Character Directory

FERDINAND

King Ferdinand of Navarre is a ruler whose decision to make 'a little academe' (1.1.13) of his court leads to the action of the play. Although opposed by the sardonic humor of BEROWNE, the King bans all mirth, banqueting, and even the company of women in order to promote disinterested study. The King's humorless desire to make of his courtiers 'brave conquerors . . . / That war against your own affections / And the huge army of the world's desires' (1.1.8-10) is focused on an abstract idea, not a love of scholarship, and is therefore vain. This self-centered seriousness is overcome by love as the play develops. The King himself succumbs to the charms of the Princess of France, and when, at the close of the play, she requires that he prove his love with a year of monastic life, he willingly assumes the task, asserting, 'My heart is in thy breast' (5.2.808).

BIRON

Berowne (Biron) is one of the gentlemen in the court of the King of Navarre. Berowne is the witty exponent of the play's two main points: that love is superior to the pursuit of knowledge; and that pretensions, especially verbal ones, cannot be successful. When the King demands that his courtiers follow a three-year ascetic regimen dedicated to scholarship, Berowne argues that this is unhealthy and doomed to failure, because young men will naturally succumb to love. Berowne's common sense is opposed to the affectation of scholarly devotion, and his awareness of real emotion counters the fakery of academic rhetoric.

Unlike the other lovers in Love's Labour's Lost, who function simply as vehicles for the conventional proposition that the emotions should take precedence over the intellect, Berowne is a humanly believable character, as well as a funny one. The gentleman mocks himself in a humorous soliloquy at the end of 3.1, confessing that he has fallen under the sway of 'this signer junior, giant-dwarf, dan Cupid' (3.1.175). He is delighted to find that the King and the other courtiers, Dumaine and Longaville, are similarly smitten, in the comic high point of the play, a stock eavesdropping scene repeated three times to a height of absurdity (4.3). Berowne proclaims a manifesto in favor of love, using his wit and warmth in a speech that contains perhaps the best verse in the play (4.3.285-361).

The gentlemen attempt to court the ladies with a masquerade and high-flown sentiments, and they are mocked by the women they would woo. Berowne realises that their pretensions have failed them, and he eloquently advances the play's campaign against foolish rhetoric, rejecting: 'Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise, / Three-pii'd hyperboles, spruce affection, /Figures pedantical . . . / Henceforth my wooing mind shall be express'd / In russet yeas and honest kersey noes. . . .' (5.2.406-413).

During the pageant in the same scene, Berowne is merciless in his heckling, perhaps evidencing the essential immaturity of the gentlemen. As a result of his wounding wit, ROSALINE, at the play's denouement, requires that Berowne must spend a year visiting the sick in hospitals before she will accept him. Berowne, no cardboard character as are his fellows and the King, has human faults that must be corrected, even though he is also the chief exponent of the honest emotional life promoted by the play.

Berowne's name, pronounced 'B'roon', is taken from that of a contemporary French Protestant general, the Due de Biron, who was a principal adviser to the historical King of Navarre.

LONGAVILLE

Longaville (Longueville) is one of the gentlemen who fall in love and thus disrupt the ascetic academic program of the King of Navarre. In 1.1 Longaville is enthusiastic about the King's idea, but he falls in love with Maria, one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Princess of France, and, along with the King and the other courtiers, he breaks his vow and abandons scholarship for love.

Longaville's name was taken from that of a French contemporary of Shakespeare, the Due de Longueville, a well-known figure in the Wars of Religion.  Longueville was an aide to Henri de Bourbon, who was the historical King of Navarre and later ruled France as Henri IV.

DUMAIN

Dumaine (Dumain) is one of the gentlemen who fall in love and thus disrupt the ascetic academic program of the King of Navarre. Although committed to the King's idea at the outset of the play, Dumaine falls in love with Katharine, a lady-in-waiting of the Princess of France. Along with the King and the other courtiers, he breaks his vows and abandons scholarship for love.  The Due de Mayenne, well known in Shakespeare's London for his role in the French Wars of Religion, is usually thought to have provided the name Dumaine.  Unlike the originals of Longaville and Berowne, he was not an aide to the historical King of Navarre; rather, he was a principal enemy of the insurgent monarch, but this inconsistency would probably not have bothered either the playwright or his audience. An alternative, the less notable General D'Aumont, who was an aide to the King of Navarre at the time, has been proposed.

