Numbers: Midpoint (that’s so Ill)

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Love’s Labor’s Lost.

There are 2665 lines in this play, which puts the midpoint at line 1333, which is 87 lines into Act Four, Scene Three.

of course, there’s so much prose in this play that the whole midpoint concept is problematic… but let’s just go with it, shall we?

So what is happening at this point in the play?  This is the sequence in which Berowne comments on his fellows’ poetry and confessions:

Her amber hair for foul hath amber quoted.

An amber-colored raven was well noted.

As upright as the cedar.

Stoop, I say--
Her shoulder is with child.

As fair as day.

Ay, as some days, but then no sun must shine.

O that I had my wish!

And I had mine!

THE KING [Aside]
And I mine too, good Lord!

Amen, so I had mine: is not that a good word?

I would forget her, but a fever she
Reigns in my blood and will remembered be.

A fever in your blood! Why, then incision
Would let her out in saucers. Sweet misprision!

Once more I'll read the ode that I have writ.

Once more I'll mark how love can vary wit.

"On a day (alack the day!)
Love, whose month is ever May,
Spied a blossom passing fair
Playing in the wanton air.
Through the velvet leaves the wind,
All unseen, can passage find,
That the lover, sick to death,
Wish himself the heaven's breath.

— IV.iii.83-104

In this scene, Berowne is our surrogate; from the beginning of the scene, he speaks to us, comments to us about the others.  Here, we hear his commentary on Dumaine’s waxing poetical about Katherine, puncturing the lover’s blind adoration (amber/black, upright/stoop).

Dumaine says that he would forget his love, except that he has “a fever… in (his) blood.”  Berowne responds, saying that Dumaine should be bled, so that the illness could be released.  This idea love as an illness is reinforced by Dumaine’s doggerel, in which he speaks of “the lover, sick to death.”

This concept reemerges in the last scene of the play, during the women’s mocking of the now undisguised men, when Berowne says to Rosaline,

Yet I have a trick
Of the old rage. bear with me, I am sick.
I'll leave it by degrees. Soft, let us see--
Write, 'Lord have mercy on us' on those three;
They are infected; in their hearts it lies;
They have the plague, and caught it of your eyes.

— V.ii.417-422

Illness is not anything one can control; it seizes its victim, and the patient can either overcome the disease or will be overcome by it himself.  While Berowne here says that he will “leave” the disease, he really has no control in the situation, save to deflect his own malady by pointing out the sickness of his friends.

Berowne and his fellows are past cure… and as we noted before this calls to mind Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147:


My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly express'd;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

Love as illness (one past cure… leads to death… still-birth… an abortive ending)… yeah, this midpoint solidifies my view of the play.

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