William Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost offers a perspective on the nature of the different classes during the time the play was written. Shakespeare’s different characters act as illustrations of the culture of each different social group at the time. Throughout this play, Shakespeare mainly presents subtle critiques of the upper classes that the more common people would be able to relate to, while disguising these ideas from the higher class who may take offense.
Shakespeare first introduces the upper class with the King and the Lords with their plan to improve themselves that seems like it was a common idea at the time. However, to us, and most likely to the lower class as well, it appears to be a plan that is extremely impractical. It almost seems as if the men are trying to prove how great they are. However, it seems a bit contradictory, as by essentially isolating themselves, there won’t really be many people to impress. Even though the men realize that these are “barren tasks, too hard to keep, not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep” (LLL I.i.4-47) they believe that they must honor their oath and carry out these tasks anyway. The upper class audience would agree with this decision, as they would most likely believe that it would be dishonorable not to act in accordance with their oath. On the other hand, a more sensible person would be more inclined to do away with the oath or at least revise it to make it more reasonable. By starting with this scene, Shakespeare gives the audience a sense of the type of people the King and the Lords are, setting up a chance to criticize them later while making it seem like nothing out of the ordinary for the elite class.
The setting of the play is important to note as well. By setting the play in a foreign land, Shakespeare is able to make a comment about his own society while it seems that the play is about a place and society far away from home for the audience. It is a clever way to avoid receiving criticism for putting his own society in a poor light, and it is a reason why Shakespeare’s plays were so well received. Anyone who got the message could apply it to their own lives; whereas others could dismiss it as simply a commentary on another culture rather than a critique of their own.
The introduction of the Princess and the rest of the women add another level to the contradictory nature of the King and his Lords. After the initial plan to swear off all women, the men almost immediately fall in love with the women who come to visit. This is clearly quite hypocritical, and the princess even points it out, claiming that it is “sin to break it.” (LLL II.i.105). Even with this in mind, the King and his Lords continue to pursue the women, further revealing the true nature of the men. Another unappealing aspect of the men’s lifestyle is their idea that they are almost entitled to a relationship with a woman if they desire one. Today, this idea would be very much looked down upon, but the upper class at the time, especially the men, would agree with the men in the play. Clearly, Shakespeare’s message got through to the intended audience, as this way of thinking is nowhere to be found in most societies today.
Although the characters of Holofernes and Nathaniel don’t have particularly prominent roles, they also illustrate a distaste for the elite, or in this case, the people who view themselves as elite. As Holofernes and Nathaniel constantly converse in Latin, they come off as somewhat ridiculous to characters like Costard. These interactions show how spending so much time with studying and trying to become a more educated person doesn’t necessarily make someone “better.” This idea can also be applied to the King and the Lords, as they plan to spend an exorbitant amount of time studying rather than interacting with other people. Based on how Holofernes and Nathaniel act, it can be inferred that the King and the Lords will have a similarly difficult time interacting with others and finding success in society.
As the women leave the court, they present the men with a challenge that they must perform in order to obtain their love. Clearly, the women had realized that the men didn’t turn out to be as great as they had expected when they first wrote the oath. This shows that all their hard work in their court wasn’t going to pay off, and that this isn’t really the best way to improve oneself. The only way people like the noblemen or Holofernes or Nathaniel can become better people would by interacting with others on a regular basis to become better integrated with society rather than spending so much time studying and fasting.
This play offers people a chance to step back and analyze the customs of their society and the way of life of different types of people. Shakespeare believed that the life of the Lords was no way to live, an idea which was presented in this play to the lower class people who must have had similar sentiments. By disguising the criticism of the upper class, Shakespeare invites the possibility of social change without making it seem like a direct attack on his own society, which certainly helps this play’s influence reach a greater number of people.