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Wednesday, 29 February 2012



Inside Shakespeare’s mind:

Love’s Labour Lost

The title of the play has no bearing though Shakespeare deviates from his normal stances in handling his plays, Love's Labour Lost has nothing to complain about in the face of it. Yet, it never met with success in appreciation at its incept. A German writer called the play ‘excessively jocular’ while it never suited the Holofernes type of critic, the one who can be content to search for lost topicalities.

To these schools of thought, I would, with a snatch from the play, think it is in the language of Armado.

Here we go again:

Ostentation or antic on the part of Shakespeare. When he carried utter raillery of lovers, he feeds it into the mouth of a character. That is the way the Bard gets out of a situation in which he erred. Perhaps, unwittingly, he may have taken readers and scholars for a ride who would have been less literate in English literature of the day including his contemporaries known as the ‘University Wits’, those who ridiculed his elementary education.


* Ferdinand – The graceful, mildly academic King of Navarre. ‘He will make us sworn’

* Berowne – Most eloquent of the Lords. Rosaline’s description of him might be Shakespeare’s self portrait.

* Longaville – In love with Maria. Her name and those of Herowne and Dumain are from commanders of the French civil war.

* Dumain – In love with Katerina

* Armado – His name echoes the Armada still fresh in English minds. A difficult part, especially in the opening scene.

* Holofernes – The bristling village schoolmaster. A man who cannot talk without unpeeling a Latin tag.

* Costard – Mildest of country youth.

* The Princess of France – Witty and responsible, later to be a distinguished queen

* Rosaline – The ‘whiteley wanton’ with a velvet brow.

* Maria – The youngest of the Princess’s ladies

* Katerina – Has passing moments of sadness.

From Love’s Labour Lost, the Princess of France, later to be a distinguished queen

Written in 1594-5 and sited in Navarre, the play was especially written for the then stage. With celebacy in mind, Ferdinand, King of Navarre and his three lords are sworn to study for the coming three years during which time, they will not come within the striking distance of any woman.

Poor Shakespeare, he has gone off his mind. The plot is his own and based on a report of a French diplomatic mission to Aquitaine and scripted to use as a youth with mischievous lyric comedy, reborn in the last century.


At the time of their celestial vow, the Princess of France arrive along with her three ladies to discuss her father's debts to the King. As is the theme of Shakespeare, a muddle of letters take place. The two letters given to the clown, Costard, one for the village wench, Jaqnetta from Armado is read to the Princess of France and her ladies and a love sonnet from Berowne to Rosaline by Sir Nathniel, the curate (meant for Jaqnetta)

Princess – Who gave this letter?

Costard – I told you, my lord.

P. - To whom shouldest thou give it?

C. - From my lord to my lady

P. - From which lord to which lady

C. - From my Lord Biron, a good master of mine, to a lady of France, that he calls Rosaline.

P. - Thou hast mistaken his letter. Come, lords, away.

- ACT IV, Sc. 11

The schoolmaster, Holoferenes tell to show it to Ferdinand. At the very moment all young men have caught each other reciting the love-rhymes when she showed the letter. In an irresistible lyrical speech, Berown claims that love belongs to study and that women's eyes are ‘the books, the arts, the academes. That show contains and nourishes all the world:

The ladies who trick them in an unsuccessful mock Russian entertainment, meets them. (Enter the Princess with the ladies)

Princess – Nothing but this, yes, as much love in rhyme. As would be cramm'd up in a sheet of paper. Write on both sides the leaf, margin and all. That he was fain to seal on Cupid's name.

Rosaline – That was the way to make his godhead wax, for he has been for five thousand years a boy.

Katerine – Ay, and the shrewd unhappy gallows too.

- ACT V. Sc.11

After a time, they all settle to watch the maque of the Nine Worthies, arranged by Amado and Holofernes. At this very moment, Marcade brings sad news that the princess's father has died. Having put their lovers on probation, the Princess and her ladies prepare to leave. They promise to come after an year and a day but before departing they listen to the villagers sing a Spring song.

‘When daisies pied, and violets blue... And lady-smocks all silver-white. And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue, Do paint the meadows with delight the cuckoo then, on every tree.. Mocks married men, for thus single life, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, O word of fear... Unpleasing to a married ear;

In performance

If to sum up in a nut shell, I recall Berowens’ famous outsburst; ‘Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical/As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair.

At the Sadler's Wells revival, Samuel Phelps was Armado and in 1857, George Hayes acted as Herowne. From 1920, the play picked up momentum when at Stratford in 1925. Ernest Milton was a marvelous peacock of an Armado. Robert Atkins staged a much appreciated version in 1936.

This one at Stratford-upon-Avon where no one complained about the production by Peter Brook, which was 20 years later. France saw the first version in Spring of, 30 years later. So, the trend continued, making the play a favourite for mounting. Many Hollywood greats acted while in London, the thespians too took on the roles. One particular version had the benefit of an exquisite screen of autumnal trees by Ralph Kotlai and Ruby Wax.

Elsewhere around the world, Stratford-Ontario mounted this comedy in 1961 and followed by the same version in 1974.


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