Study Guide

Love's Labour's Lost Men and Masculinity

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Men and Masculinity

You three, Berowne, Dumain, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years' term to live with me,
My fellow-scholars... (1.1.15-17)

The first line of the play announces a boys' club soon to be invaded.

great men have been in love?
Hercules, master.
Most sweet Hercules! More authority, dear
boy, name more; and, sweet my child, let them be
men of good repute and carriage. (1.2.64-69)

Great men in history are an important motif in the play. Take a look at our "Allusions" section in order to get a better sense of how many references there are to famous men in Mythology and History.

Yet was Samson so tempted,
and he had an excellent strength; yet was Solomon
so seduced, and he had a very good wit. Cupid's
butt-shaft is too hard for Hercules' club, and therefore
too much odds for a Spaniard's rapier. (1.2.173-177)

Armado and the lords comfort themselves with reminders that even heroes can love.

A man of sovereign parts he is esteemed,
Well fitted in arts, glorious in arms.
Nothing becomes him ill that he would well. (2.1.45-47)

Here we see what Elizabethan women wanted in a man: a good reputation, education, and strength in battle.

O, would the King, Berowne, and Longaville
Were lovers too! (4.3.127-128)

While the women share everything – the notes, gifts and speeches from their suitors – the men try to be strong and keep their own secrets.

O me, with what strict patience have I sat,
To see a king transformèd to a gnat! (4.3.173-174)

In his hypocritical tirade, Berowne teases the King for letting love make him small.

For valor, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides? (4.3.334-335)

Is this Berowne, or Armado? Noble or clown, the boys need to know that someone respectable was once in love, too.

A conqueror, and
afeard to speak? Run away for shame, Alisander. (5.2.646-647)

Running away for shame is what the nobles – dressed like Russians – did just a few minutes before.

The sweet warman is dead and rotten. Sweet
chucks, beat not the bones of the buried. When he
breathed, he was a man. (5.2.734-736)

The "war-man" part of the King and his men – the part that saw women as the enemy in Act 1 – is also on its way out.

By the North Pole, I do challenge
I will not fight with a pole, like a northern
man! I'll slash. I'll do it by the sword. (5.2.766-769)

No Elizabethan exploration of manhood is complete without a duel.

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