Anxious Masculinity

The Princess
Love’s Labor’s Lost (1598)
by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to
be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.
Charlotte Whitten

“In his book Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England, Mark Breittenberg writes that the Elizabethan age was concerned with female sexuality and the threat of cuckoldry, the politics of courtship and marriage, and the presence of a virgin Queen at the head of an otherwise masculine culture. He reasons that ‘the failure of the play (Love’s Labor’s Lost) to end in marriage sustains the empowered position of the women and underscores the inadequacies of the men.’” Men in the Elizabethan age were not “inadequate” but like most men today, they were definitely unconscious and driven by the irrational and imagined fears of their false-self identity.

Masculine insecurity and the common emotional reaction of helplessness is part of the male worldview in Paradigm B. Peter B. Erickson supports our observation in his essay “The Failure of Relationship Between Men and Women in Love’s Labor’s Lost.” He believes that Navarre’s pact to construct a haven for masculine purity by excluding women is an attempt to cast women as outsiders because they have the power to frustrate the best laid plans of the frail male ego.

“With the Act II entrance of the Princess, we see a self-confident, poised young woman acting on behalf of her ailing father. When she firmly puts the officious Boyet in his place, she sets the tone for the play’s action: the women will mock the men and challenge their wits. Soon the battle of wits becomes a battle of the sexes.”

The women are not as easily taken in by the illusion of P-B and they have the courage to express their insights including the pathetic attempts of the false-self driven male identity to exercise control over them. When the men resort to invoking one of the most seductive of P-B illusions, that of romantic love, the women see the helpless wizard behind the curtain. Even Berowne, the most perceptive of the male’s moans: “My wit is at an end.” (V-ii-430)

Continuing their insights into the distinction between illusion and reality, the women refuse to be mesmerized by the male-oriented worldview and their institutions. “They criticize the academy and the men who formed it with a wit that has edge and logic to it. They are both astute and detached, pointing out the dangerous attitude of disregarding the feelings of others and of wit that is thoughtlessly employed.”

The realm of P-B ruled by the false self both male and female is a fairy tale with a sad ending and Shakespeare ends his play realizing that profound changes will have to occur to improve the relationships among men and women. And indeed all peoples in the global village will have to take responsibility as individuals to shift both their worldviews and their identities. “The happy ending cannot be achieved and ‘Jack hath not Jill (V-ii-875) because the ‘men have not learned how to accommodate speech to facts and to emotional realities.’”

It is time to begin our labors in earnest.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.

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