A Feminist Reading of Shakespeare

Author: Eve Ganun

William Shakespeare often pushed the conservative boundaries of his time, specifically with his strong female characters. In Love’s Labor’s Lost, Shakespeare’s presentation of the princess disproves the stereotypical views of women during the 16th century. During this time, women were seen as strictly submissive to the men in their lives: their fathers or husbands. It was also extremely rare for daughters to inherit any of the wealth or land, let alone the title of their fathers. This lack of inheritance, coupled with the inability of the women to have successful or profitable careers convinced most women to strive for a wealthy husband; however, the princess declines not one, but two proposals from the king of Navarre. It is in this scene that the princess rejects the king for the second time, saying “A time, methinks, too short To make a world-without-end bargain in” (2238-2239).


Whereas the men of this time were expected to be the superior sex, including in the aspects of toughness and intelligence, it is the princess in this play that emerges as the dominant party. She is viewed as more mentally tough because of her resistance to the wooing of the king, while the king is viewed as weaker as he swoons over the princess and tries to win her favor. His obsession with romance is something that was viewed to be feminine, while the stoicism of the princess is more classically masculine.


Furthermore, the princess is also celebrated for her logic and intelligence. As the king falls head over feet to win the love and affection of the princess, she views the situation with a clear head, arguing that they have not known each other for long enough to marry. The princess, in these lines, displays marriage as the serious endeavor that it is, a commitment that is “world-without-end,” meaning everlasting. She also describes a marriage as a bargain. The use of the noun, “bargain,” signifies a mutual understanding and agreement (OED), and it is utilized to portray the sincerity and gravity with which the princess treats marriage, as opposed to the king who goes about winning over the princess with displays of wealth and trickery.