Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances

By Victor L. Cahn | Go to book overview

LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST

Of all Shakespeare's plays, this one is in some ways the most remote. No specific literary source has been found. Instead several characters are likely modeled after contemporary celebrities, and a substantial portion of the dialogue is satire of literary and poetic fashions of the playwright's day. Parody of topicalities, however, rarely lasts beyond the immediate time. Still, for our purpose, the examination of character, the play offers rewards, for the figures at the center of the comedy reflect several of Shakespeare's major themes.

The opening lines set the tone. They clarify that the King's goal is to make himself and his colleagues "heirs of all eternity" (I, i, 7), and such vanity makes us regard the rest of his speech none too seriously. The King then decrees that his court will become a sanctuary for his three colleagues:

Your oaths are pass'd, and now subscribe your names, That his own hand may strike his honor down That violates the smallest branch herein. If you are arm'd to do, as sworn to do, Subscribe to your deep oaths, and keep it too. (I, i, 19-21)

The convoluted, pompous language clarifies the personality of the King and also suggests that his scheme of remaining in isolation for three years is ill-conceived. To deny all company is to force unnaturalness on oneself, and we suspect that the foolishness of the King's directive is soon to become apparent.

Berowne realizes this truth immediately and protests that they will be denying themselves the company of women (I, i, 47-48), but he is willing to play along:

. . . all delights are vain, but that most vain Which, with pain purchas'd, doth inherit pain: As, painfully to pore upon a book To see the light of truth, while truth the while Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look. (I, i, 72-76)

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Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • The Tragedies 1
  • Titus Andronicus 5
  • Romeo and Juliet 23
  • Julius Caesar 47
  • Hamlet 69
  • Othello 105
  • King Lear 137
  • Macbeth 179
  • Antony and Cleopatra 209
  • Coriolanus 241
  • Timon of Athens 267
  • The Histories 283
  • The First Tetralogy 287
  • King John 381
  • The Second Tetralogy 399
  • The Comedies 525
  • The Comedy of Errors 529
  • The Taming of the Shrew 541
  • Two - Gentlemen of Verona 555
  • Love''s Labor''s Lost 569
  • A Midsummer Night''s Dream 583
  • The Merchant of Venice 599
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor 619
  • Much Ado about Nothing 629
  • As You like It 647
  • Twelfth Night, or What You Will 665
  • Troilus and Cressida 683
  • All''s Well That Ends Well 703
  • Measure for Measure 721
  • The Romances 743
  • Pericles 745
  • Cymbeline 757
  • The Winter''s Tale 779
  • The Tempest 803
  • Appendix 1 - The Two Noble Kinsmen 823
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 826
  • Appendix 2 - The Royal Figures from the History Tetralogies 827
  • Select Bibliography 831
  • Character Index 833
  • Index 847
  • About the Author *
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