Love's Labour's Lost
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site..|..Shakespeare Videos..|..Shakespeare Books
Dates, Sources
Type of Play
Imagery and Wordplay
Coup de Théâtre
Bittersweet Ending
Love's Labour's Won
Questions and Essay Topics
Complete Free Text
Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
........King Ferdinand of Navarre and three of his lords–Dumain, Longaville, and Berowne (also called Berowne in some editions of Shakespeare’s plays)–decide to abandon the pleasures of the world for three years to pursue knowledge and keep company only with books in order to gain everlasting fame as scholars. The king says, “Our court shall be a little Academe / Still and contemplative in living art” (1. 2. 14-15). Ferdinand has drawn up a contract outlining the conditions under which they are to live. Longaville is the first to sign it, saying,
The mind shall banquet, though the body pine:
Fat paunches have lean pates, and dainty bits
Make rich the ribs, but bankrupt quite the wits. (1. 1. 27-29)
........Dumain then signs the contract, declaring “To love, to wealth, to pomp, I pine and die” (1. 1. 33). Berowne, however, balks at the strictness of the contract. First, it forbids all discourse with women. Next, it requires the four men to fast one day a week and eat but one meal on the other days. Finally, it dictates that they may sleep no more than three hours a night. But after the king tells Berowne their study time will yield hidden pearls of knowledge, Berowne, too, signs the contract. 
........One of its conditions–the prohibition of women–applies to every man in the service of the king, not just to the king and his three fellow scholars. The only diversion they will have from their studies will be provided by the king’s clown, Costard, and a Spanish knight, Don Adriano de Armado. The king says Don Adriano knows many entertaining tales and has a way with words. In truth, though, Don Adriano is little more than a pompous buffoon who cannot even out-duel his own page, Moth, in a battle of wits (1. 2. 3-69).  (Don Adriano appears to symbolize King Philip of Spain and his vaunted Armada, which was defeated by the English in 1588. Through Adriano, Shakespeare pokes fun at Philip.
........After the contract takes effect, Costard violates it by wooing a comely maid named Jaquenetta. Don Adriano, who has seen them together on the grounds of the king’s estate, tattles on Costard in a letter to the king. Adriano isn’t just trying to be a good citizen; he’s trying to save Jaquenetta for himself. He loves her with a passion that has driven him to poetry. Costard is taken into custody and sentenced to a diet of bran and water for one week.
........Soon thereafter, the beautiful Princess of France arrives at Navarre on a diplomatic mission in which she and the king are to discuss a financial matter–specifically, whether France owes Navarre money, as the king contends, or whether France has already paid the debt, as the princess contends. In her entourage are three lovely attendants: Rosaline, Maria and Katherine. Because the contract among the men forbids interaction with women, the king lodges the ladies in a tent in the park of his palace estate. However, once the king sees the princess, he immediately falls for her. At the same time, his three companions also take a tumble: Berowne for Rosaline, Dumain for Katherine, and Longaville for Maria. Love now usurps the throne of Navarre. Scholarly pursuit has become an ugly hag with a wart on her nose. 
........Meanwhile, Don Adriano frees Costard and gives him three farthings to deliver a love letter and a poem to Jaquenetta. Berowne gets in on the act, giving Costard a letter and poem for Rosaline. Costard, who is small of brain, delivers Jaquenetta’s letter to the princess, telling her it is for Rosaline; Rosaline’s letter goes to Jaquenetta. The princess, who is hunting deer with the other ladies, tells her male attendant, Boyet, to open the letter. Before he does, he notices it is addressed to Jaquenetta, not Rosaline. The princess then tells him to read it anyway. It praises Jaquenetta with bloated prose and imagery, as well as Latin phrases, and the princess mocks the author, Don Adriano. When Jaquenetta, who is illiterate, receives the letter to Rosaline, she takes it to Sir Nathaniel, the local parson, to read it for her. Sir Nathaniel is in the company of Holofernes, a know-it-all schoolteacher. When Sir Nathaniel reads the letter, Holofernes realizes it is not meant for Jaquenetta and tells her to take it to the king. After all, such a brazen love poem violates the first rule of the contract: that no man should communicate with women.
