Behaving Irrationally

Author: Connor McGovern

Taylor, John. Chandos Portrait. 1610. National Portrait Gallery, London. Accessed April 21, 2017.
Taylor, John. Chandos Portrait. 1610. National Portrait Gallery, London. Accessed April 21, 2017.

In his play, Love’s Labor’s Lost, William Shakespeare asserts that, of all the human emotions, love is far and away the most powerful. Shakespeare supports this claim by following the journey of four young scholars who make a vow that entails fasting, getting little sleep, and completely avoiding women for three years, in order to attain their ultimate goal of becoming great scholars. This plan is interrupted when each of the men falls in love, by little fault of their own. Their dreams of becoming great scholars are soon crushed by the power of love, which forces them to reluctantly abandon their oath and switch their focus over to wooing their respective loves. Throughout the play, Shakespeare reveals his message that love has the ability to take control of one’s emotions and force people to do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

In the sixteenth century, when Shakespeare wrote many of his plays, it was common for playwrights to metaphorically refer to love as a disease or sickness. Love has no cure, and its victims are left to suffer until time rids them of their diseases. Shakespeare refers to love in this way throughout the play. In one instance, when Boyet is talking about the king to the princess, he says, “If my observation, which very seldom lies…deceive me not now, Navarre is infected…with that which we lovers entitle affected” (LLL II.i.214-218). Boyet has a feeling that the king is in love with the princess, while Shakespeare’s use of the word “infected” implies the presence of a disease. Shakespeare is saying that love is a sickness that people, no matter how hard they try, simply can’t get rid of.

Shakespeare again refers to love as a disease later in the play, when Dumaine describes his struggle with his love for Katharine. He says, “I would forget her, but a fever she reigns in my blood, and will remembered be” (LLL IV.iii.93-94). Although Dumaine would love to simply forget about Katharine and carry on with his academic life, he knows that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t. Shakespeare describes his love for her as a fever that runs through his blood, again making the reference to love as some type of incurable disease. Part of the reason why love is so powerful is that people simply can’t get rid of it. Love brings suffering to its victims until it finally forces them to make rash decisions, and in the case of Shakespeare’s play, it was the men’s decision to abandon their life goals of become great scholars that they may end up regretting.

Upon falling in love, the men are forced to keep their feelings secret in order to preserve their loyalty to their fellow scholars. Once their secrets are revealed, however, the men begin to discuss the possibility of abandoning their oath. Berowne, who was hesitant to agree to the oath from the beginning, holds true to his belief that love is far more important than scholarship. He eventually tries to convince the other three scholars of this, saying, “Keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools…Let us lose our oaths to find ourselves, or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths” (LLL IV.iii.332-338). According to Berowne, the men will be better served pursuing the women they love because, while they can tolerate life without their scholarship, they can’t say the same about the women they love. This is a huge turning point in the play because Berowne is finally able to convince everyone that they must abandon their original vows. Through this sudden transition, Shakespeare demonstrates the power of love by showing how easy it overcame the scholars. At the beginning of the play, the men, with the exception of Berowne, were fully set on avoiding all outside distractions, including women, in order to attain their ultimate goal of pursuing their scholarship. Immediately upon falling in love, however, their focus shifted straight to wooing their loves, without much debate. Shakespeare is essentially saying that love has the ability to take control of our lives and force us into doing things that we wouldn’t typically do. As much as the men would love to forget about their women and focus purely on academics, the power of love has forced them to do the exact opposite.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare informs his audience of his belief that of all human emotions, love is easily the strongest. He uses the analogy of love as a disease, in addition to other techniques, to demonstrate how love has the power to essentially take over our lives and force us into making rash decisions. This is important because it highlights a key aspect of human nature that, even after roughly four centuries, still holds to be true today. Shakespeare’s purpose in writing this play was to inform his audience that love can be dangerous due to its strength and ability to force people into behaving irrationally.