Study Guide

Love's Labour's Lost Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By William Shakespeare

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Great Men

Rich or poor, the men in the play need people to look up to. The motif of heroes recurs again and again – go to "Shout Outs" for a running list. At one point Armado asks Moth what other great men were lovers. At another point, Berowne excuses his love by comparing himself to Hercules. The men seem to want to reassure themselves that their behavior is OK, that they're still big dogs. But are the men of Love's Labour's Lost heroes? Judging from the disastrous Pageant of the Nine Worthies, we'd say not. Shakespeare enjoys lampooning the men and reminding us that they are simply human.

Eyes

In one sense, you could make the argument that Love's Labour's Lost is all about the eyes. Berowne is especially obsessed with them. They are the vehicles through which knowledge reaches the mind, whether from books or from looking at a beautiful woman (the latter being Berowne's preferred method). They are the feature that makes one fall in love. You could write a whole term paper on eyes in Love's Labour's Lost.

Nature

Sun, moon, roses, snow, geese, deer, cuckoos: the list of images drawn from nature could go on and on (and does, in Holofernes' lines). Shakespeare infuses his characters' speech with reminders that, no matter how many oaths they take, they can't escape nature.

Play within a Play

A play within a play lets us watch characters watching something. This device gives us clues to their character and/or advances the plot. Having spent most of his life in the theater, Shakespeare loved this device. He used it most famously in Hamlet, where Hamlet accuses his uncle of murder through a play put on by traveling actors. But we also see examples of the play within the play in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Love's Labour's Lost, Armado, Holofernes and the other rustics put on the Pageant of the Nine Worthies. This not only wraps up the motif of "Great Men" mentioned above, it provides another opportunity to contrast the behavior of the men and the women. While the men heckle and shame the rustics, even fanning the fire of Armado and Costard's potentially deadly rivalry, the Princess is kind and supportive. Perhaps her recognition of the King's display of immaturity is part of what prompts her postponement of their union at the end of the play.