Classism Isn’t Classy

Author: Elizabeth Antwi-nsiah



Disguised as a convoluted comedy about love and the things it can make you do, Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is actually has major social commentary. One of the themes that Shakespeare takes on is social classes. The fact that the audience was the Queen and her court is important to note in respect to this theme. Throughout the play there is an emphasis on high and low born characters. There was more to all these characters besides their stereotype. The low born characters were more likely to be smarter and seemed to have more life experience than the characters who were high born. Shakespeare uses stereotypically less educated characters and makes them the more insightful to address classicism in his time.


 The relationship between Page and Braggart is a clear example that class is not an indication of intelligence. In a traditional relationship between a page and his master the master would be smarter and have better life experience. In the case of Page and Braggart this isn’t true. Whenever there is dialogue between these two characters Page is obviously whittier and appears to have more insight about love than Braggart. When Page starts discussing love and the ridiculous things it can make people do it displays how much more he knows about life than Braggart does, “No my complete Master, but to Jig off a tune at the tongue’s end, canary to it with your feet, humor it with turning up your eyelids, sigh a note and sing a note sometime through the throat, if you swallowed love with singing love sometime through: nose as if you snuffed up love by smelling love with your hat penthouse-like o’er the shop of your eyes,” (4.638). Strictly by observation Page knows more about love than Braggart does. Just because Page is lower class doesn’t mean that he has to fit into all the stereotypes that are set for those people. In contrast Braggart who would traditionally be sharing his knowledge to Page’s comes off as less witful and slower. Braggart isn’t able to keep up with Pages wit, yet is still arrogant. In the fourth section Braggart claims to be in love, then forgets the name of the person of his affection and the Page is able to tell that this isn’t true love, “BRAGGART. But Oh—, but Oh—PAGE. The Hobby-horse is forgot.BRAGGART. Callest thou my love Hobby-horse.PAGE. No Master, the Hobby-horse is but a colt, and your love perhaps, a hackney: But have you forgot your love?”(4.641-644). Braggart can’t even keep up with the jokes that Page makes about his lack of intelligence. Shakespeare uses Braggarts lack of wit in order to portray that being high born doesn’t make a noble better than a commoner.


 Shakespeare uses Costard, the clown, to dispel what was traditionally thought about people of lower classes. Costard is another stock character that isn’t thought of as someone who would have insights to life due to a lack of intelligence. Costard in the original sense would be thought of as the butt of the joke,  someone who is there for entertainment. Throughout the play, Costard proves that the stereotypes don’t define both noble and common people through his level of education. When the King reads the letter from Braggart and him and Costard go back and forth is a key example of this, Ay the best for the worst. But, sirrah, what say you to this? COSTARD. Sir I confess the Wench. KING. Did you hear the Proclamation? COSTARD. I do confess much of the hearing it, but little of the marking of it. KING. It was proclaimed a year’s imprisonment to be taken with a Wench. COSTARD. I was taken with none sir, I was taken with a Damsel. KING. Well, it was proclaimed Damsel. COSTARD. This was no Damsel neither sir, she was a Virgin.(1.231-237).


Most Jesters wouldn’t be able to outwit the a king or have any type of banter. The characteristics Shakespeare gives to Costard or usually attributed to high born people. Shakespeare is making a point to his noble audience that their social status means nothing. Costard even points out to the audience that the characters that are supposed to be better than the low born seem to be wittier, “By my soul a Swain, a most simple Clown. Lord, Lord, how the Ladies and I have put him down. By my troth most sweet jests, most iconic vulgar wit, When it comes so smoothly off, so obscenely as it were, so fit. Armado at to the side, oh a most dainty man, To see him walk before a Lady, and to bear her Fan. To see him kiss his hand, and how most sweetly a will swear: And his Page at other side, that handful of wit, Ah heavens, it is a most pathetical nit. Sowla, sowla.”(5.901-910). Costard starts by pointing out that he is a clown to remind the audience of his status. Costard then goes on to allude to the previous conversation in which he and the ladies outwitted Boyet. Costard also mentions the relationship between Braggart and Page, pointing out that the Page is simply smarter than him. In doing this Shakespeare is directly letting his audience know one of the themes. Costard’s statement functions as a way to let the audience know that they aren’t just watching for entertainment. Costard’s character relates back to the real world outside of the play especially in lines like these where he talks directly to the audience.  


Shakespeare uses the topic of love that everyone can relate to as a front to tell his audience what he actually thinks about being noble and being a commoner. In modern society this same world view still exists. People born with more money are thought to be more educated and better than people born with less. Shakespeare creates these characters to prove that this isn’t it always the case. Just like in the play being a richer more important person today doesn’t mean they are smart or give that person a better understanding of life.

Bruegel , Pieter Peasant Wedding Dance. 1607. Chamber of Wonders, Charles Street, Belgium. March, 2018