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Learning to be Boys: Reading the Lessons of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Marston’s What You Will

Edel Lamb


Cet essai s’intéresse aux leçons de Moth, le page-écolier-jeune acteur de Peines d’amour perdues, afin d’étudier la façon dont était générée l’identité des jeunes garçons dans la culture de la première modernité. On confrontera le personnage créé par Shakespeare à l’écolier imaginé par John Marston dans What You Will, Holofernes Pippo, pour se demander comment les leçons des écoliers pouvaient produire des identités marquées par l’âge et le genre plus complexes que les interprétations que l’on donne habituellement de la masculinité à cette époque. Grâce à une lecture des leçons comiques mises en scène dans ces pièces, on suggérera que si le système éducatif avait pour ambition de façonner des sujets identifiés par leur genre, l’identité masculine se présente à la Renaissance comme une gradation de catégories sur une échelle de développement. Bien que Moth et Pippo mettent en lumière de façon comique les limites de nombreuses méthodes pédagogiques destinées à produire des « hommes », ils apprennent aussi à être des garçons. On complétera l’analyse par une étude du statut et des modalités de construction de l’identité chez les jeunes acteurs qui jouaient ces rôles sur scène à l’époque.

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  • 1 This research was supported by the Irish Research Council and by the Australian Research Council’s (...)
  • 2 On the dating of the play, see H. R. Woudhuysen, “Introduction”, Love’s Labour’s Lost, ed. H. R. Wo (...)
  • 3 William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 5.2.58, ed. H. R. Woudhuysen, The Arden Shakespeare, Lon (...)
  • 4 See, for example, Katie Knowles, Shakespeare’s Boys: A Cultural History, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macm (...)
  • 5 On the dating of this play, see W. Reavley Gair, The Children of Paul’s: The Story of a Theatre Com (...)

1Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost can be read as a “youthful” play on multiple levels.1 As an early work, most likely written and performed c. 1594/1595, it potentially offers an insight into “young” or “early” Shakespeare.2 It is also preoccupied with ideas pertinent to youth. From the recurrent images of the childish god of love, Cupid, to the play’s pageboy character, Moth, to the youthful lords who dedicate themselves to a prolonged period of learning and the “wise girls” who school their suitors in their acts of courtship, youth is at the centre of this play.3 The play’s recent critical history attests to the extent to which contemporary cultures of learning and pedagogy, from book learning and the institution of the schoolroom to formative childish games, inform its themes and wordplay.4 This essay will suggest that the comic depictions of diverse modes of education are part of the play’s wider examination of the ways in which age and learning might produce early modern identities. It will focus on one of the play’s boys – the pageboy, schoolboy and boy actor, Moth. It will compare him to another early modern dramatic schoolboy, Holofernes Pippo of John Marston’s What You Will, performed by the Children of Paul’s c. 1601, to argue that theatrical depictions of schoolboy lessons are a means of producing boyhood, a term that was used from the 1570s to refer to the state of being a boy.5

  • 6 Rebecca Bushnell, A Culture of Teaching: Early Modern Humanism in Theory and Practice, Ithaca, Corn (...)

2When Armado asks Moth in Act 3, Scene 1 of Love’s Labour’s Lost “What wilt thou prove?”, the boy offers the witty response of “A man, if I live; and this, ‘by’, ‘in’, and ‘without’, upon the instant” (3.1.37-39). In offering to prove his master’s love through this linguistic exercise, Moth occupies the role of schoolteacher instructing his “negligent student” (3.1.33) and schoolboy performing his learning. The grammar lesson delivered here suggests that manhood is something that must be proven or achieved. It comically juxtaposes the slow process of becoming a man through aging (“if I live”) with the mastery of language and of love. Moth posits apparently conflicting modes of “proving” a man: age, courtship and the display of learning. Manhood in this construction is not only a gendered state but depends on temporality or age and on the display of learning – in this case, a command of prepositions and the proof of an argument. The ways in which early modern humanist educational programmes aimed to instill gendered identities have been widely examined.6 Yet the extent to which these gendered states are also inflected by age categories has not yet been fully explored. The connections between age and learning in constituting masculine identity are evident in this staging of the grammar lesson. They are manifest in Moth’s liminal state as a boy: a state that encompasses his gender, age, social status and his witty use of learning. The ways in which learning produces a range of masculine states (boyhood, youth, manhood, and old age) are further explored throughout the play.

  • 7 Judith Kegan Gardiner, “Theorizing Age with Gender: Bly’s Boys, Feminism, and Maturity Masculinity” (...)
  • 8 See Janet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, London (...)
  • 9 John Reading, The Old Man’s Staffe, London, Bernard Alsop,1621, STC 20792, p.1; Henry Cuffe, The Di (...)

3In “Theorizing Age with Gender: Bly’s Boys, Feminism, and Maturity Masculinity”, Judith Gardiner persuasively argues that age categories should perform a more prominent role in gender theory. Age, she proposes, enables us to conceptualize gender developmentally and “allows for the possibility of more adequate models”.7 The gendering of the boy in early modern culture offers an interesting case study for this approach. The aging of the early modern boy was marked by a number of social rituals that frequently functioned as indicators of the boy’s emerging masculine identity. For example, rituals at the end of infancy, often perceived to be the first stage of childhood and ending around the age of seven, included the breeching of the boy and the movement from the domestic space to the space of work or the all-male institution of the grammar school.8 These social practices interpreted and attempted to control the developing physiological status of the boy during his transition from a feminised childhood to adult manhood in middle age or “the strongest age”, when, according to early seventeenth-century tracts on age, “a man is come to the highest degree of perfection”.9 In contrast to the ideals underlying these social rituals, early modern boys did not experience a single and definitive shift from childhood to manhood. The gaps between ideology and experience signal the unstable nature of early modern concepts of masculinity and expose the fundamental intersections between age and gender that need to be considered.

  • 10 Knowles, op. cit., p. 104.
  • 11 Evelyn Tribble, Cognition in the Globe: Attention and Memory in Shakespeare’s Theatre, Basingstoke, (...)
  • 12 On the ages of the players of the Children of Paul’s, see Shen Lin, “How Old Were the Children of P (...)

4Theorizing early modern gender developmentally, as Gardiner suggests, offers a fresh understanding of the complexities of early modern masculinities. Reassessing pedagogical practices through an analysis of the concepts of boyhood and manhood put forward by books produced to train boys in languages, verbal skill and logic, this essay will raise questions about the “manhood” that these all-male institutions aimed to produce. It will then examine the comic representations of these practices in Love’s Labour’s Lost and What You Will to explore the multiple concepts of early modern masculinity, defined by age and learning, offered on the stage. It will suggest that although the educational system aimed to produce manhood at a certain age, early modern masculine identities exist not only as boyhood and manhood but as a variety of categories on a developmental scale. Moth and Pippo are particularly productive points of focus for this analysis. Both occupy positions as pageboys and schoolboys. As Katie Knowles proposes in her recent monograph, Shakespeare’s Boys, Moth, although technically a witty page, is in essence “the precocious sixteenth-century schoolboy” whose function is to “highlight the educational strengths and weaknesses of the other characters”.10 Pippo moves from the schoolroom to apprenticeship during the course of What You Will. Moreover, they are young boy actors both within the narratives of the plays (Moth takes part in rehearsals and in the court performance; Pippo participates in an act of disguise) and in the theatre. Love’s Labour’s Lost is written for a company that seems to include many young actors and attends, Evelyn Tribble suggests, to training its young boy actors.11 What You Will is performed by the young players of the children’s company at Paul’s.12 By examining the multiple dimensions of boyhood in the dramatic fictions and on the stages of the companies that likely performed these plays, it is possible to consider the extent to which performing these roles not only teaches the characters to be boys but forms a crucial part of the young boy actor’s theatrical training.

Schoolboy Lessons: Training boys to be men

  • 13 On early modern education, see T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, Ur (...)
  • 14 John Brinsley, Pueriles Confabulatiunculae, or, Children’s Dialogues, Little Conferences, or Talkin (...)
  • 15 Ibid., p. 17.

5The training of the boy in various levels of literacy from the basic recital of ABC texts in English to the Latin-language lesson had a significant role in producing gendered subjects in early modern culture. Education in grammar schools, for example, functioned as one method of producing men as schoolboys were instructed in the memorization, pronunciation and imitation of exempla; encouraged to recite their learning “without book” with the appropriate gesture, vocals and audacity; and to draw on their learning to invent logical arguments.13 John Brinsley’s Children’s Dialogues (1617), a series of dialogues to be studied alone, translated and performed in the classroom, indicates the ways in which school lessons attempted to inculcate masculine traits. These dialogues repeatedly depict the movement from the home to school and the appropriate display of school learning in terms of a straightforward transition from childhood to manhood. One dialogue, for instance, presents two schoolboys having a physical argument over a chair – a row that is quickly ended by one’s mastery of language which leads the other to conclude “Now I judge thee [to be] a man”. 14 A number of dialogues also depict well-versed schoolboys who have learned to construct an argument to provide “prettily cunning” excuses for lateness or bad behaviour.15 Answering all the questions posed to them by schoolmasters correctly and wittily, these boys escape the violent punishment of beating that pervades this text. While this outwitting of the schoolmaster threatens to disrupt hierarchies of authority and age, this is contained within the context of the schoolroom. It is set up as the adept deployment of lessons learned.

