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The scene centers on a masque, a common device found in dramas of the time. A masque is usually a celebration or performance of song, dance, elaborate costumes, and pageantry in which the audience is supposed to interact with the performers. During the masque, there is usually an allegorical story performed as a gesture of welcome for the honored guests. At the end of the masque, the audience joins with the performers to dance and sing. Masques, such as the one performed by Holofernes and his company, are always meant to be magnificent spectacles; in Shakespeare, they are also intended to make commentary on the main plot or theme.
In Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare messes up the traditional masque formula, for some of the principal characters of the play actually perform the masque unwittingly. When the King and his men dress up as Muscovites and pretend to be foreign suitors of the women, they are actually putting on a performance worthy of a masque. They create a spectacle of themselves, making a splendid comment on the necessity for candor and honesty as opposed to arrogance and pretension. When these characters actually get around to presenting the masque they have had prepared for the ladies, the Masque of the Nine Worthies, the show is actually an anti-Masque. Holofernes and his crew are such jokes, such showy pedants, that they are ridiculed and laughed off stage. Their little performance serves to make the King and his men look slightly less foolish by comparison.
The overall theme of the play to which the plot has been moving is the foolishness of man to resist the power of love. Throughout the earlier scenes, Shakespeare has presented a comical view of four men who think they can master their own hearts, and four women who show them otherwise. After the lords present their Russian "masque," they are forced to realize that they must be true to themselves and acknowledge the power of emotion and love in their lives.
Before departing, the women decide to impose a punishment on the men for their foolishness. If they are to permanently win the hands of the ladies, each gentleman must endure a "sentence" for the next twelve months. Biron is commanded to use his clever wit and superb display of language by entertaining in hospitals. The King is to live confined in a monastery. The greatest punishment of all, however, is that the men must wait twelve months to enjoy the fruits of their labor. At least love's labors are not totally lost - just postponed for a year.