Love’s Labor’s Lost A Review

Love’s Labor’s Lost Won in Turning Characters Sonnet

(Warning: Contains Spoilers)

Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost is not uniform with the rest of Shakespeare’s plays. Before even reading Love’s Labor’s Lost, the structure of the title stands out and makes this play seem different from Shakespeare’s other plays. The control and purposefulness of the triple alliteration foreshadows the lyrical and academic setup of the play, while the meaning of the title hints at comedy. Watching the play unfold in person made me come to realize that Love’s Labor’s Lost contains layer upon layer of meaning and wit that I missed the first time I read the play.

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Shakespeare approaches this play as an experiment. Comedies usually end with the characters getting married. In Love’s Labor’s Lost, the characters’ “wooing doth not end like an old play: / Jack hath not Jill,” (5.2.860-61) and the lovers end the play taking a “twelvemonth” break from seeing one another before meeting again to see whether or not they would like to marry (5.2.852). Shakespeare’s experimentation and breaking of the norms of gender rules and hierarchy expectations of his time and of his own writing style makes the play stand out amongst Shakespeare’s other works. In this play, Shakespeare makes the women be witty and smart but removed from the men as if they are turning cold shoulders (5.2.243-56) whereas in his other plays, he tends to make the women evil like Tamora from Titus Andronicus or Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, over emotional like Eleanor from King Henry VI Part 2, or objectified like Lavinia also from Titus Andronicus. Albeit one should notice that Love’s Labor’s Lost is a comedy whereas the others involve more tragedy. Shakespeare experiments with hierarchy in the comedy by having all of the aristocrats see King Ferdinand as equal or lower in intelligence to themselves (Class Discussion, 10/13). Biron even goes as far to call out Ferdinand for “hypocrisy” because Ferdinand gets mad at Biron for breaking the oath even though Ferdinand has also broken the oath (4.3.146-47). The King responds saying Biron’s “jest” is too “bitter,” which Biron goes on to rebut as if the King’s word has no weight (4.3.169).

Shakespeare’s experimentation stands out to me as the setup of his comedy makes it seem that love within the play is very much like a viral disease. Shakespeare’s experimental lyrical comedy is disguised as regular play in a similar way that a virus disguises itself to be harmless so it can sneak past the antibodies that want to destroy it. The viral disease of love starts with King Ferdinand, who multiplies the virus by getting Biron, Loungeville, and Dumaine to join in on his oath to give up pursuing women and to instead fast and study for three years (1.1.21-22). The virus of love lies dormant in the play until the diplomatic embassy of the Princess of France and her three ladies-in-waiting, Rosaline, Katherine, and Maria, activate the dormant love in the men, who have become blind by too much study (1.1.74-84) and whose bodies “pine” for women (1.1.25).

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As the men give up their oath and follow their hearts, or their libido if one interprets their love as lust, to court the women, the men spread their virus (4.3.356-7). The men come to realize that they will learn nothing substantial from their books without actually living and spending time away from their studies. They also find out that they do not know how to court the women because the men are book smart but not street smart (Oral Report, 10/6). The males work together to spread their infection of love by “turn[ing] sonnet” like Armado, thinking that their scholarly endeavors in writing will persuade the women to fall for them (2.1.164). The males use their books smarts to figure out that the key to attaining street smarts is to read the “ladies eyes,” which shall now serve as their new books (4.3.306-7).

Shakespeare experiments writing in the style of sonnet to portray the unattainability of the love the men so desperately yearn (1.1.80-93; 1.1.160-74; 4.2.98-111; 4.3.22-37 & 56-68; 5.2.275-90, 344-57, & 403-16). The women act like an immune system that like the common beloved depicted in Petrarchan sonnets indifferently rejects the mens’ affections. The men go on to disguise themselves as Russians to woo their women similar to the way viruses disguise themselves by going inside of host cells to infect the body. The witty women, however, act like an advanced immune system that sees past the virus’s guise and has adapted. This allows the women to make utter fools of the men (5.2.384-391). Thus, Rosaline is able to knock Biron down when he professes that his love for her is “sans crack or flaw” by responding “Sans ‘sans,’ I pray you!” (5.2.416-17).

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Every character from the King to Armado to Costard to Mote had romantic roles in the play, whether it was in full sonnet professions of love (4.3.22-37), a rumor of a mid-forest hookup (1.1.235-8), or flirtatious games of homoerotic sexual innuendos (5.2.688-91). It would also have been interesting for the oral report group to have analyzed the role of love in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Sometimes the distinction between love and lust becomes blurred. Is it really love if one falls in love with the first woman one lays eyes upon after being sequestered away in a castle to study and fast?

I very much enjoyed this comedy of Shakespeare's. Shakespeare did a great job of portraying that love can affect anyone regardless of class, as he included lower class characters and characters that were aristocrats. Love is an infection that no one in the comedy ends up escaping. Only Love’s Labor’s Won, which is lost like the professions of love in Love’s Labor’s Lost, can enlighten readers and theatergoing audience members alike as to the fate of these particular aristocrats turned sonnet and stone hearted, witty women.

 

Reference:

"The Norton Shakespeare": Shakespeare, William. "Love’s Labor’s Lost." The Norton Anthology. 3rd ed. Eds. Greenblatt, Stephen, Walter Cohen, Suzanne Gossett, Jean E. Howard, Katherine Eisaman Maus, and Gordan McMullan. New York: W.W Norton, 2016. 809-870.  Print.

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