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MonkeyNotes-Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare
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Notes

This opening scene functions as an introduction to the Themes and plot to follow. The proud King and his followers decide to form a small academy at court and devote themselves to learning in order to become famous and hopefully remembered immortally. They vow to sleep little, eat even less, and periodically fast. They adamantly swear off women and all forms of physical pleasure.

Furthermore, they agree that the mere presence of women in their company will become an abominable offense. Their goals are extreme, impractical, and severe. In short, they set themselves up for hilarious failure that the audience can only begin to anticipate.

From the beginning, the King's plan spells failure. The search for immortality is a mythological construct, a historically chronicled effort which inevitably leads to the failure and consequent humbling of the one who seeks to live forever. From the beginning, the audience knows that the King and his overreaching lords will never succeed in depriving themselves of physical pleasure for three long years. Like Biron, the audience can anticipate hundred of ways in which the lords will fail and hundreds of excuses for their failure. The first comes when the King admits, out of necessity, he will have to communicate with women, from time to time, over matters of state. But all the men are human, and their attempts to master desires of the flesh are bound to fail. Even though Biron has predicted failure and the audience can anticipate failure, great enthusiasm for the project continues to build as the first scene nears its close.

The conversation among the King and his lords is interrupted by the appearance of Constable Hull, who has Costard in tow. Hull carries a pretentious letter written by Armando and addressed to the King. The letter details Costard's crime of seducing a country maiden. During the conversation that ensues, Costard tries to deny that he has violated any law. Their quibbling is humorous:

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' will not serve your turn, Sir.

Costard: This maid will serve my turn, Sir.

At the end of their quibbling, Costard resigns himself to some form of punishment although he knows the law about abstinence, like the oath of the lords and the King, is unrealistic and extreme.

In addition to using language as word play, as seen in Costard's arguments, Shakespeare also uses language to create mood. That this play will be comic in nature is evident in the conversation between Biron and the lords. The lords seem to take very seriously their vows, and when Biron hesitates, they try with great effort to convince him. But Biron is amused, skeptical, and realistic. He plays with his friends, poking gentle fun at their highly idealistic and impractical goals. Some of the greatest use of rhyme in the play occurs in this scene, when the King and the lords take turns trying to convince Biron sign the oath. Each man's line, uttered in perfect rhyme, is a response or rejoinder to the line preceding it. But when all have spoken their mind on Biron's reluctance, he responds with a completely unrelated line about spring and green geese breeding. When questioned about his bizarre response, Biron says his words are spoken for the sake of rhyme, rather than as part of the actual conversation. In essence, Biron is saying the physical arrangement of the language--the rhyme scheme--is more important than the intellectual content of the words. It is again poking fun through allusion at the King's plan. It is a comic moment, but it predicts and affirms what Biron has already predicted, that tangible physical desires are stronger than abstract intellectual ideals

Shakespeare also masterfully uses language to distinguish between various groups of characters that he introduces in the first scene. Whereas the young noblemen speak in well-formed verse among themselves, they switch to prose on the arrival of the conventionally "low" characters, Costard and Dull. As always, the use of verse and prose is Shakespeare's way of contrasting different types of people, usually the upper classes and the lower, or the major characters and the fools. Both these forms of language are also compared to the pretentious language of Armado's letter, written in a style that is excessively ornate, especially in its praise of the King. Armado's letter seems absurdly ambitious and excessive. Interestingly, its extremity is reflective of the extremity of the King's goals. The point Shakespeare is trying to make is that the academic absurdities of the Kingdom of Navarre will ultimately prove as sterile as Armado's fanciful rhetoric.

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