Armado (Love's Labor's Lost)

His full name, we are told, is Don Adriano de Armado. But since many things about him are phony, probably his name is, too. (Shakespeare got some fun out his name when one of the Lords refers to him as "the magnificent Armado," a reference to King Philip's Grand Armada, which he sent in 1588 to conquer the Protestant English and their upstart Queen, Elizabeth I--and the English destroyed it.).

When I first came to this play, I had been accustomed to (or taught) the idea that Don Armado was a blustering, sometimes incoherent blowhard. The King and all the Lords are delighted that Don Armado will be among their company, and they count on his extravagant, convoluted language to provide them with one of the few entertainments in their monkish academe. Don Armado, according to them, will partake of the enthusiastic aggressiveness and nearly incomprehensible language of his prototype, the Braggart Captain of the commedia, Captain Sangre y Fuego (or Captain Fireblood). A commedia troupe had toured England in the 1580's decade, so Shakespeare and all other interested theatergoers knew about the commedia characters. (Scholars are more-or-less agreed that Holofernes is a type of Pedant and Moth the Clever Servant. Some hold that Sir Nathaniel is the Parasite, but I think Shakespeare made him so generous and complicated that he can't be considered a model of the type. And the same thing happened to Armado.)

After hearing Don Armado's convoluted letter in the first scene, and the shouts of delight of the lords at his baroque language, we are a little surprised when we meet the man himself. He talks like a reasonable human being, not like a mockery of one. Why doesn't he live up to his reputation? What has happened to him? The answer is in his very first line to Moth:

Boy, what sign is it when a man of great spirit grows melancholy?

A great sign, sir, that he will look sad. (I.2.1-2)

The OED says that some of the meanings of "sad" are "grave, serious." But we have to wait for several minutes until we find out why Armado is melancholy:

I will hereupon confess I am in love. And as it is base for a soldier to love, so am I in love with a base wench.

Before the play even began, Armado had fallen in love with Jaquenetta. We meet him shen he has already begun to discard his ludicrous persona of the blowhard. He is already on his way to achieving the goal of successful love which the King and the Lords and their Ladies, because of their frivolous addiction to wit, and their fears of being fools or cuckolded, fail to accomplish. And this changed his entire outlook. He mostly discards his personification of the Braggart Captain--although he slips back into when placed under undo stress (as when he tries to write a love-letter to Jaquenetta, or in conversation with Holofernes, or when challeneged by Costard in the final scene).

You'll have to find for yourself the places in the text where Armado slips in his resolve to be serious, and backslides toward his commedia self. Freuently these places are marked by his return to Spanish words, or exaggerations of his social status (comparing himself to King Cophetua, for example, or speaking of the King's friendship for him--in which conversation he frequently has to rein himself in with the phrase "But let that pass"). Bur when Moth talks him out of his combat with Costard, which would probably be inglorious, sinful and murderous, he has jumped the last hurdle. He is probably astounded at his own good fortune when he notes, at play's end:
I have seen the day of wrong through the little hole of discretion, and I will right myself like a soldier.
And as a result of his success, he and Jaquenetta are the only couple permitted to remain in the Eden-like location of the play.

© Deloss Brown 2020

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