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.