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Group Readings > Love's Labour's Lost

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message 1: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 18 comments Hey guys,

So I believe today is our first day of Love's Labour's Lost! This play is very close to my heart. I've been in it twice and directed it over this past summer. I think it's rather unfairly regarded as a lesser play. True, it's not as refined as the later comedies, but I feel that Love's Labour's Lost is an honest depiction of what it is to be young and in love. It is undeniably difficult play to perform, but when it is done well, it is hysterically funny and utterly heartbreaking.

So starting with Act I. What do we think is the impetus behind the oath? Ferdinand says that the end of study is "to know what else they should not know?" What does that really mean? Is there anything beneficial to studying for three years while ignoring the opposite sex? What role do Don Armado, Moth, and Costard play in all of this?

message 2: by Candy (last edited Sep 21, 2010 07:40AM) (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Hey Rebecca! Thanks for starting off the discussion. I am really looking forward to reading this play. I adore it!

I think the idea behind this oath is the interpretation of the gentlemen on how to be spiritual. I believe they are sincere and earnest...they say almost right away, or Ferdinand does that the true wealth is knowlege. I think they might have compared how others got knowlege and they want to just apply that kind of austerity to their practice. I might even wonder if they are thinking of more buddhist ways of practicing?

this might also be some kind of riff on catholic versus protestantism. Although...exactly how celbate priests were during the renaisssance might be questionable. I seem to recall from my Humanities course that priests and popes had all kinds of affairs and babies and wives?

"to know what else they should not know" really suggests something forbidden or contrary to their culture. The main reasons for secrecy or unavailable knowledge would be church documents and texts...and the spiritual idea of a secret knowledge...???? This could be a rebelion against status, or who owns learning? It could be quite radical couldn't it?

This might be that the gentlemen feel they are using an ideal of the Catholic church for their studies...which is quite risky of Shakespeare. But i don't know yet...these are just off the top of my head in response to the question you posed...

I think the idea that to attain spiritual and worthy knowledge about life, we have so many stereotypes of HOW to practice.

message 3: by Martin (last edited Sep 22, 2010 12:01PM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments Okay, I was going to say something about the rhyme scheme in Act I, but instead I'll jump in at the deep end with Rebecca and Candy.

As Rebecca says, "unfairly regarded as a lesser play". Samual Johnson gives an 18th century view, with "In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish, and vulgar; and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a maiden Queen." And Hazlitt, in the Romantic period, had to confess that "If we were to part with any of the author's comedies, it should be this." When I read and saw the play 40 years ago, I was almost ashamed at how delightful I found it, knowing something of its low reputation. Reading it now I see it as even greater, and have no embarrassment, but unlike Candy I see a strong satirical vein ...

Most of S's fellow playwrights went to Uni: Lyly, Greene, Marlowe, Fletcher, Nashe, Jonson ... (Ben Jonson possibly didn't, but he said he did.) Apart from Lyly (Oxford) they all went to Cambridge, so we can use Cambridge to stand for "University", Cambridge and Oxford being the only English Universities at that time. English students figure in the other dramatists, in a "chaste maid in cheapside" (Dekker), and "every man in his humour" (Jonson) for example. In S, university life is noticeably absent, if you except references to Hamlet as student. But in LLL he looks at what it means to be a student head on.

What was Cambridge life like? Well, it was monastic. The students and fellows were all bachelors, and if a fellow wanted to marry he had to leave the college. Entering a college institution was the big ceremony, not, as today, the graduation. You had to take an oath on your knees to uphold the College institutions, and be suitably registered. Hence the big oath-taking at the beginning of LLL. Penalties could be severe. Colleges were locked up at night, and you could be expelled for having a girl in your rooms. The King and the three lords are entering college life therefore. It will last 3 years, like a standard University degree. Berowne's doubts about all of this correspond to S's own choices, to

Study me how to please the eye indeed
By fixing it upon a fairer eye.

Married with two children, Cambridge life was closed to S. He had "fixed upon a fairer eye". Scene 1 is a debate between what we learn through study, and what we fail to learn by being shut away from the world's delights. I think the satire is directed more against S himself than the scholars. He knows really that scholarship, learning and wit come from the life of study that higher education affords. He compensates by making this the most scholarly, learned and witty of plays.

My Arden edition of this play is plastered with pedantic footnotes. The pedants he ridicules in the play are just the same breed as the play's editors.

The Don Adriano-Moth dialogue of scene 2 takes this a stage further. At one level they are schoolmaster, schoolboy. The condescension of Don Adriano and the cheekiness of Moth belong to the classroom. Don Adriano is the grotesque character which the schoolmaster, seen through the half-comprehending eyes of the schoolboy, becomes. Also roles can reverse: Moth asks Don Adriano in vain to compute 2+1, "which the base vulgar do call 3". But at another level Moth is the bright University student, able to illustrate his ideas with stories of Hercules and Samson, and with the mediaevalist's knowledge of the four complexions (phlegm, blood, choler, melancholy). Then Don Adriano becomes a university teacher, who are still known as "dons" in Cambridge.

message 4: by Candy (last edited Sep 22, 2010 09:42AM) (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Wonderful stuff Martin! I did not know such about Cambridge and that was really interesting.

i do however see the play with a satirical side. I really do...but I also think it's with love. I look forward to thinking about this quality some more.

i am really excited by these two posts of Martins and Rebeccas! Lets go!

message 5: by Martin (last edited Sep 24, 2010 10:21AM) (new)

Martin | 39 comments To me there is a critical section in the first scene, ending in the obscure line, "Climb o'er the house to unlock the little gate." The whole thing is full of allusions and difficulties.

