Love's Labour's Lost | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Love's Labour's Lost | Act 5, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

The princess and her ladies discuss and mock the love poems and love tokens—small gifts—the men have sent them. Boyet arrives to announce the king and his lords plan to pay a visit disguised as "Muscovites, or Russians." The princess, assuming the men do this in jest, decides to play a trick on the men. She instructs her ladies to mask their faces and exchange the love tokens so that no one has the one they were sent. When the king and his lords arrive, they each profess their love to the wrong woman. The women receive these professions of love but do not return them, and the men leave somewhat puzzled. Later the lords return undisguised, and the ladies tell them about these Muscovite fools who came earlier. Eventually, however, the ladies reveal that they knew it was the king and his lords who came disguised as Muscovites. They further reveal that they tricked the men into professing love to the wrong women by exchanging gifts.

Soon Costard arrives and announces that entertainment prepared for the ladies is ready. The Nine Worthies—a hilariously incompetent pageant—proceeds, punctuated by mocking criticisms from the king, the lords, and the ladies (the princess is nicer). In the middle of the pageant, however, Costard reveals that Jaquenetta is pregnant by Armado, and in the chaos following this announcement a messenger from France, Marcade, arrives. Marcade tells the Princess of France that her father is dead. The princess immediately says her delegation will return to France. The king asks her to stay, but he isn't clear about why. Berowne clarifies, saying they are all four in love. The princess says she and her ladies had taken all the flirting as fun and games, but the men insist on the seriousness of their feelings. The princess tells the king to go and live in a secluded monastery for a year; if he still feels passionate love for her after so much time in an austere environment, she will marry him. Maria and Katherine say that they want to wait a year as well, although they don't demand that their love interests spend a year in seclusion. Rosaline orders Berowne to spend a year visiting the mute and sick, devoting his wit to making them smile, if he wants to marry her. The men agree to the ultimatums of the women, although this is not the ending they had anticipated; as Berowne says, "Our wooing doth not end like an old play./ Jack hath not Jill."

A song composed by Nathaniel and Holofernes about an owl and a cuckoo is sung. Armado's statement "The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. (You that way; we this way)" ends the play.

Analysis

This is the longest scene is all of Shakespeare's works, and it covers a great deal of plot. This calls attention to the odd structure of the play—Acts 2 and 3 are only one scene each, while the final act is plot heavy. Rather than placing the climax at the end of Act 3, according to traditional five-act structure, the climax occurs in Act 5, as the women reject the wooing of the men as being in jest and the men, taken aback, insist their love is true.

Including a play within a play emphasizes the way that appearances and disguises have been used in the plot. Literally, alternate identities have been assumed using costume and disguise as the men played the roles of Russians when they came to visit the ladies, and the ladies disguised themselves with masks when the men returned later. Yet like all plays within plays, there is meaning beyond the literal. The theatricality of the play calls attention to the theatrical elements of real life, and in this case the theatrical elements of courtship. Some parts of courtship—the conventions of love—it is clear are for appearance. Yet the interruption of the play and the abrupt change in tone, from comic to tragic, suggests that something more serious may lie behind the theatricality.

Despite the serious ending, much of the scene's tone is still comic. The flirty competitiveness between the men and women as they indulge in disguises and tricks provides some laughs, as does the pageant performed by Costard, Holofernes, Mote, Nathaniel, and Armado. In similar fashion to the Mechanicals' play-within-a-play Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Nine Worthies is funny because it is so bad and because the onstage audience mocks it with witty heckling and constant interruptions.

The end of the play brings the plot full circle. The King of Navarre and his three lords are, once again, swearing to live chaste lives for a period of time. Armado, too, has pledged to wait for Jaquenetta. Instead of building toward and ending in marriage, the play ends where it began. Berowne notices this in his comment, "Our wooing doth not end like an old play./Jack hath not Jill." What does this say about the conventions of love? The impulsiveness with which the lords entered into the rituals and expected behaviors of courtship, the play suggests, are not real love. These conventions are frivolous—the women know this and do not take them seriously. So what does true love do to prove itself? Evidently, it waits.

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