Study Guide

Love's Labour's Lost Women and Femininity

By William Shakespeare

Women and Femininity

BEROWNE, reads
Item, That no woman shall come within
a mile of my court.
Hath this been proclaimed?
LONGAVILLE
Four days ago.
BEROWNE
Let's see the penalty.  [Reads]  On pain of
losing her tongue
. (1.1.123-127)

Longaville came up with this harsh punishment for women– probably thinking, out of sight, out of mind.

KING
It was proclaimed a year's imprisonment to be
taken with a wench.
COSTARD
I was taken with none, sir. I was taken with a
damsel.
KING
Well, it was proclaimed 'damsel.'
COSTARD
This was no damsel neither, sir. She was a
virgin.
KING
It is so varied too, for it was proclaimed
'virgin.'
COSTARD
If it were, I deny her virginity. I was taken
with a maid.
KING
This 'maid' not serve your turn, sir.
COSTARD
This maid will serve my turn, sir. (1.1.287-299)

Costard thinks if he can name the right kind of lady, he might just be able to get out of his punishment. And then finishes off his argument with sexual innuendo.

PRINCESS
Only for praise; and praise we may afford
To any lady that subdues a lord. (4.2.41-42)

Like the men, the women think of a lover as someone to be conquered.

BEROWNE
From women's eyes this doctrine I derive.
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire.
They are the books, the arts, the academes
That show, contain, and nourish, all the world. (4.3.344-347)

It's unfortunate that Berowne busts this out when there are no ladies present. He'd have his pick of women.

PRINCESS
We are wise girls to mock our lovers so. (5.2.63)

In a world dominated by men, women's control of sexual access gives them some measure of power.

ROSALINE
How I would make him fawn, and beg, and seek,
And wait the season, and observe the times,
And spend his prodigal wits in bootless rhymes,
And shape his service wholly to my hests,
And make him proud to make me proud that jests! (5.2.67-71)

Rosaline looks forward to knocking Berowne off his high horse and humbling the man a bit.

PRINCESS
No, to the death we will not move a foot,
Nor to their penned speech render we no grace,
But while 'tis spoke each turn away her face. (5.2.153-155)

The Princess has a strong understanding of the attractive power of playing coy.

BOYET
Why, that contempt will kill the speaker's heart,
And quite divorce his memory from his part. (5.2.156-157)

Boyet takes the side of the men, urging the women not to be too harsh.

BOY
Once to behold with your sun-beamèd eyes—
With your sun-beamèd eyes—

BOYET
They will not answer to that epithet.
You were best call it 'daughter-beamèd eyes.' (5.2.176-179)

Mindful of how pro-sister, anti-man the women are at the moment, Boyet jokes on this subject.

PRINCESS
We have received your letters…
[...]
And in our maiden council rated them
At courtship, pleasant jest, and courtesy... (5.2.852; 854-855)

While the men hide their love from each other, the women are unified and communal in their response.