Part II. Roman 13. The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus
Of the four plays and one narrative history which are set in Rome, Titus Andronicus is the only one that does not deal with accepted Roman history or legend. It is utter fiction. Not one character in it, not one event, is to be found in history.
What's more, Titus Andronicus is the bloodiest and most gruesome of Shakespeare's plays, and the one in which the horror seems present entirely for the sake of horror.
Indeed, Titus Andronicus is so unpleasant a play that most critics would be delighted to be able to believe it was not written by Shakespeare. They cannot do so, however. There are contemporary references to Titus Andronicus as a Shakespearean tragedy, which also place the time of its writing at about 1593. It is an early play but by no means the earliest, and Shakespeare could surely have done better than Titus Andronicus by this time.
Apparently, what Shakespeare was doing was experimenting with Sene-can tragedy (see page I-270). These blood-and-thunder plays written about horrible crimes and horrible revenges were immensely popular in Elizabethan tunes. Thomas Kyd, for instance, had written such a drama, The Spanish Tragedy, shortly before Shakespeare had begun his dramatic career, and had scored an immense success.
Shakespeare had no objection to success and was perfectly willing to adjust himself to popular taste. In Titus Andronicus he therefore gave full vent to blood, cruelty, disaster, and revenge. Indeed, he went so far that one can almost wonder if he weren't deliberately pushing matters to the limit in order to express his disgust of the whole genre.
... the imperial diadem of Rome
The play opens in Rome, with the Romans in the process of selecting a new Emperor.
The two candidates for the throne are the two sons of the old Emperor; Saturninus, the older, and Bassianus, the younger. Both are clamoring for acceptance by the people. Saturninus stresses the fact that he is the elder:
/ am his first-born son that was the last
That ware the imperial diadem of Rome;
Then let my father's honors live in me.
- Act I, scene i, lines 5-7
The younger son, with a lesser claim, is forced to be more emotional. He begins:
// ever Bassianus, Caesar's son,
Were gracious in the eyes of royal Rome,
- Act I, scene i, lines 10-11
Who the Emperor was who was "the last that ware the imperial diadem of Rome" is never stated.
To be sure, Bassianus calls himself "Caesar's son," but this is not a reference to Julius Caesar (see page I-253) or Octavius Caesar (see page I-292). All Roman emperors were called "Caesar," for that was one of the royal titles (see page I-390).
In fact, the identity of the just-dead Roman Emperor couldn't possibly be determined, for the entire play is a weird amalgamation of different periods of Roman history. There is a panoply of senators, tribunes, and common Romans on stage, as though it were of the stern period of the Roman Republic, as in Coriolanus. On the other hand, we have emperors, of a later period, and barbarian invaders of a still later period.
The names of the sons have some points of interest. The only important Saturninus in real Roman history was a radical politician who was killed about 100 b.c. in the years when the Roman Republic began the public disorders that were eventually to kill it. As for Bassianus, the name of the younger son, that is to be found among the names of three of the emperors of the dynasty of Septimius Severus, who ruled in the early third century.
The elder son of Septimius Severus was Bassianus. He succeeded on his father's death in 211. Bassianus did not rule under that name but was universally called "Caracalla," a nickname derived from the long cloak (caracalla) he habitually wore.
Bassianus had a younger brother, Geta, who was supposed to have inherited the emperorship along with him. The two brothers were deadly enemies, however, and by 212 Bassianus had killed Geta under particularly cruel circumstances.
Thus, the competition between Saturninus and Bassianus in the play seems to reflect, faintly, the competition between Bassianus and Geta in history.
In one respect, in fact, the time of Caracalla might be thought to be the latest period in which the play could be set, for it treats of a thoroughly pagan Rome. There is no sign of Christianity in the play, yet after Cara-calla's time, the growth of Christianity would have made the new religion impossible to ignore.
There are, however, other aspects of the play that make the time of Caracalla far too early.
As it happens, there is in existence a tale called The Tragical History of Titus Andronicus, of which the only known copy was published about a century and a half after Shakespeare's play was written. That copy may, however, be a reprint and the original may have appeared early enough to serve as Shakespeare's source.
In the booklet the time is set in the reign of Theodosius, by whom is probably meant the most famous Emperor of that name, Theodosius I. He ruled from 379 to 395, nearly two centuries after Caracalla.
When Theodosius died, he left behind two sons, but these, unlike the sons of Septimius Severus (or those in the play), did not compete for the throne. They inherited the co-emperorship in peace, with the elder, Arcadius, ruling the Eastern half from Constantinople, and the younger, Honorius, ruling the Western half from Rome.
To be sure, by the time Theodosius was Emperor, Rome was thoroughly Christian and Theodosius himself was particularly pious in this respect, so that the paganism of the play would then become an anachronism. (On the other hand, considering the horrible events that take place in it, the existence of Christianity would be embarrassing.)
... surnamed Pius
It turns out that there are factions in Rome who want neither son of the old Emperor, but who turn instead to a valiant general. The announcement is made by Marcus Andronicus the tribune, who happens to be a brother of that general. He says:
Know that the people of Rome, for whom we stand
A special party, have by common voice,
Chosen Andronicus, surnamed Pius
For many good and great deserts to Rome.
- Act I, scene i, lines 20-23
Andronicus is the Titus Andronicus of the tide. The surname of "Pius" was sometimes used in Roman history to indicate a man who was devout and who honored his parents and his gods. The most famous case of such a usage is that of Emperor Antoninus Pius, who reigned from 138 to 161 and whose reign saw the Roman Empire at its most peaceful.
... the barbarous Goths
The special claim of Titus Andronicus to the gratitude of Rome lay in the wars he had been fighting. Marcus says:
He by the senate is accited home
From weary wars against the barbarous Goths.
- Act I, scene i, lines 27-28
Furthermore, the war has been going on a long time, as Marcus further explains:
Ten years are spent since first he undertook
This cause of Rome, and chastised with arms
Our enemies' pride:
- Act I, scene i, lines 31-33
The Goths were a group of Germanic tribes who began raiding the Roman Empire about the middle of the third century, not long after the time of Caracalla. They were badly defeated in 269 by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who called himself Claudius Gothicus in consequence, but who died the year after.
The Gothic menace lightened for a century thereafter. In 375, however, a group of these Goths (of tribes known as Visigoths) were driven into the Roman Empire by the Huns. Within the border of the Empire, they defeated the Romans in a great battle at Adrianople in 378. Theodosius, whom we have mentioned earlier, then ascended the Roman throne and managed to contain the Gothic menace by diplomacy and judicious bribery, rather than by military victories.
After Theodosius' death, the Visigoths raided Italy and took Rome itself in 410. They were not defeated at this tune but wandered out of Italy of their own accord and finally set up a kingdom in southern France that eventually expanded into and over all Spam. In 489 another branch of the Gothic nation, the Ostrogoths, invaded Italy and set up a kingdom there.
Up to this point, there isn't much hope of finding any Roman that can serve as an inspiration for Titus Andronicus. Nowhere is there a general who fought long wars against the Goths and won. We must look still later in time.
In the prose story The Tragical History of Titus Andronicus, the Goths are said to have invaded Italy under their king "Tottilius."
Actually there was a king of the Ostrogoths, of nearly that name, who fought in Italy. He was Totila, who ruled from 541 to 552.
Here is what happened. Although the Germanic tribes had settled the Western provinces of the Roman Empire, the Eastern provinces remained intact and were ruled from Constantinople. In 527 Justinian became Roman Emperor in Constantinople and was determined to reconquer the West. In 535 he sent his great general, Belisarius, to Italy, and with that began a twenty-year (not a mere ten-year) war of Roman and Goth, in which the Romans were eventually victorious.
Belisarius won initial victories, but the Goths rallied when Totila became king. Belisarius was recalled and replaced with another general, Narses (a eunuch, the only one of importance in military history), who finally defeated Totila in 552 and completed the conquest of Italy in 556. In the Tragical History Titus Andronicus was a governor of Greece and came from Greece to rescue Italy, and that fits too.
Again, the name "Andronicus" is best known in history as that of several emperors who ruled in Constantinople, so that the very name of Titus Andronicus focuses our attention on the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. Finally, both Belisarius and Narses were ill requited by ungrateful emperors, and the tale of Titus Andronicus tells how the general of the title is ill requited by an ungrateful Emperor.
We can suppose then that Titus Andronicus was inspired by the events of the tune of Belisarius and Narses, but none of the events in the play actually match the events in history.
Half of the number.. .
The two royal brothers retire before the awesome name of the victorious general.
In comes Titus Andronicus with a coffin and draws sad attention to his family's sufferings in the wars:
... of five and twenty valiant sons,
Half of the number that King Priam had,
Behold the poor remains, alive and dead!
- Act I, scene i, lines 79-81
Priam is, of course, the King of Troy (see page I-79) whom legend credited with fifty sons. Of Titus' twenty-five sons, no less than twenty have died in the course of the ten-year war with the Goths. The twenty-first is brought back dead in his coffin from the latest battle, while the last four living sons attend it sorrowfully.
Also with them are Tamora, the captured Queen of the Goths, and her three sons.
... the dreadful shore of Styx
Andronicus' first care is to bury the dead son with due pagan rites. He reproaches himself for being so slow to do it:
Titus, unkind and careless of thine own,
Why suffer'st thou thy sons, unburied yet,
To hover on the dreadful shore of Styx?
- Act I, scene i, lines 86-88
The Styx is the river that marks the boundary of Hades. The shades of dead men cannot cross that river till they have been buried with the proper ritual, and must till then hover disconsolately on its shore.
Andronicus' sons demand that a human sacrifice be dedicated on the occasion of the funeral of their dead brother so that his soul may rest in peace. (An example of why the play cannot be placed in a Christian setting.)
Titus Andronicus orders Alarbus, the oldest son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, to be so sacrificed. Tamora pleads against it in a speech that can't help but appeal to us, but the stern Titus insists, not out of cruelty but out of what he conceives to be religious devotion.
Chiron, Tamora's youngest son, cries out:
Was never Scythia half so barbarous.
- Act I, scene i, line 131
When Greece was at its height, the Scythians were a nomadic people who lived on the plains north of the Black Sea. The Greeks knew little about them, but knew the area they inhabited to be tremendous and their numbers large. They were for some reason considered the epitome of bar-barousness by the Greeks, and their name, so maligned, has been used in that fashion ever since.
... the Thracian tyrant.. .
