Love’s Labour’s Lost
ACT I King Ferdinand of Navarre aims to turn his realm into a little academy, an intellectual retreat removed from the temptations and troubles of the real world. He invites three of his wealthy and privileged friends to join him in a strict regimen of study and fasting. Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne grudgingly subscribe to his plan, even to the condition that they swear off the company of women. It appears that the academicians' only entertainment for the next three years will be the antics of the clown, Costard, and the loquacious Spaniard, Don Adriano de Armado-both smitten with Jaquenetta, a country maid. Jealous of the clown, Armado orders that Costard be detained and punished. Armado then asks Jaquenetta to meet him in Ferdinand's park where he confesses his love for her. ACT II The Princess of France arrives with her father's most experienced diplomat Boyet and ladies in waiting Maria, Katherine, and Rosaline. She seeks to broker a money-for-land swap on behalf of her gravely ill father but Ferdinand tables her proposal, citing a need for additional information. On account of his academic vow, he directs the French company to lodge in a field rather than in the court. The Princess is outraged by this disrespectful treatment but Boyet, having watched their interaction closely, assures her that Ferdinand is attracted to her, just as Longaville is attracted to Maria, Dumaine to Katherine, and Berowne to Rosaline. ACT III In the Park surrounding Ferdinand's estate, Armado and his page Moth discuss love. Meeting Costard, Armado gives him a letter to be delivered to Jaquenetta. Shortly thereafter, Berowne pays the same suspect messenger "remuneration" to deliver a love letter to Rosaline. ACT IV The Princess and her retinue are hunting in the Park. Having mixed up the two letters, Costard delivers to the Princess the one that Armado had intended for Jaquenetta. The ladies laugh at the Spaniard's romantic bombast, but Rosaline can now be sure of Berowne's affections. Nearby, Holofernes, a schoolmaster, and his assistant, Nathaniel, are enduring the simple wit of the constable, Dull. Jaquenetta with the clown in tow, arrives with Berowne's letter, and the two scholars reveal its contents. Holofernes insists that it be shown to the king, and Costard and Jaquenetta leave with the letter to find him. In a remote part of the park, Berowne is in an agony of love for Rosaline. Seeing Ferdinand, he hides and listens to the king read a sonnet that professes his love for the Princess. Ferdinand finds his own hiding place when Longaville enters reciting a poem that he has composed for Maria. In turn, all three overhear Dumaine spouting verses that praise Katherine. Berowne reveals himself and ridicules the others for breaking their vows but when Costard and Jaquenetta arrive with his letter to Rosaline, he is forced to admit that he shares their guilt. Berowne convinces his friends that there is much to be learned from studying women and love, and the four men make plans to woo the four ladies by means of a masquerade. ACT V Holofernes and Nathaniel encounter Armado and, following Ferdinand's request, organize an entertainment for the masquerade. Holofernes suggests that they perform the Nine Worthies, a pageant of great historical conquerors. The Princess and her friends enter with fashion accessories sent as love tokens by their suitors. Learning that the men are to appear disguised as Russians, the women trade the gifts and resolve not to dance if asked. Ferdinand and his friends arrive "incognito." Each attempts to court the lady who wears his token but all are spurned. Confessing their plot, the men learn that the ladies had been playing a joke of their own. A play is presented for the lovers' entertainment but is interrupted when a messenger arrives bringing devastating news-news that jeopardizes the young lovers' labors to bring their romantic intentions to fruition. Love's Labour's Lost, of course, has no fairies. Instead it has the fantastical Don Adriano de Armado. A name chosen precisely to echo the disastrous Spanish invasion fleet of 1588, only about six years before the premiere of this play. One can imagine how hugely enjoyable a character he was to the groundlings at the Globe. Almost as much fun as jeering the French would be in Henry V. I did not choose an Elizabethan setting because I wanted to avoid drawing attention to the very objections that had kept this play neglected for over 200 years. Namely, it's up to the minute contemporary 1590's jokes. Today, four hundred years later, each punch line requires a page of footnotes. This comedy seems to require a shadow as it ends darkly. Berowne complains about this, saying that it doesn't end like an old play; instead there is ambiguity and uncertainty. It could be fairly argued that the play's revival in popularity owes much to the timing of Peter Brook's seminal production (1946) under the long shadow of WW II. Indeed, Branagh's 2000 film of the play is set just before the outbreak of that war. I've chosen to use the First World War as the shadow for this production. 1917 is on the edge of the so-called golden age. A romanticised period that the play needs. It is also an age tinged with regret and the loss of innocence because of World War One and the Communist Revolution in Russia. I've chosen to set the play in the playground of the wealthy and privileged in Rhode Island. 1917 is, of course, the year that America declared war on Germany; American troops first arrived in France in July of that year. There is indeed much comedy in this play, but at the end there is an undercurrent of sadness and melancholy which could almost make this piece Chekhovian. I greatly look forward to beginning rehearsals and discovering the characters. - Gavin Cameron-Webb
A Midsummer Nights Dream which I directed for CSF last summer, was written within five years of Love's Labour's Lost and the two comedies share a tremendous amount. Both feature multiple sets of plots and characters. MSD dealt with young lovers, woodland fairies, mechanicals as well as those in authority. Love's Labour's Lost substitutes intellectuals for mechanicals, but still includes young lovers (though now there are eight instead of four). This time it is the intellectuals who put on a show, but The Nine Worthies is very different from Pyramus and Thisbe. The audience at both "plays" behaves outrageously, but in Love's Labour's Lost, it is only the men who heckle and disrupt, wildly whooping it up as if at some out of control fraternity party. They are soon brought to earth by unexpected news and from there it turns out that "Jack hath not Jill" and love's labour's are indeed lost. All this in stark contrast to in Dream, where Puck declares "Jack shall hath Jill".
