Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost

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Love's Labour's Lost is one of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590s, and first published in 1598.


The title is normally given as Love's Labour's Lost. The use of apostrophes varies in early editions. In its first 1598 quarto publication it appears as Loues Labors Lost. In the 1623 First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 it is Loues Labour's Lost and in the 1631 edition it is Loues Labours Lost. In the Third Folio it appears for the first time with the modern punctuation and spelling as Love's Labour's Lost. In 1935 it was suggested that the title derived from a line in John Florio's His firste Fruites (1578), "We neede not speak so much of loue, al books are ful of lou, with so many authours, that it were labour lost to speake of Loue", a source from which Shakespeare also took the untranslated Venetian proverb, "Venetia, Venetia/Chi non ti vede non ti pretia"
(LLL 4.2.92-93).

Date and text

Most modern scholars believe the play was written in 1595 or 1596, making it contemporaneous with Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

and A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play that was written by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1596. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus, and the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta...

. Love's Labour's Lost was first published in quarto
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 in 1598 by the bookseller Cuthbert Burby
Cuthbert Burby
Cuthbert Burby was a London bookseller and publisher of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean eras. He is remembered for publishing a series of significant volumes of English Renaissance drama, including works by William Shakespeare, Robert Greene, John Lyly, and Thomas Nashe.-Beginnings:Burby...

. The title page states that the play was "Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere," which has suggested to some scholars a revision of an earlier version. The play next appeared in print in the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 in 1623, with a later quarto in 1631.


Love's Labour's Lost is, along with The Tempest
The Tempest
The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone. It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place,...

, a play without any obvious sources. Cymbeline
Cymbeline , also known as Cymbeline, King of Britain or The Tragedy of Cymbeline, is a play by William Shakespeare, based on legends concerning the early Celtic British King Cunobelinus. Although listed as a tragedy in the First Folio, modern critics often classify Cymbeline as a romance...

also falls into this category to some extent, although that play draws strands of its narrative from some texts agreed on by modern scholars. Some possible influences can be found in the early plays of John Lyly
John Lyly
John Lyly was an English writer, best known for his books Euphues,The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England. Lyly's linguistic style, originating in his first books, is known as Euphuism.-Biography:John Lyly was born in Kent, England, in 1553/1554...

, Robert Wilson
Robert Wilson (dramatist)
Robert Wilson , was an Elizabethan dramatist who worked primarily in the 1580s and 1590s. He is also believed to have been an actor who specialized in clown roles....

's The Cobbler's Prophecy (c.1590) and Pierre de la Primaudaye
Pierre de La Primaudaye
Pierre de La Primaudaye was a French writer. He is known particularly for L'Academie Française, which was influential in English translations, from 1584 onwards, particularly The French Academie of 1618....

's L'Academie française (1577).


Ferdinand: King of Navarre

Princess of France

Berowne (or Biron), Longaville, and Dumaine (or Dumian): Lords, attending on the King

Boyet and Marcade (or Mercade): Lords, attending on the Princess of France

Rosaline, Maria, and Katharine: Ladies, attending on the Princess

Don Adriano de Armado: a fantastical Spaniard

Sir Nathaniel: a Curate

Holofernes: a Schoolmaster

Dull: a Constable

Costard: a Clown

Moth: Page to Armado

A Forester

Jaquenetta: a country Wench

Officers and Others, Attendants on the King and Princess


The play opens with the King of Navarre
Navarre , officially the Chartered Community of Navarre is an autonomous community in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Country, La Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Aquitaine in France...

 and three noble companions, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville, taking an oath to devote themselves to three years of study, promising not to give in to the company of women – Berowne somewhat more hesitantly than the others. Berowne reminds the king that the princess and her three ladies are coming to the kingdom and it would be suicidal for the King to agree to this law. The King denies what Berowne says, insisting that the ladies make their camp in the field outside of his court. The King and his men meet the princess and her ladies. Instantly, they all fall comically in love.

The main story is assisted by many other humorous sub-plots. A rather heavy-accented Spanish swordsman, Don Adriano de Armado, tries and fails to woo a country wench, Jaquenetta, helped by Moth, his page, and rivalled by Costard
Costard is a comic figure in the play Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare. A country bumpkin, he is arrested in the first scene for flouting the king's proclamation that all men of the court avoid the company of women for a year. While in custody, the men of the court use him to further...

, a country idiot. We are also introduced to two scholars, Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, and we see them converse with each other in schoolboy Latin. In the final act, the comic characters perform a play to entertain the nobles, an idea conceived by Holofernes, where they represent the Nine Worthies
Nine Worthies
The Nine Worthies are nine historical, scriptural and legendary personages who personify the ideals of chivalry as were established in the Middle Ages. All are commonly referred to as 'Princes' in their own right, despite whatever true titles each man may have held...