Tamora's remaining son, Demetrius, sounds a darker note:
The selfsame gods that armed the Queen of Troy
With opportunity of sharp revenge
Upon the Thracian tyrant in his tent
May favor Tamora, the Queen of Goths,
- Act I, scene i, lines 136-39
The Trojan Queen is Hecuba (see page I-85), who had sent her youngest son, Polydorus, for safekeeping to the court of the Thracian king, Polymnestor. After the fall of Troy, when all of Hecuba's other children were killed (save Helenus), Polymnestor was persuaded by the Greeks to kill Polydorus too.
Hecuba discovered this and persuaded Polymnestor to visit destroyed Troy by promising to reveal to him a treasure in its ruins. He came to Troy with his two sons and, according to the tale, Hecuba in a fit of despairing fury managed to stab his two sons to death and tear out Polymnestor's eyes.
Nevertheless, the sacrifice takes place and Lucius, the oldest of Titus' remaining sons, announces the result in triumphant goriness:
Alarbus' limbs are lopped,
And entrails feed the sacrificing fires,
- Act I, scene i, lines 143-44
With that, the tale of double revenge begins-first Tamora's and then Titus'. And Demetrius' allusion to Hecuba indicates the crude and brutal bloodiness of what is ahead.
... to Solan's happiness
Titus' twenty-first son is thus buried and his brother, Marcus, points out (prophetically) that it is safer to be dead:
... safer triumph is this funeral pomp,
That hath aspired to Salon's happiness.
- Act I, scene i, lines 176-77
This refers to the tale (probably apocryphal) of the visit of the great Athenian lawgiver, Solon, to the Asia Minor kingdom of Lydia. The rich king of Lydia, Croesus, displayed his treasures to Solon and then asked the Greek if this was not happiness indeed. Solon replied, sternly, "Call no man happy till he is dead." In other words, while there is life there is the possibility of disaster.
Of course, the disasters come. Croesus is defeated by Cyrus the Persian, his country is taken away, his throne is lost, and he himself is placed at the stake to be burned to death. Then he remembers Solon's remark and calls out the Athenian's name. The curious Cyrus asks the details and, on hearing the story, spares Croesus' life.
... the sacred Pantheon.. .
The throne is offered Titus Andronicus, who refuses it on the ground that he is too old. The sons of the old Emperor now show signs of breaking into rivalry again, but Andronicus ends it by speaking for Saturninus, the elder. He calls him:
Lord Saturnine; whose virtues will, I hope,
Reflect on Rome as Titan's rays on Earth,
- Act I, scene i, lines 225-26
Titan is, of course, one of the names for the sun (see page I-11). Saturninus is promptly crowned and as promptly shows his gratitude:
Titus, to advance Thy name and honorable family,
Lavinia will I make my empress.
Rome's royal mistress, mistress of my heart,
And in the sacred Pantheon her espouse.
- Act I, scene i, lines 238-42
Lavinia is Titus' daughter, noble and virtuous. Her name recalls a Lavinia of Roman legend, the daughter of Latinus, who was king of that region in Italy where Rome was later to be founded. The Trojan hero Aeneas, coming to Italy from fallen Troy (see page I-20), married Lavinia and founded the city of Lavinium, named in her honor. Lavinium was the parent city of Alba Longa and that, in turn, was the parent city of Rome.
A pantheon ("all gods") is any building dedicated to the gods generally. The Pantheon is in Rome, a structure first built under the sponsorship of Agrippa (see page I-340), the general and son-in-law of Octavius Caesar, in 27 b.c. It was rebuilt in its present form about a.d. 120 by the Emperor Hadrian. It is the one Roman building that remains in perfect preservation and it is still a place of worship, having been consecrated a Christian church in 609. In the time of Belisarius, then, it was in its last century as a pagan temple (though by that time there were virtually no pagans left in Italy).
... the stately Phoebe. ..
All seems well and then, with the suddenness of a summer thunderstorm, everything falls apart.
Bassianus, the new Emperor's younger brother, sets up a cry that Lavinia is his and begins to carry her away. Lavinia's four brothers are on Bassianus' side in this-apparently there is a recognized betrothal here, although no hint of that was given earlier-and so is Lavinia's uncle, Marcus.
Only Titus Andronicus stands out against them in rigid observance of his honor, for he has formally given Lavinia to Saturninus.
Titus dashes after his sons and kills Mutius, one of them. This is the twenty-second son of Titus to die.
Saturninus, however, orders Andronicus to make no further attempt to get Lavinia back. He has suddenly fallen in love with Tamora anyway and prefers to have the Gothic Queen as his wife. He describes her as:
... lovely Tamora, Queen of Goths,
That like the stately Phoebe 'mongst her nymphs
Dost overshine the gallant'st dames of Rome,
- Act I, scene i, lines 316-18
This comparison to Phoebe (see page I-12), goddess of the moon (with alternate names like Selene, Diana, and Artemis), seems odd. Tamora is no young maid who might aptly be compared to the virginal goddess, but is the widowed mother of three grown sons.
Nevertheless, Saturninus prepares to marry her at once:
Sith priest and holy water are so near,
And tapers burn so bright and everything
In readiness for Hymenaeus stand,
- Act I, scene i, lines 324-26
Hymenaeus is a longer form of Hymen, god of marriage (see page I-55).
... wise Laertes' son
Titus Andronicus, defied by his family and snubbed by the Emperor who owes him everything, suddenly finds himself alone and dishonored, only minutes after he had been offered the imperial crown itself.
Yet Titus sticks to honor. He is even unwilling to have his dead son buried in the family tomb because he died opposing Titus' conception of proper obedience to the Emperor. Marcus, however, argues:
The Greeks upon advice did bury Ajax
That slew himself; and wise Laertes' son
Did graciously plead for his funerals:
- Act I, scene i, lines 380-82
Ajax and Ulysses contended for the armor of Achilles after the latter's death (see page I-110). When Ulysses received the award, Ajax went mad and killed himself. Marcus points out that the Greeks, despite the dishonor of Ajax's last deeds, his madness and suicide, finally decided to give him honorable burial in view of the greatness of his earlier deeds. Ulysses himself (who is "Laertes' son") argued in favor of that.
Given this precedent, Titus allows the burial of his twenty-second son.
Other reconciliations are also made. Tamora, the new Empress, plays the role of peacemaker, reconciling the Emperor Saturninus with his younger brother, Bassianus (now married to Lavinia), and with his general, Titus Andronicus. (Nevertheless, she promises her new husband, in an aside, to take proper revenge on them all in due time.)
Titus Andronicus accepts the new peace and suggests a great hunt for the next day.
... Prometheus tied to Caucasus
All now leave the stage after the single action-packed scene of the first act, and one person alone remains to begin the second act, a person who has been on stage most of the first act but who till now has not spoken a single line. It is Aaron the Moor. Behind his existence is some complicated background.
The ancient Greeks could not help but notice that the inhabitants of the southern shores of the Mediterranean were somewhat darker in complexion than they themselves were. There would be a tendency to call the inhabitants of northern Africa "the dark ones."
The Greek word for "dark" is mauros, and this name came to be applied to north Africans. In Latin the word became maurus and this was the origin, in particular, of the name of a kingdom on the northwestern shoulder of the African continent, which came to be called Mauretania- the kingdom over which Cleopatra's daughter ruled in Augustus' time (see page I-385).
From the Latin maurus, came the French Maures, the Spanish Moros and the English "Moors." In the eighth century armies from north Africa (now Moslem in religion) invaded Spain and southern France. In the ninth century they invaded Sicily and Italy. Europeans came to know the Moors with a discomforting intimacy.
(There was a tendency for the Spaniards, who did not evict the Moors till nearly eight centuries had passed after their first invasion, to apply the name to all Moslems. In 1565 they occupied the Philippine Islands and were astonished to find tribes in the southern islands who were Moslems. Two centuries before the Spaniards came, Moslem traders had been visiting the islands and Moslem missionaries had converted the natives. The Spaniards called these southern Filipinos Moros, and the name is retained even today.)
In the fifteenth century, the Portuguese mariners, exploring down the coasts of west Africa, brought back black slaves and there began a new version of the abominable practice of human slavery. Since it was customary to call Africans "Moors," this new variety of African was called "black Moors" or "blackamoors." And then, to save syllables, they might still be called simply "Moors."
Aaron, in this play, though called a Moor, is distinctly a blackamoor, as we can tell from numerous illusions. The likelihood of a black being present in the Italy of Belisarius' time is not entirely zero. After all, the power of the East Roman Emperor, Justinian, extended far up the Nile. Why he should be associated with the Gothic armies is more puzzling-but then there is no question of any historical accuracy. He is introduced merely as a convenient villain.
A "Moor" would make a wonderful villain and an inhuman one at that. To the Elizabethans, the strange and therefore repulsive features of a black face and the habit of equating blackness with the devil made blacks a natural stereotype for villainy. (Such irrational thinking on the part of whites has caused innumerable blacks innumerable separate agonies then and since.)
Aaron ruminates on Tamora's sudden climb to the peak but is not disturbed thereby. Her rise is his as well, and he tells himself to:
fit thy thoughts
To mount aloft with thy imperial mistress,
And mount her pitch, whom thou in triumph long
Hast prisoner held, fettered in amorous chains,
And faster bound to Aaron's charming eyes
Than is Prometheus tied to Caucasus.
- Act II, scene i, lines 12-17
Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the sun and gave it to poor shivering mortals, in defiance of a decree of Zeus. In punishment Zeus chained him with divine, unbreakable fetters to Mount Caucasus (which Greeks imagined to be somewhere east of the Black Sea, and which gave its name to the Caucasian range of mountains which is really there.)
The fact that Tamora is so in love with Aaron mirrors another convention that was found in the literature of the time. Whites seemed to imagine that black men had some unusual power of attraction over white women; perhaps because of their supposedly more primitive "animal" nature and therefore their supposedly more powerful sexual prowess.
... this Semiramis.. .
Aaron goes on to glory in the prospect of what will come. He expects
To wanton with this queen,
This goddess, this Semiramis, this nymph,
This siren, that will charm Rome's Saturnine
And see his shipwrack and his commonweal's.
- Act II, scene i, lines 21-24
In 810 b.c. a queen, Sammu-rammat, ruled the kingdom of Assyria. She didn't rule either long or effectively, and Assyria was, at the time, rather weak. In the next century, however, Assyria rose to world power and dominated western Asia with its fearful and ruthless armies.
The dun memory that mighty and terrifying Assyria was once ruled by a woman seemed to impress the Greeks, for they distorted Sammu-rammat to Semiramis and began to weave legends around her. She was supposed to have been a great conquering monarch, who founded Babylon, established a huge empire, reigned forty-two years, and even tried to conquer India.
As if this were not enough to render her colorful, the Greeks also imagined her to be a monster of lust and luxury with numerous lovers and insatiable desires, so that the name "Semiramis" has come to be applied to any lustful woman in high place.
