So often people think that they are experiencing love, but many times what they are feeling is actually infatuation. It can be hard to discern the difference. Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Queen Marguerite of Navarre’s The Heptameron explore this difference through their characters’ attempts to make sense of what love is, what it should be, and what its limitations are. Through their romantic antics, readers are able to peer into the truest motivations of lovers and the disasters that ensue when infatuation is left unchecked.
In Love’s Labour’s Lost, we learn that love makes people fools. The king and his men consider themselves to be extremely intelligent, as proved by their flashy vow of devotion to study for three years while fasting, not sleeping, and not seeing women. They do this not out of true love of knowledge, but out of a desire to be famous and well-known for their devotion to academics. At the start of the play when the king is introducing the rules of their three-year endeavor, he proclaims: “Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives, Live registered upon our brazen Tombs” (2-3). The motivation of the king and his men to take such an extreme vow is not out of love for study itself, but rather out of concern for their images and for their ideas of themselves.
When Berowne is about to overhear Dumaine’s love poem, his aside reveals the purpose and message of the whole play: “Once more I’ll mark how love can vary Wit” (1089). As the play progresses, we see that the men do not survive the very first temptation to break their vow, and that each in turn has fallen in love with the Princess or one of her women. They took the vow originally hoping to gain honor and a reputation of intelligence. Instead, they revealed themselves to be fools. Their credibility is immediately shattered. The men, all found guilty by one another, bemoan their circumstances as wise people who have had the misfortune of falling in love (1274-1369). They are made into fools yet again by the princess and her women when they trick the men by switching their gifts to confuse them. The king and his men are all punished repeatedly for their infatuation with the women, but also for their infatuation with fame and intelligence.
The men are not the only characters at fault here, however. The princess and her women ask them to prove their love by various acts of charity for isolation. These requests for proof of love is a theme that also appears in The Heptameron. In story eighteen, the lady tests her lover first by withholding anything more than kisses. When he is “happy to wait in patience” for the lady, she is not satisfied. Her insecurity drives her to test him again with the temptation of another woman. When he discovers that she does not trust his love enough to believe him on his word, he becomes heartbroken and angry. He leaves and does not come back for a long time, and the woman realizes her error.
Both the women in Love’s Labour’s Lost and the woman in story eighteen decide that words and promises are not proof enough. If two people are truly in love, however, there should be no tests of endurance needed. What these women are feeling could probably be better described as infatuation. Infatuation is a priority shift, but not in the same way as love is. In the case of love, the lover puts someone ahead of themselves wholly and completely. In the case of infatuation, this priority shift happens for the wrong reasons. Actions of infatuation are not motivated by selflessness, but rather selfishness. Love is giving of oneself whereas infatuation is taking for oneself.
Love in these two renaissance works of fiction show love to be something that makes once reasonable people mindless and impulsive. In story twenty-one of The Heptameron, love is described as an “assault”; In Love’s Labour’s Lost, as “blinding” (1215). Love can lead people to do things that do not make sense. Flying halfway around the world to see one person for a few days does not make sense financially or logistically, but people do it all the time. However, love is not craziness, it is understanding, where infatuation is uncertainty and a craving for proof and reason. Love is not quite craziness. It is more like faith. It is a matter of trust. If a person needs love to be proven to them, then that trust is missing. Love, like trust, happens between two people, whereas infatuation is more of a one-sided hope.
Love is so rare and so universal that people tell stories about it. Artists express it in art, singers express it in song, and writers, like Shakespeare and Queen Marguerite, express it in writing. No matter its motivation or its degree of purity, an instance of true love (or even an incident of infatuation) is remarkable enough to share with the world. It is the force that carried humankind to where we stand today. It’s sublime and deadly, like Niagara Falls or a forest fire. It quite literally creates people and destroys others. In story twenty-one of The Heptameron, the lover says to Rolandine: “If I were so fortunate as to be chosen by you for your husband, then I would be your husband, your lover, and your servant for the rest of my days.” The simple satisfaction of being in love is motivated by the other person’s goodness, even if it means forfeiting oneself. This can be seen as foolish or crazy, because humans are not supposed to want to give themselves up for another person, but it is also in many ways the greatest wisdom one can reach. Valuing the happiness and welfare of another above your own happiness and welfare is, across many religions and cultures, the moment of enlightenment, and the greatest closeness to God that a person can achieve.