The Path to Self-Discovery

Author: Philip Simonides

Humphry, Ozias. Humphry sketch of the Chandos portrait. 1607. Digital Library@Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova, Pa. Accessed April 10, 2017.

In Love’s Labor’s Lost (1598), playwright William Shakespeare suggests that the path to self-discovery is full of frustration and trial and error. With the lack of an old and wise character, the abundant use of deep monologues, and predictable (sometimes irritatingly so) conflicts, Shakespeare reveals that realizing what is truly important in life is more complex then it seems. Shakespeare highlights youthful discovery in order to evoke inquiry about the meaning of life. Through the four main characters’ (the King, Berowne, Longaville, and Dunmaine) inexperience with life, use of monologues, and internal conflicts, it can be perceived that Shakespeare proposes the path to discovering what is most important in life cannot only be complicated, it can be hard to attain as well.
With the age and life experience of the four main men, Shakespeare gives the reader insight on how difficult the path to self-discovery is. The play starts off with the introduction to the four young, aspiring men who think they have figured everything out. For example, they believe the only path to success is to study, fast, and abstain from women for three straight years. Berowne, one of the men who agreed to the contract, comments on the extreme nature of the agreement by saying: “O, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep, / Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep” (I.I.47-48). Although Berowne realizes the absurdity of such an excessive contract, his inexperience with life causes him to comply, and he falls into its trap. The men are unable to realize there are more engaging and fulfilling ways to educate themselves other than devoting all their time to studying. For example, in Act IV, Scene III, Longaville is one of the four who struggles the most with writing. However, once he begins to fall in love, he writes more sonnets and gains more confidence. Through falling in love, an action forbidden by the strict contract, his writing improves and becomes more well-rounded. This makes it clear that the contract is not all-knowing, and instead limits the possibility of success for the men. The men have no guidance, which forces them to discover on their own what is truly meaningful. Shakespeare does this in order to highlight the complexity and the flaws in one’s judgment in the everyday life.
Shakespeare demonstrates more difficulty in self-discovery in his use of monologues throughout the play. Monologues are primarily used to demonstrate a character’s true feelings without any influence from other characters. During a soliloquy about his love, Berowne says: “Well, I do nothing in the world but / lie, and lie in my throat. By heaven, I do love,” (IV.III.11-12). Berowne speaks of how he is in love, but has to lie about it since he does not want the others to know. This monologue allows the reader to get a deeper and more honest look into Berowne and how he truly feels. He does not need to mask his true feelings since no one is listening. The reader learns that the characters are realizing and striving for self-discovery, but are ultimately held back due to their insecurity and fear of judgement. Also, Berowne would humiliated and punished if the others found out about his secret love. In an effort to protect himself, he chooses to hide his true feelings, despite it preventing him to accomplish what he wants. The use of monologues demonstrates the difficulty in self-discovery since Berowne’s pride and insecurity prevents him from achieving the thing he wants the most, the one thing that can actually help him.

Lastly, Shakespeare utilizes the internal conflict of love between the characters to make his final comment on self-discovery. As previously stated, the four men decide it would be best to buckle down and commit three years to nothing but studying, thinking it would bring them fame, fortune, and happiness in the future. However, once the Princess comes with her three friends, the men become torn with conflict. This is best shown in Act IV, Scene III. The men all confess their loves thinking they are in private, when in actuality the others are listening. After discovering that each of the men have been living in hypocrisy and come to terms with their true feelings, Berowne exclaims: “Sweet lords, sweet lovers, O, let us embrace! / As true we are as flesh and blood can be. / The sea will ebb and flow, heaven show his face; / Young blood doth not obey an old decree” (IV.III.212-215). The men want to keep to their oath, but are unable to due to the love each one of them holds. Shakespeare creates this sharp conflict between the head and heart to show the difficulty in determine what is truly important in life. Also, this conflict is used to exemplify the struggle of human reasoning.
Discovering what is most important in life is not an easy task, as shown in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Shakespeare give the readers hope by opening their minds to the faults of naivety and pride. Although me four main characters- The King, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville- are originally set back due to their inexperience with life, insecurity, and internal conflicts, they are able to mature through experience and finally learn what is truly important in life.