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
* 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
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
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
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.