Love as a Disease

Author: Claire Jansen

Both the Heptamaron by Marguerite of Navarre and Love Labor’s Lost by William Shakespeare depict love negatively, as if it were a disease of the mind. Each of these texts have unsatisfactory endings, realistically showing that love does not always end happily ever after. The Heptamaron is made up of short stories about love with different characters in each, while Love Labor’s Lost is about four men who take an oath to not talk to women but soon all fall in love by the end of the play. However, both texts share similarities while demonstrating the reality of love.


In Story Eighteen, the main character tests her lover’s affection and loyalty in many ways. The man remains patient throughout the story; eventually the woman believes his love is true and apologizes for putting him through so much. The moral of this story is that “Love is a subtle teacher” (214). Therefore, love can bring about traits in people they did not even know existed within themselves, such as patience in the case of the man. However, sometimes these characteristics are not always positive, as people can become obsessed or make rash decisions because they are blinded by love. The fact that love is personified in this story and many others demonstrates the powerful effect is has, much like an actual human being would have on another person.


Story Twenty-four of the Heptamaron highlights the dangers of testing someone’s limits when it comes to love. A handsome man named Elisor falls in love with the Queen but keeps his feelings a secret because she is married. He finally reveals the truth, telling her that he will, “love, revere and adore [her] not as a woman, but as [his] God on earth” (276). This demonstrates how deeply he respects her and longs for her to return these sentiments. However, she initially does not; instead the Queen thinks his love is a sickness. This attitude was normal for this time, as love was often viewed as an illness, especially when men were the ones showing their emotions. Expressing love and passion were usually seen as feminine characteristics. The Queen immediately writes off his feelings as a disease, thus attempting to diminish them and make it seem as though love is something that can simply be cured. She then decides to test Elisor’s love by asking him to go away and not talk to her for seven years. If he still loves her after this time, they can be together because she will be sure of how deeply he loves her.


Seven years later, Elisor returns from his solitude, but he no longer wants the Queen. She immediately “[weeps] tears of regret beyond belief” (282). This reaction shows that perhaps she should have accepted him when he still loved her rather than making him prove his feelings in such an extreme and cruel way. Through this unhappy ending, Marguerite of Navarre is telling the readers that the time we have to love can be fleeting and people should act upon it while they still have the chance.


Similarly, in Love Labor’s Lost, the women test their lovers’ limits in an extreme way. They make the men wait a full year without talking to them before they can pursue a romantic relationship. However, the play ends before the year is through, and so the readers are never able to know the outcome. There is a shift, however, when the princess’s father dies and a period of mourning begins. The last line continues this somber tone, which contrasts with the light-hearted banter that was characteristic throughout the entirety of the play. This inconclusive and somewhat dismal ending once again demonstrates that love does not always work out in the way people want and sometimes the happily ever after cannot exist.


Throughout these two texts, both Marguerite of Navarre and William Shakespeare demonstrate to their readers that love cannot always be perfect. Love is often viewed in a negative light, as at the time these were written many believed it was a form of sickness because it altered peoples’ minds. Despite the fact that these texts were written hundreds of years ago, they are still relevant to readers today because they illustrate the truth about love in an attempt to show that a fairytale ending usually does not exist. They are also warnings to the readers to take advantage of true feelings when people are still around because love can be fleeting.

Dilmen, Nevit. Broken Heart Symbol. December 23, 2009. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed March 27, 2018.