Loves Labour's Lost
It's been said that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger...or at least drives us really crazy. In Love's Labours Lost, 4 frat boys composed of the young King of Navarre and his best friends Berowne, Longaville and Dumain decide to improve themselves by adopting a monastic lifestyle dedicated to pursuit of learning and to forgo any distracting pleasures, especially women. While the king is all for it, the others aren't so sure and as Berowne points out their task may be difficult considering the imminent arrival of the Princess of France and her fair ladies in waiting. The king knows they can press on despite these enchanting women, but can they? As the Princess' party arrives, they become aware of the men's situation and decide to test their faith. This proves especially troublesome for Berowne who's old flame Rosaline is in the party. The play continues at at a break neck pace with other foppish suitors, smart aleck clowns, and tutors of dubious intelligence thrown into the mix as the King's men to woo their counterparts in secret.
Below, as the play appeared in the 1623 First Folio.
Loves Labour's Lost was probably first written first in 1593 and then later revised in 1594 as some scenes and references point to inconsistencies in the flow of the plot. While no source material have ever been identified, out of all Shakespeare's works, this play holds the most in common with Shakespeare's Sonnets as several lines from the poems are used as well as the sonnet form is used in text throughout the play. Another interesting connection is the character of Rosaline and her relationship with the main suitor Berowne, seem to mirror the 'Dark Lady' of the Sonnets and her relationship with the sonnet speaker. All of these connections and its composition in 1593 point the play having first been written for private performances for the Earl of Southhampton, the possible 'Fair Youth' of the Sonnets. Shakespeare is believed to have stayed with Southhampton during 1593 as the London Theaters were closed for a year and a half due to plague. During this period he also wrote his two longer poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece for the Earl. When the theaters were finally reopened in 1594, the play may have been revised for general performances.
Loves Labour's Lost holds the distinction of being the first play to feature Shakespeare's name printed on the title page. Though Titus Andronicus was the first of his plays to reach print, the title page didn't mention his name. It was common practice not to mention the playwrights as it was the plays and not the writers who mattered to the theater owners. As the decade progressed and certain writers became well known in their own right, it made more financial sense for the writers to be included. The first publication in 1598 is thought to be a pirated version because it was quickly followed in 1600 with a version that seemed to be drawn from Shakespeare's manuscript. The first recorded performance of the play was in Christmas 1597 for Queen Elizabeth. While the play contains more topical allusions than any other Shakespeare's works, it has remained a popular comedy and is repeatedly revived today.
A copy of the 1598 Quarto
An interesting side note to this play is that it may have had a companion piece or sequel that is now lost. Love's Labour's Wonne, was mentioned in a period reference as a play by Shakespeare and also appeared as an independent title in a bookseller's listing, but no play by that title has survived. This has lead to one of two theories, either the play has come down to us by another name with Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and All's Well That Ends Well being possible contenders with 'Shrew' and 'Much' being the more probable ones. The second that there is a lost play by Shakespeare with that title. All of this leads to a minor enigma that may never be fully resolved.
Click below or on the side links to view the Play Text either as a full page or scene by scene format; a Directory of Characters with extensive descriptions and backgrounds; a Scene by Scene Synopsis of the play; and extensive Commentary on the show.
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