Love's Labour's Lost

Content Group

Overview
Charles de Gontault, Duc de Biron

This play was quite popular with Elizabethan audiences, as its revisions, revivals, and quarto text confirm. In it Shakespeare successfully rivaled and ridiculed the verbal virtuosity of his competitors, the University Wits, such as John Lyly, Robert Greene, and Christopher Marlowe. When the showiness of that style finally went out of fashion, interest in the play declined, but it has revived with the New Critics' interest in close reading of comparably sophisticated Elizabethan texts such as the metaphysical poetry of John Donne, who is known to have attended such plays as this. However, recent attention has been more focused on the vivacity of the characterization, particularly the spectacular social agility of the young women portrayed, who anticipate all the sexual autonomy claimed by modern feminists. It shows how misguided must be any narrowly patriarchal interpretations of The Taming of the Shrew, written by Shakespeare at about the same time.

Modern popular interest was initially hindered by assertion of the play's covert allusions to various Elizabethan intellectuals, but this esoteric approach has been corrected by recognition that its actual sources were contemporary newsletters about popular personalities involved in the religious wars in France, reinforced by the fashionable gossip of their English associates, well-known to Shakespeare (such as the Earls of Southampton and Essex). In fact, almost every aristocratic character in the play derives from historical identities, not only the King of Navarre (later King Henri IV of France), but also the Princess (Marguerite de Valois, his first wife), who visited him at Nérac in 1578 with her brilliant court of ladies (the notorious escadron volant or light cavalry). This play is the second in this historical vein in a series of four about these fascinating people: Marlowe's Massacre at Paris, George Chapman's The Conspiracy of Duke Biron, and his Death of Biron. Shakespeare built his characterizations directly from these historical identities, particularly that of the volatile Biron (Berowne), while the historical Longueville did marry his Maria as anticipated in the play. Casual allusions to the King as "Ferdinand" in early speech ascriptions at the play's start serve superficially to disguise the script's royal allusions from any censor, unlike the less distracted one who punished Chapman's unwise frankness about staging awkward biographical details about the future Henri IV. Shakespeare later changed the name of Oldcastle to Falstaff in 1 Henry IV for similar "diplomatic" reasons (Oldcastle was an early Protestant martyr).

Indeed, the pattern of these relationships recur in Shakespeare's later plays: the erratic youth, often a military hero (Prince Hal, Claudio, Bertram), his jaded if witty companion (Falstaff, Benedick, Parolles) and the fascinating French mistress (Princess Catherine de Valois, Rosalind, Helena). The play's unremitting mockery of academics matches the predictable views of the non-university-graduate Shakespeare. Modern revivals (such as those of Tyrone Guthrie and Peter Brook) have stressed the brilliance of Valois society (see Renaissance Marriages: France, Marguerite de Navarre and Shakespeare's Navarre), but also the play's melancholy ending note, apt for the religious wars of the time. Most boldly, in 1994, the Royal Shakespeare Company reset the play in the Edwardian era, ending it with the start of World War I. Branagh ended his film of the play with WWII.

Images
Love's Labors Lost, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1991
Love's Labors Lost, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1994
Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
Don Armado and Moth in Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
Jonathan Bennett as the King in Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
Jill Karasky as the Princess and Jonathan Bennett as the King in Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
The Princess and her Ladies in Waiting in Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
Robert Miller as Holofernes, Robert Burke as Sir Nathaniel and Joel Prell as Dull in Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
Stanley Chervin as Berowne (detail) in Love's Labour's Lost (BSP, 1977)
"Love's Labours Lost" - Warsaw (2003)
"Love's Labour's Lost:" The King of Navarre and the Princess with her Ladies (UCB, 1977)
"Love's Labour's Lost:" Rosaline and the French Princess (UCB, 1977)
Love's Labour's Lost: The Princess, Boyet, and Catherine
Love's Labor's Lost: Riverside Shakespeare (NY), 1981
Love's Labour's Lost: Andrzej Zieliński as Ferdinand, King of Navarre
Love's Labour's Lost: Ilona Ostrowska as Jaquenetta

Pages

Slideshows
Commentary
Essay Title Author
The Audience-Affect of "Love's Labour's Lost" Hugh Richmond
Bibliography

Alexander, Peter, ed. Love's Labour's Lost. London: BBC, 1986.

Brantley, Ben. "In Screwball Comedy, a Shakespearean Truth." Review of Love's Labour's Lost, directed by Terrence O'Brien, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Boscobel Restoration, Garrison, NY. New York Times, July 31, 2012.

Church, Tony. "'Jack and Jill': A Consideration of Love's Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream from the Point of View of Actor and Director." In The Arts of Performance in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Drama: Essays for G. K. Hunter, edited by Murray Biggs, Philip Edwards, Inga-Stina Ewbank, and Eugene M. Waith, 135-46. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

Fenwick, Henry. "The Production." In Love's Labour's Lost, edited by Peter Alexander, 17-25. London: BBC, 1986.

Gilbert, Miriam. "The Disappearance and Return of Love's Labor's Lost." In Shakespeare's Sweet Thunder: Essays on the Early Comedies, edited by Michael J. Collins, 155-75. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1997.

Gilbert, Miriam. Love's Labour's Lost. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993.

Hogdon, Barbara. "Rehearsal Process as Critical Practice: John Barton's 1978 Love's Labour's Lost." Theatre History Studies 8 (1988): 11-34.

Horton, G. L. Review of Love's Labour's Lost, directed by Spiro Veloudes, Publick Theatre, Boston. Aisle Say Boston, 1997.

Londré, Felicia, ed. Love's Labour's Lost: Critical Essays. New York and London: Routledge, 1997. [Contains numerous production reviews in Part III: Love's Labour's Lost on Stage, 345-474.]

Maher, Mary Z. "Moshinsky's Love's Labour's Lost [BBC]." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 10 (1985): 2-3.

Petherbridge, Edward. "Armado in Love's Labour's Lost." In Players of Shakespeare 2: Further Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, edited by Robert Smallwood, 33-43. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Richmond, Hugh M. "Shakespeare's Navarre." Huntington Library Quarterly 43, no. 1 (1979): 193-215.

Love's Labour's Lost at Talkin' Broadway.

Sautter, Ursula, ed. Verlorene Liebsmühe [Love's Labour's Lost]. Tubingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 1999.

Voss, Paul J. Elizabethan News Pamphlets: Shakespeare, Spenser and Marlowe and the Birth of Journalism. Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 2001.

Wells, Stanley. "Before the War." Review of Love's Labour's Lost, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-on-Avon. Times Literary Supplement, November 5, 1993.

Wickham, Glynne. "Reflections Arising from Recent Productions of Love's Labour's Lost and As You Like It." In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance: Essays in the Tradition of Performance Criticism in Honor of Bernard Beckerman, edited by Marvin Thompson and Ruth Thompson, 210-18. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989.

Woodhuysen, Henry R., ed. Love's Labours Lost. London: Arden (3rd Series), 1998.

Except where otherwise specified, all written commentary is © 2016, Hugh Macrae Richmond