PTS 09/055: The Rough Wooing of the Monstrous Regiment

Where is the ‘son-in-law’ material in LLL?


BH NIgel
Dad, this is Nigel … we’re in love!

Love’s Labour’s Lost:  Act IV

My life has been filled with obsessions, and for reasons too complex to go into here, about twenty-five years ago, one of them was Scottish history.  With no knowledge ever completely wasted, it’s contributed to where and who I am today, struggling with this play, and especially to find any kind of empathy with its male characters.

Put simply, if I had a daughter, none of these men would be son-in-law material …

Nor, actually, would almost any of the ‘lovers’ in the Comedies.  Certainly in LLL, they’re beginning to fall into two categories: the rough wooers and the slippery dicks.

Anyway, back to Scottish history.  Mary Queen of Scots caused (admittedly unintenional) trouble pretty much from the moment she was born, and between 1544 and 1548, Henry VIII embarked on the ‘rough wooing’ of Scotland to have her married off to his son, Prince Edward.1  The burning and sacking of Edinburgh and its environs only confirmed the Scots’ worst fears, and did plenty to drive the infant Mary into the clutches of the French.  The grim, ironic epithet given to the episode does much to suggest that this sort of thing wasn’t completely unknown.

It’s only a few years later (1558) that another Scot, the renowned, controversial Protestant John Knox, published his pithy work on the ‘monstrous regiment of women’, which whilst primarily attacking women rulers, contained many titbits which were applicable to every sphere of society, including this one:

in her greatest perfection woman was created to be subiect to man: But after her fall and rebellion committed against God, their was put vpon her a newe necessitie, and she was made subiect to man by the irreuocable sentence of God, pronounced in these wordes: I will greatlie multiplie thy sorowe and thy conception. With sorowe shalt thou beare thy children, and thy will shall be subiect to thy man: and he shal beare dominion ouer the.’ 2

My students will hopefully draw a connection between this and my insistence on the influence of the Book of Genesis.  But that’s not the point I’m making here – what we see is a societal mindset towards women which reflects attitudes not dissimilar to the revelations of today’s #metoo movement.

Do we see this in LLL, and in Shakespeare generally?

Of course we do.

Much of the style of the EMP was centred around hyperboleHarry Levin tells us:

The Elizabethans […] responsive to youthfulness and to every manifestation of verbal exuberance, seriously welcomed the device [hyperbole] and gave it effective employment upon the stage. Rhetoricians like Abraham Fraunce recommended it for amplification and heightening, for making the language ‘very loftie and full of maiestie’. 3

Whilst it might be obvious that Armado is a ludicrous figure of fun (even his name constructed to remember past glories against the Spaniard), that’s not to say that he isn’t a hyperbolised caricature of some rough wooers of the age.  Let’s look at his letter again for the sinister rather than the silly:

‘Shall I command thy love?  I may.  Shall I enforce thy love? I could.  Shall I entreat thy love?  I will.’  (IV.i.79-80) 4

HR Woudhuysen reminded me that I’d heard something similar to this in Richard III‘s charged scene with Queen Elizabeth:

‘Tell her the King, that may command, entreats.’

(IV.iv.345) 5

But what I was most aware of was the most awkward and unsatisfactory scene in Henry V – the clumsy wooing of Katherine by our newly triumphant hero.  She is:

‘our capital demand’ (V.ii.96) 6

in negotiating a peace (a demand that was in fact offered to him way earlier in the play) and yet he spends about 175 lines bullying her – there’s no other word for it – into declaring some kind of emotional interest in him.  Later in my read-through, I might pick apart his motives for obtaining this forced retrospective consent – to massage his guilt, maybe?

My point is that for all its hyperbole, there was a class of men in society who appeared to feel entitled to a woman’s meek acquiescence to their demands.  Regardless of the woman’s feelings.  Have I strayed back into 2018?  Perhaps.

Look at the threatening postscript to Amardo’s letter:

‘Thus dost thou hear the Nemean lion roar

‘Gainst thee, thou lamb, that staidest as his prey.

Submissive fall his princely feet before,

And he from forage will incline to play.

But if thou strive, poor soul, what art thou then?

Food for his rage, repasture for his den.  (IV.i.87-88)

Rough wooing indeed.  ‘Full of sound and fury,‘ perhaps, and ‘told by an idiot‘, but not necessarily ‘signifying nothing‘.

Interestingly, I thought, these quotations were left out of Elijah Moshinsky‘s BBC production when I viewed it. 7

If space allowed, I’d move onto Boyet‘s spiteful insinuation that Rosaline, who is clearly not for him, is a slut.  But I want to talk, briefly, about our four ‘heroes’: from these rough wooers to the slippery dicks.

There are two points to make.  Firstly, the rash oath at the play’s opening means that the men are all foresworn, and that’s a serious business in the EMP.  Look again at Clarence‘s death in RIII, and the way that his murderers become angry and aggressive in reminding him of his perjury.  In character as prospective father-in-law, I wonder at their potential stickability in an engagement …

Additionally, HR Woudhuysen points us in the direction of flattery:

The subject of praise is bound up with the play’s questioning of the nature of language – what happens to words, it asks, when they are extravagantly lavished on objects which do not precisely deserve them? Although like Berowne they may deny it (4.3.180-3), when they are in love, the male courtiers are great praisers, inflating language to support their courtship. The women are more concerned that praise should only be given where it is due.

Ivor Brown, in a book admittedly full of informed speculation, believed that like Julius Caesar:

‘It is hardly to be disputed that Shakespeare hated fawning flatterers’ 8

and this is supported by the four love poems we have to endure, in an admittedly comic eavesdropping scene.  But it’s afterwards that we get a little more slippery:

KING:  Then leave this chat and, good Berowne, now prove

Our loving lawful and our faith not torn.

DUMAINE:  Ay, marry, there; some FLATTERY for this evil.

LONGAVILLE:  O, some authority how to proceed.

Some tricks, some quilts, how to cheat the devil.


My emphasis on Dumaine‘s words.

I wouldn’t trust these sophists as far as I could throw them … they should be more Hotspur:

‘Tell truth, and shame the devil.’ (III.57) 9

Now he IS son-in-law material …


1  A Dictionary of British History, ‘The Rough Wooing: 1544-1548)’, accessed at

2 John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous regiment of Women, accessed at

3 Harry Levin, Christopher Marlowe:  The Overreacher (Faber & Faber:  London, 1961)

4 William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost (Arden third edition, ed. HR Woudhuysen), (Methuen Drama:  London, 1998)

5 William Shakespeare, King Richard III (Arden third edition, ed. James R Siemon), (Bloomsbury:  London, 2009)

6 William Shakespeare, King Henry V (Arden third edition, ed. TW Craik), (Methuen Drama:  London, 1995)

7 William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost (dir. Elijah Moshinsky), (BBC:  London, 1985)

8 Ivor Brown, Shakespeare, (The Reprint Society:  London, 1951)

9 William Shakespeare, King Henry IV Part 1 (Arden third edition, ed. David Scott Kastan), (Engage Learning: London, 2002)



Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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