Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Love's Labour's Lost

Go To

As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
"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. The film reinterpreted the play as a 1920-style screwball musical.

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.
  • The Comically Serious: Holofernes takes himself so seriously, treating every conversation as a matter of weighty academic import, that he quickly becomes absurd.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Didn't Think This Through: As Berowne points out, the male courtiers have just signed a pledge to shun female society on the very eve of an extremely important visit from the French princess during which the ownership of Aquitaine is to be discussed. Ferdinand had quite forgotten it.
  • Engagement Challenge: The play ends with these. The Princess and her court will be in mourning for her father for a year and a day, so she asks Ferdinand to spend that time in a hermitage living in true privation. If he still loves her after that, she will marry him. Rosaline sets a challenge to Berowne to spend his year in a hospital, using his wit and humor to cheer up the sick. Although he initially says it's an impossible task, he agrees to do so.
  • Funny Foreigner: Don Armado, which is acknowledged in the dialogue itself. King Ferdinand describes him as a "child of fancy" and says that Armado's mannerisms and conversation will provide enough minstrelsy to compensate for otherwise being secluded for three years. Individual performances can play this up by having his accent turn him into The Malaproper (the 2015 RSC performance had him constantly pronouncing "peace" as piss).
  • 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.
  • Grammar Nazi: Holofernes complains at length about silent letters, insisting on pronouncing the b in debt and the l in calf. He also wants to do a line-by-line revision of Berowne's verses when Jaquenetta asks him to read them out (having been given them by mistake).
  • 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."
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: Don Armado gets Jaquenetta pregnant and pledges himself to her at the end of the play, showing that he isn't all talk.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The sonnet-writing scene. Each man arrives to compose a love-sonnet in secret—Berowne, the King, Longaville, and Dumain, with each previous man hiding from the new arrivals. The King reveals himself first after listening to Longaville and Dumain, chastising them both for harboring secret thoughts of love in violation of their oath. Then Berowne "steps forth to whip hypocrisy." He lords it over the other three for a speech or two, and then Costard turns up to return Berowne's own sonnet to sender.
  • 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.
  • In Love with Love: Ferdinand and his gentlemen give the impression that they're enjoying the agonies of being lovestruck against their oath a bit more than the actual ladies they're trying to woo. This leads the Princess and her ladies to treat it as a big game, and she confesses her surprise that they were actually serious when Ferdinand proposes in earnest.
  • 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.
  • MacGuffin: The French Princess is there to discuss the matter of Aquitaine. They do discuss it in their first meeting, but mostly, it's a way to force Ferdinand to admit a woman to his court (because he can't exactly put off or fob off a royal heir visiting to discuss a major territorial dispute).
  • Malaproper: Costard does not know what "remuneration" means, thinking it's a specific value. He earlier believes that "emolument" is another way to say "three farthings" because that was the amount of the emolument that Armado gave him.
  • The Matchmaker: Boyet gleefully enters into the mischief by helping the French ladies woo, spy on, and trifle with the affections of the king and his men
  • Mathematician's Answer: Boyet's responses to Longaville's queries about Maria. When Longaville says he desires the lady's name, Boyet says that she's already using it. When asked whose daughter she is, he replies "her mother's, I hear."
  • Miles Gloriosus: Don Armado.
  • Mood Whiplash: Right at the end. A messenger from France walks right into the Nine Worthies performance, prompting the Princess to ask why he's interrupting their merriment. The answer is that her father has passed away.
  • Mouthy Kid: Moth often mouths off to the adults, and to Don Armado in particular.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: The Princess is shocked to receive a sincere proposal from Ferdinand. His courtiers' antics were so silly that she and her ladies took them for a game of flirtation rather than a serious love—which is upsetting to Ferdinand and Longaville, who felt that their words and looks did not speak of jest. However, they do consider the gentlemen as serious suitors once they do know.
  • 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.
  • No Name Given: The French princess is never named, even in the script, as anything other than "the Princess".
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Played with. The king and his courtiers dress up as Muscovites to try and woo the Princess and her ladies. The ladies, having been warned by Boyet that this will happen, disguise themselves and swap tokens with each other to misdirect each man to the wrong love interest.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Honorificabilitudinitatibus (the longest word in the play). It means "the state of being able to achieve honors". It's not used as an adjective; rather, Costard jokes that Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel might use Moth as a snack because he is shorter than the kinds of words the two windbags have been tossing around.
  • 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.
  • Relationship Sabotage: Armado tattles on Costard for having a dalliance with Jaquenetta because Armado wants to court Jaquenetta himself.
  • 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."
  • Spell My Name With An S: Berowne is spelled "Biron" in some editions of the script, which to modern English speakers looks like it should be pronounced "by-ron" thanks to pronunciations shifting since the time Shakespeare wrote in.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Costard's part in the Nine Worthies play—"Pompey, surname The Great."
  • 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 and are heckled throughout by their audience.
  • Tree Cover: The original stage directions is for the four court gentlemen to hide from each other behind trees, while Berowne is up one.
  • Unequal Pairing: Don Armado is head over heels in love with Jaquenetta, who is a maid. Not a maid as in "unmarried virgin girl", but maid as in servant.
  • Unfortunate Names: The local constable introducing himself thus: "I am Dull." Never let it be said that no joke was too obvious for Shakespeare.
  • 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:

  • Adaptational Diversity: The first record of this trope in a Kenneth Branagh film, beating his Hercule Poirot series by seventeen years, and perhaps the first major case of this in a Shakespeare production, the film features a gender flipped Holofernes, renamed Holofernia, and a black Maria and Dumaine.
  • 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.