Act Three and the First Part of Act Four: Words and Letters

Act Three of Love’s Labor’s Lost begins the next morning.

or at least, I think…. though I suppose it could be the same day, but then this would need to be a very long day indeed…

now, why is Armado using Costard to deliver the letter, when it was Costard that Armado spied “consort(ing)” (I.i.248) with Jaquenetta?  presumably because he would know where to find her… though if memory serves, she’s working for Dull as a dairymaid… but again, nothing to worry our little heads over…

Armado is pining for love, and his page Moth is trying to cheer him up.  Songs.  Jokes.  Nothing works.  There’s quite a bit of quick banter, punning, and some double entendre, with Moth’s comic observations delivered to us as asides interspersed throughout.  Armado decides to release Costard from his captivity, “enfreedoming” (III.i.121) the clown, and have him deliver to Jaquenetta, a love letter the Spaniard has composed.

So Armado gives Costard the letter and a reward (“remuneration” [III.i.133]), then leaves with Moth.  Berowne arrives with another errand for the newly released Costard, one he wants done “this afternoon” (III.i.152).

yeah, I guess it IS the next morning…

And what is the errand?  To deliver a letter to Rosaline, of course.  And why?  Oh, come on, you can predict it…  As Berowne says,

And I, forsooth, in love!
I, that have been love's whip,
A very beadle to a humorous sigh,
A critic, nay, a night-watch constable,
A domineering pedant o'er the boy,
Than whom no mortal so magnificent!

— III.i.170-175

So Berowne is in love with Rosaline… and is as over-the-top pathetic as our Spaniard Armado, except for one thing: though Armado speaks in prose, and Berowne in blank verse, but it is the latter who has a more earthy and earthly bent.  Berowne wants sex.  In his soliloquy, he speaks of “plackets (and) codpieces” (III.i.181), a “whitely wanton” (III.i.193), and the “one that will do the deed” (III.i.195).

hmmmm… two letters, both delivered by Costard.  What are the chances there’s a mix-up?  Confusion in a Shakespearean comedy?  Naw… never happen.

As Act Four, Scene One begins, we find the French party preparing for a hunt.  It is now certainly the second day as “today (they) shall have (their) dispatch” (IV.i.5), with proof of the French king’s payment (“today” would be yesterday’s “tomorrow”).  And there is a further timetable: “On Saturday, (they) will return to France” (IV.i.6).  We get some more comic wordplay and flirtation, as the Princess receives hunting instruction from a flustered Forester.  Banter continues until Costard arrives with his letter for Rosaline.

There IS a mix-up!  I’m shocked, shocked, I tell ya.

or IS there?  Costard’s there the whole time.  He knows he has two letters, and to whom to deliver them.  And yet he never lets on that he has another letter.  Is Costard doing this on purpose?  And if so, for what purpose?

Only the letter he hands over is the one “writ to Jaquenetta” (IV.i.60).

The letter is a prime example of the entertainment the King was looking forward to: purple prose, mangled language, bizarre Classical references, building to an unintentionally insulting conclusion: “I am the king (for so stands the comparison, thou the beggar (for so witnesseth thy lowliness). Shall I command thy love?  I may” (IV.i.79-81).  After Boyet finishes reading the letter aloud, and the Princess cannot get any straight answer from Costard, the Princess and some of her attendants head back to their camp, leaving Boyet, Rosaline, Maria and Costard behind to discuss hunting and archery.

and if you believe that subject line, you have not read one of the most ribald, bawdy passages I have EVER read… and yeah, I’ll be getting back to that one later in the month…

As Costard is left alone at the end of the scene, he lets us know that he WAS behind all this mismatching of letters, this “most pathetical nit” (IV.i.149).

a little foreshadowing for a little guy named Puck in the coming months?

In Act Four, Scene Two, we meet Holofernes the Pedant (a schoolteacher, one who values book-learning over practical knowledge) and Nathaniel, a curate, who are discussing the hunt with Dull.  If Armado is comical because of misuse of language, then this pedant is comical because of his overly gratuitous use of language, both English and Latin.  There’s some comic mistranslation (“old gray doe” for “haud credo” [IV.ii.12 and 11]), overblown allusion (“Dictynna” for the moon [IV.ii.36]), and wild onomatopoeic wordplay in the “extemporal epitaph” (IV.ii.49-50).

Jaquenetta and Costard enter.  He has given the (Berowne) letter to her, but neither she nor he can read it.  Jaquenetta wants the Parson (curate) to read the letter to her; of course, “Parson” is mispronounced “Person” which is misinterpreted as “pierced one” (IV.ii.82), for more comic wordplay before we hear the letter itself.

If it was Armado who had claimed to have “turn(ed) sonnet” (I.ii.176), it is Berowne who actually becomes the poet, as his letter takes the form of a sonnet.

now whether or not he’s any good is another matter, one we may touch on later in the month if we have time

Holofernes reads over the letter again, and sees that it’s from Berowne to Rosaline; he gives the letter back to Jaquenetta so that she can “deliver this paper into the royal hand of the King; it may concern much” (IV.ii.137-138), at least in the terms of love.  And off they (Jaquenetta and Costard) go, leaving Holofernes to conclude, “The gentles are at their game, and we will to our recreation” (IV.ii.160-161).

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