... Vulcan's badge
Aaron's soliloquy is interrupted by Tamora's two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius, who have suddenly decided, each one of them, to fall in love with Lavinia and are now quarreling over it. Aaron reminds them that she is the wife of Bassianus, the Emperor's brother. This does not bother Demetrius, who says:
Though Bassianus be the Emperor's brother,
Better than he have worn Vulcan's badge.
- Act II, scene i, lines 88-89
This is a reference to Vulcan's cuckoldry, thanks to the love affair of his wife, Venus, with Mars (see page I-11).
Aaron thinks the quarrel is foolish. Why don't they both enjoy Lavinia in turn? To do this, persuasion will not be enough, for, as he says:
Lucrece was not more chaste
Than this Lavinia,
- Act II, scene i, lines 108-9
Lucrece, of course, is the Roman matron who was dealt with in The Rape of Lucrece (see page I-205), and is Shakespeare's favorite symbol of chastity. (The Rape of Lucrece was written at just about the time Titus Andronicus was. Might it be that this line set Shakespeare to thinking of the poem, or was it that the poem was running on in his mind and inspired this line?)
There are other ways than persuasion to win Lavinia, however. Coolly, Aaron points out that in the course of the next day's hunt, they might ambush her and rape her in turn. The two Gothic princes agree enthusiastically.
Saturn is dominator...
Time moves on and the hunt starts. During its course, Aaron finds a spot in the forest where he may hide a bag of gold for a nefarious purpose that is still in the future.
Tamora comes upon him and urges him on to dalliance such as
The wandering prince and Dido once enjoyed,
- Act II, scene iii, line 22
This is another reference to Dido and Aeneas (see page I-20), a favorite mythical standby of Shakespeare's.
Aaron, however, has more important business at hand. He says:
Madam, though Venus govern your desires,
Saturn is dominator over mine:
- Act II, scene iii, lines 30-31
Astrologically speaking, each person is born under the domination of a particular planet which determines the major component of his or her personality. The nature of the influence of Venus is obvious.
Saturn is, of all the planets visible to the unaided eye, the farthest from Earth and therefore the most slowly moving among the stars. To be born under Saturn then is to be as heavy, grave, and gloomy as that slow-moving planet; to be "saturnine," in short.
His Philomel. ..
Aaron goes on to explain why he is so grave and gloomy. Dire thoughts of revenge are in his mind and he refers to:
My fleece of woolly hair that now uncurls
Even as an adder when she doth unroll
To do some fatal execution?
- Act II, scene iii, lines 34-36
Mention of his "fleece of woolly hair" shows clearly that Shakespeare has in mind a black African and not the swarthy but non-black Moors of north Africa.
Aaron goes on to specifics, indicating that he has set in motion a horrible fate for Lavinia. He says:
This is the day of doom for Bassianus:
His Philomel must lose her tongue today,
- Act II, scene iii, lines 42-43
One of the more gruesome Greek myths deals with two sisters: Philomela and Procne, who were the daughters of a king of Athens. The latter was given in marriage to Tereus, the King of Thrace. Tereus, however, fell in love with Philomela, his sister-in-law, and, luring her to his court, raped her. Then, in order to prevent her from telling his crime, he cut her tongue out and hid her among his slaves.
The phrase "lose her tongue" can therefore be a metaphoric reference to rape. It turns out to be a literal forecast in this play.
... as was Actaeon's...
Aaron gives Tamora a letter to be used later in the development of his plan and leaves.
At this point, Bassianus and Lavinia enter. All are at the hunt, of course, and Tamora, in her hunting costume, is sardonically likened to Diana, the goddess of the hunt, by Bassianus. Tamora is offended at what she considers to be their spying and says:
Had I the power that some say Dion had
Thy temples should be planted presently
With horns, as was Actaeon's, and the hounds
Should drive upon thy new-transformed limbs,
- Act II, scene iii, lines 61-64
Actaeon was a hunter in the Greek myths, who, in the course of a hunt, came inadvertently upon Diana bathing. Admiring, he stopped to watch. When he was caught at his peeping by Diana's nymphs, the indignant goddess turned him into a stag so that his own hounds ran him down and killed him.
The reference to the horns on Bassianus' head undoubtedly has the secondary purpose of referring to the planned rape of his wife.
.. your swart Cimmerian
Bassianus and Lavinia strike back by implying that Tamora has been surprised at something far less innocent than bathing and speak openly of her liaison with Aaron. Bassianus says:
Believe me, Queen, your swart Cimmerian
Doth make your honor of his body's hue,
- Act II, scene iii, lines 72-73
The Scythians, who lived north of the Black Sea (see page I-397), ar-rived there only in 700 b.c. Before that, the land was populated by those whom Homer named the Cimmerians. (Crimea, the peninsula jutting into he northern rim of the Black Sea, is thought to derive its name from hem.)
The Cimmerian regions were mistily distant to the Greeks of Homer's time and strange legends arose concerning them. They were supposed to live in a land of eternal mist and gloom where the sun never shone. (One wonders if explorers brought back tales of the polar regions.)
As a result, one speaks of "Cimmerian darkness" as expressing the ultimate in darkness. Aaron is a "Cimmerian" not because he comes from the Far North, but because his skin is so dark.
.. Cocytus" misty mouth
But now the cruel machinations of Aaron begin to work.
Tamora's two sons, Chiron and Demetrius, enter. Tamora tells them that she has been lured to the spot by Bassianus and Lavinia for evil purposes. The two Gothic princes promptly stab Bassianus, hide his body in a deep pit, and drag Lavinia offstage to rape her, each in turn, with Tamora egging them on fiendishly. She refuses the girl's pleas for mercy, reminding her of how Titus Andronicus had refused her own pleas for mercy for her oldest son.
She leaves and Aaron enters, guiding Quintus and Martius, two of Andronicus' three remaining sons. Martius slips into the pit in which Bassianus' body is hidden and while Quintus leans over anxiously to find out if he is hurt, Aaron slips away.
Martius discovers the body of Bassianus and is horrified. He says:
So pale did shine the moon on Pyramus,
When he by night lay bathed in maiden blood.
O brother, help me with thy fainting hand-
If fear hath made thee faint, as me it hath-
Out of this fell devouring receptacle
As hateful as Cocytus' misty mouth.
- Act II, scene iii, lines 231-36
Pyramus was an ill-fated lover in the ancient tale, who died by moonlight (see page I-23). Cocytus is one of the five rivers of the underworld and its name means "wailing." It is meant to symbolize the sorrow of death.
A craftier Tereus...
The horrors continue. Aaron brings the Emperor Saturninus on the scene and Quintus and Martius are found with Bassianus' body. The forged letter, prepared by Aaron, is produced to make it seem that the two had bribed a huntsman to kill Bassianus. The bribe in the shape of the bag of gold Aaron had planted on the scene is also produced.
Titus' sons, having been effectively framed, are dragged off to imprisonment at once.
All leave and Tamora's sons now emerge. They have raped Lavinia and have cut out her tongue to prevent her telling. They have, however, gone the old Greek myth one better, for they have cut off her hands as well. Chiron says, with sadistic humor:
Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
And if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.
- Act II, scene iv, lines 3-4
The princes leave, and Marcus, the brother of Titus Andronicus, comes upon the scene and discovers Lavinia. He grasps the meaning of the sight at once and says:
Fair Philomela, why she but lost her tongue,
And in a tedious sampler sewed her mind:
But lovely niece, that mean is cut from thee;
A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met,
And he hath cut those pretty fingers off,
That could have better sewed than Philomel.
- Act II, scene iv, lines 38-43
In the Greek myth, Philomela had had her tongue cut out and been placed in the slaves' quarters. She could use her hands to reveal her secret, however, for she prepared a tapestry in which she wove the legend, "Philomela is among the slaves." This was delivered to her sister, Procne, who took instant action, liberating Philomela and preparing revenge.
By cutting off Lavinia's hands, the villainous princes had deprived her of Philomela's chance.
Marcus Andronicus finds it hard to believe anyone could have mangled so fair a person as Lavinia. Concerning the malefactor, Marcus says that
... had he heard the heavenly harmony
Which that sweet tongue hath made,
He would have dropped his knife, and fell asleep
As Cerberus at the Thracian poet's feet.
- Act II, scene iv, lines 48-51
Orpheus, the sweet-singing minstrel from Thrace ("the Thracian poet"), descended into the underworld in order to win back his dead love, Eurydice (see page I-47). On approaching Cerberus (see page I-101), the three-headed hellhound who guarded the entrance, he sang so soft and sweet a lullaby that even that horrible creature fell asleep and let him pass unharmed.
... Tarquin and his queen
Unimaginable miseries now heap themselves on Titus Andronicus. His two sons, Quintus and Martius, are being led to execution and no one will hear his pleas on their behalf. His one remaining son, Lucius, has tried to rescue his brothers by force, has failed, and is sentenced to exile. Marcus then brings him the mutilated Lavinia and Titus breaks into fresh woe.
All is interrupted by Aaron, who brings the news that if one of the Andronici, Titus, Marcus, or Lucius, will sacrifice a hand, that hand would be accepted as an exchange for the lives of Titus' two sons, who would then be returned free. After an argument over which Andronicus should make the sacrifice, Titus wins out and his hand is struck off.
This is but to add to the sorrows of Titus, however, for his stricken hand is soon returned and with it the heads of his two sons, who had been executed anyway. Of all Titus' children, there now remain only Lucius and the mutilated Lavinia.
Tamora has had ample revenge for the loss of her son and now it is Titus who begins to plan revenge. So does Lucius, still under sentence of exile. Alone on the stage, he plans to go abroad and raise an army against Rome, saying to his absent father, in soliloquy:
// Lucius live, he will requite your wrongs, And make proud Saturnine and his empress Beg at the gates, like Tarquin and his queen.
- Act III, scene i, lines 296-98
Tarquin was the last king of ancient Rome, who was expelled from Rome in 509 b.c. (see page I-211). He had occasion to stand at the gates of Rome in an attempt to get the throne back, and failed. To be sure, he didn't beg in the usual sense of the word. He had an army at his back.
The idea of revenge by means of an outside army fits in just a little with the time of Belisarius and Narses. Belisarius himself never attempted revenge against the ungrateful Emperor Justinian, even though legend has him reduced, toward the end of his life, to begging in the streets. (The legend has no basis in truth, however.)
Belisarius' successor, Narses, is a different matter. He ruled Italy into extreme old age, and after Justinian's death, when Narses was more than ninety years old, the aged general was ordered home. According to the legend (probably not true) his recall was accompanied by an insulting message. He was told that since he was a eunuch, he should return and confine himself to spinning wool with the palace maidens.
