Bluff Your Way Through the Play: Love’s Labour’s Lost


Loving the Language of Love

Harold Bloom, a noted Shakespeare scholar calls Love’s Labour’s Lost “a festival of language, an exuberant fireworks display in which Shakespeare seems to seek the limits of his verbal resources, and discovers that there are none.” Be on the lookout for word play, puns and complex language. Remember, Shakespeare’s presenting an educated class of royalty and nobles, so their use of language and verbal agility is going to be on display.

Words, Words, Words

Love’s Labour’s Lost has plenty of them! It’s one of Shakespeare’s most talkative plays. According to some, it uses more “new” words (words that the playwright hadn’t ever used before) than any of Shakespeare’s previous plays.

What’s in Name?

There’s been some discrepancy over the spelling of one of the King of Navarre’s best buddies. Is it Berowne? Biron? Barrone? It is different depending upon the edition of the play you refer to.

No Way to Treat a Lady

Alas, the Princess of France isn’t ever given a name.  She’s just referred to as the Princess of France.

Speaking of Words…

Love’s Labour’s Lost contains the longest word in any of Shakespeare’s plays: honorificabilitudinitatibus.  Costard says it and it means “with honorablenesses.”

In for the Long Haul

The play also contains Shakespeare’s longest single scene clocking in at 1016 lines.  Just to compare, the entirety of The Comedy of Errors runs just 1786 lines.

The Ins and Outs of Love

It’s believed the play was first performed at Christmastime for Queen Elizabeth in 1597. The play fell out of favor and wasn’t really produced again until almost 240 years later.

Hey, this is kind of familiar…

If you’ve seen or read other Shakespeare plays, you’ll notice that Love’s Labour’s Lost has some situations and characters that will seem similar. Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, we get two clowns in Love’s Labour’s Lost. You’ll find shades of Beatrice and Benedick’s squabbling from Much Ado About Nothing in the banter between Berowne and Rosaline. The buffoonish Prince of Aragon in The Merchant of Venice could very well be the brother of the bragging Spaniard Don Armado. And like A Midsummer Night’s Dream there is a play-within-the play that wraps up the events in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Shakespeare very well may have been trying out some ideas in Love’s Labour’s Lost that he refined in some of the later plays.

Two by Two by Two by Two by Two

You just know that the “He-man Woman Avoiders Club” set up at the start of the play by the King and his buddies is not going to last after the arrival of the Princess and her ladies. One by one the boys give up their vows of abstinence to pursue their loves, resulting in four different couples with four different exploits that we get to follow. And on top of that, there’s the rivalry between Don Armado and Costard for the hand of Jacquenetta. Shakespeare has never set so many love matches spinning before in a play, so make sure you keep track of who’s pairing up with whom.

Yeah, I Invented That

Shakespeare borrowed and adapted much of the plots to his plays from other literary sources, but the action in Love’s Labour’s Lost is entirely his own creation. The play does allude to some actual historical events (the French War of Religion) and borrows names of leading figures of the day (King of Navarre, Dumaine, Longaville, Berowne) for his characters. And the character of Don Armado may be a humorous dig at the fallen glory of the Spanish Armada.

The Comic Toybox

A pedant, a braggart, and a fool walk into a bar… Several of the more exaggerated comic characters in Love’s Labour’s Lost can trace their ancestry back to the classic Italian commedia dell’arte tradition. Audiences at the time could easily hook into the habits and motivations of these character types while Shakespeare could then use them to elaborate on his own themes.

You Call That a Happy Ending?

Usually Shakespeare’s comedies end happily; there’s a wedding or two or three, people dance, there’s much merry making. But Shakespeare’s a sly one. He leaves us hanging at the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost wondering if the newly minted couples actually will live “happily ever after.” Or, was he setting us up for a sequel?

What Happens After a Year and a Day?

With all the unresolved romances and promises to meet again, if any of Shakespeare’s plays was screaming for a sequel, it is Love’s Labour’s Lost. There’s been debate about the existence of a play titled Love’s Labour’s Won and whether or not it continued the stories left dangling or whether it’s a completely unrelated lost play. There is evidence that a play by that title was written by Shakespeare, but no copies of it are known to exist.