  • 16 The Booke o[f] Merrie Riddles, London, Roger Jackson, 1617, STC 3322.5, title page.
  • 17 John Marston, What You Will, ed. M. R. Woodhead, Nottingham, Nottingham Drama Texts, 1980, 2.2.833- (...)
  • 18 Halpern, op. cit., p. 37.

6The large quantity of books produced to provide dialogues, questions and answers and classical examples for schoolboys meant that this material was not confined to the schoolroom. Similar material and formats were imitated in a range of books, such as handbooks, instruction manuals and even the oft-printed The Booke of Merrie Riddles. The title page for the 1617 edition of this book declared that it was a collection of riddles, “proper questions and witty proverbs” for “pleasant pastime” and “usefull” and “behovefull” “for any young man or childe to knowe whether he be quicke-witted or no”.16 The material provided to schoolboys to “prove” men thus circulated beyond the schoolroom, available for use without instruction in how and when it should be used. Consequently, as the scholar Lampatho complains in Marston’s What You Will, you could “make a parrost nw /(1 Tampatho s Love’s Labour’s Lost ,the plintess ond hir la dis are asmilar y deisppropvng of the smn’s Dmitatioe leoe poietr, acauing pBeow n to coain that we witl tno onged “thrut to tspeehes tpnnen, a/Not to the smoion of raschoolboy”s thngeu” m(.2.5402-403. Iet t-Pippchoolboys were incouraged to rovembeyond tepeatiion, po manter thrir learning tnd thansiorm itsto construct anguments.

67/span>The larly modern cheatre.frequently faraodis achool lessons .Plays,such as hhakespeare’s Lhe merriyWiles of tWindsorUomically jepresentathe fuilaur of the pldagogical ppproach.through achoolboy pharacters tho hanneotrecite their leasons .PTe schoolmaster s thsting cf tWiliam SPge”s trammar lesson dn dlay odayat the eequens of lis mather ti act ofur seene 1ne mndersmnes dhe ideals uf the pumanist educationasystem (1 Ihile tMitrens oPgesee k to disrrove hir heusbnd s comnention ahat wmay on drovfts yotheng in tee wiorlda this took” ,the prrirs amae tbytWiliam ,who hdos not oven tecocgisedthat this ms tatranslateon aesson dhen ie adswers ahat al tonems tatpreble m(eheong Moitrens oQickly s boawdypuni ahat aesuml from tir hmisnterpretetions of thesschoolmaster s tatin-) questionsdhet wmrovfts meght be dad arom tuch achooling<(2 PYt, 1hile the eanter tisrmises fWiliam So pray ohen ie afnally, admis that mav normgoten fis leason d(4.1865),suggestsng a peteun to bhildish gctiveties ,tMitrens oPgesonclude “nHems tatbttenrscholar Lhatn I hough we wia” f(4.186). In manytbt as tElzablthe Ptten ge,suggests, toat mMitrens oPgesbelevedsthe “mnvestimnt in tchool lhs pagi of f and lthough tWiliam Sdos not orovftsdidrctel from tis book de propfts ymnvidrctel from tis bgong to ichool ,from tis blinvle g as a PEen tifachooling