........But, by this time, the king and his three lords are all writing and reciting love poetry about their ladies fair. When the king and the three lords overhear one another reciting the poetry, they chide one another in turn for breaking their vow. However, Berowne concludes that it was wrong to take the vow, for it was against nature. Longaville then proposes that they woo the women, and the king replies that they should not only woo but also win them. 
........The four men send the ladies gifts and poems that heap lavish praises upon them. The princess and her attendants think the attentions they are receiving are silly and excessive, and they make sport of the poetry. The princess, highly intelligent as well as beautiful, observes, “We are wise girls to mock our lovers so” (5. 2. 62). 
........Boyet interrupts the conversation to report that he overhead the men planning a mischief: They will come to the ladies disguised as Russians with a page who has mastered a Russian accent. The princess then decides that the ladies should wear disguises of their own to confuse the men. Their scheme succeeds, for everybody ends up with the wrong partner. When the men later return without their disguises, the women tease them about the foolish Russians who had been there earlier, then reveal that they knew of the men’s masquerade all along. 
........More merriment takes place, including the Pageant of the Nine Worthies,1 starring Costard, Sir Nathaniel, Holofernes, Armado, and others. During the presentation, the nobles heckle the actors: Costard, portraying Pompey the Great; Nathaniel, portraying Alexander the Great; Moth, portraying baby Hercules killing the serpents in his crib; Holofernes, portraying Judas Maccabeus; and Don Adriano, portraying the Trojan hero Hector. Costard ad-libs in one scene, revealing that Jaquenetta “is quick” (5. 2. 680) by Don Adriano–that is, pregnant. Costard and Armado then begin fighting over Jaquenetta. 
........Just as a duel appears imminent, the princess receives news from France from a messenger, Mercadé, that her father, the king, has died. A pall of silence falls over the gathering. The princess then announces that she and her entourage must return to France. Before the ladies quit Ferdinand’s court, the men all make a last-minute plea for the hands of their loves and ask them to remain at court. The princess–aware that the men have broken a vow and concerned that their love might be mere infatuation–says the king and his friends have been pleasant company, providing the ladies much merriment. However, she says that she and the other women will not entertain proposals until after the men discipline themselves in worthy pursuits lasting fully a year. 
........Ferdinand is to spend the year in a hermitage. Berowne, who has always been quick to engage in jest and laugh at others, must make the rounds of hospitals, there to provoke patients to laughter. Dumain and Longaville must spend the year tempering their characters, becoming thoughtful and mature. Don Adriano de Armado makes a promise of his own, telling King Ferdinand , “I have vowed to Jaquenetta to hold the plough for her sweet love three years” (5. 2. 870). Holofernes, Sir Nathaniel, Costard, and the other actors from the pageant then present a song about spring and winter. Don Adriano speaks the last line of the play, “You that way–we this way.”
Now Available.....................Shakespeare: a Guide to the Complete Works............................................
By the Author of This Web Site 

