Study Guide

Love's Labour's Lost Men and Masculinity

By William Shakespeare

Men and Masculinity

KING
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.

ARMADO
What
great men have been in love?
BOY
Hercules, master.
ARMADO
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.

ARMADO
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.

MARIA
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.

DUMAINE
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.

BEROWNE
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.

BEROWNE
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.

COSTARD
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.

ARMADO
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.

ARMADO
By the North Pole, I do challenge
thee!
COSTARD
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.