‘Hit it, hit it, hit it’

Rigid designation in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Authored by: Andrew Cutrofello

The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138936126
eBook ISBN: 9781315677019
Adobe ISBN:


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Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy about referential failure and success. It shows the challenges speakers face when they try to verbally designate an object and say something about it. Such challenges are especially acute for lovers professing love for a unique beloved. In fact, love itself – or the act of falling in love – faces a rigidity requirement that verbal professions of love are meant to express. Lovers must demonstrate that their love is metaphysically grounded not in contingent properties that the beloved would lack in other possible worlds, but in an individuating property that the beloved uniquely possesses in every possible world in which he or she exists or has counterparts and that no one else possesses in other worlds. In this respect, true love functions as a rigid designator. This is a lesson that each of the play’s would-be philosophers learns from his respective beloved. Were this the lovers’ only lesson, the play would be a pure comedy. But Shakespeare introduces a second lesson about referential failure and success, one that has to do with memorializations of the dead, and this introduces a tragic subtext. Ironically, it is the characters who most indulge in wordplay – a referentially superficial aspect of language use – who convey this lesson when they ‘present’ the Nine Worthies and reprove the ‘philosophers’ for failing to respond to their admittedly inept performances with the proper degree of gravitas. This lesson is only brought home to the lovers when they suddenly learn of the death of the King of France and realize that the rigidity of love pertains not only to counterfactuals but to the temporal fact of human mortality.

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