Plot Summaries of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background | Glossaries
Shakespeare's Theatre | Drama Terms | Essays | Analysis of the Sonnets | and Much More 

Characters...........................................................................................................Shakespeare Films on DVD, VHS
Protagonists: King Ferdinand, the Princess of France (They Dictate and Control the Destiny of the Other Lovers) 
Antagonists: The Immaturity of the Men, the Wise Reluctance of the Women to Believe in Love at First Sight
Ferdinand: King of Navarre, who woos the princess of France.
Princess of France: Beautiful woman who captures the heart of the King of Navarre but tells him at the end of the play that he must spend a year in a hermitage before she will marry him.
Biron (Berowne): Lord at Ferdinand's court. Biron loves Rosaline.
Rosaline: Lady attending the Princess of France.
Longaville: Lord at Ferdinand's court. Longaville loves Maria.
Maria: Lady attending the Princess of France.
Dumain: Lord at Ferdinand's court. Dumain loves Katherine.
Katherine: Lady attending the Princess of France.
Don Adriano de Armado: Pretentious and long-winded knight who loves Jaquenetta with a passion. He appears to symbolize King Philip II of Spain and the Spanish Armada (hence the name de Armado). See Theme 3, below.
Jaquenetta: Comely country wench loved by Don Adriano.
Boyet: Lord attending the princess of France.
Sir Nathaniel: Curate (or parson).
Holofernes: Know-it-all schoolmaster.
Dull: Constable.
Costard: Clown (jester).
Moth: Page to Armado.
Mercadé: French lord who brings sad news to the Princess of France.
Forester: Man who accompanies the Princess of France on a deer hunt.
Other Lords, Attendants
The action takes place in Navarre (Spanish, Navarra), originally a region in northern Spain and southern France (département of Basses-Pyrénées). At one time, Navarre was a kingdom. In 1515, Spain annexed most of Navarre; in 1589, France annexed the rest of the kingdom. The capital of present-day Navarre is Pamplona, on the Arga River, founded by the ancient Roman general Pompey the Great. The area was later occupied by Visigoths and Moors. Pamplona is famous for the Festival of St. Fermin (July 6-14), in which a chief attraction is encierro–the running of bulls each morning through the streets of the city. 
The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Love's Labour's Lost occurs, according to both definitions, in Act V, Scene II, when the four women reject the love suits of the four men. Up to this moment, the women have regarded the antics of the king and his comrades as amusing flirtations and the king's realm as almost a chimerical world, although the men may have thought otherwise. Then Mercadé's announcement that the father of the princess has died jolt's everyone back to reality. When the princess decides to leave immediately for France and the men importune her and the other ladies to remain, pledging their love, the princess recites the climactic passage:
..............We have received your letters full of love;
..............Your favours, the ambassadors of love;
..............And, in our maiden council, rated them
..............At courtship, pleasant jest and courtesy,
..............As bombast and as lining to the time:
..............But more devout2 than this in our respects
..............Have we not been; and therefore met your loves
..............In their own fashion, like a merriment. (5. 2. 761-794)
That she would call their letters and their favours "bombast" and their wooing mere "merriment" sobers the men, who have been acting with the immaturity of college students on a spring break, and prepares them for the year-long test they must undergo to prove that their love is genuine.
True love must be tested in the crucible of time. The princess and her company of ladies find their wooers entertaining, but they do not commit to a relationship with them immediately. Wisely, they realize that true love does not strike like lightning but instead develops over time, like a rose growing from seed to full bloom. At the end of the play, they tell the men that they must wait and undergo tests to prove that their love is not mere infatuation. In this respect, these ladies contrast with other Shakespeare heroines, such as Rosalind (As You Like It), Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Hero (Much Ado About Nothing), who all fall in love at first sight and never doubt their feelings or the intentions of their lovers. 
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. This paraphrase from the Bible (Matthew 26: 40-41) aptly sums up the state of mind of the king and his three compatriots. For a moment, they become idealistic scholars who renounce the world and its pleasures. But the princess and her companions bring them down from the rarefied clime of academe to the sensual world of perfume and feminine beauty. 
Love of learning cannot vie with love of a man for a woman. This theme is a variation of the second theme. King Ferdinand and his compatriots decide to isolate themselves for three years to study great books and great ideas, vowing  that they will keep no company with women during this period. However, when beautiful women arrive on a diplomatic mission, the men immediately forswear their oaths. 
Spain's King Philip II is a pompous bumbler. In 1588, Philip attacked England with his supposedly invincible Armada but was soundly defeated by a smaller English force. In the play, Philip and his Armada–and all of the high hopes for it–become Don Adriano de Armado (Armada), a pretentious aristocrat who is thwarted in his verbal forays by his lowly page, Moth, and in his wooing by the illiterate Jaquenetta, a country girl. 
Browse for Books and Videos About Shakespeare
Key Dates and Sources
Date Written: Probably 1594, just before Shakespeare's thirtieth birthday. However, it could have been written a few years earlier or even a few years later. 
Probable Main Sources: Not established. Shakespeare may have based his plot on ideas in L'Académie Françoise (1577), by Pierre de la Primaudaye, about a society of scholars. He may also have drawn upon Endimion, by John Lyly (1554-1606). 
Number of Words in Complete Public-Domain Text: 22,994

