Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Scene 3
Biron reads from a soul-searching composition: I will not love; if I do, hang me! I'faith, I will not. O but her eye! . . . By heaven, I do love, and it hath taught me to rhyme and to be melancholy . . . ... When the King enters, a sheet of paper in his hand, Biron ducks out of sight and listens with pleasure as his monarch reads from a sonnet he has written:
O queen of queens, how far dost thou excel
No thought can think, nor tongue of mortal tell! 40–41)
The comedy builds rapidly with Longaville entering, the King ducking aside, then Dumain coming onto the scene and forcing Longaville into hiding. Each in turn reads from his own lyrical expression of love, unaware of the presence of the others. Then they are exposed in turn, with Biron the last to emerge to accuse the King of hypocrisy for upbraiding Dumain and Longaville, who have broken their vows:
Now step I forth to whip hypocrisy.
Oh, good my liege, I pray thee, pardon me.
Good heart, what grace hast thou thus to reprove
These worms for loving, that art most in love? (151–54)
After this accusation, Biron also suffers the obligatory embarrassment, because Costard, bearing Biron's missive to Rosaline, has unexpectedly appeared. Jacquenetta asks that the letter be read, because "our parson [Holofernes] misdoubts it; 'twas treason, he said." Biron tries to wriggle free, but Dumain pieces together the shreds of paper which Biron has made of the letter.
Dumain: It is Biron's writing, and here is his name.
Biron: [to Costard]: Ah, you whoreson loggerhead, you
were born to do me shame! Guilty, my
lord, guilty. I confess, I confess.
Biron heartily calls for them all to recognize their folly:
Sweet lords, sweet lovers, O, let us embrace!
As true we are as flesh and blood can be.
The sea will ebb and flow, heaven show his face; Young blood doth not obey an old decree. (214–17)
Joined by Dumain and Longaville, the King enters a genteel slanging match with Biron over the relative merits of their preferred women. At the Kings request,
But what of this? Are we not all in love? . . .
Then leave this chat, and, good Biron, now prove
Our loving lawful and our faith not torn, (282–84)
Biron rationalizes their unanimous (though independently arrived at) choice to countermand the vows of chastity:
To fast, to study, and
to see no woman Flat
treason 'gainst the
kingly state of youth. (292–93)
The scene ends in jubilation as the King bids them all prepare some entertainment with which to woo their ladies. They all agree with Biron:
In the afternoon
We will with some strange pastime solace them,
Such as the shortness of the time can shape;
For revels, dances, masks, and merry hours
Forerun fair Love, strewing her way with flowers. (376–80)
Scene 3 is a classical piece of comedy. Each of the young men is exposed, while the audience enjoys the process of their mutual deceit leading up to the final moment. Following the conventions of Elizabethan staging, one must imagine each of the lovers hiding from the others while in full view of the audience. It is simply accepted dramatically that when they speak their "asides" to the audience, the main "onstage" character doesn't hear them. Biron is most likely tucked away in the tiring house (the rear wall) facade or placed in a practicable stage property tree ("like a demigod here sit I in the sky") while he looks down on the foolishness of his peers. The others are distributed about the stage.
Notice the style of each "love sonnet": the Kings opens conventionally with the syrup of courtly love:
So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not
To those fresh morning drops upon the rose,
As thy eye-beams when their fresh rays have smote
The night of dew that on my cheeks down flows. (26–29)
Then it "progresses" to lovers! melancholy:
But do not love thyself —
then thou will keep My tears
for glasses [mirrors] and still
make me weep. (38–39)
Longaville engages in sophistry, intellectually justifying his aberrance:
A woman I forswore,
but I will prove, Thou
being a goddess, I
forswore not thee. (64–65)
This remark elicits Biron's ironic judgment from "on high": "Pure, pure idolatry./God amend us, God amend!" It is ironic because Biron is a past-master at just this sort of intellectual conceit.
Dumain's attempt is the least accomplished, though his intent is the same as the others:
On a day — alack the day! —
Love, whose month is ever May,
Spied a blossom passing fair
Playing in the wanton air. . . .
Do not call it sin in me,
That I am forsworn for thee. (101–6)
His "private wish" is no sooner uttered than he discovers that it has been true all along:
O, would the
Were lovers too! (123–24)
The greatest fall is amusingly reserved for the man whose position is most haughty. Biron lays it on thick when he berates his fellows:
I that am honest, I that hold it sin
To break the vow I am engaged in;
I am betrayed by keeping company
With men like you, men of inconstancy.
When shall you see me
write a thing in rhyme?
Or groan for love? (177–82)
The tone of the scene is jolly, however, and the satire is not calculated to "draw blood," as was true for hypocrites attacked by Shakespeare's contemporary, Ben Jonson, or would be true in Moliere's great comedies of the seventeenth century. The four lovers playfully attack one another, boyishly teasing each other about the virtues of their ladies:
Biron: Your mistresses dare never come in rain,
For fear their colours should be washed away.
King: 'Twere good yours did; for, sir, to tell you plain,
I'll find a fairer face not washed today.
Biron: I'll prove her fair or talk till doomsday here. (270–74)
The seventy-line "justification" uttered by Biron at the end of the scene offers a special insight into Shakespeare's process of composing his early plays. In most editions of the play, this section beginning with "And where that you have vowed to study, lords!' and concluding with "Do we not likewise see our learning there?" will be bracketed, or set apart as redundant. The fact is, these lines are essentially no different from the following ones, indicating that Shakespeare re-cast the thoughts into sharper poetical language. His printer probably overlooked the deletion and set both sections of the speech. Compare the two passages for effectiveness.
Biron sings the praises of love as a teacher and a spur to intellectual and creative energy. He claims that it gives "to every power a double power," compared to "slow arts" (mere book-learning) which "scarce show a harvest of their heavy toil." His peroration deservedly earns the accolade of his King.
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. (355–62)
Fittingly, the King declares a new allegiance to usher the men to follow the urgings of their passion and to draw the scene to a close:
Saint Cupid then! And, soldiers, to the field! (366)