The insulted Narses said, "I will spin them such a skein as they will not easily unravel" and invited the barbarous Lombards to invade Italy-which they did most effectively.
... Cornelia never with more care
The play now shifts to the Andronicus house. For the first time, a grandson of Titus appears. He is a son of Lucius and is also named Lucius.
Young Lucius enters, carrying books and running. Mute Lavinia is running after him. The boy is frightened but Titus and Marcus catch and comfort him, assuring him that Lavinia means him no harm, and loves him. Titus says:
Ah, boy, Cornelia never with more care
Read to her sons than she hath read to thee
Sweet poetry and Tully's Orator.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 12-14
The Cornelia referred to was a daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio, the Roman general who finally defeated Hannibal in 202 b.c. Cornelia was considered the model of the virtuous Roman matron, chaste, honorable, and loving-and utterly devoted to her two sons.
These two sons received the finest education available at the time. So proud was she of them that when another Roman matron, on a visit, displayed her jewelry and asked to see Cornelia's, the latter merely pointed to her sons. "These are my jewels," she said.
As for Tully, that is a name by which the great Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero (see page I-268) is sometimes known in English. One of his famous works was De Oratore (Concerning the Orator), and it is to this that Titus refers.
... Ovid's Metamorphoses
But Lavinia stirs the books that young Lucius has let fall, concentrating on one, which the boy identifies for his grandfather:
Grandsire, 'tis Ovid's Metamorphoses:
My mother gave it me.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 42-43
One of the myths contained in Metamorphoses (see page I-8), which deals with tales of transformations of human beings into other forms, is that of Philomela and Procne, for in the end, Philomela is turned into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow. Lavinia wants to find that tale in order to have Titus and Marcus understand that her mutilation was the result of a rape.
Clearly, this shows haste on Shakespeare's part. After all, Marcus has guessed as much when he first encountered Lavinia after the mutilation. He then said:
But, sure, some Tereus hath deflowered thee,
And, lest thou shouldst detect him, cut thy tongue.
- Act II, scene iv, lines 26-27
It now occurs to Marcus that a person can write with a stick in the sand by holding that stick in his mouth and guiding it with his wrists. Hands are not required at all. Lavinia uses this method to reveal that Chiron and Demetrius are the guilty ones. Now Titus is certain against whom he must plan revenge.
... not Enceladus
Apparently considerable time has elapsed since the beginning of the play, for Tamora is about to have a baby and it is to be presumed that the Emperor Saturninus is the father. However, events have miscarried. It is Aaron, not Saturninus who is the father, and this is shown all too plainly in that the baby is a black infant.
Naturally, this fact must be hidden, or Tamora's infidelity will be plain even to Saturninus and she will be destroyed. The Nurse who attended Tamora brings the baby to Aaron, with instructions from Tamora to kill it and destroy the evidence.
But Aaron, in this one respect, departs from the line of flat villainy. He becomes a proud father and in words that strangely fore-echo the pride of the black activists of the 1960s, cries out to the Nurse, who is expressing disgust at the child:
Zounds, ye whore! Is black so base a hue?
Sweet blowze, you are a beauteous blossom, sure.
- Act IV, scene ii, lines 71-72
When Chiron and Demetrius, who are also present, offer to kill their baby half brother to secure their mother's safety, Aaron draws his sword fiercely, saying:
I tell you, younglings, not Enceladus,
With all his threat'ning band of Typhon's brood,
Nor great Alcides, nor the god of war,
Shall seize this prey out of his father's hands.
- Act IV, scene ii, lines 93-96
Enceladus was one of a brood of tremendous giants (with serpents for legs) which were brought forth by Mother Earth, who was annoyed to see Jupiter (Zeus) and his fellow gods destroy the Titans, for the Titans had been her children.
The giants, under Enceladus' leadership, fought the gods in a battle which, in the versions that reach us, seem to be described as a burlesque of Homer-almost a comic retelling of a myth, with grotesque exaggerations. For instance, Enceladus is killed by Athena, who throws a huge mountain at him; a mountain that flattens him and becomes the island of Sicily.
Aaron's remark makes it seem that Enceladus and the other giants are the offspring of Typhon, but this is not so. Typhon was born after the defeat of the giants and was the greatest and most fearful monster of all. Typhon engaged Jupiter in a great duel and was almost victor, for he cut out and hid the sinews of Jupiter's hands and feet and paralyzed the great god. It wasn't till Mercury (Hermes), the god of thieves, stole back the sinews and restored Jupiter's powers of movement that Typhon was finally killed by the lightning bolts of the king of the gods.
After the mention of Enceladus and Typhon, to go on to Alcides (Hercules) and the god of war (Mars) seems distinct anticlimax.
The Gothic princes wilt before Aaron's fury and ask him what he means to do. His first act is to kill the Nurse, thus reducing, by one, the number of those who know the secret. He then prepares to change the baby for a white one who will be made heir to the throne while Aaron will secretly raise his own black baby to become a warrior.
... one of Taurus' horns
In preparing his revenge, Titus feigns madness, meanwhile, in order to throw Saturninus and Tamora off the scent and lull them into a false security. Titus' madness (and surely he has suffered enough to make the onset of madness plausible) consists of a wild search for justice through Heaven and Hell. He cries out:
I'll dive into the burning lake below,
And pull her [justice] out of Acheron by the heels.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 44-45
The Acheron is another of the rivers of Hades. (Two others, Styx and Cocytus, have already been mentioned in this play.)
Titus goes on to bemoan the physical shortcomings of the Andronici, in the face of so huge an undertaking as the search for justice. He says to his brother:
Marcus, we are but shrubs, no cedars we,
No big-boned men framed of the Cyclops' size.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 46-47
The Cyclopes were one-eyed giants who forged the lightning for Jupiter. They were also a race of giants who lived on Sicily in the time of the Trojan War. At least Ulysses, on his return from Troy, falls in with one of them in particular, Polyphemus, and defeats him-one of the best-known events in the Odyssey.
The main thrust of the search for justice, however, consists in shooting arrows into the sky with letters attached; letters that plead with the gods for justice. Titus has all the Andronici helping him in this respect. He advances his own apparent madness by pretending to see the effects of the action in the constellations, which he describes as though having literal existence.
He exclaims to young Lucius:
Good boy, in Virgo's lap; give it Pallas.
- Act IV, scene iii, line 65
To Publius, the son of Marcus, he says:
Publius, Publius, what hast thou done!
See, see, thou hast shot off one of Taurus' horns.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 69-70
Virgo (the Maiden) and Taurus (the Bull) are both included among the signs of the zodiac. Very likely most of Shakespeare's audience did suspect that the imaginary creatures pieced out in the sky by the imaginary lines connecting stars existed there in literal truth. The humor lay in the thought that man-hurled arrows could reach them. (Pallas, by the way, is an alternate name for the Greek goddess Athena.)
Marcus keeps the play at madness going. He says to Titus:
... When Publius shot,
The bull being galled, gave Aries such a knock
That down fell both the Ram's horns in the court,
And who should find them but the Empress' villain? [Aaron]
She [Tamora] laughed, and told the Moor he should not
choose But give them to his master for a present.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 71-76
Aries (the Ram) is also a constellation of the zodiac. It neighbors Taurus so that one can well imagine the Bull charging the Ram. It enables Marcus to get off a kind of joke beloved by the Elizabethans, concerning the cuckolding of the Emperor.
... as ever Coriolanus did
If it is Titus' plan to lull the Emperor and Empress into total security, it falls short. Saturninus is furious at the letters of appeal to the heavens, since they end in Rome's streets where they are found by the people, who grow to sympathize with the ill-treated Titus.
The Emperor is further irritated by a Clown (a lowborn person, that is) who delivers a message to him from Titus. The Emperor forthwith orders the Clown hanged.
He prepares to go further and have Titus arrested, when a messenger arrives to say that a Gothic army is at the gates of Rome:
They hither march amain, under conduct
Of Lucius, son to old Andronicus;
Who threats, in course of this revenge, to do
As much as ever Coriolanus did.
- Act IV, scene iv, lines 66-69
Coriolanus was a legendary figure in early Roman history who, out of revenge for what he considered mistreatment, raised an enemy army, placed himself at its head, and laid siege to Rome. Fifteen years after Shakespeare wrote Titus Andronicus he wrote Coriolanus about the earlier event (see page I-245).
Tamora, however, promises to make Lucius into a Coriolanus indeed. Coriolanus withdrew without taking Rome because his mother begged him to (see page I-250). Now Tamora intends to try to persuade Titus to beg his son to withdraw. (She is not aware that Titus has discovered the full extent of the villainy of her sons.)
... worse than Procne ...
The scene shifts to the outskirts of Rome, where Lucius is leading the Gothic army to the city's walls. A Goth has captured Aaron, who has been trying to find a place of safety for his baby. Lucius, when Aaron is brought to him, threatens to hang father and child, and, to save the baby, Aaron confesses all.
Meanwhile, Tamora has worked out her plan to persuade Titus to call off his son. She proposes to take advantage of his madness by disguising herself as Revenge and her two sons as Rape and Murder (that is, as spirits specifically designed to avenge those two crimes).
In her guise as Revenge, Tamora promises to make mad Titus quits with all his enemies and asks him, in turn, to send for his son, Lucius, to attend a feast which Titus will give. It will then be Revenge's part (supposedly) to bring in the Emperor, the Empress, and the Empress' sons for Titus to wreak vengeance upon. (Actually, it is Tamora's plan, once she has Lucius with Titus, to have both killed, and then somehow to arrange to have the leaderless Goths dispersed.)
Titus pretends to fall in with this plan and sends Marcus to invite Lucius to the feast.
But then, when Revenge turns to leave, Titus insists on keeping Rape and Murder. Otherwise, he says, he will call back Marcus and leave things as they were. Tamora orders her sons to humor him and leaves by herself.
Once Tamora is gone, Titus instantly calls his friends and orders Rape and Murder tied up. They announce themselves to be the Empress' sons, hoping this will awe their assailants, but Titus merely orders them gagged. He then tells them what he intends to do by way of revenge, saying:
For worse than Philomel you used my daughter,
And worse than Procne I will be revenged.
- Act V, scene ii, lines 195-96
When Procne discovered what her husband, Tereus, had done to Philomela, she took a horrible revenge. She killed Itys, the young son of Tereus and herself, boiled his flesh, and fed it to Tereus.
This Titus intended to surpass. They had cut off not only the tongue but the hands of Lavinia. In return, Titus intended to have their mother feed on not one, but two sons.
