English Resentment of Spain

Author: Brendan O'Connor

In the comical play Love Labours Lost, William Shakespeare implies that the character Don Armado is an allusion to the Spanish Armada and to Shakespeare’s attitude towards Spain at the time. By portraying Don Armado as an arrogant, ludicrous character, Shakespeare tells the reader that the Spanish glory days are over. Shakespeare’s mocking of the Spanish reflects the opinion of much of England about Spain following their failed invasion of England. Shakespeare assumes that his readers and fellow citizens will realize that Don Armado is reference to Spain and therefore enhance the effect of his play.

Map of Spain. The Ladies new and polite pocket. 1777. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Accessed April 15, 2017. http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/jyu8ty
Map of Spain. The Ladies new and polite pocket. 1777. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection. Accessed April 15, 2017. http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/jyu8ty

When this play was published in 1598, just 10 years after Spain tried to invade England, many people in England had strong feelings for Spain and Spaniards in general. It was no secret that English people were not fond of Spain, which is why Shakespeare’s portrayal of Don Armado is not very subtle. Of all the names Shakespeare could have used for his Spanish character, the name Don “Armado” is noticeably similar to the Spanish “Armada”. As an Englishman himself, Shakespeare undoubtedly had feelings of disdain towards Spaniards. Another way Don Armado is a clear allusion to the Spanish Armada is in Act I of the play when the King says they received “A letter from the magnificent Armado” (LLL I.i.188). Sometimes referred to as the “Magnificent Armada”, this is clearly a reference to the fallen Spanish fleet.

One of the first descriptions of Armado in the play comes from the King when he describes Armado as showy and arrogant. By describing him as a “child of fancy, that Armado hight” (LLL I.i.168), the audience’s perception of Armado is that he is cocky and full of himself. Before we even meet Don Armado, some of the other character’s opinions about him are outlined. By giving Armado a reputation of being “fancy”, Shakespeare doesn’t give the audience the chance to judge his character first. Shakespeare does this to assert his opinion about Spaniards before the reader can form a positive opinion of Don Armado.

In one point in time, the Spanish Empire was one of the biggest powers in the world. However, through the cowardice and incompetence of Don Armado, Shakespeare is informing the reader that the age of the Spanish is over. In Act V, Armado challenges Costard to a fight but immediately retreats saying, “Gentlemen and soldiers, pardon me. I will not combat in my shirt” (LLL V.ii.700-701). The tension between England and Spain was obviously increased following the Armada, and many, including Shakespeare, thought the Spanish were cowards. By backing down from his fight with Costard, Armado is representing the cowardice of Spain, at least how Shakespeare saw it. In addition to being a coward, Armado is incompetent in some areas. When the king reads Armado’s letter in Act I, Costard seems to have difficulty figuring out who Armado is talking about and all he can ask is “Me?” (LLL I.i.243). In this case, Shakespeare is trying to show that Spaniards were hard to understand and confusing in nature. The incompetence that they had is represented through Armado and his confusing letter.

The way Shakespeare characterizes Armado is yet another example of his brilliance. In all of his work, one could argue that Shakespeare writes what he does to send a message. It is because of the way he characterizes Armado in this case that the reader knows Armado is a representation of Spain. Because the majority of his work at the time was performed in England and for English people, Shakespeare is appealing to his audience. With the hatred of Spain still fresh for England, Shakespeare’s hidden message is something that essentially all of England would agree with. For this reason and among other reasons, Love Labours Lost is a play that unifies the nation of England and represents the opinion of the country as a whole. In a time where England was Protestant and Spain was Roman Catholic, the rivalry between the two countries was at its peak and Shakespeare’s play helped to strengthen that rivalry. With the defeat of the Spanish, England was on the rise and Spain was on the downfall, further shown through the ridiculing of Don Armado.

Through all of the invasions and battles between Spain and England and any nation in general, this play is a perfect example of how much of an effect literature can have in the world. As one of the most popular playwrights in history, Shakespeare’s words carried an immense amount of wait not only in the world of literature, but in the world in general. By alluding to the general opinion that Spain was on the decline, Shakespeare presumably helped to solidify that opinion throughout England. While many may argue that Shakespeare couldn’t have had a serious impact on English hatred towards Spain, the fact that the name Shakespeare is known worldwide even still today and constantly studied in all levels of education suggests the contrary.