Love’S Labour’S Lost
Desiring renown and eternal fame, Ferdinand, King of Navarre, decides to transform his little court into an academy. In order that they may wholly devote themselves to their studies, the King persuades three of his courtiers to abstain from any contact with women for a term of three years. No sooner is the vow taken than the Princess of France and three of her ladies arrive seeking conference with the King. Although denied admittance to the court, the ladies doubt the men's resolve. Their prediction is justified, for swiftly cupid's arrows strike, replacing lofty thoughts with the sweet poetry of love. Once exposed, the King, Berowne, Dumaine and Longueville rename their resolve, determining that knowledge lies not in the pursuit of reason, but in the pursuit of love. Unanimously, they vow to woo and win the Princess and her ladies Rosaline, Katherine and Maria. They devise a masquerade to their purpose, but the ladies are wise to the deception, and the men's disguises and prepared speeches fall flat. Offended at such behavior, and suspicious of men whose vows are so easily forsaken, the ladies plot to outwit the men and turn their ploy against them. A playful war of wits ensues. The men make a second attempt to entertain the ladies with a pageant, fancifully conceived and enacted by the extravagant figures inhabiting the King's court. At the height of the frivolity, the revelry is suddenly interrupted by a messenger bearing sad news from France.
Perhaps more than any of Shakespeare's plays, Love's Labour's Lost is about coming of age, about the transition from youth to maturity. It is about intellectual and emotional development, about realizing that there comes a time to leave childish behavior behind and take responsibility for your actions. The course of the play echoes this transition, moving from light and frivolous to dark and quite serious.
Until recently Love's Labour's Lost was rarely performed. In fact, it wasn't performed at all for more than 200 years after Shakespeare's time. Since its "rediscovery," it has received many lavish productions in a multitude of settings and has become a highly popular play. In this summer's production, director Ina Marlowe emphasizes the play's movement from youth to maturity. The young men of Navarre's court are very young, on the cusp between adolescence and maturity. Set designer Bill Forrester brings out the playfullness of the text by providing a somewhat fantastical setting that resembles a tree house. This space is where the young men feel most at ease, most familiar. It represents their carefree, frolicsome childhood, but it is a place, they finally realize, that they must leave in order to move forward. In this play, women mature more quickly than men. They are composed, elegant and natural--qualities that are captured beautifully in Virgil Johnson's costumes. While the women are natural, and become increasingly so as the play progresses, the men remain concerned with appearances. It is not until they are caught and reprimanded by the women for their falsity that they begin to shed their pretentious attire. This movement towards nature signals a movement towards maturity. But nothing comes easily, and the spring of their maturity will not arrive until after the harsh solemnity of the approaching winter.
"The scene begins to cloud": Youth and Maturity in Love's Labour's Lost The King of Navarre has turned his court into "a little academe," in imitation of the famous Italian and French academies of Shakespeare's time, wholly devoted to study and contemplation. But such attention is difficult for the young, and the play parodies this stringent dedication to study and books by turning the King's academy of learning into a school of love. Unable to concentrate on their books, the restless young men decide that more can be learned from women's "heavenly eyes," and so vow to abandon their books and direct their energy at these ladies of France. Struck by cupid's arrows, the men turn lyrical in their expressions of love. Wooing the women becomes a challenge, a sport, and the men adopt what they think to be the proper language of seduction: "Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise." They act as they imagine the perfect lover should act. The women, however, are not impressed by this suave affectation and artificial rhetoric and strike back. They match each comment or compliment with a witty riposte. Their wit is quick and cutting and they catch the men off guard. The men do not realize what they are up against. The women berate them for their unnatural and affected manner and suspect that the men are confusing infatuation with love. They know that if the men were sincere in their protestations of love, there would be less show and more truth in their words. The women have moved beyond childish games. They want to play the rather more sophisticated game of seduction, to exercise their wits, and in so doing, truly learn about the men. The qualities the women are seeking and find attractive are wit and maturity. They want men who are considerate and responsible. They want to be appreciated, not adulated. They want to be loved, not merely desired. And so it is the men must prove their faithfulness--by carrying out their assigned ventures. The journey to maturity can be arduous, the way sometimes difficult to find, but the fruits of honest love and true understanding are well worth the endeavor. Love's Labour's Lost "doth not end like an old play," the issues raised are surprisingly serious in nature for a comedy, and the message unexpectedly pertinent.