How do the puns and wordplay affect the relationships of the characters in Love’s Labor’s Lost?

Puns and wordplays help the spark of love to fly between Rosaline and Berowne in Love's Labor's Lost. An example is a pun on "ay," meaning yes, and "eye," meaning eye. The king uses polyptoton early on in a play on the words "grace/disgrace." The rustic Costard shows his relationship as "lower" than the high-born characters in his use of malapropisms.

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Puns and wordplays permeate Love's Labor's Lost. An example of wordplay and punning that shows that rapier sharp wit and intelligence are a highly important part of the spark that flies between Berowne and Rosaline occurs in act 2, scene 1 when Rosaline asks if Berowne is sick. He says he is sick at heart, a play on the word "sick" that means he is in love with her or lovesick (the heart being the location of love) rather than physically ill. She chooses to take his statement literally and says he should have his heart bled. Bleeding was a common way to treat diseases in that time period. Rosaline plays on the slippage between the figurative meaning of a heart bleeding for love and the literal meaning of the bleeding a physician would do. The twosome then turn to punning. Rosaline says her physician would say "ay" or yes to bleeding. Berowne then puns on "ay" by using the word "eye," which sounds the same but has a different meaning. He asks if she will "prick" his heart with her "eye," meaning bestow the light of her love on it, but he also means will she prick his heart—cure it of its sickness—by saying "ay" or yes to his love. Berowne and Rosaline's love grows because of the wordplay they exchange and tease each other with.

The King of Navarre uses what is called polyptoton. This means using words with the same root in close proximity. The king does this when he states in act I, scene 1,

And then grace us in the disgrace of death.

This helps set up the comic relationship the king and other men will have with the female characters who arrive after the king imposes chastity on himself and his courtiers. The awkwardness of this phrasing and wordplay foreshadows the awkwardness of the situation that is about to arise.

Another form of wordplay is malapropism, which is when a character, usually for comic purposes, uses the wrong word. The lower-class rustic Costard is constantly using malapropisms. This reveals that his relationship with the wellborn characters is one of subordination. But the wit with which he misuses words implies he knows more than he lets on. One example is when he speaks in act 1, scene 1 of

the sinplicity of man to hearken after the flesh.

He means simplicity, but "sinplicity" has the effect of showing that Costard may be smarter than his lowly status suggests. (Some versions of the play simply change the spelling of the word to simplicity, which loses the pun.)

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