Michael J. Cummings...©
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,
mind shall banquet, though the body pine:
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.
paunches have lean pates, and dainty bits
rich the ribs, but bankrupt quite the wits. (1. 1. 27-29)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.".
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Ferdinand, the Princess of France (They Dictate and Control the Destiny
of the Other Lovers)
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.
Lord at Ferdinand's court. Biron loves Rosaline.
Rosaline: Lady attending
the Princess of France.
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.
country wench loved by Don Adriano.
Boyet: Lord attending
the princess of France.
Sir Nathaniel: Curate
Costard: Clown (jester).
Moth: Page to Armado.
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.
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.
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
have received your letters full of love;
favours, the ambassadors of love;
in our maiden council, rated them
courtship, pleasant jest and courtesy,
bombast and as lining to the time:
than this in our respects
we not been; and therefore met your loves
their own fashion, like a merriment. (5. 2. 761-794)
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..
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.
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.
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.
Dates and Sources
Written: Probably 1594, just before Shakespeare's thirtieth birthday.
However, it could have been written a few years earlier or even a few years
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
by John Lyly (1554-1606).
of Words in Complete Public-Domain Text: 22,994
of Play and First Performance
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.
Turn of Events, or Coup de Théâtre
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.
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.
Labour's Lost Film Available at Amazon.com
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
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
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:
Questions and Essay Topics
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
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:
not I dance with you in Brabant4
not I dance with you in Brabant once?
know you did.
needless was it then to ask the question!
must not be so quick.
'long of you that spur me with such questions.
wit's too hot, it speeds too fast, 'twill tire.
till it leave the rider in the mire.
time o' day?
hour that fools should ask.
fair befall your mask!
fall the face it covers!
send you many lovers!
so you be none.
then will I be gone. (Lines 114-128)
Two Characters Speaking
her name in the cap?5
by good hap.
BEROWNE Is she
wedded or no?
BOYET To her
will, sir, or so.
welcome, sir: adieu.
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
Do paint the meadows with
The cuckoo then, on every
Mocks married men; for thus
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of
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,
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.
A jest’s prosperity lies
in the ear
Of him that hears it, never
in the tongue
Of him that makes it. (5.
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
That bites the first-born
infants of the spring. (1. 1. 104-105)
Ferdinand compares Berowne to a
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:
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.