“And among three, to love the worst of all,/A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,/With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;”

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Act Three

By Dennis Abrams


Act Three:  Don Armado makes a move for Jaquenetta by employing Costard (who he has Love's Labour's Lost. Illustration for The Plays of William Shakespeare edited by Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke (Cassell, c 1890).released from custody), to send her a passionate love letter.  Thinking along the same lines, Berowne recruits Costard to deliver his own passionate love letter to Rosalie.  (Think there might be come confusion coming up?)


To continue from my last post about the “eye” as the source of attraction, from Tanner:

“’Eye(s),’ occurs over fifty times in this play – more times than in any other by Shakespeare, except A Midsummer Night’s Dream [OUR NEXT PLAY], and most of the relationships and exchanges between the lords and ladies take place between sparkling, dancing, ‘dazzling’ eyes.  We still speak of falling in love ‘at first sight’ (what the morose Puritan Richardson deprecated as ‘the tindery fit’ – no ‘right Promethean fire’ for him), and whatever it is the lord fall into, it is almost exclusively concerned with the eyes.  Berowne’s central contention is that ‘love, first learned in a lady’s eye,’ then

adds a precious seeing to the eye:

A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind

(IV, iii, 332-3)

It would be pointless to go through and examine occasions – eyes are looking and flashing everywhere.  But there is one extraordinary description of that moment when an eye lights up at the sight of a beautiful person (someone who, as we say, catches the eye), which is like nothing else in the whole of Shakespeare.  Boyet is describing to the Princess how he infers that the King has been ‘infected’ by seeing her.  He is going on what he nicely calls ‘the heart’s still rhetoric disclosed with eyes’:

all his behaviors did make their retire

To the court of his eye, peeping through desire.

His heart, like an agate with your print impressed,

Proud with his form, in his eye pride expressed.

His tongue, all impatient to speak and not see,

Did stumble with haste in his eyesight to be;

All senses to that sense did make their repair,

To feel only looking on fairest of fair.

Methought all his senses were locked in his eye,

As jewels in crystal for some prince to buy;

Who, tend’ring their own worth from where they were glassed,

Did point you to buy them, along as you passed.

His face’s own margent did quote such amazes

That all eyes saw his eyes enchanted with gazes.

The mysterious moment of sudden attraction has surely never been more amazingly elaborated than in these ‘conceited’ couplets.  The tongue tripping up in its haste to join the other courtiers already crowded into the eye, peeping through desire…(I note in passing that the imperturbably poised, endlessly amused, teasingly gallant, provocatively suggestive Boyet, is called by Berowne – he means to be rude – ‘Monsieur the Nice’ and ‘honey-tongued Boyet,’ V, ii, 326, 335.  One of the earliest contemporary pieces of praise for Shakespeare – by Meres – contains the phrase ‘mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare.’  Shakespeare could have been aware of this, and we may well have here an amiable, self-referential joke.  Certainly, only Shakespeare could have pulled off Boyet’s ‘eye’ conceit.)”


From Bloom:

“Berowne, Shakespeare’s protagonist, is a highly conscious male narcissist who seeks his own reflection in the eyes of women and meets his catastrophe in the dark lady, Rosaline, ‘with two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes.’  The centuries have conjectured that Rosaline is linked to the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, a surmise supported by the lack of any justification in the play’s text for Berowne’s anxiety of betrayal in regard to Rosaline:

O! and I forsooth in love!

I, that have been love’s whip;

A very beadle to a humorous sigh;

A critic, nay a night-watch constable,

A domineering pedant o’er the boy,

Than whom no mortal so magnificent!

This wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,

This signor junior, giant-dwarf, dan Cupid;

Regent of love rhymes, lord of folded arms,

The anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,

Liege of all loiterers and malcontents,

Dread prince of plackets, king of codpieces,

Sole imperator and great general

Of trotting paritors:  O my little heart!

And I to be a corporal of his field,

And wear his colours like a tumbler’s hoop!

What!  I love!  I sue!  I seek a wife!

A woman that is like a German clock,

Still a-repairing, ever out of frame,

And never going aright, being a watch,

But being watch’d that it may still go right!

Nay, to be perjur’d, which is worst of all,

And among three, to love the worst of all,

A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,

With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;

Ay, and by heaven, one that will do the deed

Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard:

And I to sigh for her! to watch for her!

To pray for her!  Go to, it is a plague

That Cupid will impose for my neglect

Of his almighty dreadful little might.

Well, I will love, write, sigh, pray, sue, and groan:

Some men must love my lady, and some Joan.

Cupid’s revenge promises cuckoldry (as in the Sonnets), and the enigmatic, aggressive Rosaline seems a clue to the story of the Sonnets.”


And more from Bloom on Berowne:

“C.L. Barber called Love’s Labour’s Lost, ‘a strikingly fresh start, a more complete break with what [Shakespeare] had been doing earlier’ than anything in his career except for the transition from the tragedies to the late romances.  The discovery that his verbal resources were limitless freed Shakespeare for the lyrical crescendo of 1595-97 that includes Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the astonishing Act V of The Merchant of Venice.  I myself would interpret this movement to lyrical drama as part of Shakespeare’s final emancipation from Marlowe, since it was followed by the great enabling act of creating Falstaff, the anti-Machiavel and so anti-Marlowe.  There is a continuity between Faulconbridge the Bastard in King John (probably 1595), a first anti-Machiavel in Shakespeare, and Falstaff, and a deeper link between Berowne’s wit and Falstaff’s, though the connection is purely linguistic.

Whether Berowne has any interests that transcend his language is disputable, since his passion for Rosaline may be no more than a play upon words, despite his later convictions.  Though he is the most eminent wit of the four male would-be lovers, Berowne’s passion is individualized only by its ruefulness, which is suitable, since his Rosaline is the thorniest of the four resistant noblewomen.  Yet Berowne is also the theoretician of male narcissism in the play; he understands and indeed celebrates what his friends can only act out.  Barber eloquently comments that all four manifest ‘the folly of acting love and talking love, without being in love,’ but I think that falls short of Berowne’s hapless fall into love, probably the only form of love he can ever know:  lust of the eye fused with self-delighting wit.  Berowne’s linguistic self-intoxication foreshadows Richard II’s metaphysical brilliance as a lyric poet, fatally unsuitable for a reigning king, yet astonishing in its fireworks display of linguistic invention.  Shakespeare’s ironizing of Richard II is acutely palatable:  this is a dangerous mode of wit, from which we are to be distanced.  Berowne is very different, charming and resourceful, though in love with the wrong woman, does he perhaps represent some aspect of the elusive Shakespeare himself, prey of the Dark Lady of the Sonnets?  Some commentators have thought so, but the clues are lacking in the profusion we would need to make the identification, however tentative.   With Falstaff, Shakespeare’s empathy is more persuasive, and Berowne is certainly one of the roles that seem retrospectively to prefigure Falstaff’s.

Something is held back in Berowne’s role; a reserve is intimated, but we cannot participate in it:

At Christmas I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled shows;

But like of each thing that in season grows.

[I.i. 105-7]

That is Berowne, and it is also the speaker of the Sonnets.  Harold Goddard, always a refreshing personalizer of Shakespeare (so few attempt it!), gave to Berowne ‘precisely Shakespeare’s capacity to taste without swallowing, to dally with the tempter until he is intimately acquainted with him, only in the end to resist temptation.’  That is a lovely idealization of both Berowne and the speaker of the Sonnets, each of whom swallowed and yielded to temptations.  Still, more than any other critic of all Shakespeare since Johnson and Hazlitt, Goddard is always interesting, and more often than not is right.  The comic genius of Falstaff seems as much Shakespeare’s own as Hamlet’s cognitive powers and Macbeth’s proleptic imaginings are their author’s endowments pushed to their limits.  Berowne is a superb wit, and no comic genius:  you cannot find anything in Berowne that is endless to meditation, as so much is in the sublimely disreputable Falstaff.  Berowne does not get away from Shakespeare, as Falstaff perhaps does.  We cannot imagine Berowne outside the world of Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Unimaginative critics scoff at the notion, but Falstaff is larger than the Henry IV plays, superb as they are, even as Hamlet seems to need a sphere greater than Shakespeare provides him.  Berowne falls in love with the wrong woman, and his Promethean dream of love, stealing fire from a woman, is a knowing projection of male narcissism, and yet there is something legitimately Promethean in his ecstatic celebration of a woman’s eyes.  His zest, like his wit, marks him as possessing Hazlittian gusto, little as Hazlitt cared for Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Berowne has a resonance that somewhat exceeds the play’s requirements, and is worthy of an heroic wit, who nevertheless is one of the fools of love.  As a wit, Berowne stands back and looks at the play, almost from outside it, but as a lover he is a catastrophe, and Rosaline is his folly.”



Our next reading:  Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act Four

This is a long act, so I’m going to give through the weekend to read it.  I’ll still post on Thursday night/Friday; I suspect a look at Goddard’s take on the play, with an examination of Act Four etc., in my Sunday evening/Monday morning post.


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One Response to “And among three, to love the worst of all,/A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,/With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;”

  1. XENIA says:

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