Thou art an old love-monger and speakest skilfully. — Rosaline to Boyet
Boyet, the courtier who accompanies the Princess of France and her ladies, should be portrayed as the guy you don’t want to grow up to be. He should be clever, worldly, smooth- talking, and therefore detestable. The clever courtier that the young men might aspire to be, and yet those features which might have some charm in a young man, having hardened into age seem shallow and bad in him. And his flirting with the younger ladies is distasteful. His wittiness in this, beyond that of any of the young men, passes into bawdiness. One of the Princess’ ladies scolds him for it:
Maria: Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.
Important for the plot in latter part of the play are two great mockings. First the ladies mock the King and courtiers of Navarre and then Boyet and the courtiers mock some men of lower station than them (including Armado and Holofernes the school teacher) while they perform some theatricals.
First the ladies mock the courtiers’ wooing, for the Princess thinks that men are wooing mockingly: “They do it but in mocking merriment; and mock for mock is only my intent.”
Princess of France. We are wise girls to mock our lovers so.
Rosaline. They are worse fools to purchase mocking so.
That same Biron I’ll torture ere I go:
O that I knew he were but in by the week!
How I would make him fawn and beg and seek
And wait the season and observe the times
And spend his prodigal wits in bootless rhymes
And shape his service wholly to my hests
And make him proud to make me proud that jests!
So perttaunt-like(?) would I o’ersway his state
That he should be my fool and I his fate.
And after that torturous mocking they receive, the young men are, of course, keen to feel superior to someone, so they mercilessly mock the amateur actors whom they have asked to perform for them and the ladies. And it’s pathetic.
Now this scene in which the amateur theatrics are presented could just be a breather from the plot — something funny to “beguile the lazy time” near the end of the play like the amateur theatrics at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the plot is all done and Duke Theseus asks:
Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bedtime?
Where is our usual manager of mirth?
What revels are in hand? Is there no play,
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
So the amateur’s play at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is like a dessert after the plot and before bedtime. Duke Theseus also takes a gentle approach — respecting the intention of the players though not unaware of, or unamused by their incompetence. And the noble audience in Midsummer Night’s Dream discuss the defects in the play among themselves, as opposed to taunting the players to their face.
In Love’s Labour’s Lost, on the other hand, the nobles’ sport is less gentle. They try to trip them up and embarrass the players by interrupting them with mockery. And it is my opinion that because of this, the scene can move the plot forward. I don’t insist that this is the definitive way to see this scene, but I will tell how I see it fitting in with the plot.
As I said, the young men have been mocked, and are eager to feel superior to someone and to show their superiority — Biron says “[T]is some policy To have one show worse than the king’s and his company.”
And right out of the gate when Costard the swain begins the pageant with “I Pompey am -” Boyet interrupts him with the *clever* reply “You lie you are not he.” As Boyet goes on with his mockery, Biron says a key line “Well said old mocker; I must needs be friends with thee.”
Basically the young men, tired of being mocked, will follow the example of the old mocker. Boyet will be their pattern. And though throughout the play we have laughed at the school teacher Holofernes, as they mock on and on Shakepeare gives him a very reasonable sounding line when he says to them “This is not generous, not gentle, not humble.”
Now it should be noted that while the men mock the players, the ladies-in-waiting are silent. Are they highly amused or do they agree that it’s not generous, not gentle, not humble? (The Princess says a few things, but mostly pitying in tone.)
It could easily be played that the ladies are highly amused and impressed with the men’s wittiness, and that they bond over their shared superiority over the silly players. But I think to move the plot forward that (even if the ladies are shown amused) they should be shown to be stifling their laughter, and basically disapproving. Why? Because the ladies do not want the young men to cast in their lot with the old mocker Boyet. They don’t want men of that cast. Throughout the play they flirt with Boyet, but always rebuff him.
Do I have any textual back-up or is this just my preference because I don’t like cruel mocking?
Spoiler alert — the end of the play is my back up. At the end of the play the men again sue to be accepted by the ladies and are only given hope on one condition: That they prove themselves serious and constant for a year. Of course this is partly responding to their faithlessness shown at the beginning of the play when the men vowed to devote themselves to study, eschewing women’s company, (which vow they broke when they so earnestly wooed the ladies). The men’s fickleness in this is one of the main themes of the play. Even though the men’s first wooing words were earnest in style, not innuendo like Boyet uses, the ladies did not take them seriously because they knew they were breaking their oath. Now at the end the men are challenged to prove their seriousness and steadfastness.
But fickleness is not the only problem — there is still the mocking issue. Rosaline makes it very clear that she does not want to marry Biron if he is going to grow up to be a Boyet. Just a few minutes after he has said he must be friends with the old mocker, she demands he weed that mocking wormwood from his fruitful brain and choke his gibing spirit.
Oft have I heard of you, my Lord Biron,
Before I saw you; and the world’s large tongue
Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks,
Full of comparisons and wounding flouts,
Which you on all estates will execute
That lie within the mercy of your wit.
To weed this wormwood from your fruitful brain,
And therewithal to win me, if you please,
Without the which I am not to be won,
You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day
Visit the speechless sick and still converse
With groaning wretches; and your task shall be,
With all the fierce endeavor of your wit
To enforce the pained impotent to smile.
To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be; it is impossible:
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.
Why, that’s the way to choke a gibing spirit,
Whose influence is begot of that loose grace
Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools:
A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it: then, if sickly ears,
Deaf’d with the clamours of their own dear groans,
Will hear your idle scorns, continue then,
And I will have you and that fault withal;
But if they will not, throw away that spirit,
And I shall find you empty of that fault,
Right joyful of your reformation.
So I think the amateur theatrics should be played as a scene in which the “gentlemen” mock, but win no favour from the ladies for it — perhaps the scene above all others in which their labour loses them their lovers and prolongs the hope of resolution beyond what we have time for in a play.