With that, he cuts the throats of Chiron and Demetrius, catching the blood in a basin held by Lavinia.
... rash Virginius
The feast begins now. All are present (even Aaron and his baby). Titus, dressed as a cook, poses the Emperor a question:
Was it well done of rash Virginius
To slay his daughter with his own right hand,
Because she was enforced, stained, and deflow'red?
- Act V, scene iii, lines 36-38
Virginius was a plebeian soldier who, according to legend, lived about 450 b.c. (a generation after Coriolanus). His beautiful daughter, Virginia, attracted the attention of Appius Claudius, a patrician who was then the most powerful man in Rome. Appius Claudius planned to seize the girl by having false witnesses testify that the girl was actually the daughter of one of his slaves and was therefore also his slave.
The distracted Virginius, seeing no way of stopping Appius Claudius, suddenly stabbed his daughter to death in the midst of the trial, proclaiming that only through death could he save her honor.
Titus Andronicus states the situation erroneously, by the way. Virginius' daughter was not "enforced, stained, and deflow'red." She was merely threatened with that.
Saturninus says that Virginius was justified in his action, whereupon Titus promptly stabs Lavinia to death. When Saturninus angrily demands the reason for that action, Titus says she has been raped by Chiron and Demetrius, and that they in turn have been killed and baked into a pie which the Empress is at that moment eating.
Titus then stabs and kills Tamora; at which the Emperor Saturninus stabs and kills Titus; at which Lucius stabs and kills Saturninus.
... what Sinon...
A Roman Lord now asks Lucius what has brought Rome to this civil war and assassination:
Tell us what Sinon hath bewitched our ears,
Or who hath brought the fatal engine in
That gives our Troy, our Rome, the civil wound
- Act V, scene iii, lines 85-87
Sinon is the Greek who persuaded the Trojans to allow entry to the wooden horse ("the fatal engine") and made the final sack of the city possible (see page I-210).
I do repent...
Lucius and Marcus, between them, now tell all the wrongs done the Andronici by the Emperor, the Empress, her sons, and Aaron. They even show Aaron's baby as proof of another kind of wickedness.
The appalled Romans hail Lucius as the new Emperor and call in Aaron for punishment. Lucius orders that he be buried breast-deep in the earth and allowed to starve to death.
Even now, Aaron refuses to crawl, and one can't help but feel a kind of sneaking admiration for his defiance. He says, ferociously, after having heard his doom:
/ am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done:
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will:
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.
- Act V, scene iii, lines 185-90
It is a fitly grisly speech to end a grisly play that opens with:
(1) the dead body of one of Titus' sons, then continues with
(2) the sacrifice of Tamora's son, Alarbus, by Lucius,
(3) the stabbing of Mutius by his father, Titus,
(4) the stabbing of Bassianus by Chiron and Demetrius,
(5) the rape and mutilation of Lavinia by Chiron and Demetrius,
(6) the mutilation of Titus by Aaron,
(7) the execution of Martius and
(8) Quintus, by order of the Emperor,
(9) the stabbing of the Nurse by Aaron,
(10) the hanging of a Clown for small offense by Saturninus' order,
(11) the throat-cutting of Chiron and
(12) Demetrius by Titus,
(13) the unwitting cannibalism of Tamora,
(14) the stabbing of Lavinia by Titus,
(15) the stabbing of Tamora by Titus,
(16) the stabbing of Titus by Saturninus,
(17) the stabbing of Saturninus by Lucius, and finally,
(18) the projected death by slow starvation of Aaron.
Part III. Italian
14. Love's Labor's Lost
There are fifteen of Shakespeare's plays which deal with English history or English legend. If I adhered to strict chronological sequence, these would follow here. If I did that, however, the division between the two volumes of this book would fall inconveniently in the middle of those plays. I am consequently leaving the fifteen English plays to make up in toto the second volume.
We will conclude this first volume then with a dozen romances which are placed in Renaissance Italy and surrounding regions, and which are, for Shakespeare, contemporary. There is no clear historical background and even where some reference can be pinpointed to this or that year, this is not significant and will not do as a method of deciding the order in which the plays should be presented.
In this final part of the volume, then, the plays that remain will be placed in the order in which (it is thought) Shakespeare wrote them.
And of these Love's Labor's Lost is possibly the earliest. Along with The Comedy of Errors it has sometimes been dated as early as 1588, though dates as late as 1593 are possible.
The play doesn't seem to have been intended for wide public popularity, and may have been written for private performance. One possibility is that it was intended for a celebration at the home of the Earl of Southampton (see page I-3). If so, the play must have been an astounding success, for Southampton then became Shakespeare's generous patron.
If Love's Labor's Lost were indeed written primarily for the entertainment of a coterie of men interested in art, that would explain the over-elaboration of much of the style. The play was a satire on pedantry, and its complicated verbiage and intrusive Latinity would appeal to the sense of humor of the educated. Both the elaborateness and the Latinity have tended to diminish the popularity of the play considerably in later times.
Navarre shall be...
The play opens with a King and his three companions on stage. The King is announcing his decision to retire for three years (along with his companions) to a sober and austere study of philosophy. He is very optimistic about the effect this will have, for he says:
Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
Our court shall be a little academe,
- Act I, scene i, lines 12-13
The speaker is, according to the cast of characters, Ferdinand, King of Navarre.
Navarre does not exist as an independent kingdom on our maps today (or on the maps of Shakespeare's time, for that matter), and most people would be at a loss to point out where it might ever have existed. It is not a mythical land, however; it is no Ruritania. It once did exist indeed, and in medieval times it constituted a sizable region about the western end of the Pyrenees. Mostly, it lay to the south and west of that range in what is now north-central Spain, but some of its territory lay to the north in what is now southwestern France.
Through the Middle Ages, it maintained an increasingly precarious independence between France on the north and the growing strength of the other Christian kingdoms of the Spanish peninsula. In 1474 Aragon and Castile (the two most important of those kingdoms) were bound together when Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Aragon, married Isabella, Queen of Castile. In 1479 Ferdinand succeeded to the crown of Aragon, and under the united rule of himself and Isabella, modern Spain was formed. (The two monarchs were the parents of Catherine, the ill-fated first wife of Henry VIII, see page II-754.)
Navarre could not stand against the union of the kingdoms. The portion of Navarre south of the Pyrenees was occupied by Ferdinand in 1512 and made an integral part of the Spanish crown in 1515.
The part of the kingdom north of the Pyrenees was under the rule of Catherine de Foix, who married Jean d'Albret (a descendant of the Constable of France, who had died at the Battle of Agincourt, see page II-475). Jean d'Albret called himself King of Navarre and his son succeeded to the title, as Henry II of Navarre, in 1517, when his mother died.
Naturally, Ferdinand of Spam claimed the rule of all Navarre, but in order to establish that claim he would have had to fight France, which held the actual control of northern Navarre. This Ferdinand never tried to do, and Henry II remained titular King of Navarre. That is, he had the title but no more; in actual fact, he was merely a French nobleman and had none of the power of an independent monarch.
Henry II married Margaret (or Marguerite, in the French spelling), who was sister to King Francis I (see page II-747). She is consequently known in history books as Margaret of Navarre, and it was she who, before this marriage, had been thought of by Wolsey as a possible second wife for Henry VIII (see page II-69).
Henry had a daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, who was Queen of Navarre from 1562 to 1572. Her son was another Henry, who in 1572 became Henry III of Navarre, but is known to history simply as Henry of Navarre because, first, he was by far the most important ruler Navarre ever had, and second, because in his time the King of France was also Henry III and to use the same Roman numeral for both would lead to confusion.
Through his father, Henry of Navarre was a member of the family of Bourbon, which, through a solid line of male ancestors, was descended from a younger son of King Louis IX (see page II-457) who had died in 1270. Now, three centuries later, only one male descendant remained of the older lines and he was Henry III of France, who became king in 1574. If Henry III died without surviving sons (and he was a homosexual who never had children), Henry IV (who was thoroughly and spectacularly heterosexual) was the next in line to the throne.
This would not ordinarily have made much of a stir except that France had been involved in a religious civil war for a dozen years, one in which a sizable and militant Protestant minority was stanchly withstanding the Catholic majority. As it happened, Henry of Navarre was a Protestant and, in view of his position as prospective heir to the throne, the leader of the Protestant faction. There were many Frenchmen, on the other hand, determined that no Protestant should ever be King of France, regardless of his descent.
This standoff was the situation when Love's Labor's Lost was written. England, as it happened, had just defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, and had heroically foiled a vast Spanish-Catholic attempt to subvert the Protestant character of the island kingdom. England was consequently all on fire with the picture of itself as the Protestant David hacking down the great Catholic Goliath of Spain. Since Spain was the chief support of the French Catholics against the possible succession of Henry of Navarre, there was much warmth and admiration for Henry in England.
It would be natural, then, for Shakespeare to write a play in which the King of Navarre was a hero and in which he was presented in the most favorable light. In order to make the situation not too pointed and topical, it was inadvisable to use the name "Henry," so he used "Ferdinand" instead. This was a favorite name during the Italian Renaissance and might have been inspired by the fact that Ferdinand II of Spain had taken over southern Navarre.
In early 1589 Henry III of France was assassinated by a fanatic monk who felt the King wasn't Catholic enough, and Henry of Navarre succeeded to the throne as Henry IV of France. Unfortunately for the new king, the title he gained was not accepted by the Catholic party and he remained king only over his own minority. The Catholics controlled much of France, including the all-important city of Paris, and the civil war grew fiercer. Henry IV was a good general and won important victories, but against the sheer weight of Catholic intransigence he could not prevail.
In 1591 the Earl of Essex, the great friend of Southampton and Shakespeare, even led an army in support of Henry of Navarre, but Essex was a poor soldier and failed in this, as in all his military efforts (see page II-508).
Finally, in 1593, Henry of Navarre, with a sigh and a shrug, agreed to turn Catholic. Then, and only then, did Paris accept him. Henry entered the capital, was hailed as king, was eventually crowned, and became Henry IV in truth. ("Paris is worth a mass," said Henry.)
Of course, this made him a traitor to the Protestant cause and Englishmen must have reflected sardonically over the proverbial (to them) faithlessness of the French nature. It is doubtful if Love's Labor's Lost could possibly have been written in its present form after 1593, for that reason.
... Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville
No action in the play has any but the very faintest and most distant association with the real Henry of Navarre, of course, but Shakespeare continues to use reality as the source of inspiration for names at least.
Thus, the King turns to the three with him and says:
You three, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville,
Have sworn for three years' term to live with me,
My fellow scholars ...
