, Mote makes a clever aside to Costard, implying that Holofernes and Nathaniel aren't as smart as they think they are. Again, we see Mote's wittiness and brilliance on display. In this play, we see constant reversals of who is supposed to be intelligent and witty and who actually is. The educated men are ridiculous, and Mote (a servant) and the women (supposed to be less intelligent because of their gender) demonstrate the most wit and skill with language in the play. Mote hasn't had access to as much education as the other men (who've had access to "a great feast of languages") but he still knows more than the "scraps" they've taken.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

We are wise girls to mock our lovers so.

They are worse fools to purchase mocking so.

Related Characters: The Princess of France (speaker), Rosaline (speaker), Ferdinand, Berowne
Page Number: 5.2.63-64
Explanation and Analysis:

The Princess, Katherine, Rosaline, and Maria have all received gifts from the men courting them. The ladies proceed to make fun of the gifts and the men, continuing their pattern of constantly displaying their wits, their intelligence, and their desire for humor. Here the Princess says that they are "wise girls to mock [their] lovers so," reversing the stereotypical role of women in courtship. Rosaline responds that the men are "worse fools to purchase mocking so," at once reinforcing the Princess's claim that the women are wise and adding an insult to the men. She goes on to joke how she wishes she had an opportunity to make Berowne fawn after her and do ridiculous tasks, reveling in the possibility of more mockery. Below, the women will devise a scheme to further make fun of and embarrass their gentleman suitors, continuing to one-up the men in terms of wit and levity.

The gallants shall be tasked,
For, ladies, we will every one be masked,
And not a man of them shall have the grace,
Despite of suit, to see a lady’s face.
Hold, Rosaline, this favor thou shalt wear,
And then the King will court thee for his dear.
Hold, take thou this, my sweet, and give me thine
So shall Berowne take me for Rosaline.

Related Characters: The Princess of France (speaker), Ferdinand, Berowne, Rosaline
Page Number: 5.2.133-140
Explanation and Analysis:

As the women talk about how foolish their lovers are, Boyet enters and informs them that the men plan to come in disguised as Russian ambassadors. With this knowledge, the Princess concocts a plan to "task" (make fun of) the "gallants." The ladies will all wear masks, and will refuse to show the men their faces. They will also switch gifts, so that when the men enter, they will mistake the women for each other and court the wrong people. This plan will result in embarrassment for the men, who will whisper private words of love to women they aren't in love with. The effect of her plan, says the Princess a few lines later, is to mess up the plan of the men, and to mock them (in merriment) for the trick that they planned to play on the women.

White-handed mistress, one sweet word with thee.

Honey, and milk, and sugar—there is three.

Nay then, two treys, an if you grow so nice,
Metheglin, wort, and malmsey. Well run, dice!
There’s half a dozen sweets.

Seventh sweet, adieu.
Since you can cog, I’ll play no more with you.

One word in secret.

Let it not be sweet.

Thou grievest my gall.

Gall! Bitter.

Therefore meet.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), The Princess of France (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.246-257
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Berowne, disguised as a Russian, is speaking to the Princess of France, whom he believes to be Rosaline. The two exchange witty quips, and the Princess, whose plan is working flawlessly, outwits and and outspeaks her suitor. Berowne begins by calling her "white-handed mistress," white (along with pink or red) being one of the classical colors evoked in European love poems. He then requests "one sweet word" with her.

The quick-witted Princess uses his language against him, listing "honey, and milk, and sugar" as three literally sweet words, denying his intention. When Berowne tries to match her by naming three more sweets to make half a dozen, she responds cleverly with, "seventh sweet, adieu," continually shutting him down. The two complete each other's lines and rhymes in shorthanded verbal sparring, trying to outwit and flirt with one another. Beyond the humor in the puns and jokes, the scene is also funny because Berowne is flirting with the wrong woman.

Write “Lord have mercy on us” on those three.
They are infected; in their hearts it lies.
They have the plague, and caught it of your eyes.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Ferdinand, Longaville, Dumaine
Page Number: 5.2.457-459
Explanation and Analysis:

The confused men have left in their Russian disguises and returned as themselves; the women have continued to laugh at their expense, and slowly hinted that they knew it was the men in the Russian disguises all along. The women then reveal the trick they themselves have played by switching gifts. Embarrassed, here Berowne admits to the Russian trick and professes his true love for Rosaline. He says that he is sick, playing on the classic trope of being love-sick. He says that his friends, too, are in love, and that the three (Ferdinand, Longaville, and Dumaine) are "infected." They are afflicted with the "plague" (remember, Berowne has characterized love as a plague earlier in the play), and caught it from the eyes of their beloved, the classical method that love is transferred (think love at first sight). It is the eyes of the ladies that infected the men with love, and the eyes that Berowne has previously cited as being the great tutors of knowledge that enable them to justify breaking the oath.

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.

Oft have I heard of you, my Lord Berowne,
Before I saw you; and the world’s large tongue
Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks,
Full of comparisons and wounding flouts,
Which you on all estates will execute
That lie within the mercy of your wit.
To weed this wormwood from your fruitful brain,
And therewithal to win me, if you please,
Without the which I am not to be won,
You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day
Visit the speechless sick, and still converse
With groaning wretches; and your task shall be,
With all the fierce endeavor of your wit,
To enforce the pained impotent to smile.

To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be, it is impossible.
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Rosaline (speaker)
Page Number: 5.914-930
Explanation and Analysis:

Ferdinand, Dumaine, and Longaville have asked the Princess of France, Katherine, and Maria for their love, and each woman has given a similar response: wait a year, and then try courting me (since the Princess needs a year to mourn her father and her ladies follow suit). Rosaline gives Berowne a longer, more specific answer, excerpted here.

Rosaline says that she knows Berowne has a reputation for a sharp wit and a tendency for "comparisons and wounding flouts," puns and jokes and insults. In order to put this wit to good use and "weed this wormwood from" Berowne's "fruitfull brain" (that is, get the meanness out of Berowne's intelligent mind), Rosaline instructs him to spend the next year visiting hospitals. There he will converse with those who are too sick to speak (speechless sick), and use his wit to try and make them laugh and smile. She says outright that only by this task will he win her heart.

Berowne responds that it is impossible "to move wild laughter in the throat of death," and says that "mirth cannot move a soul in agony." The merging of humor and the darker, more serious matters of illness and death will have the effect of dulling the sharper edges of Berowne's wit and making him more suitable for Rosaline. We can also note that this "impossibility" has been demonstrated possible by Shakespeare, who has introduced a death in the end of a comedy and has delayed the typical comedic ending by a year filled with sadness.