Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Love's Labour's Lost

Love's Labour's Lost by William Shakespeare
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Feb 13, 15

bookshelves: 16th-17th-c-brit, tudor-drama
Read in January, 2010


It could be argued that one of the subjects of Shakespeare's plays is the glories and failures of language itself. If so, it is truer of "Love's Labor's Lost" than of any other play in the canon. The courtiers, both in their sparring and wooing (and it is often difficult to tell which is which) engage in so much wordplay that they confuse each other and themselves. The comic characters also engage in continual wordplay, each specific to his stock type: fustian braggadocio, pedantic latinate quibbling, malapropism, etc.

Excess of language piles upon excess of language, obscuring the genuine romantic interest these young people have in each other, until plain-spoken death--in this case, a courtier in a black suit--enters and interrupts their idle chatter, bringing the play to an abrupt conclusion.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom I never had much interest in S's comedies before coming across marvelous book, Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language,by Sr. Miriam Joseph, who makes same point as you, Bill, re the sheer joy of playful language. I'm about to convert to comedy fan, I do believe.


message 2: by Elyse (new)

Elyse A trip down memory lane for me. Our daughter worked for the Santa Cruz Shakespeare festival and we saw her in this play


message 3: by Cecily (last edited Feb 15, 2015 10:26PM) (new)

Cecily I saw this for the first time yesterday. The wordplay, as you say, was wonderful.


message 4: by Neale (new)

Neale ‘Loves Labors Lost’ is all about the wordplay, certainly, and a lot of it reads rather puzzlingly on the page, but it is wonderful how well it works in the theatre – a lot of the wordplay goes over the audience’s head, certainly, as the words do in opera, but it is beautifully integrated into the dramatic texture of the play and the characters of the speakers and never drags the play down.


Bill  Kerwin Neale wrote: "‘Loves Labors Lost’ is all about the wordplay, certainly, and a lot of it reads rather puzzlingly on the page, but it is wonderful how well it works in the theatre – a lot of the wordplay goes over..."

Excellent comment! And I've always thought the guy in the black suit is such a fine visual dramatic way to bring all this talk to a conclusion.


message 6: by Neale (new)

Neale Apparently LLL went unperformed for many years, because the critical concentration on its language games gave the impression that it must be un-theatrical, whereas it is in fact the most theatrically satisfying of all the comedies, and the ending, as you say, is absolutely perfect – if only Mozart had turned it into an opera!


message 7: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Neale wrote: "Apparently LLL went unperformed for many years, because the critical concentration on its language games gave the impression that it must be un-theatrical, whereas it is in fact the most theatrical..."

The RSC programme notes addressed that, and gave two additional possible reasons: that the French setting was off-putting or irrelevant, and that the ending is too downbeat.

We say it in the afternoon, followed by the same cast in Much Ado (under the label Love's Labour's Won), which was a good contrast: not as funny, but with a happier ending, but lots of similarities.


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