. The four Lords – as well as the Ladies' courtier Boyet – mock the play, and Armado and Costard almost come to blows.

At the end of this 'play' within the play, there is a bitter twist in the story. News arrives that the Princess's father has died and she must leave to take the throne. The king and his nobles swear to remain faithful to their ladies, but the ladies, unconvinced that their love is that strong, claim that the men must wait a whole year and a day to prove what they say is true. This is an unusual ending for Shakespeare and Elizabethan comedy. A play mentioned by Francis Meres
Francis Meres
Francis Meres was an English churchman and author.He was born at Kirton in the Holland division of Lincolnshire in 1565. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1587 and an M.A. in 1591. Two years later he was incorporated an M.A. of Oxford...

, Love's Labour's Won
Love's Labour's Won
Love's Labour's Won is the name of a play written by William Shakespeare before 1598. The play appears to have been published by 1603, but no copies are known to have survived. One theory holds that it is a lost work, possibly a sequel to Love's Labour's Lost...

, is sometimes believed to be a sequel to this play.


The earliest recorded performance of the play occurred at Christmas time in 1597 at Court before Queen Elizabeth
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

. A second recorded performance occurred in the first half of January 1605, either at the house of the Earl of Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton
Henry Wriothesley , 3rd Earl of Southampton , was the second son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton, and his wife Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton, daughter of the 1st Viscount Montagu...

 or at that of Robert Cecil, Lord Cranborne
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, KG, PC was an English administrator and politician.-Life:He was the son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Mildred Cooke...

. The first known production after Shakespeare's era was not until a Covent Garden
Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The...

 version in 1839, with Elizabeth Vestris
Lucia Elizabeth Vestris
Lucia Elizabeth Vestris was an English actress and a contralto opera singer, appearing in Mozart and Rossini works. While popular in her time, she was more notable as a theatre producer and manager...

 as Rosaline.


Love's Labour's Lost is often thought of as Shakespeare's most flamboyantly intellectual play. It abounds in sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms. It is often assumed that it was written for performance at the Inns of Court
Inns of Court
The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. All such barristers must belong to one such association. They have supervisory and disciplinary functions over their members. The Inns also provide libraries, dining facilities and professional...

, whose students would have been most likely to appreciate its style. This style is the principal reason why it has never been among Shakespeare's most popular plays; the pedantic humour makes it extremely inaccessible to contemporary theatregoers.


Alfred Tennyson's poem The Princess
The Princess (poem)
The Princess is a serio-comic blank verse narrative poem, written by Alfred Tennyson, published in 1847. Tennyson was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1850 to 1892 and remains one of the most popular English poets....

is speculated by some critics to have been inspired by Love's Labour's Lost; the poem was parodied by W.S. Gilbert in his play of the same title
The Princess (play)
The Princess is a blank verse farcical play, in five scenes with music, by W. S. Gilbert which adapts and parodies Alfred Lord Tennyson's humorous 1847 narrative poem, The Princess: A Medley. It was first produced at the Olympic Theatre in London on 8 January 1870.Gilbert called the piece "a...


Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual...

 in his novel Doctor Faustus
Doktor Faustus
Doctor Faustus is a German novel written by Thomas Mann, begun in 1943 and published in 1947 as Doktor Faustus. Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde Doctor Faustus (in German, Doktor Faustus) is a German novel written by Thomas Mann, begun in 1943 and...

(1943) has the fictional German composer Adrian Leverkühn attempt to write an opera on Love's Labour's Lost.


Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from Northern Ireland. He is best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays including Henry V , Much Ado About Nothing , Hamlet Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from...

's 2000 film relocated the setting to the 1930s and attempted to make the play more accessible by turning it into a musical
Musical film
The musical film is a film genre in which songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, sometimes accompanied by dancing. The songs usually advance the plot or develop the film's characters, though in some cases they serve merely as breaks in the storyline, often as elaborate...

. However, the film was a box office and critical failure.


Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

's opera Princess Ida
Princess Ida
Princess Ida; or, Castle Adamant is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was their eighth operatic collaboration of fourteen. Princess Ida opened at the Savoy Theatre on January 5, 1884, for a run of 246 performances...

is indirectly inspired by Love's Labour's Lost.

Gerald Finzi
Gerald Finzi
Gerald Raphael Finzi was a British composer. Finzi is best known as a song-writer, but also wrote in other genres...

 wrote incidental music to the play Love's Labour's Lost for a BBC live radio broadcast of the play in 1946. The music was subsequently converted into an orchestral suite.

An opera
Love's Labour's Lost (opera)
Love's Labour's Lost is an opera by Nicolas Nabokov, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, based on Shakespeare's play of the same name. It was first performed in Brussels in 1973.The orchestration was by the German-American conductor Harold Byrns....

 of the same title was composed by Nicolas Nabokov
Nicolas Nabokov
Nicolas Nabokov was a Russian-born composer, writer, and cultural figure. He became a U.S. citizen in 1939.-Life:...