Type of Play and First Performance

Love's Labour's Lost is a romance comedy that evidence indicates was probably first performed in December of 1597 at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, although G.B. Harrison notes that the New Cambridge Shakespeare says: "In our opinion its first performance had Christmas 1593 for date and for place some great private house, possibly the Earl of Southampton's" (Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt, 1952. Page 395). If the play was performed before the queen in 1597, an intriguing question for scholars might center on how the queen responded to the performance. When she viewed it, she would have been 64 and, of course, still a spinster. She had had many opportunities to marry–for love, for political advantage, for who knows how many other reasons–but seized upon none of them. She died in 1603, still unmarried. All of love's labours showered on her–and all of love's labours she showered on others–were lost.
Startling Turn of Events, or Coup de Théâtre

Mercadé’s announcement that the father of the princess has died presents the main characters–and the audience–with a dramatic, unexpected turn of events. The announcement curtails the jollity the little courtship games played by Ferdinand and his comrades with the princess and her ladies. It also enables Shakespeare to present an unconventional ending in which boy does not get girl. However, Shakespeare leaves room for hope that the men and their ladies will eventually reunite. A startling turn of events in a play, when successful, is called a coup de théâtre. This French term is also used to refer to an exceptional play or performance.

Bittersweet Ending
Shakespeare's comedies that focus mainly on romance generally end with marriages. Examples are As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. But Love's Labour's Lost ends with the parting of four couples; they hope to reunite in a year, but there is no guarantee that they will become husbands and wives.
Love's Labour's Lost  Film Available at
Love's Labour's Won
Strong evidence indicates that Shakespeare wrote a play entitled Love's Labour's Won, perhaps a sequel to Love's Labour's Lost. However, no manuscript of the play, written or printed, has ever been found. The evidence consists of two published reports. First was an an entry in a 1598 book–Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury–by Francis Meres (1565-1647). The book, which provides valuable information about Elizabethan writers and assesses the quality of their work, lists Shakespeare as the author of a play called Loves Labours Wonne. Second was a reference to the play, crediting Shakespeare as its author, in a verified booksellers' list published in 1603. There is little doubt today that the play was indeed a Shakespeare work. However, there is conjecture that Love's Labour's Won is an alternate title of a surviving romance play, such as Much Ado About Nothing. Whether Love's Labour's Won was indeed a lost play not listed in the canon of accepted Shakespeare plays is a question that cannot be resolved unless further evidence surfaces.

Wordplay and Imagery 
Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost early in his career (about 1594), when he was concerned more with words than with characters. Consequently, the play abounds in repartee, epigrams, rhyming lines, and other devices, including the following:
A pun is a play on words. In the following passage, the princess prepares to hunt deer at the edge of a wood while a forester tells her where to position herself to make the “fairest shoot,” a phrase which the princess repeats playfully in reference to herself. 
FORESTER   Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice;3
A stand where you may make the fairest shoot
PRINCESS   I thank my beauty, I am fair that shoot,
And thereupon thou speak’st the fairest shoot. (4. 1. 11-14)

