Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest and conceptually simpler comedies. It revolves around the King of France and his three closes companions, who swear an oath to forgo the company of women. Of course, the Princess of France and her ladies arrive … and the men fall in love with them. In the B-plot Don Armando falls in love with Jaquenetta, who is in love with Costard. The two eventually come to blows.
So far, so simple – but this is Shakespeare, so he fills the plot with thematic investigation on hope, desire, rationality and reality:
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.
As the men fall in love with the women Shakespeare investigates the idea of time, Don Armando swearing to prove everlasting love to Jacquenetta or the Princess and her ladies wanting proof to true fidelity from the King and his companions. This is no quick fire Romeo and Juliet romance, the men recognise that marriage is no joke, and neither is love. The men find themselves in conflict over the loftiness of masculinity and the notion that succumbing to love is to feminize themselves in some way.
Even Don Pedro is subject to this, with the masculinity of his pursuit of Jacquenetta contrasted with his impregnating her and need to prove his honour. These topics lead to the need for self-introspection and judgement by all the characters. Whilst this leads to potentially amusing character set-ups and exploration the play’s place near the beginning of Shakespeare’s collection can be seen.
As far as gender exploration and self judgement goes Love’s Labour’s Lost is not as effectively played out as in The Merchant of Venice or As You Like It. When it comes to fantastical implications it falls short of plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All in all, it’s still a nice Shakespeare play and is still fun to watch, but is understandably no-one’s favourite. In this case, the cast which inhabits Shakespeare’s characters are responsible for injecting further life into a play not necessarily likeable. However, if and when this is achieved this can make for wonderful viewing.
Love is familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but Love.
(photo credit: Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost)