By Kelley Dicso
To state the obvious, men and woman are wired differently. The symbols and stereotypes that surround both modern and early century women point to their sensitive, communicative, and graceful natures. Always given the upper hand due to the easily-met demands of strength and assertiveness, men have consistently been depicted as leaders. Nonetheless, females mature years before their male counterparts. Females develop social skills that some men never bring to fruition. Females are also analytical beings: able to draw connections in both social and intellectual scenarios. Shakespeare’s Love Labour’s Lost highlights the witty and intelligent nature of women, a concept he realized well before his time. In his plot and wordplay, Shakespeare notes the power women hold in their femininity, and how they may use this to their advantage; redefining gender roles and the values of masculinity.
For as long as time records, woman have been considered as less than their male counterparts. At this point in time, society has come to witness the suppression that the feminine population has been subjugated to throughout history. Yet Shakespeare was able to poke holes in these established roles centuries ago. What seemingly makes women subordinate also ironically brings out their superiority over men, and Shakespeare was able to see this. Observant and empathetic, women are generally social beings. Wordplay, love, and games of wit are all tactics the Princess and ladies in Love Labour’s Lost used to eventually have the lords chasing after them. The men start out with self-inflicted restraints on all of their human urges: food, sleep, and sex. In attempt to gain education and high social status, the men cripple themselves. In their lack of consideration for what it means to be human: to experience love, hardship, and to learn from natural experience,
the men actually limit their potential instead of increasing it. Valuing their own construct over the divine construct of nature (which is highly valued by romantic writers) and God, the men display their ignorance and end in an egotistical pitfall. Here, the woman recognize fault, and enchant the men by attacking their weaknesses. The ladies bring the men to not only to break their self-enforced boundaries, but to go smashing through them. This plot can be translated to a larger scale as well. Shakespeare must see the ladies as more connected to the divine and natural, as he places them in a field on the first night to camp. This plot point brings the symbolism of rejuvenation into nature, done outside of the construct of man. Shakespeare valued women in Love Labour’s Lost much more than to what meets the eye, and further expresses this by connecting them to nature throughout the entire plot.
When the ladies get the men eating out of their hands, they further exercise their power by creating their own time restraints. Telling the lords that time will determine where their relationships go, the reality of the situation is that the ladies are making the decisions here. Hiding behind the guise of “time” they don’t expose their knowledge of how deeply their power affects the men. The women did not take their victory unknowingly, as the Princess notes their obvious upper hand when she says “We are wise women to mock our lovers so” (LLL V.ii.58). In saying this, the Princess understands how the world is dominated by men, and sees her own power in sexuality, which can be exercised through the excellent communication skills that comes along with being a woman. Rosaline epitomizes this understanding when she unveils the lack masculinity has. The metaphorical account Rosaline gives of the men points to how knowing she and the other ladies actually are, saying “…their shallow shows and prologue vilely penned, And their rough carriage so ridiculous…” (LLL V.ii 305-306). This belittling description of their male counterparts represents the ladies upper hand. The masculine demeanor that society prizes actually brings the men to their knees, and due to the men’s lack of depth and grace that the woman are able to recognize, they can execute their wit and social power to turn the tables.
The communication that men would typically scoff at as useless, girlish chatter was actually used to spin them into webs. The ladies used their words in every way possible to manipulate the men in a game of wit and power. Even Berowne, who rarely acknowledges another’s wit, openly admits to Rosaline that her intelligence surpasses his own when he says “Here stand I, lady; dart thy skill at me…thrust thy sharp wit quite through my ignorance…” (LLL V.ii. 396-398). In the end, Berowne goes as far as to ask the ladies to show mercy, telling the Princess “Our states are forfeit. Seek not to undo us” (LLL V.ii.425).
The “players” of modern day society are the ones “played” in Shakespeare’s Love Labour’s Lost. All too often woman have been depicted as confused and naïve. However, in this play their cleverness, communication, and intelligence brings the men to beg for surrender. Shakespeare shows true appreciation of women by highlighting their wit, power, and sexual finesse.