It starts,

These earthly godfathers of heaven's lights
That give a name to every fixed star
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they [i.e.the stars] are.

I remember a science professor once saying that when a science stands still, all that happens is that more and more names are invented (he was thinking of palaeontology). And so the Persians, for want of optical instruments, named almost every visible star.

See for example for the star names of the plough. (I've seen this strange book in a Dover edition.)

S must have been familiar with this endless star-naming, and is saying that it tells us no more than when we did not know the stars' names. There is indeed a mantra with names: people are desperate to know the names of things. The point of the "godfather" is that it is the godparents in the Anglican Church who name the child,

Then the Priest shall take the Child into his hands, and shall say to the Godfathers and Godmothers, "Name this Child". And then naming it after them (if they shall certify him that the Child may well endure it) he shall dip it in the Water discreetly and warily, saying, ", I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." (from the book of common prayer).

Berowne's astronomer is just a name-giver, and

Too much to know is to know nought but fame;
And every godfather can give a name.

Could there also be a reference here to Adam, with God the father's help, naming the animals?

Gen 2:19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

And Adam was the first "godfather",

Gen 3:20 And Adam called his wife's name Eve ...

The responses to Berowne,

King: How well he's read, to reason against reading!
Dum: Proceeded well, to stop all good proceeding!
Long: He weeds the corn and still lets grow the weeding.

The first admits that you can only argue well against the need for higher education if you have received it. An obvious paradox. "Proceeded" in the second, the Arden edition helpfully explains as being an academic term (moving to a degree). The third starts a series of proverbs. Perhaps they were current in Elizabethan time, but we have to guess their meaning.

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

I suppose the Lords are the green geese, and spring means the season for love(?)

Berowne is accused of a non-sequitur,

How follows that?
Ber: Fit in his [i.e. the words] place and time.
Dum:In reason nothing.

And Berowne's "something then in rhyme" is self-referential, saying that we're in a the middle of a section of poetry, and also supplying a rhyme with the word "rhyme". "rhyme" rhymes with "time". (Of course, it's a play on phrase "neither rhyme nor reason" and similar.)

The season proverbs continue,

" envious sneaping frost,
That bites the first-born infants of the spring."

with Berowne's plea for things to be in season. His final,

So you, to study now it is too late,
Climb o'er the house to unlock the little gate.

-- is maddeningly obscure (at least to me), although the drift is clear enough, that by embarking on study at a time when they should be living their lives, they are going about things in a very convoluted way.

message 6: by Martin (new)

Martin | 39 comments Going back to Rebecca's first point "the impetus behind the oath", I've made a connection which seems crazy, but I'll put it down anyway. For a couple of days I've been trying to recall a speech which is similar to the King's opening speech,

"Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register'd upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
The endeavor of this present breath may buy
That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen edge
And make us heirs of all eternity."

I've also wondered why the King should expect three years' study to make him and his companions famous.

Suddenly it came back to me. Here it is, from Marlowe's Faustus,

"these books thy wit and our experience
Shall make all nations to canonize us:
As Indian Moors obey their Spanish Lords,
So shall the subjects of every element
Be always serviceable to us three
. . ."

Faustus is talking to Valdes and Cornelius, his companions in the study of the black arts. Here Valdes tells Faustus of the fame which will follow their endeavours.

I had always thought of Faustus as a scholar of middle years, teaching at his University (Wittenberg), with Valdes and Cornelius as outsiders, but I rather think now that they are all young and all students (I have just read the section again.) There are a number of strange connections here. Faustus went to Wittenberg. The Protestant reformation began in Wittenberg (with the 95 theses). Hamlet went to Wittenberg -- parhaps the only mention of an actual University in S's plays. Marlowe was in difficulties at Cambridge University, since the University, for some reason, were reluctant to give him a degree. Then he was in trouble for "atheism", which could mean any activity or belief that went against Christianity. The idea of "Doctor Faustus" as being atheist or anti-Christian is commonplace. The little group at Navarre dedicate themselves to study, but we are never told (I think) what it is they intend to study. Perhaps it is less innocent than might be supposed.

message 7: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 18 comments Candy, I think your thought about the oath being a search for spiritual wealth is a valid one. It's something I hadn't considered.

