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Love's Labour's Lost, pt. 1

Today we're moving on to another of Shakespeare's comedies. It's an early one, that was performed for Queen Elizabeth I at Christmas time, most likely in the year 1597, although it's possible that it was performed even earlier than that. The cleverness and wordplay of this one presage what is to come in plays such as Much Ado About Nothing, and I feel safe in saying that I consider Berowne and Rosaline (from Love's Labour's Lost) to be prototypes for Benedick and Beatrice.

Before I get to the play, though

A reminder: There's still Much Ado About A Contest going on around here. The deadline for adding comments that count toward the contest is midnight (ET) tomorrow. Posts I'll be counting the comments for are the posts labeled Much Ado About Nothing parts 1 & 2, Romeo and Juliet parts 1, 2 & 3, and Love's Labour's Lost parts 1 & 2.

The play

The story of Love's Labour's Lost could totally be a modern movie plot: a group of four buddies get together and decide to swear off women for three years. Man One is the King of Navarre, who is embarking on a philosophical phase. Longaville and Dumaine go along with the King more readily. Berowne, the quick-tongued prankster, who thinks it's stupid (and doomed to failure, because the King is asking them to give up sleep, women and food, all of which goes against nature and leads to a bleak existence), but he goes along anyhow.

Here's a taste of the dialogue between the four companions:

King: How well he's read to reason against reading.

Dumaine: Proceeded well, to stop all good proceeding.

Longaville: He weeds the corn, and still lets grow the weeding.

Berowne: The spring is near when green geese are a-breeding.

Dumaine: How follows that?

Berowne:             Fit in his place and time.

Dumaine: In reason nothing.

Berowne:             Something then in rhyme.
  Act I, sc. 1.

Edicts have been read: if any women come within sight of the estate on which the men are living, the woman will have her tongue cut out. Then there's punishment for any of the local men as well. Here's some dialogue between the King, Berowne and a guy named Costard, who was busted for shtupping a dairymaid named Jaquenetta:

King: Did you hear the proclamation?

Costard: I do confess much of the hearing it but little of the marking of it.

King: It was proclaimed a year's imprisonment to be taken with a wench.

Costard: I was taken with none, sir. I was taken with a damsel.

King: Well, it was proclaimed "damsel."

Costard: This was no damsel neither, sir. She was a virgin.

Berowne: It is so varied too, for it was proclaimed "virgin."

Costard: If it were, I deny her virginity. I was taken with a maid.

King: This "maid" will not serve your turn, sir.

Costard: This maid will serve my turn, sir.

King: Sir, I will pronounce your sentence: you shall fast a week with bran and water.

Costard: I had rather pray a month with mutton and porridge.
  Act I, sc. 1.

Alas, poor Costard – it's off to the pokey for him for a while. This is what happens in Navarre when one doesn't pay attention to the rules.

Meanwhile, Armado, sometimes known as the braggart, is a buffoonish character who apes his betters and is kept around because he amuses them. Turns out he's smitten with Jacquenetta.

Armado: I do affect the very ground (which is base) where her shoe (which is baser) guided by her foot (which is basest) doth tread. I shall be forsworn (which is a great argument of falsehood) if I love. And how can that be true love which is falsely attempted? Love is a familiar; love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love, yet was Samson so tempted., and he had an excellent strength; yet was Solomon so seduced, and he had a very good wit. Cupid's butt-shaft is too hard for Hercules' club, and therefore too much odds for a Spaniard's rapier. The first and second cause will not serve my turn; the passado he respects not, the duello he regards not. His disgrace it to be called "boy," but his glory is to subdue men. Adieu, valor; rust, rapier; be still, drum, for your manager is in love. Yea, he loveth. Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise wit, write pen, for I am for whole volumes in folio.
  Act I, sc. 2.

Acts II through IV: Enter a group of four hot women, stage left, one of whom is the Princess of Aquitaine/France. Birds and bees being what they are, hijinks ensue. These include misdirected love letters (Berowne's letter to Rosaline is sent to Jaquenetta, and Don Armado's letter to Jaquenetta is delivered instead to Rosaline). There's a scene where a hidden Berowne discovers the King is writing a sonnet to the Princess. The King also hides and discovers that Longaville is writing poetry for Maria; and Longaville also hides and they all learn that Dumaine is writing poems for Katherine. Berowne initially takes the higher moral ground, having caught them all out, until Costard arrives with his letter to Rosaline, and the jig, she is up.

Act V:
Armado is ordered by the King to prepare some sort of entertainment for the Princess and her friends, and he and some others decide to do the Nine Worthies. The King and his friends decide to visit the women (still staying in tents out in a field somewhere), but to dress in Russian garb and wear masks; the women, having received gifts from their suitors and advance notice of the visit, believe the men are sporting with them. They trade gifts and don masks of their own, thereby causing each of the men to woo the wrong woman. Boyet, a French lord who attends the Princess, overhears the conversations that the women are having with their mismatched suitors, says (and this bit is written using Venus & Adonis stanza, ABABCC):

The tongues of mocking wenches are as keen
  As is the razor's edge invisible,
Cutting a smaller hair than may be seen;
  Above the sense of sense, so sensible
Seemeth their conference. Their conceits have wings
Fleeter than arrows, bullets, wind, thought, swifter things.
  Act V, sc. 2

When the men come back shortly thereafter (as themselves), the women mock and make sport of them. The comic characters enter to perform the Nine Worthies, a sort of pageant that would have been instantly recognizable to Shakespeare's audiences. The King and his lords end up behaving badly, abusing their inferiors for their own sport a messenger comes to tell the Princess that her father has died. Quoth the Princess, "A heavy heart bears not a nimble tongue," (Act V, sc. 2), thereby giving the lie to her sentiment, since that's pretty nimble if you ask me. But I digress.

The Princess and her women intend to set off immediately. The men make clear that, despite the levity of their actions, their intentions were sincere.

King: Now, at the latest minute of the hour,
Grant us your loves.

Princess:             A time, methinks, too short
To make a world-without-end bargain in.
  Act V, sc. 2.

The Princess tells the King that if he will wait a year for her, spending his time in self-abnegation and study, she will wed him. Rosaline tells Berowne that if he will spend the year volunteering at a hospital and spending time with the patients, she will wed him; she expects him to lose his ready wit (which is not always positively employed), but says that if he does not learn to be a better person, she'll take him anyway.

Berowne: To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be, it is impossible.
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.

Rosaline: Why, that's the way to choke a gibing spirit,
Whose influence is begot of that loose grace
Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools.
A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it. Then if sickly ears,
Deafed with the clamors of their own dear groans,
Will hear your idle scorns, continue then,
And I will have you and that fault withal.
But if they will not, throw away that spirit,
And I shall find you empty of that fault,
Right joyful of your reformation.
  Act V, sc. 2

The other two women (Maria and Katherine) make their suitors promise to wait a year as well, until all the ladies are out of mourning for the King of France. Meanwhile, Armado has promised to wait three years for Jaquenetta's love, even though word is that he's knocked her up.

The play concludes with two songs: one about spring, the other about winter. These are sometimes published as independent poems.

Coming tomorrow: I'll be talking about the closing poems and engaging in further analysis and discussion, including other lines and characters, and points about how much cleverer the women in this play are than the men. 'kay?

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 6th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
I like Armado's speech, especially this:

Assist me, some extemporal god of rhyme, for I am sure I shall turn sonnet. Devise wit, write pen, for I am for whole volumes in folio.

...and I'm delighted to know from whence cometh my icon. :-)
Jun. 7th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
I really love that part as well. Initially I was going to excerpt that line alone, but after further consideration, I provided the whole thing. Obviously.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 7th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
Um, yeah - I suppose it was easier to enforce the rules for themselves if nobody else was getting lucky either.

*will have to ponder whether or not this is a mirror image of Taming of the Shrew*
Jun. 6th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
LOL -- nice overview ;) It's enough to make me realize that although this play was on our college syllabus, apparently, I never read it! Oops. Of course, I read a couple of them while listening to my Music History homework in the music library, so it's completely possible that this was one of those and if someone were to play the right Beethoven symphony, it would all come back to me...
Jun. 7th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
This one actually pairs well with Mozart. But I digress. According to the No Fear Shakespeare folks, this is #29 of 38. Not certain how on earth they arrived at their rankings, but it is pretty far down on most people's lists, so it's impressive it was on your syllabus.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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