Stichomythia (stik uh MITH e uh) consists of brief, alternating lines of dialogue spoken in rapid-fire succession. The following exchange in Act II, Scene I, is an example:
BIRON...Did not I dance with you in Brabant4 once?
ROSALINE...Did not I dance with you in Brabant once?
BIRON...I know you did.
ROSALINE...How needless was it then to ask the question!
BIRON...You must not be so quick.
ROSALINE...'Tis 'long of you that spur me with such questions.
BIRON...Your wit's too hot, it speeds too fast, 'twill tire.
ROSALINE...Not till it leave the rider in the mire.
BIRON...What time o' day?
ROSALINE...The hour that fools should ask.
BIRON...Now fair befall your mask!
ROSALINE...Fair fall the face it covers!
BIRON...And send you many lovers!
ROSALINE...Amen, so you be none.
BIRON...Nay, then will I be gone. (Lines 114-128)

Two Characters Speaking in Rhyme
BEROWNE   What’s her name in the cap?5
BOYET   Rosaline, by good hap. 
BEROWNE   Is she wedded or no? 
BOYET   To her will, sir, or so. 
BEROWNE   You are welcome, sir: adieu. 
BOYET   Farewell to me, sir, and welcome to you. (2. 1. 215-220)

One Character (Princess) Speaking in Rhyme
None are so surely caught, when they are catch’d, 
As wit turn’d fool: folly, in wisdom hatch’d, 
Hath wisdom’s warrant and the help of school 
And wit’s own grace to grace a learned fool. (5. 2. 73-76)

Sung Poetry That Rhymes
When daisies pied6 and violets blue 
And lady-smocks all silver-white 
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue7
Do paint the meadows with delight, 
The cuckoo then, on every tree, 
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, 
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear, 
Unpleasing to a married ear! (5. 2. 876) 

But love, first learned in a lady’s eyes, 
Lives not alone immured in the brain. (4. 3. 275-276) 
Berowne uses alliteration: love, learned, lady’s, lives, alone.

Metaphor, Simile
He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument. (5. 1. 7)
Holofernes uses a metaphor comparing the course or direction to a thread and a simile comparing the thread to the staple (substance) of the argument. Here, than serves the same function as like or as, words usually used in a simile between the things compared. 

Metaphor, Personification
A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear 
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue 
Of him that makes it. (5. 2. 847-849)
Rosaline uses a metaphor comparing a jest to a human being. (Only a human can prosper). This comparison is also a personification. Another metaphor compares ear to perception or interpretation, and a third metaphor compares tongue to wit or cleverness.

Berowne is like an envious sneaping frost, 
That bites the first-born infants of the spring. (1. 1. 104-105)
Ferdinand compares Berowne to a biting frost.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. Which character in the play is the most admirable? Which is the least admirable?
2. What incidents in the play resemble those in a modern situation comedy?
3. Who controls the events in the play, the men or the women? 
4. Write an essay analyzing the lyrical quality of the dialogue in Love’s Labour’s Lost. 
5. Does the ending of the play satisfy you? Or would you prefer an ending in which the wooers marry? 


1. Nine worthies: Nine heroes whom writers in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance lionized as exemplary leaders for their military ....exploits and chivalric qualities. They include three pagan heroes: the mythological Trojan warrior Hector, the Macedonian general ....Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Julius Caesar; three Old Testament Jewish heroes: Joshua, David, and Judas ....Maccabaeus (also spelled Maccabeus); and three European Christian heroes: the legendary King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of ....Bouillon. 
2. Devout: Sincere, serious.
3. Coppice: Thicket; grove of small trees or shrubs.
4. Brabant: Duchy in Europe from 1190 to 1830. The area is now part of Belgium and The Netherlands.
5. In the cap: Rosalind is wearing a hat.
6. Pied: Varicolored.
7. Lady-smocks, cuckoo buds: Flowers.
8. Cuckoo: The female European cuckoo lays eggs in the nests of other species of birds, one egg here and one egg there. This strange ....habit came to be associated with human females who are unfaithful to their husbands. The word cuckold was coined before ....Shakespeare’s time to refer to the husband of an adulteress wife. 