, with a libretto by W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

 and Chester Kallman
Chester Kallman
Chester Simon Kallman was an American poet, librettist, and translator, best known for his collaborations with W. H. Auden and Igor Stravinsky.-Life:...



The play was one of the last works to be recorded for the BBC Television Shakespeare
BBC Television Shakespeare
The BBC Television Shakespeare was a set of television adaptations of the plays of William Shakespeare, produced by the BBC between 1978 and 1985.-Origins:...

 project, broadcast in 1985. It was unique in that the production set events in the eighteenth century, the costumes and sets being modelled on the paintings of Watteau. This was the only instance in the project of a work set in a period after Shakespeare's death.

The play and its apocryphal sequel, Love's Labour's Won
Love's Labour's Won
Love's Labour's Won is the name of a play written by William Shakespeare before 1598. The play appears to have been published by 1603, but no copies are known to have survived. One theory holds that it is a lost work, possibly a sequel to Love's Labour's Lost...

, are featured in a Doctor Who
Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS that flies through time and space, whose exterior...

episode, "The Shakespeare Code
The Shakespeare Code
"The Shakespeare Code" is an episode of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was broadcast on BBC One on 7 April 2007, and is the second episode of Series 3 of the revived Doctor Who series. According to the BARB figures this episode was seen by 7.23 million viewers and was...

A reference to the play is found in the title of Futurama
Futurama is an American animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late 20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J...

episode 104, Love's Labours Lost in Space
Love's Labours Lost in Space
"Love's Labours Lost in Space" is the fourth episode in season one of Futurama. It originally aired in North America on April 13, 1999. The episode was written by Brian Kelley and directed by Brian Sheesley. This episode introduces the recurring character Zapp Brannigan when he attempts to prevent...

, as well as the title of In Plain Sight
In Plain Sight
In Plain Sight is an American dramatic television series on USA Network. The series revolves around Mary Shannon , a Deputy United States Marshal attached to the Albuquerque, New Mexico office of the Federal Witness Security Program , more commonly known as the Federal Witness Protection Program...

episode 307, "Love's Faber Lost".


BBC Radio 3. Aired 16 December 1946
Director: Noel Illif.
Music by Gerald Finzi
Gerald Finzi
Gerald Raphael Finzi was a British composer. Finzi is best known as a song-writer, but also wrote in other genres...

Cast: Paul Scofield
Paul Scofield
David Paul Scofield, CH, CBE , better known as Paul Scofield, was an English actor of stage and screen...

, Thea Holme, Robert Marsden, Ernest Milton, others.

Radio adaptation of the Shakespeare play. A written transcript of the production is held at the Birmingham Central Library as part of their Shakespeare Collection. Gerald Finzi's Love's Labour's Lost Suite had its origins in this performance. "The small-scale radio context meant that it was originally scored for a small chamber orchestra." -Julie Sanders, Shakespeare and Music: Afterlives and Borrowings, Cambridge, UK 2007.

BBC Radio 3. Aired 22 February 1979.
Director: David Spenser
Music: Derek Oldfield
Cast: Michael Kitchen
Michael Kitchen
Michael Kitchen is an English actor and television producer, best known for his starring role as DCS Foyle in the British TV series Foyle's War.-Early life:...

-Ferdinand, King of Navarre; John McEnery- Berowne; Anna Massey
Anna Massey
Anna Raymond Massey, CBE was an English actress. She won a BAFTA Award for the role of Edith Hope in the 1986 TV adaptation of Anita Brookner’s novel Hotel du Lac.-Early life:...

 Princess of France; Eileen Atkins
Eileen Atkins
Dame Eileen June Atkins, DBE is an English actress and occasional screenwriter.- Early life :Atkins was born in the Mothers' Hospital in Clapton, a Salvation Army women's hostel in East London...

- Rosaline; Paul Scofield
Paul Scofield
David Paul Scofield, CH, CBE , better known as Paul Scofield, was an English actor of stage and screen...

- Don Adriano de Armado; Andrew Branch-Dumaine; Christopher Biggins Anthony-Dull; Clifford Abrahams-Moth; Clifford Rose-Nathaniel; Denise Coffey-Jaquenetta; Elizabeth Proud-Maria; Eric Allan-Monsieur Marcade; Frances Jeater-Katherine; Jeremy Clyde-Longaville; John Baddeley-Costard, John Rye-Boyet; Robert Stephens-Holofernes

External links

  • Complete Text of Love's Labour's Lost at MIT
  • Shakespeare: Love's Labour's Lost – searchable scene-indexed version of the play.
  • Loues Labour's lost – HTML version of this title.
  • Loves Labour Lost – plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

  • Loves Labour's LostBritish Library
    British Library
    The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...