The Power Behind the Throne
Berowne is the second in command, but some people think he's way more interesting than the King. We wouldn't hold it against you if you told us you believed him to be the protagonist of the entire play. But Berowne wouldn't want the King's job. He's more of a sideline commentator, a chorus, a class clown whose job is to take note of everything going on around him and reflect on it.
We might argue he's even a truth-seeker. He's creative, impulsive, anarchic, and articulate. And he'll always say what's on his mind. He keeps the King sharp. Let's look at several key aspects of Berowne's character as a means of getting to know who this man really is.
All Work and No Play Makes Berowne a Dull Boy
In the first place, Berowne is something of a wise figure in Love's Labour's Lost. Among the men, Berowne seems older, more experienced, and seasoned. He doesn't seem have the same naiveté that characterizes the other lords. For example, Berowne alone argues that the King's plan to shut out women and focus on studies might be problematic. (Y'think?)
Even from the beginning, he advocates for heeding nature. He doesn't believe it is a good idea to shut down his body in order to feed his mind, and is sure that keeping one's nose in a book is no way to live life. In short, he's in favor of engaging the senses and interacting with the people, places, and things around him. He's all about living life to the fullest, and stopping to smell the proverbial roses in life.
In fact, Berowne's got some pretty interesting things to say about studying and academics. Take a look at the following quote that illustrates this point:
Study is like the heaven's glorious sun,
That will not be deep-searched with saucy looks;
Small have continual plodders ever won,
Save base authority from others' books.
These earthly godfathers of Heaven's lights
That give a name to every fixed star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are. (1.1.84)
Berowne seems to be saying that studying is like trying to stare at the sun—you can't do it all the time (or you'll hurt your eyes), and, just as you can never see what the sun looks like using your naked eye, you can't ever know everything there is to know in the world. Is it worth spending your life with your nose in a book, studying other people's words and ideas? Berowne says no.
He even gives us an example to illustrate his point: people who study and learn everything about stars and constellations know just as much as people who simply appreciate them and all of the mystery they represent by gazing at the night sky.
Basically the Kendrick Lamar of Shakespeare
Lastly, let's look at Berowne and language. The man can talk. He performs some verbal gymnastics in this play, the likes of which leave us (and people around him) a bit awestruck. He's one of those people who is so witty and quick that you are often left speechless by him, later beating yourself up for having nothing to say, and no words to throw back at him.
Berowne's mind is a wonderland of words, images, rhymes and jokes that spill out every time he talks (he can't help it!). He is Shakespeare's double, a man exceptionally gifted with language.
In a play obsessed with language, Berowne is naturally the star. If you have any doubt that Berowne is the linguistic star, look not just to the high linguistic level of his lines, but also to the number of lines he has: clearly the most in the play. And it's no wonder that he falls in love with Rosaline, the only girl who not only can keep up with him verbally, but who can even give him a run for his money.
Charming, or Narcissistic?
Before we finish talking about Berowne, let's think for a minute about him and love. When all is said and done, does Berowne really love Rosaline? Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom has a more shadowy impression of this articulate nobleman and says, "[Berowne] is a highly conscious male narcissist who seeks his own reflection in the eyes of women and meets his catastrophe in the dark lady, Rosaline" (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Bloom, Harold. Riverhead Books, 1998. p.121.)
What do you think about this assessment of Berowne's character? Is it true that he only seeks himself in the woman he loves, or is something else going on between him and Rosaline? We leave it up to you to decide whether Berowne and Rosaline are a match made in heaven, and whether Berowne has learned anything at all.Berowne Timeline