- Act I, scene i, lines 15-17
The name Berowne may have been inspired by Armand de Gontaut, Baron de Biron, who was a close associate of Henry of Navarre and who in 1589 gained the leadership of his armies. He won victories for Henry and was killed in battle in 1592.
Biron had been closely associated with the expeditionary force led by Essex. This made Biron specially popular in England and it is not surprising that Shakespeare makes Berowne the most attractive person in the play.
Longaville is a version of Longueville and there was a Due de Longueville also among Henry's generals.
Dumaine is not so easy to place. That name may have been inspired by Charles, Duc de Mayenne, who was associated with Henry IV, but not as a friend. Mayenne was the leader of the Catholic opposition to Henry. To be sure, after Henry's conversion Mayenne was reconciled to the King and from 1596 on remained completely loyal to him. This, however, certainly took place well after the play was written.
The French king's daughter. ..
Berowne is the one companion who doesn't think the King's plan will work. He doubts that they can successfully make themselves strict and austere philosophers for three years. He particularly doubts they can really forswear female company, as the King plans to have them do. In fact, that would be impossible, for Berowne says:
This article, my liege, yourself must break;
For well you know here comes in embassy
The French king's daughter with yourself to speak,
A maid of grace and complete majesty,
- Act I, scene i, lines 132-35
This too has a glancing resemblance to the real-life career of Henry of Navarre. In 1572 young Henry (only nineteen at the time) was married to Marguerite de Valois (also nineteen). At that time Henry III's older brother, Charles IX, was still on the throne (he didn't die till 1574) and Marguerite was sister to both of them. All three of them, Henry III, Charles LX, and Marguerite (plus an earlier short-lived monarch, Francis II), were children of King Henry II of France, who had died in 1559.
The continuing religious civil war made the marriage no idyll, but in 1578 there was a well-publicized visit of Marguerite (along with her mother, Catherine de' Medici) to the court of Navarre. It may well have been this visit which was in Shakespeare's mind.
If the visit was intended to improve the state of the marriage, by the way, it failed miserably. Henry was interested in many ladies and Marguerite bore him no children. Finally, in 1599, their marriage was annulled and Henry was able to marry again and beget an heir to the throne. This, however, was well after Love's Labor's Lost was written.
... surrender up of Aquitaine
And why was the French princess coming? Berowne says that the embassy is
About surrender up of Aquitaine
To her decrepit, sick, and bed-rid father.
- Act I, scene i, lines 136-37
The matter of Aquitaine is pure invention, of course. Even at its most powerful, Navarre never controlled that large section of southern France called Aquitaine (see page II-209). The name, however, would be a familiar one to Englishmen if only because Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most famous of English queens.
The real Marguerite de Valois had no living father at the time of her marriage to Henry. She had been only six years old when her father died. However, the French royal family, at the time the play was written, seemed indeed decrepit, sick, and bed-rid. In 1588 Henry III of France had reigned fourteen years and though only thirty-seven was prematurely aged, and exhausted by the crises of the time and his personal excesses. Two older brothers had reigned briefly and died, one at sixteen and one at twenty-four. A younger brother was already dead at thirty, and none of the brothers left descendants.
... Armado hight
It seems that the Princess must be greeted and entertained despite all ascetic arrangements. The cynical Berowne, delighted, inquires if there is any other and more reliable entertainment allowed the scholars than the occasional visit of a princess.
The King informs him that there is an eccentric and euphuistic Spaniard at the court who can be very entertaining, albeit unconsciously so. He refers to him as:
This child of fancy, that Armado hight [is named],
- Act I, scene i, line 169
If the play were written in the aftermath of the great defeat of the Spanish fleet in 1588, a Spaniard would be a natural butt for the play, and his name, Armado (Don Adriano de Armado in full, according to the cast of characters), is a none too subtle recall of the defeated Armada.
There has been a tendency for some people to find satirical representations in all the characters of this play. If it were written for a small "in group" rather than for the general public, it might well contain "in jokes" against the personal enemies of the group in the audience.
Thus, the Earl of Essex had become Queen Elizabeth's favorite in the very years of the Armada (and this play) after her previous favorite, the Earl of Leicester, died. Essex's great rival was Sir Walter Raleigh, who had been Leicester's protege and whose nose had been put out of joint by the handsome Essex's greater success with the Queen. Some people therefore think that Armado was intended as a satire on Raleigh for the amusement of the Essex coterie. However, there seems little one can point to in what Armado says or does that has "Raleigh" written on it. (There are other candidates for the role of real-life Armado too, but none are really convincing.)
Boy, what sign...
Armado at once enters the plot, indirectly, to lend humor to it. He has spied a country bumpkin, Costard, making love to a young country girl, Jaquenetta, in defiance of the published edict against association with womankind, and has reported the matter to the authorities. Costard is arrested by Constable Dull and is turned over to the custody of Armado.
It turns out, of course, that Armado is himself in love with Jaquenetta, and he displays this in the approved manner of the puling stage lover. He uses his page as a sounding board for his melancholy and says:
Boy, what sign is it when a man
of great spirit grows melan choly?
- Act I, scene ii, lines 1-2
The page is of the smallest possible size and is named Moth (pronounced "mote" in Shakespeare's day with the obvious pun). It is his function to be witty in Shakespearean fashion, so he answers:
A great sign, sir, that he will look sad.
- Act I, scene ii, line 3
Some people have attempted to equate Moth with Thomas Nashe, a pamphleteer who was contemporary with Shakespeare and who engaged in battles of wits in polemical style with other controversialists. He was coarse, pretentious, and arrogant.
By those who think this, Armado is equated with Gabriel Harvey, another controversialist of the time who was an opponent of Nashe's. The Armado-Moth quibbling might therefore be taken to represent, with satiric inadequacy, the Homeric polemics of Harvey and Nashe.
Samson, master ...
Armado pictures himself as a warlike hero unmanned for love and demands of Moth that he give him examples of great men in love:
... and, sweet my child, let them be
men of good repute and carriage [bearing].
- Act I, scene ii, lines 68-69
Moth had already named Hercules as an example, and rightly, for he was described in the numerous myths that clustered about his name to have lain with innumerable women. Once, according to legend, he lay with fifty women in one night, impregnated them all, and ended by having fifty sons-a feat far greater, really, than all his twelve usual labors put together.
At the mention of "good repute and carriage," Moth adds, however:
Samson, master-he was a man of good carriage,
great carriage, for he carried the town-gates on his back
like a porter, and he was in love.
- Act I, scene ii, lines 70-72
The twist on the word "carriage," from carrying oneself to carrying external objects, refers to a time when Samson was visiting a harlot in Gaza. The Philistines, knowing the town gates were locked, waited for morning to deal with him, but Samson rose at midnight "and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill" (Judges 16:3) so that he got away when his enemies confidently thought he was trapped. At the time of this feat he was in love (if you can dignify the relation between himself and the woman by that word).
Later on, Armado meets Jaquenetta, confesses his love to the unimpressed girl, and soliloquizes afterward on the great men of the past who had been in love. To Hercules and Samson, he adds one more, saying:
... yet was Solomon so seduced,
and he had a very good wit.
- Act I, scene ii, lines 172-73
The biblical writers felt that Solomon's numerous wives seduced him away from perfect love of God. "And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods" (1 Kings 11:3-4).
... the Duke Alencon's...
The Princess arrives and she has with her, symmetrically enough, three ladies: Maria, Catherine, and Rosaline.
The symmetry proves even neater when each of the ladies evinces an interest in one of the King's followers, each different lady with a different man. What's more, each has met her man before. With Maria it's Longaville, with Katherine it's Dumaine, and with Rosaline it's Berowne. Thus, Katherine says of Dumaine:
I saw him at the Duke Alencon's once;
And much too little of that good I saw
- Act II, scene i, lines 61-62
If we stick to the time of Henry of Navarre, there was a Duc d'Alencon who was well known to the English of the time. He was the fourth and youngest of the four sons of Henry II, and he had watched his three older brothers become kings of France, one after the other: Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. He died in 1584, while his brother Henry was reigning.
Alencon was known to the English as a persistent wooer of Queen Elizabeth I, which was rather pathetic, for Alencon was quite worthless and Elizabeth (one of the most remarkable women in history) could not have endured him an hour. However, Elizabeth was incapable of a clear no at any tune, but had a genius for temporization, so that the poor simpleton pursued the golden prize uselessly from 1579 to 1582.
... in Brabant once
When the King and his followers arrive to receive the ladies, the men are as intrigued by the women as vice versa, and, as luck would have it, each man is interested in the particular woman who is interested in him.
It works out beautifully, for Berowne (the wittiest of the men) is at once involved with Rosaline (the wittiest of the women), and, eager to break the ice, he uses a device not unknown today, when he says to her:
Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?
- Act II, scene i, line 114
Brabant was a duchy located in what is now central Belgium. In the time of Shakespeare it was part of the Spanish dominion in what was then known as the Spanish Netherlands.
As it turns out, the two had indeed danced together in Brabant, and there follows a typical Shakespearean game of wordplay.
... Charles his father
There is some business to be done, of course-the matter of Aquitaine. The King of Navarre does not wish to return it to France until he is paid a sum that the King of France owes him for expenses incurred by Navarre's father. The Princess, however, claims payment has already been made and orders her male attendant, Boyet, to produce the receipts, saying:
Boyet, you can produce acquittances
For such a sum from special officers
Of Charles his father.
- Act II, scene i, lines 160-62
The father of the real Henry of Navarre was not named Charles. His name was Anthony, Duc de Vendome.
On the other hand, Henry of Navarre had an uncle, the younger brother of his father, who was a Charles. He was Charles de Bourbon and was a cardinal. He was a Catholic, of course, and the next in line for the throne after Henry of Navarre, if the latter died without surviving sons. Indeed, when Henry III was assassinated in 1589 and Henry of Navarre declared himself the new king as Henry IV, the intransigent Catholics proclaimed Charles instead and called him Charles X. However, Charles was already in his middle sixties and he died in 1590.
There were other Charleses too in the Bourbon ancestry. The most famous Bourbon of all, prior to Henry of Navarre himself, was Charles, Duc de Bourbon and Constable of France. He was made Constable (that is, commander of the armies) in 1515 under King Francis I, but achieved his greatest fame by quarreling with the King and defecting to the national enemy, the Emperor Charles V (see page II-747) in 1523. The Constable died, while still fighting against his King, in 1527, sixty years before his distant cousin, Henry of Navarre, succeeded to the throne.
... Dan Cupid
The receipts the Princess speaks of are not actually on hand. They are on the way, however, and must be waited for.
