Love’s Labour’s Lost: The Court at Play
In Act 2 of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Boyet describes Navarre and his court as ‘he and his competitors in oath’ (II.i.82); and in so doing, he uses a word whose ambiguity perfectly captures the structural tensions at the heart of the court society of the play. For competitor had an intriguing double meaning in Renaissance times, as expressive of the aristocratic culture of late feudalism as the double meaning of owe had been of an earlier feudal formation.6 Each word enjoyed a larger range of meaning than it does now under the restrictive relationships of present-day capitalism. For owe, which might mean either owe or own, was true to the characteristic richness — at the same time a dangerous structural ambiguity — of early feudal society as it extended from the king throughout his country: namely, that possession might be considered both as debt and ownership. Similarly competitor, which might mean either partner or rival, was true to the richness — again a dangerous structural ambiguity — of a later feudal society where the aristocracy had been drawn away from their country estates to the court: namely, that courtly competition might be experienced as both friendly collaboration and deadly rivalry in the inescapable pursuit of that goal of all aristocratic enterprise, the enjoyment of prestige.
KeywordsDouble Function Double Meaning Feudal Society Courtly Manner Court Society
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