BOYET

Boyet Minor is in the entourage of the Princess of France.  Boyet is a smooth courtier, a familiar type in the Elizabethan court. We first see him flattering his mistress and being put in his place. He often serves as a messenger. He happens to overhear the plans of the King and his gentlemen to masquerade as Russians, and he warns the Princess and her ladies. Berowne expresses his dislike for Boyet in 5.2.315-327

MERCADE

Marcade (Mercade) is the messenger who brings the news to the Princess of France news of her father's death in 5.2, thus changing the tenor of the play in its closing minutes.

DON ADRIANO DE ARMADO

Don Adriano is a comically pedantic and pompous Spaniard who participates in the humorous sub-plot.  Armado's language is ludicrous whether he is ingratiating himself with royalty or wooing his rustic sweetheart, Jaquenetta. Armado is mocked by his own page, the saucy Moth, and his preposterously rhetorical letters are read aloud as entertainment by the other characters. His pompously inflated language, like that of the similar characters Holofernes and Nathaniel, is a satirical target of the play.  Armado participates in the pageant put on by the comic characters in 5.2. In its course, it is revealed that Jaquenetta is pregnant by the Spaniard, and at the end of the play he announces that he has taken a vow to his beloved similar to the promises made by the aristocratic lovers, thus providing a link between the two plots.

Armado boasts of his acquaintance with the King of Navarre in a richly comical passage (5.1.87-108) and clearly demonstrates his descent from the comic character type known in ancient Roman drama as the Miles Gloriosus, a foolish, bragging soldier. In the Italian Commedia Dell’Arte, this figure was a Spaniard, an enemy of Italy and also of Shakespeare's England. Armado's very name, attached to so ludicrous a character, is a derisive reference to the Spanish Armada's grand failure to invade England in 1588.

SIR NATHANIEL

Nathaniel is the obsequious companion of the comical pedant Holofernes. Nathaniel emulates his friend, seconding his opinions with less Latinity but no less pretension. Although Nathaniel is no more than an object of derision for the most part, Costard presents him in a more human light, standing up for him in 5.2, when he has at the pageant, stricken with stage fright.

HOLOFERNES

Holofernes is a comical pedant. Named for Dr Tubal Holofernes, a tutor in Rabelais' Gargantua, Shakespeare's scholar is so Latinate in his speech that he can hardly be understood.  Holofernes, never without his obsequious follower, Nathaniel the Curate, is the subject of much mirth on the part of the other characters. Moth says of Holofernes and his fellow grotesque, Armado, that 'they have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps' (5.1.35-36). Although Holofernes is consistently wrong-headed, conceited, and intolerant of those he considers his intellectual inferiors, we nevertheless feel sorry for him when he attempts to perform in the pageant of the Nine Worthies and is mercilessly heckled by the gentlemen. Driven from the stage, he cries, justly, 'This is not generous, not gentle, not humble' (5.2.623).

While Shakespeare's audiences will have made more of Holofernes' ranting than we can, it is nonetheless good comedy, for much of the fun lies in its near-incomprehensibility. Some of his references are clearly to topical jokes that are now hopelessly obscure. It has been speculated that Holofernes was intended as a parody of some contemporary literary figure—John Florio and Gabriel Harvey have been suggested—but this theory cannot be proven.

DULL

Dull is the slow-witted rustic constable. Dull is a character type whose name summarizes his nature. Dull acts as a foil to the comical pedants Armado, Holofernes, and Nathaniel, offsetting their elaborate contortions of language by being himself. At one point, Holofemes observes, 'Via, goodman Dull! Thou hast spoken no word all this while'. Dull replies, 'Nor understand none neither, sir' (5.1.141).

COSTARD

Costard is a quickwitted Clown who is at the centre of the rustic sub-plot. In 3.1 Costard is employed by Armado to send a love letter to Jaquenetta and by Berowne to send another one to Rosaline. He delivers each to the wrong woman, resulting in two comical outcomes:  Armado's pompous rhetoric is read aloud to the amusement of the Princess of France and her retinue; and Berowne's love poem exposes to his fellow courtiers his own susceptibility to romance, just as he is chastising them for the same failing.  To a great degree. Costard is simply a character type derived from the Italian Commedia Dell’Arte tradition—that of the servant or rustic yokel descended from the comic slave figures of ancient Roman Drama. He engages in several bits of standard by play—for instance, when he comes to believe that 'remuneration' means a three-farthing coin and 'guerdon' a shilling. However, he displays realistic touches of humanity that rank among the play's literary gems.  A participant in the comical pageant of the Nine Worthies, Costard plays Pompey the Great, but he muffs his lines and shamefacedly apologizes, in 5.2.554-555. Some twenty lines later, Costard demonstrates an appreciation for his fellows that exceeds the restricted humanity of a stock figure, when he speaks up for Nathaniel the Curate, who has been driven away by stage fright. Costard's name is an old word meaning 'apple' or 'head', which stimulates a cluster of jokes in 3.1.