This means that business can be temporarily forgotten and the gentlemen and ladies can continue their business of pairing off and indulging in their wit duels. Berowne is particularly chagrined at finding himself in love and at being beaten by:
This senior-junior, giant-dwarf, Dan Cupid,
- Act III, scene i, line 182
The term "Dan Cupid" does not signify that Cupid's first name was conceived to be Daniel. Rather, it means "Lord Cupid." The Latin word for "Lord" is Domitius. This is shortened to "Don" by the Spaniards and, in turn, distorted to "Dan" by the English.
In his disgust, Berowne inveighs against women and tries, but fails, to dismiss them with hard words. He even scouts their morality, saying:
... by heaven, one that will do the deed,
Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard!
- Act III, scene i, lines 200-1
The reference is to Argus Panoptes ("all eyes"), who had a hundred eyes set all over his body. At any given moment only fifty of them slept, so that there were always fifty awake. Juno set Argus to watching Io, the illicit love of her straying husband, Jupiter.
The only way Jupiter could rescue Io (in heifer's disguise at the time) was to send Mercury to tell Argus a droning tale that put all hundred eyes to sleep at once. Mercury then killed him and all Juno could do was save the hundred eyes and put them in the tail of the peacock, a bird sacred to her.
... king Cophetua..,
Berowne, despite his brave words, finds that love drives him to write a letter to Rosaline (strictly against the King's rules) and to have it delivered to her secretly by Costard the clown. Armado, however, is also using Costard as delivery boy, sending a letter by way of the clown to Jaquenetta.
When Costard tries to deliver the letter to Rosaline, the Princess seizes it and behold, it turns out to be Armado's letter. She opens it and finds that the Spaniard is writing most grandiloquently to the peasant girl. He makes comparisons that are flattering to himself, if little likely to delight the girl, for he says:
The magnanimous and most illustrate
king Cophetua set eye upon the pernicious
and indubitate beggar Zenelophon,
- Act IV, scene i, lines 65-68
King Cophetua, the hero of a ballad, was a completely fictional personage. He was an immensely rich king of Africa who disdained all womankind till he accidentally saw a beggar maid from his window. He had to have her, married her, and lived with her long and happily. The name given the beggar maid may have been Penelope to begin with. It varies from version to version of the story, however, and Zenelophon is a name as good as another.
As evidence for the very popular thesis that "love conquers all," the ballad grew famous and was particularly close to the hearts of any girl that dreamed of marrying above her station someday.
It is impossible to help but notice now and then that Armado is extraordinarily like Don Quixote in his consistent overestimate of himself and in Ms insistence on imagining himself a superhuman storybook hero. He ends the letter with some doggerel which begins:
Thus dost thou hear the Nemean lion roar
'Gainst thee, thou lamb ...
- Act IV, scene i, lines 90-91
Armado represents himself as the Nemean lion (see page I-58) while Jaquenetta is the lamb. (And remember that Don Quixote tried to fight a lion in the cage and called himself, in consequence, "Knight of the Lions.")
There is something rather pleasant in the thought that Shakespeare might be borrowing from Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish author of the Don Quixote saga, since Cervantes was almost an exact contemporary of Shakespeare's (the former was three years younger and both died in the same year) and by all odds one of the few writers, on the basis of Don Quixote alone, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with Shakespeare.
There is only one catch, but that is a fatal one. The first part of Don Quixote was published in 1605, a dozen years at least after Love's Labor's Lost was written.
When the Princess wonders about the identity of the man who wrote the unintentionally amusing letter, Boyet tells her he is:
A phantasime, a Monarcho, and one that makes sport
To the prince and his book-mates.
- Act IV, scene i, lines 101-2
A "phantasime" is a man with a wild imagination (fantasy), and Monarcho was a harmless Italian madman who was tolerated at Elizabeth's court because he was found to be amusing, and who had died perhaps ten years before the play was written.
One can't help remembering that in the second part of Don Quixote, published in 1615, there is a long section in which the mad knight is humored by a kindly Duke and Duchess who keep him at their estate for the fun he affords them.
Could it be in reverse? Could Cervantes have come across Love's Labor's Lost and turned a small suggestion into a towering work of genius? I have never seen this stated even as a conjecture but I can't help wondering.
... King Pepin of France ...
Boyet playfully rallies Rosaline on the letter Berowne has sent her, a letter she hasn't seen yet because of Costard's mix-up. She counters with:
Shall I come upon thee
with an old saying that was a man when
King Pepin of France was a little boy...
- Act IV, scene i, lines 121-23
King Pepin (see page I-455) reigned in France in the eighth century, over eight hundred years before Shakespeare's time, and he was apparently considered the epitome of the dead-and-gone in French idiom.
The next scene introduces Holofernes, a most unbearable pedant, whose speech consists half of Latin and who spends all his time nit-picking the English language. He is a satire on what learning can come to if it is carried to extremes without even a modicum of good sense to go along with all the education.
Those who look for personal satire in Love's Labor's Lost suspect Holofernes to represent a gibe against John Florio, the London-born son of a Protestant refugee from Italy. Florio was a linguist who spent his life translating foreign works into English, notably Montaigne's Essays, and who compiled Italian-English dictionaries, collections of proverbs, grammars, etc. He was intensely learned and was probably pedantic enough to make it seem that Holofernes was a satiric reference to him.
Another possibility is Thomas Harriot, an English mathematician who was Raleigh's scientific adviser on an expedition to the New World (a position which would be alone sufficient to make him instant anathema to the Essex coterie, including Shakespeare). Harriot wrote a book on the voyage which was published in 1588 and which was pedantic enough, perhaps, to inspire the satire.
Holofernes is a pedant from his very name onward, for the name, though biblical, is not one that many would think of using. It occurs only in the apocryphal (but very popular) Book of Judith, accepted as canonical by the Catholics but by neither Jews nor Protestants. It deals with an invasion of Judea by an army of Assyrians under a general named Holofernes. The general was hoodwinked and assassinated by the Jewish heroine Judith, and as a villainous name it would scarcely be used except to signify someone who would find pleasure in obscure and unusual allusions.
Thus, Constable Dull tries to trap Holofernes with a riddle which he thinks is impossible to puzzle out-to wit, what was a month old when Cain was born, is still alive, but is not yet five weeks old. The answer is, of course, "the moon," since when it is four weeks old it starts all over again with another "new moon."
Holofernes knows the answer and gives it at once, but naturally would not dream of saying "the moon" or even using the more common classical terms such as "Diana," "Selene," "Artemis," or "Cynthia." Instead, he picks the most obscure allusion possible and says:
Dictynna, good man Dull.
- Act IV, scene ii, line 37
Dictynna was undoubtedly one of the many local names for the moon goddess which then had to be woven into the general body of myths worked out by the old Greek poets. It was said that one of the companions of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, who was often considered a personification of the moon, was Britomartis, who hid from the unwanted love of King Minos of Crete. Britomartis finally threw herself into the sea in desperation and was rescued in a fisherman's net. Thereafter, she was given the name "Dictynna" from a Greek word for "net." Her association with Diana was used to explain the fact that Dictynna could be used as a personification of the moon.
Of course, Dull can make nothing of the answer and Holofernes has to explain it.
Again, he quotes a Latin line and falls into ecstasies over it, saying:
Ah, good old Mantuan
- Act IV, scene ii, lines 95-96
Now, the greatest of all the Latin poets, Vergil, who wrote the Aeneid, was born near Mantua and was frequently referred to as "the Mantuan." A reader might be forgiven if he supposed at first that Holofernes was quoting from the Aeneid and rhapsodizing over Vergil.
He is not, however. He is referring to Battista Spagnoli, an obscure Italian Renaissance poet, who used "Mantuan" as his pen name.
Ovidius Naso.. .
Jaquenetta brings Holofernes a poem delivered her by Costard and supposedly intended for her. It is the letter, however, written by Berowne in the form of an eloquent sonnet and intended for Rosaline. Jaquenetta can make nothing of its high-flown style.
Nathaniel the Curate, a humble admirer of Holofernes, is also present, and he reads it. Holofernes criticizes the reading at once, of course, and falls into admiration of the Roman poet Ovid (see page I-8). Quite irrelevantly, he makes use of the poet's name to make a ridiculous metaphor, saying:
Ovidius Naso was the man;
and why indeed "Naso" but for smelling out
odoriferous flowers of fancy...
- Act IV, scene ii, lines 125-27
"Naso," you see comes from nasus, the Latin word for "nose."
... as mad as Ajax...
In another part of the park, Berowne is still trying to write love poetry and still berating himself for it, saying:
By the Lord, this love is as mad as Ajax:
it kills sheep; it kills me-I a sheep.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 6-7
This refers to the tragic death of Ajax in madness and frustration, killing sheep under the hallucinatory belief they are his enemies (see page I-110).
... critic Timon .,.
He hears someone coming and hides. It is the King, who reads aloud a lovesick sonnet to the Princess, then hides as Longaville comes in to read aloud a lovesick sonnet to Maria, then hides as Dumaine comes in to read aloud a lovesick sonnet to Katherine.
Each one is in love against their original intention and each moves in a simultaneous and symmetrical way. Each one in turn steps forward to announce his discovery of the next and then Berowne steps forward to berate them all in most hypocritical fashion considering his own activity. He affects to bemoan the conversion of serious scholars into moaning lovers and says:
O me, with what strict patience have I sat,
To see a king transformed to a gnat!
To see great Hercules whipping a gig [top],
And profound Solomon to tune a jig,
And Nestor play at push-pin with the boys,
And critic Timon laugh at idle toys!
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 164-69
The contrasts he cites are extreme ones. He pictures Hercules, the epitome of strength and heroism, and Solomon and Nestor, bywords for wisdom in Greek and Hebrew literature, respectively, engage in childish occupations. (This is like serious Navarrese scholars writing love poems.) As for "critic Timon," this is Timon the misanthrope concerning whom Shakespeare was to try to write a play, Timon of Athens (see page I-133) fifteen years later.
... the school of night
But, of course, in the midst of Berowne's self-righteous scoldings, in come Jaquenetta and Costard with Berowne's letter, which they still don't understand. Berowne, to his chagrin and embarrassment, must admit that he too has been writing sonnets.
The others are very naturally quite anxious to turn the tables and they make unsparing (and, by our standards, unchivalrous) fun of Rosaline, who is Berowne's love. Rosaline is a brunet at a time when it was conventional to consider blondness beauty.
The King sneers at Rosaline's blackness (meaning her hair, of course, and not her skin). Loyally, Berowne insists that he considers blackness a sign of beauty, but the King says:
O paradox! Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons, and the school of night;
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 253-54
The phrase "school of night" is a puzzler. Some people think it is a misprint and that what is meant is that black is the "shade" of night.