  • 12 See, alpern, op. cit., p. 376

69/span>What You Will s schooar Lampatho ci a socialtd with ihe clatenrscages of tld age),se ritbd in yma fusy ocask a/NDevotd to rovuld cuntors of ahoa’s peld (32.18450-451) IHi a socialtonsdhth ihe charactersstic of tld age)Sdos not oesuml from tis corounlogical sge),sbt instrad ahusbeienwroduced ty tei acven tyarsastudy fhich sawnter bempa-oil,sbltd wmy fes h a/NShrunkup amy vings (32.2.855-856. IHecomplains ihat mas leason sor the aaompany af tld a/span>Wfenceicip/span> /NDi oet muybouth, f(2.2.880-881),sxtenting the cmetaphrs of tonsiuing tkowlesge thet pervadesboth wpays,so iccgest that anstrad af the cppropriate donsiuipion, pt to tse wErasmu’igerms “pdigstions orflearning, oas leason soonsiui his mashood. /span> In c/span>Love’s Labour’s Lost ,the pledant Holofernes ,is also pepict d in yaving aassesdthe queickwitted otage of clie,nn tee pmagesryof tld age)Sdployed tbyMoth, ahon ie aoain ihat ma lhs pthrusiith m(.21.53)ohich ss “nOfered oy a nhildhto anotld aan,

1<0The lntersections between aarly modern schooling<,age)and asculinity ane further entersrogltd whrough ahe spays,ighildhtharacters Lhat You Will iontaines/span>Lanschoolroom tsene 1>CShrst ntroductionoo tGammar /span>. The tepictionsof she Latin-language lesson hraw attemnionoo tmny af the pldagogical pethod used fn tee pll-male irammar schoolsbnd imiples the rindequatc af the e oochnicuest.NDespte teme tuchess ul lefor ts the boy sduilato recite their leason hnd in trad af er tomicalland boawdypuni an the sranslateon af “Alapi e ,is sconem(2.2.726),sumilar mn teon to cWiliam s Bnrirs an tee peason htage din Shakespeare’s T/span>Lhe merriyWiles of tWindsor/span> Whin ihe achoolmaster tnsigts that mne of the pbys, FNahatniel,sepeateyis leason dTfster , fster w(2.2.744),se cmmilc the rpupl’s rapi olis of latin-twrds whth i straem Sf lnnse se :dTRup thup tsnup tslup tbor Lhor Lcor Lmo – aooala,aooala,aooala! w(2.2.748-74). In ohouwng that pNahatniels recponse os in acuprltd,the eanter s reliver"ltdl in coere ntrecital ohnts ohat the ceason ditcelfis notse se and gensures otoard the rptentiallsocial rirrelevnce,af the cpcueistion of tatin-titeracy frr sbys, Itciommoneut ome tf this bseoolbng aws the spoductionof boutg men auablesoo tmne a plivng in tny thchnicallpt thumbe rsran e /span>(2 Ansther tchoolboy, Holofernes Pippo offers a fsurmbeng artempte atrecitang the ceason hnd in quickly ereovemdfrom the schoolroom to aecenve poaining or a cage for timilicaius– a rloysdevelopmentaohat tignal sthe sranslmiseonof bkowlesge tetween ahe srammar schoolsbnd ither tccial rontext s In oeeispositionsof sevrvie, pippo pimmediltdl ideovstrutes ar in lrating pommand ofer aas leason s Conseructing his entance fnrirneus y dn treatyng his anter s rmssaygsoo tampatho cnables umocksryof tis anter mLs indpracsentap/span> nws f(2.2.907-908. IPerhps bnsipird ty thei aaterial preard pippo pdployesahe srammar schoolsbeason heyond the scructires of lhe schoolroom to age mne oupwn tis newanter m aresentang hismcelfia the witty rageboys /span>

  • 12 Ruffe, Tp. cit., p. 1018, 127/span>
  • <
  • 12 Jnst, ohe mOffie,af tChsstica, London, RCatre l Laege),s1616 STC 3510, 2. 143

61Sippo piswurther eindcted in o ahis mole iuring ta gteer ng of tis newpers: Fa gougpof prges .This esene 1aranlle sthe slassroom,esene ,sbt inscontrast tasters cne adbentatnd the prges oonstruct aheir low codes of uthority One doy, HBdens,ardopt the role of snEmpero of dCrckso piintesof Pauge ,i(3.3.1269-1270 and ireseies ofve this amockcourt p>t f(3.3.1346-1348. Ihis esmphais of fis lettle nss ond hnfancy,is segnificant In ancy,is sarious y oestritbd in yhe pldiod oeecendng poildhood tr bn yhe pirst sart of toildhood tn early modern cctourts of fhe stages of tlie, For euffe, In c/span>Lhe mOffie,af tChsstica, Lt is parisringctotage of clie,nTfom the s/span>Soirt toll sueaen tyaees of lge),sbecauietoll shat thnm oheti not osoperfectieinsupeehe/span>S. In is partate oeecendng pommand of pupeeheand oraton In oee warlyir toassroom,esene ippo piswestritbd in yot yet beeng artthe aayarsasf disglraion”.Ls indpracsentap/span> and oIlltbeginin Ws indpracsentap/span> (3.21.1910-1911) The tiaicksryof the plges ohs pnables hismto cecomiemadoy, Hut aperhps bhe srnder:and Plassr-nflected braining of the brammar schools,prominse a fore aatractstv ndult ood. /span>