MOTH

Moth is a page employed by the Spanish braggart Armado.  Moth's quick wit is employed to ridicule his master, subtly to his face and blatantly behind his back. Moth appears only in scenes that function as set pieces, humorous sketches intended simply as entertainment.  Moth is apparently an energetic teenager or child, small and slight of build. He is described as 'not so long by the head as hononficabilitudinitatibus' (5.1.39- 40) (the longest word in Latin, and in Shakespeare).  His name, pronounced 'mote' in Elizabethan English, suggests both the erratic flight of an insect and the elusiveness of a particle of dust. In the pageant of the Nine Worthies (5.2), he plays the infant Hercules. He is the vehicle for a number of the obscure topical jokes that make Love's Labour's Lost the most cryptic of Shakespeare's plays. He is believed to have been in tended as a parody of the peppery Elizabethan pamphleteer and satirist Thomas Nashe.

A Forester

Forester is the guide for a royal hunt. The Forester's naive honesty : provides a foil for the wit of the Princess of France in 4.1.

PRINCESS

The Princess is the head of an embassy from France to the court of the King of Navarre, who falls in love with her.  When we first encounter the Princess, in 2.1, she reprimands her courtier, Boyet, for his flattery in sharp but sensible terms that immediately establish her as a straightforward woman. But, although we do have a sense of the Princess as a real person, her chief role in the play is as a participant in the courtly tableau of lovers that draws the King and his gentlemen to an awareness that their narrow world of asceticism is insufficient compared to the power of love.  In 5.2, when she learns of her father's death, the Princess prepares to leave Navarre immediately. She responds to the King's suit by requiring him to live as a hermit for a year to test the strength of his love. She recognizes that the process of maturation that the gentlemen have undergone in the course of the play is not complete—a recognition that makes her the character who perhaps most clearly represents the play's point of view.

ROSALINE

Rosaline is the beloved of Berowne and one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Princess of France. Rosaline is largely a stock figure—a witty, charming lady who takes part in the courtly pageant of love that is the main business of the play. However, at times we are made to sense her humanity. For instance, we hear a real person, a mischievous young woman, as she contemplates tormenting the lovestruck Berowne: '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 rimes, / And shape his service wholly to my hests / And make him proud to make me proud that jests! / So Pair-Taunt like would I o'ersway his state / That he should be my fool, and I his fate. . . .' (5.2.62-68).

Described as having a strikingly dark complexion, and demonstrating a provoking wit, Rosaline is presumed to have been linked, in Shakespeare's mind, to the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, although this cannot be proved. She does seem to anticipate later Shakespearean heroines who are plainly among his favorite types—attractive and assertive young women such as Beatrice, Portia, and her near Rosalind. 

MARIA

Maria is the beloved of Longaville and one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Princess of France. Maria, like her lover, functions simply as a figure in the courtly pageant of love that constitutes the play's main plot. She has no distinctive personality traits, although she may be said to anticipate more fully developed secondary female characters, such as Nerissa, in The Merchant of Venice.

KATHARINE

Katharine (Katherine; Catherine) is  the beloved of Dumaine and a lady-in-waiting to the Princess of France. Although primarily a stock figure in the play's courtly tableau of lovers, she is given a flash of true human feeling. In 5.2, Rosaline teases her about a sister who was said to have died of love, and Katharine is overtaken by her memory of the occasion. 'He made her melancholy, sad, and heavy; / And so she died: had she been light, like you, / Of such a merry, nimble, stirring spirit, /She might ha' been a grandam ere she died.'(5.2.14-17). This brief remark gives us not only a glimpse of a young woman's recollected grief, but we receive an impression of Rosaline's character as well.  It is thought that Shakespeare derived the story of Katharine's sister's death from a current account of a similar demise among the attendants of the historical Princess of France of the day. Marguerite of Valois, who was in fact married to the King of Navarre. The same tale may also have influenced the Ophelia episode in Hamlet.

 

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