Hello and welcome to the first blog-post and the first lesser-known gem.
Here is something you will learn about me very quickly. I love Shakespeare. He is by far my favourite author. The way he plays with the language is unparalleled, and I don’t think I am shocking anyone stating that. What does surprise people is that my favourite play isn’t one of his most known plays like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet or his more sweeter plays like A Midsummer Night’s dream or As you like it. My favourite play is Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of his more complex plays when it comes to language, and deemed by a lot of Shakespeare’s scholars to be one of his most elegant and also dirty plays. Read the play and you will find a ton of blue humour jokes, references to:
Boyet: Since when, I’ll be sworn he wore none but a dishclout of Jaquanettta’s, and that he wears next to his heart for a favour. (5.2) – dishclout being a play on both a handkerchief that men got as a favour from the favourite girl, but also a rag a woman would use during her menstruation period.
Armado: Sirrah Costard, I will enfranchise thee.
Costard: O, marry me to one Frances: I smell some l’envoy, some goose in this. (3.1) – A play on the word enfranchise, which means to liberate, becomes Frances, a slang term for prostitute.
Boyet: Who came? The king. Why did he come? To see. Why did he see? To overcome. To whom came he? To the beggar. What saw he? The beggar. Who overcame he? The beggar. The conclusion is victory. (4.1) – Overcome means to conquer, which even today is a euphemism for sex.
Just to mention a few of the dirty topics and jokes.
As much as I love this play, and I do, I will be the first one to admit that this shouldn’t be the first Shakespeare play you read. Since this is one of his more complex plays, you will probably struggle if you don’t know how to read him. I also know that if you have been raised in a Western country, most likely you will have read Shakespeare in school and this won’t be your first encounter with him. Love’s Labour’s Lost isn’t as difficult as a lot of you might think. Actually, if you get a good edition with a decent dictionary, you will see why this is one of his most modern plays when it comes to theme and characters. I do get why this play isn’t as popular today as it deserves, but it is not really a good excuse. I will get back to this in a bit.
Love’s Labour’s Lost has one main plot and one B-plot, but they both focus on the same aspect. Love plot A is about a king and his three friends who swears off women so that they can focus on their studies. A princess and her three friends come on a diplomatic business. The four men fall in love, as you do, but since they have made this very public deceleration they try to woo without losing face. The four women think they act like idiots, because they are acting like idiots, and get back at them for acting like idiots.
The women don’t do this to be mean, or string them along. The women’s reaction is a direct result of the men’s inability to act like grown men. As seen in this quote when the women hear that the men plan to come and court them wearing masks and not tell them who they are. The princess says that the women should be masked as well and pretend to be one another so the men would woo the wrong lady.
Katherine: But in this changing what is your intent?
Princess: The effect of my intent is to cross theirs.
They do it but in mocking merriment,
And mock for mock is only my intent. (5.2)
In the four couples, the women and men are very much equal in ability and power. There is an equality message in this play that really proves that Shakespeare could be ahead of his time.
The B-plot is a very common love triangle. One of the decrees the king makes in his deceleration is to banish all women from his court, and to forbid any man to be seen with them. A couple is caught, but the policeman who finds them falls in love with the woman. She is not interested in him, and so the play goes on with him chasing her, and she just trying to live her life.
In a lot of ways the B-plot is a caricature and a ridicule of the A-plot, with them even being connected when letters written from both plots get handed to the wrong women. These two plots is also a representation of the play in general. With this play, Shakespeare both salutes and mocks the love story. There is a scene, from the A-plot, where the women makes fun of the sonnets that the men have written because they are so over the top. Referring to them as “vilely complied, profound simplicity” and “too long by half a mile”. At the end of the play the men talk to the women much more honestly and this is what wins them, sort of, over. The reason I say sort of is that at the end, the couples don’t get one another. The play ends with the princess finding out the father is dead and goes into mourning, with her three friends. They tell the men that they will be together after the mourning period is over. There is a logical reason for this. Love’s Labour’s Lost had a sequel, a play that is now lost, called Love’s Labour’s Won. What this play is about we don’t know, but my guess is that it’s about these four couples getting together again. At the same time, I don’t mind that the couples don’t end up together. Both sides do act like children in the play, and them having to go through this period of growing up does make the story more poignant. It also fits for us, the modern reader, as we are less bound of convention. We have seen films before where the couple don’t end up together without it being a tragedy. The ending is another aspect of why I think this play would resonate so well with a modern audience.
So why isn’t this play so popular or at least known?
Kenneth Branagh, bless his heart. I do love him. He knows Shakespeare, and his version of Hamlet is praised as a masterpiece for a reason. He made a Love’s Labour’s Lost version which is a jukebox musical. This was not a good mix, not by critical standards, the box office standards or by mine.
I do get what he was trying to do. Shakespeare is filled with musical elements. He wrote both in blank verse (freestyle) and iambic pentameter (baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM / baBOOM) that rhyme. This is the same rules as modern lyricist; to write to a certain rhythm and rhyming. There is a reason that there are so many musicals and operas based on Shakespeare plays out there. The problem, I think, is that he made a Shakespeare for dummies film. As I stated before, this should not be the first Shakespeare play you read. Therefore it becomes a mismatch between how he talks to the audience, and whom his audiences are. Personally I think that kind of concept would have been much better with Romeo and Juliet. People know the story so well that it wouldn’t be distracting, at the same time the audience would be much more open to having Shakespeare explained at the level that he explains it. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think you could make a musical out of Love’s Labour’s Lost, on the contrary. Due to his use of iambic pentameter in this play, you could easily write songs using the text as the lyrics and could probably get a very interesting musical out of it.
I am a big believer in Shakespeare being seen and heard, rather than read quietly. It was written to be performed. On the other hand, this play should be read first as a glossary would help with the jokes the first time around. This should not scare you away from the play. The way he talks about the elements that have made him most famous, the love aspect, has a lot to say to us as modern readers. In Kiss me Kate, the musical, they have a song about how learning Shakespeare will get you laid. Shakespeare says it the other way around. That quoting love poems is a very bad way to express that you’re in love. That over the top messages could be interpreted that you are insincere, the way the women in plot-A don’t think the men in plot-A mean what they are saying. They think it’s a joke. It’s when the men start talking more plainly, in the context of the play at least, that love truly can begin to blossom.
Berowne/Biron: Honest plain words best pierce the ear of grief;
And by these badges understand the king.
For your fair sakes have we neglected time,
Play’d foul play with our oaths: your beauty, ladies,
Hath much deform’d us, fashioning our humours
Even to the opposed end of our intents:
And what in us hath seem’d ridiculous,–
Put on by us, if, in your heavenly eyes,
Have misbecomed our oaths and gravities,
Those heavenly eyes, that look into these faults,
Suggested us to make. Therefore, ladies,
Our love being yours, the error that love makes
Is likewise yours: we to ourselves prove false,
By being once false for ever to be true
To those that make us both,–fair ladies, you:
And even that falsehood, in itself a sin,
Thus purifies itself and turns to grace. (5.2)
So what do you think? Have you read it? Have you seen it? Share your thoughts.
The text online – http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/LLLscenes.html
Librivox audiobook – https://librivox.org/loves-labours-lost-by-william-shakespeare/