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MonkeyNotes-Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare
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Themes

The Renaissance period was a time of great development in all spheres of life, and the beginning of an era in which the people had a sense of national pride. English as a language began to be looked upon with respect, and the Greek and Roman classics were revived and translated to vernacular languages. The Humanistic trend of study that developed in this atmosphere sometimes resulted in sterile imitations of the classics. Another idea that developed in this period was the preconceived notion of how a cultivated gentleman should behave in physical, artistic, romantic, and intellectual pursuits. In trying to reach the courtly ideal, many young men appeared stilted and false in their behavior. The general atmosphere, therefore, was one of artifice and pose, where language was not merely used, but abused, where literature was crowded with hyperboles, and where young gentlemen were afraid to be themselves.

Love's Labour's Lost was written as a satire on the period in which Shakespeare lived and wrote and the disfigurement of artistic values by Shakespeare's contemporaries. Holofernes is the perfect example of the sterility bred by the empty knowledge of the classics without perception. The king's plan to become famous, hopefully immortal, through study, asceticism, and celibacy is filled with foolishness. When knowledge is divorced from reality, it is as silly and futile as Holofernes and the King's experiment. Shakespeare also satirizes customs of the court, since the four noblemen are representatives of the courtly ideal. By mocking their lack of realism and arrogance, Shakespeare weakens the foundations of the courtly idea. The ostentation of the King and his "book-mates" is criticized by the women, who seem to counter-balance them in their moderate and realistic approach to life.


More important that the theme of pretension is the theme of the heart vs. the head, for the entire play turns around this question. The King's experiment is clearly one of the head, for the plan is to live an ascetic life in order to expand the intellect. From the beginning, however, the plan seems doomed to failure, for the men are immediately attracted to the princess and her ladies. Most of the play is devoted to an attempt on the men's part of hide their feelings of the heart and pretend that they have not broken their vows. In the end, however, they clearly give in to and acknowledge that their reason could not control their love.

Shakespeare masterfully develops the theme of the heart through a series of contrasts. The idealism of the men is set off against the practicality of the women; the pompous verbosity of the men of learning is contrasted to the genuine and simple language from the heart of the rustics; Biron's initial belief that love is degrading is opposite his later affirmation that love is the highest kind of wisdom. It is clear by the end of the play that Shakespeare values matters of the heart over matters of the head.

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