I've always looked at the oath, not so much as a search for purely academic knowledge, but as a search for self-knowledge. We can infer that the eight young lovers are all in their late teens/early twenties, in other words, university age. University is meant to be a time of self discovery. We do as much learning from life and experience as we do from books. People are constantly telling me that one’s teens and twenties are the best years of one's life. And in many ways, they are, but they are also some of the most trying years. These are the years one must decide who we are and who and what we love and live for. They are often years that are fraught with heartache and disappointment. Sometimes, first love goes unrequited. Love is impossible to understand fully, but that has never stopped us from trying. So it makes sense then that Ferdinand and his friends would separate themselves from women in an attempt to develop some semblance of understanding of this enigmatic force that drives so many of our decisions.

However, Ferdinand's intentions and the boys' oath, while understandable, are foolhardy and doomed from the start. They might be trying to learn about love from books, but that's just not possible. But I don't blame them for trying.

message 8: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
I have just absolutely loved reading the first two Acts. I read them again this morning.

Martin, I was also taken by many of the same verses you have quoted. I was stopped short with "the little gate"...I'm not even sure where to begin with this one...a portal?

The idea of naming something is interesting. And I also thought that there was a contention in the verses about naming something.

Walker Percy once said "writing is murder"

And Nietzsche had written a little bit about the idea of naming name something is to take it's life away...that was the gist. (sorry I tried to find the exact quote, no luck)

I think there is a concept that if humans name something...we somehow own it or "know" it. At least in European and American society...related to the enlightenment period. But some other societies do not feel this way.

There exists an idea that to name something is to narrow our own perception of that thing.

I like this look at the "three years"...I was trying to find some links and really thought this stuff on Faustus was fantastic...

...and it goes with what Rebecca ism saying that study isn't always about academics and books.

I think the boys idea is to expose themselves to all the knowledge and then some kind of transformative experience awaits them. I get the impression it's more mystical than academic. the verse and poetry seem to suggest this too somehow.

message 9: by Candy (last edited Oct 23, 2010 12:32PM) (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Erp, I guess I'm the only one still reading and checking in here. Everyone must be quite busy and I hope only with happy things and not tiresome or sad things.

I am really enjoying this story. I had a couple verses stick out so far. One, I liked the term "lovemonger" which i had never heard of before. At the end of Act 2.

I noticed another reference to speaking something...and which I was trying to associate with Walker Percy's idea or that saying something takes it's power away.

Boyer: To speak that in words which his eye hath disclosed I only have disclosed I only have made a mouth of his eye by adding tongue which I know will not lie.

(Maria: Thou art an old lovemonger, and speakest skillfully)

(Side note...this is another insight into why cordelia won't say what she feels and is her father is lowering the intimacy and affections of the family by demanding attention the way he wants when he wants. Cordelia knows not to say literally, that love is better felt than spoken sometimes?)

I absolutely love Moth's little verse here:


No, my complete master: but to jig off a tune at
the tongue's end, canary to it with your feet, humour
it with turning up your eyelids, sigh a note and
sing a note, sometime through the throat, as if you
swallowed love with singing love, sometime through
the nose, as if you snuffed up love by smelling
love; with your hat penthouse-like o'er the shop of
your eyes; with your arms crossed on your thin-belly
doublet like a rabbit on a spit; or your hands in
your pocket like a man after the old painting; and
keep not too long in one tune, but a snip and away.
These are complements, these are humours; these
betray nice wenches, that would be betrayed without
these; and make them men of note--do you note
me?--that most are affected to these.

message 10: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 18 comments Sorry it's been so long since my last post. I'm in a play at the moment and rehearsals are keeping me endlessly busy (add a double major to that and you've got a recipe for no sleep or free time).

I want to talk about the girls a bit. How is their use of wordplay different to the boys'? How is it similar?

Another thing I've been thinking about upon the arrival of the girls into the play. It's becoming more and more evident to me that any love between the boys and girls is doomed from the get go, and not because of any lack of feeling on either side. It's because of the ticking time bomb that is the King of France. We hear in the first scene that the king is dying. The Princess only intends to be in Navarre for the bare minimum of time before going back to France. It makes me wonder if the Princess actually does fall for the King. That's the other question, is the love between the lovers real? Is it just fleeting fancy?

message 11: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Hello fellow fans of Shakespeare...I am very sorry to have totally disappeared from this discussion as well as even stopping in to this group...but I've had a good excuse. We had an apartment fire at the end of October and my husband and I were displaced from our apartment. Fortunately no one was hurt nor any aninmals hurt. We lost most of our apartment but we have been safe and sound staying at my husbands grandmothers place. We didn't have a phone or internet though and I was only able to get online by going to internet cafes until recently.

I hope to return to this discussion and any others if we feel there are a couple of us to pick them up in this new year.

I am in Toronto right now visiting family for the holiday but should be back in Chicago by the end of this week and ready to discuss Shakespeare etc etc and anything else.

I hope all the participants here at shakespeare's Fans the best most wonderful New Years and look forward to catching up with others here.

Happy New Year!


message 12: by scherzo♫ (new)

scherzo♫ (pjreads) | 271 comments Glad to hear you're okay in spite of the crisis.
Happy New Year!

message 13: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2748 comments Mod
Happy New Year pjreads!

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