Monday, April 4, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost - Not Gentle

Holofernes. This is not generous, not gentle, not humble.
Princess. Alas, poor Maccabeus, how hath he been baited!
(Love's Labour's Lost, 5.2.617, 619)

This passage practically leapt off the page at me, and Holofernes' accusation is, I think, probably one of the very most important lines in the whole play. Holofernes, a Latin-quoting schoolmaster, is playing the character of Judas Maccabeus in a sort of pageant of worthy and famous men. This pageant is meant as entertainment for the Princess and her waiting gentle-women, and as such was requested by the King and his men as part of their campaign to win the ladies. However, since that time their plans have been somewhat
impeded by the ladies' tactic of treating the gentlemen as figures of fun, much to their chagrin.

This ridicule seems to have brought out the worst kind of desperate defensiveness in all the men, and they respond by savagely mocking these lower-class fellows who - at their bidding! - are attempting to please them with their acting. They are MEAN. And Holofernes, who has henceforth appeared as rather a foolish fellow, pulls himself together and straight-up rebukes these guys! He tells them the truth about their behavior and leaves with his dignity, at least in my eyes, restored by his bold and clear proclamation. And he gains the Princess' compassion. Perhaps Holofernes' moment of clarity helps the women to decide on a course of action, having seen the men's behavior as what it is - ugly, selfish, not generous, not gentle, not humble.


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  2. I actually find this one of the more believable moments in this rather absurd play. Bullying to impress the leader is still common on the playground and elsewhere. Notice that first the princess says that she thinks the play might be entertaining because of its poor quality - THEN all of these mean guys pick on the players.

    The problem is, these dudes shouldn't be at playground level manners anymore. They are kings and dukes and powerful lords! I for one wouldn't want to live in a country that had these men in charge. No way.

    Which brings me to my question: is this an ANTI-FRENCH PLAY? I don't see what else explains the almost total insipidity of the characters, terribly bawdy text (so much so that the characters themselves comment on it), and lack of action in the play. Slightly reminiscent of Shakespeare's treatment of the French in Henry VI part 1, perhaps. You definitely dislike the characters by the end. Maybe that is part of the point?