That Last Scene… Act Five, Scene Two: And Just Why, Exactly, is This NOT Considered a Problem Play?

As noted last week, the last scene, Act Five, Scene Two, of Love’s Labor Lost is not only the longest in the play at 914 lines, but the longest in the Canon as well, longer than most comedic Act Three and Fours COMBINED.

Ironically, however, not a whole lot happens.  The quick synopsis is this: The men decide to “woo” the women in the guise of being Muscovites, and they plan to woo the women based upon the “favors” or gifts the women have received from them.  Boyet discovers this and warns the women, who decide to mock the Muscovites and switch favors (while wearing masks) so that the wooers woo the wrong women.  The Muscovites, mocked, leave, and the men return as themselves to woo and confess.  The women still cruelly mock them, even through the wild pageant presented by Armado and company.  A messenger from France arrives to tell the Princess her father has died.  The king asks them to stay, but they refuse.  When the King asks her to marry him, she refuses, saying if he will be a hermit for a year and then come to her, she’ll think about it.  And the play ends.  And that takes nearly a thousand lines, or close to forty percent of the play’s length.

In detail…

The scene begins with the ladies entering, and the Princess discussing the gifts (“fairings” [V.ii.2]) they’ve received.  The love letters and poems seem almost an afterthought to the women.

it must be the writer in me, but I find this pretty messed up…

now whether this is based upon light = promiscuous or light = frivolous or ironic light = fair complected, is up for debate…

But just as the men attack one another, so do the women (or at least Katherine attacks Rosaline… in much the same manner as the men attacking Berowne for the complexion of Rosaline:  there is much not-so-playful banter about Rosaline’s “light”-ness…

But instead of being thankful for the gifts and the letters, the Princess feels that the women are “wise… to mock (their) lovers so” (V.ii.58).  It’s a power play in the world of sexual politics, as Rosaline sees Berowne as her “fool” (V.ii.68) or plaything.  But why is there this mean underlying vibe to their jibes?  Perhaps the answer is in Rosaline’s statement: “The blood of youth burns not with such excess // As gravity’s revolt to wantonness” (V.ii.73-74).  Does it bother the women that the men are acting like boys?  Should the men have behaved with more “gravity”… as befits their age (which is not “youth”)?  Is this tied to the men’s vow of abstinence and their seemingly instant breaking of the vow to woo the women?  Is any flattering aspect of the breaking of the vow completely destroyed by the women’s perception that the men cannot be trusted then to keep ANY vow?

Regardless, when Boyet arrives, “stabbed with laughter” (V.ii.80) over the men’s planned Muscovite masquerade, he warns the women to the plan so that they may toy with the men.  But when the women’s responses turn to the cruel and mean-spirited (the goal is to have them “depart away with shame” [V.ii.156]), Boyet seemingly begins to lose his enthusiasm for the plan:  when Moth calls the women “the richest beauties on the earth” (V.ii.158), Boyet says the ladies are only as rich as the “taffeta” (V.ii.159) on their masks, and when the Princess uses Boyet to continually repeat her messages to the King and vice versa, it doesn’t take long for Boyet to beg off: “She hears herself” (V.ii.196).

The women’s mocking of the Muscovites is cruel and mean-spirited; there is no moment of flirtation or seeming lightness.  The men try to proclaim their love; when that doesn’t work, they attempt to flirt.  But nothing works.  And the men retreat.  And while the mocking of the Muscovites can be understood, especially if the women see the masquerade as a mocking of themselves, once the Muscovites are gone, Boyet sees no reason for them to continue the cruelty when the men come back as themselves: the men will

leap for joy, though they are lame with blows.
Therefore change favors, and when they repair,
Blow like sweet roses in this summer air.

— V.ii.292-294

He’s seen enough cruelty; he has felt that the men were in love with the women (since Act Two); he sees no reason for there NOT to be love.  But the women are relentless: “Let’s mock them still” (V.ii.302).

And mock them they do.  They are mocked for once being the Muscovites.  When they confess to that, they are mocked for wooing the wrong (masked) woman.  When they realize that, there is still no opportunity for reconciliation with the women, as Costard enters, announcing the entrance of the pageant of the “Worthies.”  The King fears the show “will shame” (V.ii.509) them even more.  But Berowne doesn’t care: “We are shame-proof” (V.ii.510).  Now, this could mean that they cannot be shamed any more, or it could mean that it’s too late, they are the proof of shame.

The show begins and we get a preview of the final scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the royal wedding party mocks the “Pyramus and Thisby” show of the “rude mechanicals” (is this a dry run for this?), with both the men and women mocking the performance.  If the show weren’t ridiculous and bad enough, it degenerates into an accusation by Costard that Jaquenetta is two months pregnant by Armado.

impossible… if she’s pregnant, it would need to be by Costard or someone else

was she expecting this news?

But before the accusation can move to a duel, the messenger from France arrives, interrupting the proceedings.  It’s interesting that the Princess completes the messenger’s information: “The king, your father — ” “Dead, for my life!” (V.ii.710-711).

Once she begins to prepare to return to France, she gives a half-hearted apology for their mocking (“excuse or hide // The liberal opposition of our spirits” [V.ii.722-723]), but she doesn’t consider the men’s tokens of love as such, but rather–merely–as “a merriment” (V.ii.774).

Instead, she demands of the King “some forlorn and naked hermitage, // Remote from all the pleasures of the world” (V.ii.785-786) for a year before he can “challenge” (V.ii.795) her for her love.  Berowne, too, is given a penance: he must for the next year, go to hospitals, “visit the speechless sick” (V.ii.835) and use his power of language to “enforce the pained impotent to smile” (V.ii.838). While he agrees, it seems that he feels like we in the audience do:

Our wooing doth not end like an old play;
Jack hat not Jill.  These ladies' courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy.

Come, sir, it wants a twelvemonth and a day,
And then 'twill end.

That's too long for a play.

— V.ii.857-861

And while we have the return of Armado in the final moments to sing a song (which contains references to the “mock(ing of) married men” [V.ii.891] and “merry note(s)” [V.ii.911]), even the Spaniard must admit that the women must go “that way; we, this way” (V.ii.914).

I find it cruel, not only to the characters, but to the audience as well.  Comedic convention dictates union, marriage, or at the very least reconciliation at the close.  We get none of the above.  And it just doesn’t satisfy.  This just isn’t fun…

I hate this scene, and I hate this ending.

There, I’ve said it.

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