Summary and Analysis
Moth sings a "sweet air" for Armado, then gives him advice on how to secure his love — through song, dance, face — pulling, and rhetorical devices. The conversation meanders here and there at the whim of the clever Moth, causing Armado to remark on his "sweet smoke of rhetoric." Moth fetches Costard at his master's behest, and the nonsensical language games now include the newcomer. Even Costard can see that Moth is making a fool of his master, "The boy hath sold him a bargain, a goose."
Moth: Now will I begin your moral, and do you
follow with my l'envoy.
The fox, the ape, and the humblebee
Were still at odds, being but three.
Armado: Until the goose came out of door, Staying the odds by adding four.
Moth: A good Fenvoy, ending in the goose. (94–100)
Armado, of course, is the "goose" who ends the ditty.
Costard is twice bid to become a postman, to deliver a love letter from Armado to Jaquenetta (for which he is paid "remuneration"), and to deliver a note from Biron to Rosaline (for this, he gets a "guerdon" [reward]). Making his exit, he exclaims:
Gardon, O sweet gardon! Better than remuneration — a
'levenpence farthing better. Most sweet gardon!
I will do it sir, in print [with care]. Gardon!
To cap the scene, Shakespeare radically shifts to a loftier style in the person of Biron, who delivers a thirty-three-line soliloquy expressing the quandary in which he finds himself. It begins: "O, and I, forsooth, in love!"
The broad contrasts which characterize the structure of Love's Labour's Lost are apparent at the beginning and the end of this scene. Armado is a braggart and a fool in love, a caricature of the transformations which can take place when a man is prey to his passions. The first moments of the scene are broadly comical, commencing as Moth sings a sweet tune to suit the master's mood (compare the opening of Twelfth Night: "If music be the food of love, play on."), then going on to include a demonstration by Moth of the ways to woo a woman. Though there are no stage directions, it seems likely that Moth would at least illustrate (and perhaps coax Armado into performing) some of the physical techniques he describes: "No, my complete master; but to jig off a tune at the tongue's end, canary to it with your feet, humour it with turning up your eyelids. . . ." The same comical teaching takes place in a parallel scene with Toby Belch, Maria, and Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night (I, 3).
At the other end of the spectrum, and the scene, is the nobleman Biron, also in love, wrestling with his feelings in a far more dignified manner. Love is transforming him as well:
I, that have been love's whip,
A very beadle to a humorous sigh,
A critic, nay, a night-watch constable. . . .
And I to be a corporal of his [Cupid's] field,
And wear his colours like a tumbler's hoop!
What? I love? I sue? I seek a wife! (173–79)
But there is a rightness in this change, it turns out, for the world of Shakespeare's happy comedy demands the triumph of love over artificial barriers.
The two love letters to be delivered by the utter, literal fool, Costard, are bound to be mixed up. Shakespeare stirs the action and excites the audience's expectation by this device. Notice, however, how relatively unimportant this sort of detail is in Love's Labour's Lost by comparison to Comedy of Errors. The life of the later comedy is less in its plot than in its language, and to a certain extent, its character.