Love's Labour's Lost | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Love's Labour's Lost | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



Berowne enters, alone, carrying a paper. He's working on another poem for Rosaline, saying, "By heaven, I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be melancholy." Suddenly the king approaches, also carrying a paper. Berowne hides and eavesdrops on the king as he reads aloud the love poem he is working on for the princess. But then Longaville approaches, carrying papers of his own, and the king hides. Both the king and Berowne eavesdrop on Longaville, who reads aloud the poem he is composing for Maria. Soon Dumaine approaches, carrying a paper, and Longaville also hides. After reading his (rather silly) poem aloud, Dumaine laments, "O, would the King, Berowne, and Longaville/Were lovers too! ... For none offend where all alike do dote."

He soon gets his wish. Longaville emerges and confronts Dumaine, acting as if he himself is not in love. But the king then emerges to reveal Longaville's secret, acting as if he is not in love. Berowne then steps out of hiding to reveal the king's secret, claiming he is the only one of the four who is honest. In the midst of Berowne chastising the other three, Berowne suddenly tries to leave. But the king calls him back, and Jaquenetta reveals Berowne's letter, which Berowne quickly tears into pieces. But Longaville takes a look at the torn-up pieces of the letter and sees Berowne's handwriting.

The king asks Berowne to "prove/Our loving lawful, and our faith not torn." To comply, Berowne embarks on a very long argument justifying breaking their oaths for love. His basic argument is that taking an oath to study and learn but also to forsake the love of women is impossible and contradictory because all the best things are learned from being in love. A man's powers of perception, appreciation of the arts, courage, charity, and a host of other virtues can be gained from being in love. He suggests that if they really want to commit to learning, they should woo the women with enthusiasm. Expectedly, the men wholeheartedly buy this rather doubtful argument. They make a plan to woo the women and entertain them with "revels, dances, masques, and merry hours" that afternoon.


The scene begins by briefly revisiting the hunting metaphor. The king, Berowne says, is out hunting: "He is hunting the deer; I am coursing myself." Coursing is a synonym for hunting, but it has a secondary meaning of "thrashing," suggesting that Berowne is still frustrated that he has fallen in love and is now forced to write love poems and moon around in a lovesick manner. It also sounds similar to "cursing," suggesting Berowne is using a pun to express his displeasure with himself for foolishly falling in love. Writing poems and being stuck in a melancholy state of mind are, of course, some of the conventions of love. Yet Berowne seems to think they are largely involuntary, like the unavoidable symptoms of an illness rather than an optional part of the courtship game.

Berowne's assertion—that being in love has taught him to write poems—indirectly bolsters the otherwise specious argument that he will make at the end of the scene. The gist of this eventual argument is that learning from life's experiences—particularly the experience of being in love—is superior to learning from books. The kernel of that argument is presented early in the scene in Berowne's observation that he has learned both rhyming and melancholy from being in love. While this argument might be full of holes, it is somewhat better than Longaville's argument—given in his poem—that the original oath does not apply to him since it only prohibited falling in love with a woman, while his love is a goddess: "A woman I forswore, but I will prove,/Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee."

The play's use of dramatic irony means that the audience has been waiting for the lords to be found out, and all their expectations are now fulfilled. Each man enters with unfinished love poem in hand, then each hides as the next one comes along, then each successively springs out of hiding. The repetition of this pattern escalates the comic effect, as does the staging of the scene, which is usually done so that the audience can still see each hiding character. As Dumaine reads his poem, then, the audience can see all three of the other men listening and reacting to it. And when Jaquenetta arrives, the audience—having prior knowledge of the letter that the king, Longaville, and Dumaine do not have—knows that Berowne's time is finally up.

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