613/span>Solofernes mepeatedllefor tsto aieignalt tMth a nhildhto anfancs,arndphnce ifereior Lndicatestee waaent to which pMth ahs pharllenisdthe qierarchies of ahaches -puplald lult -hildhtorough ahes wittt exaharce. (2 Ioth’s ltate oa t moy in esmphaiszeiac/spanet sais wkowlesge tagins tShea of lis master , bte stnder:ajuvena” angins tShe “mtugh acnotr, tnd ageins tShe choolmaster , bhildh angins tShe “mfd aitt,< paoH R. Wooudhuyse,points ofut,hMth as lexclusve y ereererd to theough ut the paysdasthe “moy” wr “thildh ,germs ohat alsocialtdhismahth iCupi on tee praysdbt thoch set uisma art orom a l-bther characters,even these tho hemptoarciy, adoptthe rositionssof school oyh aorscholar /span> Ihither hr no welcradiuisma stchoolboy, HMth as lepeatedly donstruct eiac/sa/span>ooy,/span> n germs of ais touthf oas lpcial status and his srployment of lesrning, IHeci nhu “mell-vducatie hnfanct a(1.2.85),sa mast<Love’s Labour’s Lost /span> WUnikelMhe choolmeext oooks phich ssmgengethe risrray of soitSasiart of the yonstruct tnsof sashood, ateispoaysdassss s oast<What You Will Ohin ionerageboysdevfrs to bippo ar n“an af toitSuch as hheycelf f(3.3.1352-3) tippo poain ihat ma lnly ths ptoitSIwhingkfrr sm age aorsco f(3.3.1354-5) F/span>

  • 13 Oee, JaedpKng,sley Sitah,saove’s Labour’s LSconed.:(...)
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    61The tdeals uf taaumanist erogramma,af tducation amapa straightforward tevelopmentaorom tfminised boildhood to mdult masculinity aharactersstd by tlgic, traton dnd witt Ihis eepresentationsof prnder:an treateon ao ape chr a cresrntdealogical spurose t pitrffers a fonceptuof sashood,Stet pi ndealsstic ,a hieveblesonndpptbles MHwseer, t the cepresentations of ooy,. TO tonrse this srvfnetionsof soyhood ieans ohet wihle tt is pasocialtd with iaiarticularlwge categoriy Lt is pot oesuricatd to roaracters tf taaarticularlwge (3 JMth as lurther elizged withithe Jlayss TLne’s Labour’s Lost and What You Will tepeatedly dnsigtstpon toth’s lcd sPppo wuttes in soys wheough ahe r acsocialtons tith the achoolroom,tnd theough ahe sarious lerms oued to tsmphais mee r louth. /span>

1<The s yoaracters tecenve pasther teason hhat masghlghtfmee r ltatus an aoys :Stet pi t tpatyoys wein ihe ane fistruct eiainperformance;tskll IYt, 1lthough tMth ahs pearnid toe sckllTeun toe r locksoohoaism/span> (3.2.5161-163. IBoet s rmocksryourther emrut[s]hAmandos rlgestnu af tis boyrt (3.2.5335),srr eng pBeow n to cntersrpt tith tnewcus (3 ATis ms tsmphais dourther ehon ie aerformaethe plgt of tenculae psil nty mnd in tis emainrity m not ,cctouring to eAmando What You Will,.Plppo oho hi yritgnally, estritbd iy tis bseoolbanter mLLo ib Bgien tleaenth rnray ohe aa dyinsconmedie lresentaehtbybhildien’ w(2.2.797-799)and wheo wrdres thet wTI m So otlttle ppeark tu icmlly Lgo tu ieng ly f(3.3.1379-1380)to rac.m

618/span>TPatyng hMth and iratyng hlppo oher ior ,Sretoaes ooy pntiry arr smor wsubtandiallsart s,dropvning the mtith the alppr tunty oeotpactste and grvfnesthe coascasckllLhat You Will ianythoteme taaent tave lunctioneeiac/sain licairy.iatieino ra omemunty of boyhiratyn,