Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Navarre. Historical kingdom in northern Spain, along the French border. In this early play, William Shakespeare depicts a conception of an ideal commonwealth. Setting the play within the king’s park underscores the struggle between man’s natural will to enjoy and society’s desire to restrict that will. The palace—which is never actually entered on stage—symbolizes the rules of the community to which the king and his gentlemen have chosen to retreat. The park itself is a representation of nature, not Rosalind’s forest of Arden, but rather a landscaped sculpture of that world designed to unite the beauty of what is natural for people to savor with the practicality of proper behavior. The king and his men swear off revelry, feasting, and women, as though these were moral deficiencies. Setting the reconciliation between their passions and their social inhibitions in this park signifies the possibility of living a life that is full both spiritually and intellectually. This understanding is appropriately brought home to them by women, nature’s consorts, and it is poetically fitting that the king and his men must take what they have learned and demonstrate it in the world for a year before they are permitted to return to the garden and reunite with their new lovers.
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Love's Labor's Lost focuses on the problem of telling the truth. The play opens with a solemn vow to study and to avoid the company of women. But the king of Navarre, who as leader ought to be a model of truth and virtue, breaks his own promise in the second scene of the play. After that, all of his followers break their promises as well: instead of avoiding women, they fall in love with and pursue the ladies of France who are visiting the king's court. But because they have already broken their first vow, their promises of love do not ring true. Although all four of them write effective love poems, clever poetry does not necessarily express sincere feeling. Even more telling, in the Masque of the Muscovites when everyone involved is disguised, the men cannot recognize their ladies, though the ladies recognize the men. The love promises that the lords have made seem particularly hollow if they cannot even tell their love objects apart. The ladies question the lords' capacity to speak truly of love at all. In modern times as well, the effort to speak truthfully about one's feelings remains difficult. It is often easier to make promises than it is to keep them—especially when it comes to love relationships. Further, it is often easier to love one's ideal image of someone than to recognize him or her for who he or she is.
Yet the ladies in the play insist that it is in fact possible to speak truly, not only of love but of other things as well. The...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Barton, Anne. Introduction to Love's Labor's Lost, by William Shakespeare. In The Riverside Shakespeare, edited G. Blakemore Evans, 174-78. Chicago: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. Barton explains the history of the play's composition and critical reception, calling the play "relentlessly Elizabethan'' in its word games and topical allusions. She examines why it is that the play's comic resolution cannot occur within the confines of its plot.
Breitenberg, Mark. ''The Anatomy of Masculine Desire in Love's Labour's Lost." Shakespeare Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1992): 430-49. Breitenberg argues that sexuality and violence are linked in Love's Labor's Lost: "even such a lighthearted and playful comedy'' participates in the darker side of masculine desires.
Carroll, William C. The Great Feast of Language in Love's Labour's Lost. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976. Carroll argues that the play has been oversimplified as an argument for "Life" over "Art," and that instead the play is a rejection of bad art. Includes chapters on prose, theatrical, and poetic style; on the transformations within the play; on the play's structure; and finally, on the two final songs that conclude the work.
Curtis, Harry, Jr. ''Four Woodcocks in a Dish: Shakespeare's Humanization of the Comic Perspective in Love's Labour's Lost." Southern Humanities Review 13 (1979): 155-24. Curtis maintains that the...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Barber, C. L. “The Folly of Wit and Masquerade in Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959. An influential study of the relationship between holiday rituals and the comedies. Sees the games in this play as providing necessary festive release.
Barton, Anne. Introduction to Love’s Labor’s Lost. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. An introduction to the play’s textual history and an explication of language and themes by a premier Oxonian Shakespeare scholar.
Carroll, William C. The Great Feast of Language in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976. Argues that the play does not pit art against nature but rather shows their connection and interdependence. Includes a discussion of the songs at the play’s end.
Gilbert, Miriam. Love’s Labour’s Lost. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993. Describes a select group of productions of the play. The variety of possible interpretations is revealed in the description of productions.
Roesen, Bobbyann. “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Shakespeare Quarterly 4, no. 4 (October, 1953):...
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