Shakespeare DVD's Available at

Film Director Actors
Antony and Cleopatra (1974) Trevor Nunn, John Schoffield Richard Johnson, Janet Suzman
As You Like It (1937) NR Paul Czinner  Henry Ainley, Felix Aylmer
Hamlet (1948) NR Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Hamlet (1990) NR Kevin Kline Kevin Kline
Hamlet (1991) PG Franco Zeffirelli Mel Gibson, Glenn Close
Hamlet (1996) PG-13 Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, 
Hamlet (1964) NR John Gielgud, Bill Colleran Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn
Hamlet (1964) NR Grigori Kozintsev Innokenti Smoktunovsky
Hamlet (2000) NR Cambpell Scott, Eric Simonson Campbell Scott, Blair Brown
Henry V (1989) PG-13 Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branaugh, Derek Jacobi
Henry V( 1946) NR Laurence Olivier Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer
Julius Caesar (1950) NR David Bradley Charlton Heston
Julius Caesar (1953) NR Joseph L. Mankiewicz Marlon Brando, James Mason
Julius Caesar (1970) G Stuart Burge Charlton Heston, Jason Robards
King Lear (1970) Grigori Kozintsev Yuri Yarvet
King Lear (1971) Peter Brook Cyril Cusack, Susan Engel
King Lear (1974) NR Edwin Sherin James Earl Jones
King Lear (1976) NR Tony Davenall Patrick Mower, Ann Lynn
King Lear (1984) NR Michael Elliott Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely
King Lear (1997) NR Richard Eyre Ian Holm
Love's Labour's Lost (2000) Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone 
Macbeth (1971) R Roman Polanski Jon Finch, Francesca Annis
Macbeth (1978) NR Philip Casson Ian McKellen, Judy Dench
The Merchant of Venice (2004) R  Michael Radford Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons
The Merchant of Venice (2001) NR Christ Hunt, Trevor Nunn David Bamber, Peter De Jersey
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1970) NR Leon Charles, Gloria Grahame
Midsummer Night's Dream (1996) PG-13 Adrian Noble Lindsay Duncan, Alex Jennings
A Midsummer Night's Dream  (1999) Michael Hoffman Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer
Much Ado About Nothing (1993) PG 13 Kenneth Branaugh Branaugh, Emma Thompson
Othello (1990) NR Trevor Nunn Ian McKellen, Michael Grandage
Othello (1955) NR Orson Welles Orson Welles
Ran  (1985) Japanese Version of King Lear R Akira Kurosawa Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao
Richard II (2001) NR John Farrell  Matte Osian, Kadina de Elejalde
Richard III (1912) NR André Calmettes, James Keane  Robert Gemp, Frederick Warde
Richard III - Criterion Collection (1956) NR Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson
Richard III (1995) R Richard Loncraine Ian McKellen, Annette Bening
Romeo and Juliet (1968) G Franco Zeffirelli Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey
Romeo and Juliet (1996) PG-13 Baz Luhrmann Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes
Romeo and Juliet (1976) NR Joan Kemp-Welch Christopher Neame, Ann Hasson
The Taming of the Shrew (1967) Franco Zeffirelli Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
The Taming of the Shrew  (1976) Kirk Browning Raye Birk, Earl Boen, Ron Boussom
The Taming of The Shrew (1983) NR Franklin Seales, Karen Austin, 
The Tempest PG Paul Mazursky John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands
The Tempest (1998) Jack Bender Peter Fonda, John Glover, Harold Perrineau,
Throne of Blood (1961) Macbeth in Japan NR Akira Kurosawa Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada
Twelfth Night (1996) PG Trevor Nunn Helena Bonham Carter
The Winter's Tale  (2005) NR Greg Doran Royal Shakespeare Company