So, what makes people human? There are several answers to this question.Maybe it’s our free will, or our bipedal form. Regardless, each person is unique in his or her personality, ethnicity, beliefs, and life goals. However, some people become narrow-minded in their pursuit of endeavors. This course of action can isolate these individuals from reality when they become content in their own little worlds. In other words, people can lose sight of their surroundings while mentally geared toward their commitments. In the Shakespearean play Love’s Labour’s Lost, a group of friends lose track of what it means to be human when they isolate themselves for the purpose of education.
As the first act gets underway, three of the characters, Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine, undertake an oath from their king, Ferdinand of Navarre. But this isn’t any typical medieval oath. These men have foresworn to abstain from all distractions in life for the sole intent of studying. In the words of Longaville, “’Tis but a three years’ fast” (LLL I.i.24). However, King Ferdinand and his fellow scholars may be in over their heads. By committing a majority of their time and energy towards the pursuit of knowledge, these characters fail to realize the psychological and physical effects that are in store for them. Berowne seems dismayed at the eccentric terms and conditions set out by the king, because he got more than he bargained for. He contemplates retaining his current lifestyle, but ultimately decides to remain with the king, knowing that he took an oath and intends to not break it (LLL I.i.111-117). Now, some readers of Love’s Labour’s Lost would subsequently theorize Berowne’s giving in to this extremely demanding oath as the equivalent of selling one’s soul to the devil. After all, Berowne has already left behind the world around him. While other readers may disagree that the men sold their souls, one thing is certain: swearing that oath was the first step in “dehumanization” for Berowne, Longaville, Dumaine, and their king.
As more characters are introduced with every scene, the audience is given a perspective of the goings on from outside the castle walls in order to introduce people who maintain a tight grasp on humanity. Act II features the Princess of France conversing with the King of Navarre, three lords, and three other ladies about the circumstances surrounding the men and their commitment to learning. As it turns out, the three women, Katharine, Maria, and Rosaline, express romantic interest in Dumaine, Longaville, and Berowne, respectively. Naturally, Ferdinand wants his men to keep their distance because their education is of a higher priority, but his lover wishes to break this charade down, claiming that it is a “deadly sin” to keep such an oath and to also break it (LLL II.i.105-106). It can be inferred that she is trying to help the men reclaim some of their humanity.
There are benefits and drawbacks for the male and female characters to interact with each other: The main benefit is the reclamation of humanity, while the one drawback is violation of the oath on the grounds of interacting with women. But the benefits far outweigh the one drawback because social interactions are one of the core concepts of what it means to be human. By refusing to allow Dumaine, Berowne, and Longaville to interact with the ladies, Ferdinand is trying to socially isolate himself and his men from anyone on the outside. Given enough time spent with one’s concentration centered solely on studying, social skills can become forgotten just as fast as they are learned.
Intelligence is another characteristic all humans share, although its magnitude varies with each individual. While there are several positive ways to exercise one’s educated mind, individuals like Ferdinand, Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne either take their skills too far or become selfish in using them. In a stereotypical society, people of high social status get high quality education at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. But their spoiled nature compels them to lord it over those individuals who receive lower quality education. In the case of Love’s Labour’s Lost, the men believe that studying for three years with the king will make them intellectually superior to their peers. As a result, they believe they will be superhuman and all-knowing. Dumaine, for instance, states “Dark needs no candles now, for dark is light” (LLL IV.iii.267). Well, darkness is certainly not light; light and darkness are complete opposites. Anyways, the characters of this play have seemingly entered a trance in which they are convinced of having harnessed every iota of knowledge in the universe. But this “gift” doesn’t come without a price. If one were to study for three years straight with little to no food or contact with the outside world, he or she could easily lose their sanity and become a recluse from reality.
It is paramount to remind ourselves what makes us human. We tend to lose sight of that when becoming single-minded or self-centered. The men of Love’s Labour’s Lost may not have realized the consequences of their actions after taking that oath, but the regret and disenchantment does catch up to them, given enough time. Being egotistic can bring out the worst in people, too. When King Ferdinand vowed to educate himself and his subjects for three years all while abstaining from everything else in the world, he was extremely lacking in common sense. He lost sight of how human he was. Part of being human is realizing our limitations. Otherwise, we would destroy ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically.