In 1588 an event occurred that would drastically change the dynamic between nations in western Europe. The Spanish failed attempt to invade England using the Spanish Armada was an event that directed the history of two nations. This is reflected in the literature of both the Spanish and English during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. One author who was clearly affected by the failed invasion of the Spanish was play write William Shakespeare, who is famous for conveying messages that retain meaning after hundreds of years. However, some of his plays had political messages geared towards audiences of the time. One such example of this was his late 16th century play Love’s Labor’s Lost, where to convey his message of tolerance towards the Spanish people, Shakespeare employs the character of Don Armado and his Page.
The character of Don Armado is clearly a jab at the failed invasion of England by the Spanish navy, or the “Spanish Armada,” in 1588. However, that point has been argued so thoroughly and so often that it is almost accepted as fact. What is more interesting is the idea that Shakespeare did not take a holistically negative perspective of the Spanish, as a majority of the English population did at this time. One piece of evidence for this lies in the Page. The Page of Don Armado can reasonably be assumed to be Spanish as well, as the average term of servitude was about ten years at the time and the Page is described as a boy in the play. This gives evidence to the point that Shakespeare is showing the Spanish in two different perspectives, as the Page is extremely witty and often times ends up outwitting his master in word play. An example of this word play occurs in the second section of the play as Shakespeare writes:
“P. Speak you this in my praise Master?
B. In thy condign praise.
P. I will praise an Eel with the same praise.
B. What? that an eel is ingenious.
P. That an Eel is quick.
B. I do say thou art quick in answers. Thou heatest my blood,” (269-274).
Here, Shakespeare is showing how educated this Spanish servant is, by not only having him keep up with is masters language, but showing the Page surpass Don Armado. Shakespeare chose to have the servant outwit the master to give the audience a little reminder that not all Spanish are like Don Armado. They’re not all braggadocios and self-righteous, some are like the Page, smart, witty, and unassuming. The goal of this tactic would be to jar the audience into realizing they have been sucked into a huge metanarrative. That being all Spanish are evil, and to begin to see that they may have been mistreating a Spaniard in their own life.
Another perspective that could be taken on how Shakespeare uses Don Armado to portray the Spanish in Love’s Labor’s Lost is one of religion. It has been generally accepted that Shakespeare’s family was of Catholic faith, and when the Catholic nation of Spain tried to invade England, a Protestant country, attitudes towards Catholic believers turned south extremely fast. Most catholic believers were forced into hiding over fear of persecution. It seems that in his play, Shakespeare desires to begin to alter the view of the Spanish, and therefore Catholics, through the character of Don Armado. In the beginning of the play, Armado is introduced as a stereotypical Spaniard knight who has fallen from glory and now hangs on to what little prestige he has left. Shakespeare desired this image at the beginning of the play to gain the audiences trust and allow them to start to enjoy Armado as a character. However, at the end of the play, in section ten, Armado does something that turns the audience’s judgement of Armado on its head. It is revealed that Armado has impregnated Jaquenetta and Don Armado then proclaims to the King that he “will kiss thy royal ring, and take leave, I am a votary; I have vowed to Jaquenetta to hold the plough for her sweet love three years,” (2322). Here, Shakespeare paints Don Armado as a man who is giving up everything that he values, his status and money, to become a peasant for Jaquenetta’s sake. This is truly one of the more moving moments in the play, as Don Armado sacrifices everything he has in order to do what is right by Jaquenetta, who he truly loves after all. Shakespeare has Don Armado turn over a new leaf at the end of the play for the English audience to see that not all Spanish are wicked and corrupt, and that some are truly good people. His motivation for wanting this change was most likely a desire to allow his faith to become respected once again in England and he employed Don Armado’s change in character to do it.
Through the evolution of the character Don Armado, and the inclusion of the character Page, William Shakespeare conveys the message that the Spanish and therefore the Catholics should not be demonized based on a metanarrative or stereotype. This is a concept that we are still battling with today. If we take the general idea of the statement and apply the concept from the Spanish nationality and Catholic religion to the Middle Eastern nations and the Islamic religion, we can see remarkable parallels. They face similar metanarratives of all people from the Middle East being dangerous, or all Islam believers are terrorists in the post-modern era. Similarly, all of these stereotypes and metanarratives stem back to an attack; It was 9/11 that began the surge is islamophobia in the US, and it can be made parallel to the failed invasion of England by the Spanish that spurred the hatred of Catholics in England. By making these modern parallels we can begin to understand more completely what Shakespeare was trying to convey to us through his late 16th century play, Love’s Labor’s Lost and begin to see applications for it in our own lives.