Jewellery in Shakespeare

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Shakespeare uses this convention of wooing with jewellery to great comic effect in his early play Love’s Labour’s Lost. In this play, four young aristocratic men (one of whom is the King of Navarre) seek to woo four noble ladies (one of whom is the Princess of France). Together with their love letters, the men send jewels as tokens of affection: necklaces, a pearl brooch and a pair of gloves. When the gifts arrive, the women enjoy mocking their suitors’ poorly written and over-long letters as well as their infantile artwork. One lady even wishes that her necklace were long and her letter short:
PRINCESS
Sweet hearts, we shall be rich ere we depart,
If fairings come thus plentifully in:
A lady walled about with diamonds!
Look you what I have from the loving king.
ROSALINE
Madame, came nothing else along with that?
PRINCESS
Nothing but this. Yes, as much love in rhyme
As would be crammed up in a sheet of paper,
Writ on both sides the leaf, margin and all,
That he was fain to seal on Cupid’s name.
[…]
But Rosaline, you have a favour too,
Who sent it? and what is it?
ROSALINE
I would you knew,
An if my face were but as fair as yours,
My favour were as great; be witness this.
Nay, I have verses too, I thank Biron:
The numbers true; and, were the numbering too,
I were the fairest goddess on the ground.
I am compared to twenty thousand fairs.
O, he hath drawn my picture in his letter!
PRINCESS
Any thing like?
ROSALINE
Much in the letters. Nothing in the praise.
[…]
PRINCESS
But, Katharine, what was sent to you from fair Dumain?
KATHARINE
Madam, this glove.
PRINCESS
Did he not send you twain?
KATHARINE
Yes, madam, and moreover
Some thousand verses of a faithful lover,
A huge translation of hypocrisy,
Vilely compiled, profound simplicity.
MARIA
This and these pearls to me sent Longaville:
The letter is too long by half a mile.
PRINCESS
I think no less. Dost thou not wish in heart
The chain were longer and the letter short?
MARIA
Ay, or I would these hands might never part.
PRINCESS
We are wise girls to mock our lovers so.
(Love’s Labour’s Lost, 5.2)
Fascinated by courtship in Shakespeare’s plays? Why not learn more with this article: Shakespeare and the Art of Wooing.
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