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Love's Labour's Lost | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Love's Labour's Lost | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary



The schoolmaster Holofernes, the town curate Nathaniel, and Dull discuss a deer that was shot by the princess. Holofernes uses many borrowed Latin words, which impresses Nathaniel but only confuses Dull.

Costard and Jaquenetta arrive, and Jaquenetta asks Nathaniel to read her a letter she has received which she believes is from Armado. Of course, it is really Berowne's letter to Rosaline. Nathaniel reads it aloud, and Holofernes, realizing it is from Berowne to Rosaline, tells Jaquenetta to deliver it to the king. Costard goes with her to carry out this task.


This scene is a study in contrasts: Holofernes and Nathaniel enthusiastically show off their superior learning as they argue over whether the deer shot by the princess was a "buck of the first head"—a five-year buck with antlers—or a two-year-old "pricket." Holofernes peppers his already complicated sentences with Latin words such as sanguis and caelo, which he then immediately translates, sometimes with a list of synonyms rather than one: "sanguis, in blood" and "caelo, the sky, the welkin, the heaven." Later in the scene as Berowne's letter is read aloud, Holofernes gets distracted by critiquing its poetic quality and fails to grasp at first the more important fact that the letter is proof that Berowne has broken his oath. Ironically, Holofernes and Nathaniel's learning is a barrier to understanding rather than a window to understanding.

On the other side of the spectrum are Costard, whose inability to read has caused him to mix up the letters, and Dull, a plain speaker who gets utterly confused by the Latin words used by Holofernes. When Holofernes uses the Latin phrase haud credo, which translates as "I cannot believe it," Dull thinks he says something like "old grey doe" and insists (twice) "'Twas not a haud credo, 'twas a pricket." This misunderstanding frustrates Holofernes, who calls Dull "undressed, unpolished, uneducated, unpruned, untrained, or rather unlettered, or ratherest, unconfirmed," showing that Holofernes, like Armado, loves to embellish his language with lists of synonyms.

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