It is no surprise that the topic of love is central to Love’s Labor’s Lost. The entire plot of the play revolves around love and various characters’ attempts at courtship. Characters swear off love, talk endlessly about it, admit their powerlessness before it, and devote themselves entirely to its pursuit. But, somewhat ironically, while love is so important to the play, one of its central questions left unanswered is: what exactly is love? The king’s oath at the beginning of the play seems to view love as a distraction from important work and as a bodily desire like sleep or appetite (which the oath also restricts). But as Ferdinand and his men fall in love, they come to view it as a more serious feeling, something more than a mere physical urge. By the end of the play, the king and his lords are assuring the princess and her ladies that their love was serious, not a joke. Shakespeare also presents different conceptions of love through different metaphors used to describe it. There are many references to Cupid, with his bow and arrow, and “Cupid’s army.” This kind of military metaphor implies that love assaults the lover, is powerful, and brings the lover entirely under the control of love. Love is also continually compared to an illness or plague. According to this metaphor, love afflicts the lover like a disease, harming him mentally and even physically. These two dominant metaphors both present love as a negative thing, which is consonant with how most of the male characters view it. When Armado realizes his love for Jacquenetta, he worries that this passion might compromise his masculinity. Thus, he asks Mote to remind him of strong men who have also been in love, seeking assurance that love is not a sign of weakness.
Despite all this, though, the play can be seen as also presenting love in a positive light. As Berowne argues to Ferdinand’s court, one can learn a great deal from beauty and from being in love. Moreover, the very idea of study is predicated on a love of wisdom and knowledge. Love also inspires characters to write, as the numerous love letters and sonnets of the men show. Berowne even argues that love heightens the senses and increases one’s powers of observation. Love is thus not wholly bad. In any case, the play shows that it cannot be avoided. Ferdinand tries to remove love from his life and the lives of his attendants, but before long they are all madly in love. Whatever love is, however one understands it, and whatever one thinks of it, Shakespeare suggests that the only thing we can know about love for sure is that it happens to everyone—for better or for worse.
Love Quotes in Love's Labor's Lost
O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep,
Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep.
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?
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.”
And I forsooth in Love! I that have been love’s whip,
A very beadle to a humorous sigh,
A critic, nay, a nightwatch constable,
A domineering pedant o’er the boy,
Than whom no mortal so magnificent.
This wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,
This Signior Junior, giant dwarf, Dan Cupid,
Regent of love rhymes, lord of folded arms,
Th’annointed sovereign of sighs and groans,
Liege of all loiterers and malcontents,
Dread prince of plackets, king of codpieces,
Sole imperator and great general
Of trotting paritors—O my little heart!
Am I to be a corporal of his field
And wear his colors like a tumbler’s hoop!
What? I love, I sue, I seek a wife?
. . . It is a plague
That Cupid will impose for my neglect
Of his almighty dreadful little might.
Well, I will love, write, sigh, pray, sue, groan.
Some men must love my lady, and some Joan.
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.
I will not love. If I do, hang me. I’ faith, I will not. O, but her eye! By this light, but for her eye I would not love her; yes, for her two eyes. Well, I do nothing in the world but lie, and lie in my throat. By heaven, I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy.
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.
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.
We have received your letters full of love;
Your favors, the ambassadors of love;
And in our maiden council rated them
As courtship, pleasant jest, and courtesy,
As bombast and as lining to the time.
But more devout than this in our respects
Have we not been, and therefore met your loves
In their own fashion, like a merriment.
Our letters, madam, showed much more than jest.
So did our looks.
We did not quote them so.
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.