First produced: c. 1594-1595; revised presentation, 1597
Type of work: Drama
Type of plot: Comedy of manners
Time of work: Sixteenth century
Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Navarre. Love’s Labour’s LostHistorical kingdom in northern Spain, along the French border. In this early play, William Shakespeare depicts a conception of an ideal commonwealth. Setting the play within the king’s park underscores the struggle between man’s natural will to enjoy and society’s desire to restrict that will. The palace–which is never actually entered on stage–symbolizes the rules of the community to which the king and his gentlemen have chosen to retreat. The park itself is a representation of nature, not Rosalind’s forest of Arden, but rather a landscaped sculpture of that world designed to unite the beauty of what is natural for people to savor with the practicality of proper behavior. The king and his men swear off revelry, feasting, and women, as though these were moral deficiencies. Setting the reconciliation between their passions and their social inhibitions in this park signifies the possibility of living a life that is full both spiritually and intellectually. This understanding is appropriately brought home to them by women, nature’s consorts, and it is poetically fitting that the king and his men must take what they have learned and demonstrate it in the world for a year before they are permitted to return to the garden and reunite with their new lovers.
BibliographyBarber, C. L. “The Folly of Wit and Masquerade in Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959. An influential study of the relationship between holiday rituals and the comedies. Sees the games in this play as providing necessary festive release.Barton, Anne. Introduction to Love’s Labor’s Lost. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. An introduction to the play’s textual history and an explication of language and themes by a premier Oxonian Shakespeare scholar.Carroll, William C. The Great Feast of Language in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976. Argues that the play does not pit art against nature but rather shows their connection and interdependence. Includes a discussion of the songs at the play’s end.Gilbert, Miriam. Love’s Labour’s Lost. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993. Describes a select group of productions of the play. The variety of possible interpretations is revealed in the description of productions.Roesen, Bobbyann. “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Shakespeare Quarterly 4, no. 4 (October, 1953): 411-426. Examines the contrast between the artificial and the real in the play. Explains the movement toward reality as necessary for love.Wilson, John Dover. “Love’s Labour’s Lost: The Story of a Conversion.” In Shakespeare’s Happy Comedies. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1962. Explains how one’s low opinion of the play may change after watching a performance. Compares the high spirits of the play to a Mozart opera and is an example of understanding the difference between reading and watching a play.