Love's Labor's Lost

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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.

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The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Love 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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Love 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 Love.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

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).


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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. 

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 3, Scene 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Rosaline
Related Symbols: Love Letters
Page Number: 3.1.184-215
Explanation and Analysis:

Berowne has just given Costard a love letter to deliver to Rosaline. Now, alone on stage, Berowne reflects on how possessed he has become by love, which he finds ironic, since he has previously been so critical of love. He cries out against Cupid with a long list of harsh adjectives suggesting at first Cupid's incompetence and then his power, until Berowne breaks off with "O my little heart!"

He then asks if he is going be "a corporal" in Cupid's army, playing with the common notion that love is like a battlefield. In this metaphor and Berowne's context, love is combative, violent, and destructive, and Berowne is just a foot soldier following the orders of a higher power. He goes on to call love a "plague," and we can remember Boyet's description above of a lover as "infected." Berowne believes he is inflicted by love because of his neglect of Cupid's "almighty dreadful little might," an incredible phrase which simultaneously shows Cupid's power and small size. Berowne ends by admitting to himself that he does love Rosaline, and must act accordingly: "I will love, write, sigh, pray, sue, groan." This list of single-syllable actions shows rhythmically the repeating, dramatic nature of the different steps in the course of falling in love. Berowne also says that some men must love women like Rosaline, and others must love less-esteemed women, and the steps and trouble he must take to woo Rosaline are more difficult because she is a member of a royal court.

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

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.

Related Characters: Berowne (speaker), Rosaline
Page Number: 4.3.8-13
Explanation and Analysis:

Berowne enters and begins this scene alone, launching into a soliloquy which he delivers in prose. It is notable that he speaks in prose here, since we have just heard Nathaniel read his love poetry in the preceding scene. In these lines, Berowne considers his love for Rosaline. He at first refuses to love, saying "If I do, hang me." He plays on the common trope that love is dangerous, and that his love is killing him.

But Berowne then exclaims, remembering Rosaline's beautiful eyes. If only it weren't for those eyes, Berowne might have been able to escape her love. He then admits to himself that he has been lying to himself and to the world. He swears that, "By heaven, I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy." Despite his desire and refusals to fall in love, he cannot help that he has fallen for Rosaline and her eyes. He has become a stereotypical lover, writing poetry and possessed by the melancholy that overtakes those who are denied their beloveds. Berowne finishes his speech when he sees Ferdinand coming and decides to hide.

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 2 Quotes

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.

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.

Related Characters: Longaville (speaker), Dumaine (speaker), The Princess of France (speaker), Rosaline (speaker)
Related Symbols: Love Letters
Page Number: 5.2.852-862
Explanation and Analysis:

Ferdinand begs the Princess to not let the bad news interrupt their courtship and love, and Berowne explains that the men have broken their oaths for the sake of love. But here, the Princess explains that the women never took the courtship seriously. They received the love letters and the gifts—"ambassadors of love," typical tokens that might signal affections—but the women believed in this case they merely indicated "pleasant jest, and courtesy." For this reason, the women have met the love from the men in what they believed to be the fashion of the courtship—"like a merriment." In other words, the women here claim they believed the men have only been joking the whole time, framing the entire romance as comedy instead of genuine passion. The men all quickly respond that they meant "much more than jest" and were attempting to be genuine.

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.