The “Sickness” of Love

Author: Blake Leonard

Through his play Love’s Labor’s Lost, Shakespeare is able to make statements on his views on love. A prevailing sentiment in the past was that love was a sickness and something that infects people in a negative way. The King of Navarre and his entourage view love in this manner and believe that love is something antithetical to the pursuit of knowledge. Shakespeare, through this play, shows that love is something good and uses these characters to show that love is not a sickness but rather is something that is a positive force. Shakespeare believes that love in a pure form is something positive whereas lust is something that can turn negative. This play is a testament to his views on love.

Shakespeare presents the age old argument of love being an illness through the king near the very beginning of the play by having the kind create a pact, “You three, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville have sworn for three years’ term to live with me, my fellow scholars, and to keep those statutes that are recorded in this schedule here.” (LLL I.I 15-18) All of these characters have agreed to swear off love so that they can seek knowledge better. This idea is not new and can be seen across a variety of cultures. The universal nature of love and people’s thoughts on it is perhaps why Shakespeare has the play take place in a foreign land so that he can show that his ideas on love are universal to all of humanity. Shakespeare is making a point that it does not matter who uses or in what context because the way love works is universal and this ancient view of love being a sickness is found throughout many cultures.


Shakespeare believes that it is not only foolish to swear one’s self off of love but also that it is impossible to do. Many previous thinkers, such as Plato, would suggest that being attached to others and having love is something that prevents one from becoming more knowledgeable. Shakespeare would have definitely have heard these ideas and wanted to offer his own perspective. He very intentionally has the men in the play each fall in love and then deny that they are doing so. The men become aware that they are falling in love, “Shot, by heaven! Proceed, sweet Cupid. Thou hast thumped him with thy bird bolt under the left pap. In faith, secrets!” (LLL IV.iii.21-23) Shakespeare has these characters all begin to fall in love to show that no man is immune to it. He also wants to show that this love is not some negative debilitating force. Every single character falls in love, regardless of how committed they are to avoiding it.

Shakespeare makes a clear distinction that there is a difference between falling in love and falling in lust. Shakespeare would potentially agree with Plato that blind lust can get in the way of seeking higher knowledge. Shakespeare uses the French women in order to illustrate this difference between love and lust. The princess and her followers realize that perhaps these men are just lustful so they implore them to serve others and do something meaningful before returning to them. The tasks that they are assigned are tasks that one would partake in to find higher meaning. Shakespeare shows through this that one can both find love and still try to find a deeper meaning in life.
For example, Rosaline is unsure if Berowne’s love is true, so, she says, “And therewithal to win me, if you please, without the which I am not to be won, you shall this twelvemonth term from day to day visit the speechless sick, and still converse, With groaning wretches; and your task shall be with all the fierce endeavor of your wit to enforce the pained impotent to smile.” (LLL V.ii 837-843) Rosaline has Berowne do something noble that will give him better perspective on life. This is what the men set out to do originally but failed to do. When they tried to simply seek knowledge without any sort of love they failed horrendously. Shakespeare is not only saying that love is not a hindrance to a quest for something higher he is also saying that it is impossible to find any sort of greater meaning without love. The men in the play are only able to go out and truly do noble deeds and discover themselves when they are doing it through love. The enemy they should have originally targeted was blind lust yet they misidentified it as any love. When they are able to accept that they can use love as a means to seek knowledge then they are able to truly begin their quest.


Shakespeare uses Love’s Labor’s Lost to make a statement that love is not a sickness. He goes as far as to show that love is essential to being able to seek knowledge and find a higher meaning. He does recognize that blind lust can get in the way of this pursuit but he makes sure to show that there is a significant difference between true love and a blind lust.The characters in the play are used to show how these old ideals of love being a sickness are wrong in this assumption and that only once they accept love are they able to actually seek knowledge. He has the play take place in a foreign land as to show that the point he is making is universal to all humans and that love can strengthen us all. Through this play, Shakespeare makes a statement that love is an incredibly powerful force and that is a positive one when it is pure.

Image Citations:
1) Desconhecido. Plato’s Academy Mosaic. 1st Century BC. Pompeii. Acessed April 21st, 2017.
2)Dicksee, Frank. Romeo and Juliet. 1884.Accessed April 21st, 2017.