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Theatre / Love's Labour's Lost

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"Never durst poet touch a pen to write, until his ink were tempered with Love's sighs."
And why anyone should say that Love's Labour's Lost is a bad play, the Lord He knoweth; for to my mind it is one of the most réussi things of its kind ever made ... it is all pure fairy-tale; and some of the loveliest lines in the lyrical-witty mode ever written.

Love's Labour's Lost is one of William Shakespeare's earliest plays, possibly his first comedy. The King of Navarre and his attendant lords make a vow to devote themselves to scholarship and put away interest in women for three years—just before the Princess of France and her attendant ladies arrive for a visit. Hilarity Ensues.

It's not among Shakespeare's most popular plays. This may be largely due to the style, which has been described as "flamboyantly intellectual", full of wordplay and references to contemporary scholarly interests, many of which have not dated well. The script is 90% poetry and jokes and 10% plot. Also, for a romantic comedy it has a romantically-unsatisfying ending, with all the lovers separated, to (maybe) be reunited in the future.

This latter point probably fed the popularity of the rumor/theory (depending on your view) that Shakespeare wrote a now-lost sequel titled Love's Labour's Wonnote .


There was a film adaptation in 2000, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as well as Nathan Lane, Allesandro Nivolla, Alicia Silverstone, Timothy Spall, and Adrian Lester.

Love's Labour's Lost provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Title: Love's Labour's Lost.
  • All There in the Script: Ferdinand, King of Navarre is never actually called "Ferdinand" except in dialogue tags and stage directions, so you can watch the entire play and never find out his first name.
  • Beta Couple: And a Gamma, and a Delta, and an Epsilon, and... "More sacks to the mill!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: Berowne mentions in Act I scene 1 that the Princess's father is "decrepit, sick, and bedrid." His illness never comes up again until he dies a few minutes from the end and screws up everything.
  • Cool Old Guy: Boyet (although, like all Elizabethan Cool Old Guys, also something of a Dirty Old Man)
    • Some productions, however, cast a younger actor - or even a woman - in the role.
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  • Department of Redundancy Department: Nearly every word spoken by Don Armado, Holofernes and Nathaniel. Especially Don Armado. Some scholars view this as evidence of the influence of the euphuistic style of John Lyly, the first English novelist and a dramatist in his own right.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: There are about four puns on the word "light", the most obscure of which is probably the implication that a "light woman" is promiscuous. Knowing the different meanings makes the argument between Katherine and Rosaline at the beginning of Act 5, Scene 2 funnier, but also hints at cattiness.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Used frequently (mostly from Holofernes), often with a Genius Bonus or two. (In fact, all those obscure references—meant for its target audience of Elizabethan college students—have lead to the play's obscurity in modern times, as it's rarely chosen by directors for performance.) Moth lampshades this trope:
    "They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps."
  • Hurricane of Puns
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: In his Establishing Character Moment at the beginning, Berowne gives a whole speech about this as his "excuse" for possibly breaking his oath. As he predicts, this trope turns out to be true of all the other guys in the play as well.
  • I Will Wait for You: None of the lovers end up together at the end of the play, but they each promise that they will wait for each other for a year.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Played for laughs. Armado sends a love letter to Jaquenetta, while Berowne sends one to Rosaline. Costard, who's tasked to deliver them, delivers Rosaline's letter to Jaquenetta.
  • Malaproper: Costard does not know what "remuneration" means, thinking it's a specific value.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Don Armado
  • Mood Whiplash: Right at the end, with the announcement of the death of the King of France.
  • Mouthy Kid: Moth often mouths off to the adults, and to Don Armado in particular.
  • No Loves Intersect: Each of the four ladies gets, and returns, the affection of exactly one of the four men in the King's study group.
  • Purple Prose: Don Armado writes and speaks in a combination of this trope, Gratuitous Latin and Department of Redundancy Department. It's an incredible thing to behold. As mentioned above, this is possibly an allusion to euphuism, a patterned prose style popularized by John Lyly in the 1580s.
  • Rash Equilibrium
  • Servile Snarker: Moth to Don Armado.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
    • Don Armado, who loves making everything he says grand.
    • Holofernes never misses a chance to use ten fancy words when one regular would do just as nicely.
    • Costard has a moment, too. The fact that he knows the word "Honorificabilitudinitatibus"—and can say it correctly—calls his "bumbling, uneducated country guy" status somewhat into question.
  • Show Within a Show: The "Nine Worthies."
  • Spoiler Title: Wait, you mean all the courting didn't work out? Who could have seen that coming?
  • Stylistic Suck: The "Nine Worthies" isn't exactly Tony-award material. The men trying to play the roles get lines wrong and repeat themselves.
  • Tree Cover
  • Weddings for Everyone: Averted. The play is a comedy, which means technically it has to end with weddings, except everyone wants to get married and can't for completely non-tragedy reasons.

The 2000 film adaptation provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Most of the original play was cut.
  • Belated Happy Ending: The lovers farewell each other at the end of the original play, but the film continues after this with a silent newsreel footage montage of the characters undergoing World War II, and after the war is over, it is shown that most of the characters have survived and all of the lovers are happily re-united.
  • Beta Couple: This adaptation adds to the five couples of the original play a Zeta couple in Nathanial and Holofernia.
  • Call-Back: In the last newsreel at the end of the film, we see Costard carrying his bag with him while running into the street. He did the same thing earlier in the film just before asking the King about the word "remuneration".
  • Chromatic Arrangement: Each of the four main couples has an associated color for the woman's dress and the man's buttonhole ribbon or tie: red for the King and the Princess, blue for Berowne and Rosaline, green for Longaville and Maria, and orange for Dumaine and Katherine.
  • Crowd Song: "No Business Like Show Business"
  • Death by Adaptation: Boyet is shown being killed in action during the epilogue; everyone else is reunited afterwards.
  • Exposition: Done in the form of a newsreel several times throughout the movie, in order to cover some of the information cut from the original play.
  • Fast Forward to Reunion: This is added to Shakespeare's original play; the lovers' parting is followed by a montage of the characters experiencing World War II before being joyfully reunited after the war.
  • Final Love Duet: "They Can't Take That Away from Me"
  • Gender Flip: Holofernes is transformed into Holofernia, played by Geraldine McEwan.
  • Hakuna Matata: "I'd Rather Charleston"
  • The Musical: Featuring songs from classic 1930s musicals, which can be found here.


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