115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Classifying Comedy: Female Comedy in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost, a comedy in the middle of Shakespeare’s body of work, features two classes of women: the affluent and the peasant. The complex social restrictions based on gender and socioeconomic transition of the Early Modern Period influenced the construction the female characters and their comedy within the play.


Consciously or unconsciously, the period in which a text is written colors the content of the work as much as the ink on the page. Early Modern England, for example, was wrought with conflicts that are reflected within the construction of Shakespeare’s works. Shakespeare was writing in a time of Queens when the great chain of being constructed from the bible told men that god came first, then man, and then woman. Men found themselves believing they were divinely constructed to be between god and women while also being ruled by a woman (Eggert 13). The socioeconomic system of the time was also changing from feudalism to capitalism and created an odd time of transition from one system to the next (Levin 31). The affluent found themselves able to fall, the merchant class found themselves able to rise, and the peasant class was exploited through either system, really (Harris 143-150). The women in Love’s Labour’s Lost are used for comedy but the type of comedy is dependent upon their socioeconomic class; given the context of the time period Shakespeare was creating the play in, the difference in construction becomes clearer. The four affluent women, represented in the Princess of France and her three ladies, were well-educated and able to produce witty dialog but were unable to exert their own wishes when it came to marriage. While they were unimpressed with the King of Navarre and his three lords, they could not outright refuse a proposal (due to the political implications of a princess or queen refusing a proposal) and instead offered a delay. When it comes to the construction of Jaquenetta, social mobility for both men and women through capitalism was something new to Shakespeare’s time period. While Moth uses subtle ways to call Jaquenetta lady of the night, implying she is a one is Moth’s way of demeaning her through humor for both being a class-climber and also an actual prostitute. Jaquenetta does end up engaged to Don de Armado, on her terms, and the child she’s carrying is probably not his (but belongs to her first lover in the play, Costard). She is able to exert not only control over who she marries, but she is able to put conditions on the marriage and a three year delay on the nuptials. While women of the upper class found themselves educated and clever, lower class women, even probable prostitutes, had more control over their ability to choose a mate.

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