Study Guide

Love's Labour's Lost Man and the Natural World

By William Shakespeare

Man and the Natural World

BEROWNE
The spring is near when green geese are a-breeding. (1.1.99)

In Shakespeare, Spring is all about mating, breeding, and procreation. In terms of human beings, this translates to sexual activity.

LONGAVILLE
Berowne is like an envious sneaping frost
That bites the firstborn infants of the spring. (1.1.104-105)

Longaville picks up on Berowne's seasonal imagery and uses it to insult him.

BEROWNE
At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled shows,
But like of each thing that in season grows. (1.1.109-111)

Berowne will want to take back this argument for "all things in good time" when Rosaline asks him to wait year.

NATHANIEL, reads
Thy eye Jove's lightning bears, thy voice his dreadful
   thunder,
Which, not to anger bent, is music and sweet fire.
(4.2.139-141)

In the imagery he uses to describe Rosaline, we can see that Berowne is nature's student.

BEROWNE
Consider what you first did swear unto,
To fast, to study, and to see no woman;
Flat treason 'gainst the kingly state of youth. (4.3.291-293, Arden edition)

The law of nature is primary, according to Berowne.


Why Arden edition? Part of Berowne's monologue was omitted from the Folger edition as it was not in the original play (and thus of questionable origin).

BEROWNE
Allons! Allons! Sowed cockle reaped no corn…(4.3.377)

The men have decided to woo the women. With nature embraced, Berowne uses the language of farming to say "nothing ventured, nothing gained." ("Allons" at the beginning of the sentence is French for "let's go.")

ROSALINE
My face is but a moon, and clouded too.
KING
Blessèd are clouds, to do as such clouds do!
Vouchsafe, bright moon, and these thy stars, to
   shine,
Those clouds removed, upon our watery eyne. (5.2.214-218)

Rosaline, masked as the Princess, tries to give the King a clue that she's only second in this party (i.e., not the sun). The King just hears romance.

SPRING
When daisies pied and violets blue,
    And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
    Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then on every tree
Mocks married men; for thus sings he:
                                                              'Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!' O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!
(5.2.399)

Like we said, Spring is all about sexual activity. "Cuckoo" is unwelcome to the married man's ear because it sounds like "cuckold" – someone whose wife is cheating on him. Shakespeare often ended plays with teasing, lighthearted songs like this.

WINTER
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl
'Tu-whit to-who.' A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. (4.2.990-993)

While Spring is about sex, Winter is about endurance. The verse points out the potentially bleak side of marriage.