True Love is Unattainable

Author: Ashley Edmunds

William Shakespeare has two plays in which he shares his views on romantic love. Through exploring the similarities and differences between Love’s Labour’s Lost and Hamlet, one can see Shakespeare’s stance on true love. Shakespeare believes that true love, love that has passed the artificial level, is unattainable and unrealistic. By having characters with an array of personalities at various points in their relationships with others, Shakespeare proves that true love cannot be found in society.

Bida, Alexandre. Love’s labour’s lost. 19th Century. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. Accessed April 5, 2017.
Bida, Alexandre. Love’s labour’s lost. 19th Century. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. Accessed April 5, 2017.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine all thought they were in love with Rosaline, Maria, and Katherine respectively, yet throughout the play they prove that their love is not real. For example, in the last scene the women proved that the men would fall in love with them no matter which woman they were talking to. The Princess told the women to put on masked “And change your favours too; so shall your loves/ Woo contrary, deceived by these removes” (LLL V.ii.134 -135). This is an example of artificial love because the men can’t even tell the difference between the women, and they don’t care- they are simply in love with any woman who will flirt with them. Moreover, how quickly they all fell in love with these women, and how willing they were to marry the women so abruptly proves that these men were simply infatuated and not in love. Shakespeare uses Berowne to sum up the ending perfectly: “Our wooing doth not end like an old play;/ Jack hath not Jill. These ladies’ courtesy/ Might well have made our sport a comedy” (LLL V.ii.863-865). Essentially, the men in Love’s Labour’s Lost are in search of an artificial love that will enhance their education and make them better men, which is exactly why their relationships were not fulfilled at the conclusion of the play.

Hamlet, however, had relationships that were defined, but still not real. For example, the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. First, Hamlet uses Ophelia because he knows that she will tell Polonius that he’s “mad.” If you truly love someone, you’re not hanging around them simply to manipulate them as a way to pass information on to someone else. Moreover, people that are truly in love act in an honest way, and don’t fake their personality or mental state. Hamlet is also constantly faulting Ophelia and disrespecting her, leading her to believe that he doesn’t love her and ultimately leading to her suicide. A quote that shares the disloyalty and artificiality of their love is as follows:

HAMLET. I did love you once.

OPHELIA. Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

HAMLET. You should not have believed me…

I loved you not. (Ham III.i.115-119)

This last point is the most powerful argument as to why, although they may have thought and said they were once in love, their love certainly never passed the artificial level.

Another example of a concrete relationship full of artificial love in Hamlet is the relationship between Gertrude and Claudius. The first problem of their relationship is the fact the Gertrude was married to Claudius’s brother before he died. This disloyalty to Gertrude’s deceased husband and Claudius’s own brother starts the relationship on troubled water. This trouble is intensified due to how quickly the relationship started after the death. Hamlet shares his views on the matter in the following quote:

Within a month,

Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears

Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,

She married. O, most wicked speed… (Ham I.ii.153-156)

Absolon, John. Mr. Edmund Kean as Hamlet. 1847. Folger Digital Image Collection, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. Accessed April 5, 2017.

Clearly, Hamlet thinks that Gertrude didn’t take any time to grieve, which makes the reader question whether the death of the King was planned. As the play progresses, we see that both Gertrude and Claudius are extremely power-hungry, and their own greed is why they never grieved. This death means that they each have more power, so they see no reason to grieve. Their strive for power explains the abruptness of their relationship, and is also good evidence that their relationship was not formed out of love.

As you can tell, there are many similarities between the two works. For one, in both plays the characters are quick to marry. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, it was because of their infatuation and desire to become more educated and noble men. In Hamlet, it was for power. In both cases, the love was not real and no loyalty was held, rather the characters used artificial love to have meaningless relationships as a means of getting to their goals. In addition, both plays involved manipulation. Love’s Labour’s Lost had the women manipulating the men to see if the men could even tell the difference between them (which they couldn’t), while Hamlet had Hamlet pretending to be someone he wasn’t around Ophelia in order to trick Polonius. Both plays have identical patterns which provide detail into what Shakespeare thought was toxic in relationships.

However, the plays also have their differences. Primarily, Love’s Labour’s Lost shows an interworking of multiple relationships that overlap and interweave. The way in which the men flirt with different women and the women trade partners with their masks on proves this fact. In Hamlet, on the other hand, there are clear-cut relationships that are public and well-known. This difference demonstrates how Shakespeare thought that artificial love presented itself in all stages of romantic relationships. In addition, while in Love’s Labour’s Lost the men flirted with all of the women, in Hamlet the relationships were verbally toxic with Hamlet constantly disrespecting Ophelia and Gertrude always being inferior to Claudius. Despite these differences, the main points are still the same.

Essentially, Shakespeare’s plays, specifically Love’s Labour’s Lost and Hamlet, prove how he viewed romantic relationships in society. He seemed to think that people, in general, are in relationships with ulterior motives in mind, which lead to artificiality. Shakespeare believed that true love does not exist, and every person has an artificiality or falseness behind their love. In short, by examining the romantic relationships in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Hamlet, one can see Shakespeare’s pessimistic view on love.