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.
Intelligence Quotes in Love's Labor's Lost
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.
O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,
Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep.
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.
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 that which we lovers entitle “affected.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
They have been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps.
We are wise girls to mock our lovers so.
They are worse fools to purchase mocking so.
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.
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.
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.
Judas I am—
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.
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.