Saturday, April 2, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost - Oathbreakers!

Biron....Then fools you were these women to forswear,
Or keeping what is sworn, you will prove fools.
For wisdom's sake, a word that all men love,
Or for love's sake, a word that loves all men,
Or for men's sake, the authors of these women,
Or women's sake, by whom we men are men,

Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths.
It is religion to be thus forsworn,
For charity itself fulfills the law,
And who can sever love from charity?


Biron and the rest of the boys in the King's court have taken a vow not to pursue any woman, in order not to be distracted from study. But when actual women appear on the scene, the students quickly turn into lovers - and like expert rhetoricians, they easily justify breaking their oaths. Surely a stupid vow is better broken than kept? And it's not difficult to convince me that their vow was foolish. However, there's something very jarring about the cavalier way that the men blithely set their vows aside - we've seen this kind of self-justifying argument against keeping your word before, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and it wasn't pretty.

The women seem to sense that something isn't right with this promise-breaking thing. They simply can't trust that the men mean what they say - and they might very well be right. Who's to say that someone who breaks one oath won't break another? And so the gentlemen, who so confidently planned to win their ladies, are confronted with accountability for their words:

Princess. Nor God nor I delight in perjured men...
...virtue's office never breaks men's troth.
(5.2.2266, 2270)

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