Love's Labour's Lost | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Love's Labour's Lost | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

The Princess of France and her ladies go hunting, accompanied by a forester, some French lords, and the faithful Boyet. Taking a bow from the forester, the princess says she intends to kill a deer for "praise alone" and not because she has ill will toward the deer.

Costard arrives, saying he has a letter from Berowne to Rosaline. Boyet, opening the letter, says it is not to Rosaline—it is to Jaquenetta. He reads aloud the letter, which is extremely long and full of elaborate and ridiculous sentences, such as "More fairer than fair, beautiful than beauteous, truer than truth itself, have commiseration on thy heroical vassal" and "Thus expecting thy reply, I profane my lips on thy foot, my eyes on thy picture, and my heart on thy every part." It is signed by Armado, and Boyet tells the princess Armado is at court to amuse the king and his lords. Costard insists it is a letter from Berowne to Rosaline. After the others leave, Boyet, Rosaline, Maria, and Costard stay behind and jokingly discuss hunting in suggestive terms.

Analysis

This scene begins as the princess discusses hunting as a way she can achieve fame and garner praise, a sentiment not unlike the King of Navarre's desire to achieve fame by creating his "little academe" (Act 1, Scene 1). This is another subtle clue that the king and the princess would be a good match—they both desire fame and believe in the importance of doing some actions solely to achieve it. This shared character trait develops the theme of reputation that began in the first scene of the play. Her comment that "praise we may afford/To any lady that subdues a lord" also engages the theme of the conventions of love; hunting is a frequent metaphor in medieval and Renaissance literature for romantic pursuit. But in this case the women are the pursuers, defying the conventions of courtship and its language. This role reversal is acknowledged by Rosaline when she replies to Boyet's question "Who is the shooter?" (with a pun on shooter/suitor) by saying, "Well, then, I am the shooter." And of course the dynamic is emphasized by the fact that the women are the ones literally hunting,

Besides the obvious similarity of both hunting and courtship, including some chase or pursuit, the metaphor extends to the mechanics of hunting, allowing the characters to engage in some bawdy wordplay. For example, Boyet's remark to Maria to "Let the mark [target] have a prick in 't to mete [aim] at, if it may be" and Costard's comment "Then will she get the upshoot by cleaving the pin" are heavy with phallic references (prick, pin) and talk of hitting a target is euphemistic. Maria finally tells the men they've gone too far: "Your lips grow foul." Boyet declines to continue the innuendo-laden conversation, leaving them with one final joke: "I fear too much rubbing."

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