WORLD OF THE PLAY Director Gavin Cameron-Webb has set his production of Love's Labour's Lost in the United States during 1917 just before the country entered World War I. The action unfolds on King Ferdinand's sumptuous estate in a wealthy east coast enclave, similar to Newport, Rhode Island or Kennebunkport, Maine. Amongst ornamental gardens created by scenic designer Andrea Bechert, clad in elegant autumnal clothes by costume designer Markas Henry, King Ferdinand and his companions found their intellectual academy. Along with locals such as Holofernes, Nathaniel, Dull and Costard, they live in splendid ignorance of the suffering that is occurring overseas. The Princess and her ladies in waiting intrude into Ferdinand's bubble-world of privilege, having traveled from battle-ravaged France in search of a much needed war loan. This intrusion breaks up his academy and brings the troubles of the real world into this isolated land of plenty. Without losing the play's comic charms-its witty characters and amusing romantic escapades-Cameron-Webb seeks to explore the dangers of isolation and ignorance in a world at war. In this production of Love's Labour's Lost, as in many Shakespeare plays, individuals that separate themselves from the outside world face disastrous consequences.
Sonnets and Love's Labour's Lost A sonnet is a type of poem in which fourteen lines of verse are arranged according to a strict scheme of meter and rhyme. The Italian humanist Petrarch (1304-1374) is thought to be the first to perfect the form, but Shakespeare penned the most famous English examples. He wrote sonnets steadily through the 1590's: of the 1,200 examples surviving from that decade, he wrote more than 150, most on themes of love and romance. Not surprisingly, sonnets appear in the plays written during this prodigious poetic burst. When the title characters of the 1596 Romeo and Juliet first meet, for example, they speak a sonnet between them. Sonnets play an even more important role in Love's Labour's Lost written around the same time as his tragedy of star-crossed love. Sonnets are embedded throughout the play; indeed, they are central to the dramatic action. Costard's mix-up of sonnets creates the comic complications of the fourth act, delighting the Princess and humbling Berowne. Ferdinand, Longaville, and Dumaine use this poetic form to express love for their respective sweethearts. Shakespeare's contemporaries esteemed the play at least in part for the quality of its sonnets. The ones by Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine appeared in a 1599 collection of love poems titled The Passionate Pilgrim. The most intriguing connection between Shakespeare's non-dramatic sonnets ("Sonnets") and Love's Labour's Lost is the image of the "Dark Lady." Twenty-six of the Sonnets make reference to this mysterious figure, depicting the feelings of lust and sexual frustration that she engenders in the speaker. We will probably never know who the Dark Lady really was, but it is clear that she shares certain physical qualities with Rosaline, a central figure in the play. Ferdinand tells Berowne, "Thy love is as black as ebony." Berowne replies, Is ebony like her? O word divine! [...] That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack If that she learn not of her eye to look? No face is fair that is not full so black. (IV.iii) There are clear connections between Berowne's celebration of Rosaline and the Sonnets. Number 132 contains a line identical in sentiment to those quoted above: "Then I will swear beauty herself is black." Shakespeare was obviously fascinated by the image of a dark enchantress, and explored it in both the Sonnets and the play. Noted Shakespearean scholar Harold Bloom describes Love's Labour's Lost as "a festival of language, an exuberant fireworks display in which Shakespeare seems to seek the limits of his verbal resources, and discovers that there are none." The play abounds with sophisticated word play, clever puns and complicated language. At key points in the action, Shakespeare uses the sonnet as a form to give shape to his astounding verbal flow. He also seems to have drawn upon the Sonnets-at least those addressed to the Dark Lady-to give color to the character of Rosaline. - Gregory Thorson, dramaturg