On the other hand, some think "school" is what is really meant and that this is another of Shakespeare's partisan references. This may have referred to a group of amateur scholars who gathered together in a secret group to study the new astronomy that had arisen out of Copernicus' book in 1543, which held that the Earth moved round the sun and not vice versa.
Shakespeare never accepted this and, in fact, his view of science is always strictly conservative and medieval. The Copernican view was widely held to be against the Bible and religion, and therefore atheistic. The group of scholars would be, then, according to their enemies, a "school of night"; that is, one where devilish doctrines were taught.
Raleigh was supposed to patronize this wicked school, which, of course, gave the Essex faction a handle with which to strike at him.
... the true Promethean fire Berowne
survives the teasing and launches
into a long and eloquent defense of love.
Once again, he blames the King and the others for even trying to abolish love so that they might study undisturbed. Constant study will wither, while love will supply true inspiration. He says:
From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They are the ground, the books, the academes,
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 301-3
The phrase "Promethean fire" harks back to Prometheus (the name means "forethought"), who was considered, in the Greek myths, to be one of the Titans, the race of divine beings who ruled the universe before Zeus and his relatives (the Olympians) won that rule by force.
In the war between the Titans and the Olympians, Prometheus foresaw that the latter would win and he was careful to avoid joining the other Titans or to do anything that would offend Zeus. He was therefore allowed to retain his freedom when the other Titans were condemned to Tartarus.
Nevertheless, Prometheus was still a Titan and he could not wholeheartedly be a friend of the Olympians. Recently created mankind did not have the secret of fire-which was deliberately withheld by Zeus. Prometheus therefore stole fire from the sun and brought it down to man.
Zeus punished Prometheus for this by chaining him to a crag in the Caucasus where an eagle (or a vulture) gnawed at his liver all day long. The liver regenerated at night so as to be ready for fresh torture the next day.
It is possible to consider Prometheus the embodiment of man's forethought or ingenuity-personified "inventiveness." The fire he brought man might be, symbolically, the light of insight and inspiration and that is what Berowne would mean by "the true Promethean fire."
Berowne's defense of love is in the tradition of courtly love that was developed in southern France in the mid-twelfth century and was associated with the troubadours. Eleanor of Aquitaine (see page II-209) was one of the first great patrons of such notions.
Courtly love had little to do with real passion or with sex but rather presented love as a kind of game to amuse an idle aristocracy, a game which consisted of complex rules of behavior, of love poetry, of exchanges of wit, of idealization of women-of everything but actual contact.
So Berowne speaks in grandiloquent phrases of love as an act of heroic aspiring to idealized woman, saying:
For valor, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as Sphinx;
- Act IV, scene iii, lines 339-41
For his eleventh labor, Hercules had to obtain golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. The Hesperides were three nymphs who were descendants of Hesperus, the evening star. The name is from the Greek word for "west," since the evening star is always visible in the west after sunset. The Hesperides are thus the individuals to whom the garden belongs, but Shakespeare takes it to be a region in which the garden is located. Of course, Hercules must climb the tree if he is to get the apples, and the valor consists of doing so despite the fact that it is guarded by a fearsome dragon.
The Sphinx, in Greek mythology, was a monster with the body of a lion and the head of a woman. It was most notable for propounding riddles (hence it was "subtle"), which it forced those it met to answer. It killed those who could not answer correctly. Oedipus, on his way to Thebes, was faced with the riddle "What has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has most?" Oedipus at once answered, "Man, for he crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two feet in youth, and needs a cane in old age." The Sphinx, in chagrin, killed herself.
Love's Labor's Lost is Shakespeare's tribute, then, to courtly love, and this speech is the clearest expression of it.
Berowne is convincing. The men decide to lay aside subterfuge, forget their resolutions, and woo the women.
Meanwhile Nathaniel the Curate and Holofernes the Pedant are discussing Armado. Holofernes finds fault with Armado, particularly in his fantastic manner of speech (as though Holofernes himself were not infinitely worse). Nathaniel drinks in the other's every word (writing down particularly good ones in his notebook). Nathaniel even tries a little Latin of his own, which Holofernes immediately corrects, saying:
Priscian a little scratched.
- Act V, scene i, lines 31-32
Priscian is the usual English name for Priscianus Caesariensis, a Latin grammarian at Constantinople about a.d. 500. His book on Latin grammar was the final authority through the Middle Ages, and it was common to say "to break Priscian's head" in characterizing any mistake in Latin. In this case the mistake is so minor (a single letter) that Holofernes is satisfied to say that Priscian was merely scratched.
Armado, Moth, and Costard come onstage. Holofernes and the Spaniard are immediately involved in complicated badinage and Moth comments ironically at their ability to use long words and involved phrases. Costard, with equal irony, wonders why Armado, who is so familiar with long words, doesn't swallow the diminutive Moth. He says:
/ marvel thy master hath not eaten
thee for a word; for thou art not so long
by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus.
- Act V, scene i, lines 42-44
This is the longest word in Shakespeare but it is not really used as a word, merely given as an example of a long word. It is Latin, of course, and is the ablative plural of a word meaning "honorableness." It has twenty-seven letters and is thought to be the longest word in Latin and, therefore, the longest word in English-at least in Shakespeare's. time. Nowadays, it is "antidisestablishmentarianism" which is usually cited as longest, with twenty-eight letters. (It means the doctrine of opposition to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church and came into prominence in the nineteenth century.)
Actually, it is only those whose knowledge is limited to what are called the humanities who fall for this hoary old chestnut. In German, it is customary to run words together to make long compound words far longer than any in ordinary Latin or English. Since organic chemistry was almost entirely a German monopoly in the nineteenth century, the habit has persisted in naming organic chemicals, even in English. The intricate structure of organic chemicals requires an intricate naming system and there is, for instance, a chemical called "betadimethylaminobenzaldehyde," which is twenty-nine letters long and which is far from the longest possible.
... the Nine Worthies
Apparently the King is planning an entertainment that evening for the Princess. He has consulted Armado on what it should consist of and he, in turn, consults Holofernes. Holofernes makes an instant decision:
Sir, you shall present before her
the Nine Worthies.
- Act V, scene i, lines 118-19
The Nine Worthies (see page II-401) are usually given as Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey Bouillon.
Holofernes does not go by this standard list, apparently. He starts assigning the different worthies to the people present and after mentioning Joshua and Judas Maccabeus, he says:
... this swain,
because of his great limb or joint,
shall pass Pompey the Great...
- Act V, scene i, lines 128-30
We can only suppose that Pompey the Great is substituted for Julius Caesar, and if this is so, it is a great mistake, for Caesar was far the greater man (see page I-257).
Saint Denis. ..
The last scene in Love's Labor's Lost is the longest in the play and, for that matter, in Shakespeare. It begins with the ladies coming together to talk about the fact that they have all received love tokens from the men. Boyet arrives to say he has overheard the men speaking and they have decided to woo the ladies in earnest.
The Princess says, lightly:
Saint Denis to Saint Cupid!
- Act V, scene ii, line 87
It is to be a merry war between the sexes in the tradition of courtly love. The men come to woo and the French ladies will resist. Saint Denis, the patron saint of France (see page II-515), will be opposed to the assaults of love, here represented as Saint Cupid.
Like Muscovites or Russians ...
Boyet tells the ladies that the gentlemen will come to them in exotic costume, for they
... are apparelled thus-
Like Muscovites or Russians...
- Act V, scene ii, lines 120-21
In Shakespeare's time, Russians were exotic and popular in England because of Chancellor's voyage (see page I-640).
The ladies therefore decide to wear masks and to switch their characteristic ribboned decorations ("favors") with one another, so that each man might think the wrong girl his and court at cross-purposes. This is done and the ladies utterly thwart the men first when they are disguised as Russians and then in their own persons.
Berowne in particular is forced, in frustration, to forswear the complexities of courtly love, at which the ladies win every time, and vows to be an honest lover henceforward. He says:
Henceforth my wooing mind
shall be expressed
In russet yeas and honest kersey noes.
- Act V, scene ii, lines 413-16
Russet and kersey are the color and material of homemade peasant clothing and Shakespeare thus expresses (as he usually does in his plays) his opinion of the superiority of plain Englishness over foreign ways and customs.
Whose club killed Cerberus...
But it is time now for the masque of the Nine Worthies to be presented by the various eccentrics of the play.
Costard comes in with a sonorous Pompey the Great. Nathaniel is a hesitant and easily rattled Alexander the Great, and then in come Holofernes and Moth as Judas Maccabeus and Hercules respectively. Holofernes speaks first for Moth with the expected scraps of Latin, saying:
Great Hercules is presented by this imp
Whose club killed Cerberus, that three-headed canus;
And when he was a babe, a child, a shrimp,
Thus did he strangle serpents in his manus.
- Act V, scene ii, lines 586-89
The trite Latin rhyme of canus (dog) and manus (hand) reduces pedantry to its most foolish.
Hercules' twelfth and climactic labor was that of bringing into the upper world the three-headed hound Cerberus (see page I-101), who guarded the entrance to the underworld. He did not kill it, but brought it up alive as proof of the successful completion of the labor, then returned it.
When Hercules was a year old, according to legend, the jealous Juno (who was angry because Hercules was the offspring of one of Jupiter's many extramarital ventures) sent two serpents to kill him in the cradle. The infant Hercules seized each serpent in one of his baby fists and strangled it. The diminutive page is therefore not so ridiculous a representation of Hercules as might be thought. He represents Hercules, the Heroic Babe.
The rest of the masque of the Nine Worthies is reduced to a shambles. Holofernes, trying to make the Judas Maccabeus speech for himself, is teased into silence. Armado, who comes next as Hector, can make no more headway.
Costard is urged on by Berowne to accuse Armado of making Jaquenetta pregnant, and for a minute the audience is made to think there will be a mock duel between the two, but all is interrupted by the arrival of a messenger. He comes with news of the Princess' father, the King of France. The Princess guesses at once:
Dead, for my life!
- Act V, scene ii, line 721
Henry III was stabbed on August 1, 1589, and died the next day. This may have nothing to do with the play at all, for there is a good chance it was written before then.
The French King's death, in the play, is a convenient device to end the developing and increasingly intense game of courtly love before it is forced to graduate into something else. The unreal world of the Navarrese court is forced to face reality, for the Princess must return to Paris to face the difficulties of a succession.
The men insist that though the game is over, their love is real. The ladies order them to remain austere, as they had originally planned to do, for one year anyway and if, at the end, they are still in love, that love will be returned.
And so love's labor is lost-for a year. Yet the audience may suppose that the year will pass and that love will then win.
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