Shakespeare Quotes

Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile

Berowne:
Why! all delights are vain, but that most vain
Which, with pain purchas'd, doth inherit pain:
As, painfully to pore upon a book
To seek the light of truth, while truth the while
Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look.
Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile;
So ere you find where light in darkness lies,
Your light grows dark by losing of your eyes.

Love's Labor's Lost Act 1. scene 1, 72–79

Berowne's speech has hardly been embraced in everyday English, but it should be better remembered. "Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile" has all the makings of a proverb. The very absurdity of the alliteration and the self-conscious sophistry of Berowne's "proof" only make the line more charming.

The occasion for Berowne's remarks is a pact drawn up by the King of Navarre, requiring its signatories to forsake for three years the company of women and all other "trivial" pleasures, such as regular meals. The King's object is to establish a "little academe" (he invents the word "academe," by way of Plato); in it, he and his fellows will pursue wisdom with such dedication that their fame will spread across space and time. Berowne's objection, as contrived as it sounds, has an essential grain of wisdom. Staring too long at books, he argues, is painful; why should anyone give up pleasures in order to pursue pain? Reading is blinding: "Light" (the eye), by "seeking light" (in seeking truth), "doth light of light beguile" (deprives itself of vision). If you think you're going to find "truth" in the dark recesses of books, pretty soon you'll be plunged in despair, because blindness will bar you from truth.

Themes: philosophy, wit

Speakers: Berowne