Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (eds), The New Oxford Shakespeare: Modern Critical Edition

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'How can I concentrate on reading this book when all I can think about is sex?' I first saw Love's Labour's Lost when I was a college student in an audience full of college students watching a production performed by college students in the gardens of an English college. The play's battle between hormones and homework was one we had all been fighting, and often losing, for years. The young men laughed at themselves; the young women laughed at the men. We all knew that the hormones would win, if we could just get laid before death interrupted. Only later did I discover that most of the scholars who have written about this splendidly silly playful play were on the side of the homework.

Gary Taylor, 2016

Romantic love is shown as intimate, unique, familiar, impersonal, banal, absurd, and engaging all at once. In this way the play teases and tantalizes, offering its audience an experience that in some ways resembles the pleasure of seduction itself.

Catherine Belsey, 1999

The whole play's about love, which I thought was internationally to be understood, and I think the play––my interpretation of the play––is it's a hymn to women, and I thought it was important to do that in Afghanistan.

Corinne Jaber, on her 2005 Kabul, Afghanistan, production

For when we think of comic action in Shakespearean drama, we think of near tragedy and of violence often barely averted. … No such violence, though, appears in Love's Labour's Lost, because the world of this play is carefully insulated against pain.

J. Dennis Hudson, 1981

1 Evoking the legendary Roman hunter Diana, the Princess and her ladies display their power through archery in a 2009 Shakespeare's Globe production (London), dir. Robert Faires.

1 Evoking the legendary Roman hunter Diana, the Princess and her ladies display their power through archery in a 2009 Shakespeare's Globe production (London), dir. Robert Faires.

The world of Navarre has the appearance of a playground, a special place marked off from the pressures of social reality and the unpleasant implications of a world of fallen nature … The atmosphere of energy and brilliance is indeed a celebration of the characters' discovery of, and delight in, their own creative powers.

Louis Montrose, 1977

As life itself breaks swiftly through the artificial scholarship of the court, the vitality of the play rises to an amazing height; the Academe is kept constantly before us, the reasons for its failure elaborated and made more plain, but at the same time, while the world of the royal park becomes more and more delightful … it becomes more obvious that more than the Academe will be destroyed by the entrance of the ladies. Not only its scholarship, but the entire world of the play, the balance of artifice and reality of which it was formed, must also be demolished by forces from without the walls.

Bobbyann Roesen (Anne Barton), 1953

The women disrupt the comedy. It is as though they refuse, in violation of comedic convention, to be the mere plot-functions that characters in teleological structures pg 774essentially are. Consequently, they live on, awaiting (or perhaps not) the faithful return of their suitors … [As] marriageable young women who choose not to make a 'world-without-end bargain,' they are not the token-like objects of traditional comedy (and of Elizabethan society). The open-ended structure entails the liberation of the female characters.

Joseph Chaney, 1993

  • Love's Labour Lost, I once did see a Play,
  • Yclepèd so, so called to my pain,
  • Which I to hear to my small joy did stay,
  • Giving attendance on my forward dame,
  • My misgiving mind presaging to me ill,
  • Yet was I drawn to see it 'gainst my will.
  • This play no play, but plague was unto me,
  • For there I lost the love I likèd most,
  • And what to others seemed a jest to be,
  • I, that in earnest found unto my cost.
  • To everyone (save me) 'twas comical,
  • Whilst tragic like to me it did befall.
  • Each actor played in cunning wise his part,
  • But chiefly those entrapped in Cupid's snare:
  • Yet all was feignèd, 'twas not from the heart,
  • They seemed to grieve, but yet they felt no care:
  • 'Twas I that grief (indeed) did bear in breast,
  • The others did but make a show in jest.

Robert Tofte, 1598

[Richard] Burbage is come and says there is no new play that the Queen [Anne, wife of James I] hath not seen, but they have revived an old one, called Loves Labour Lost, which for wit and mirth he says will please her exceedingly.

Walter Cope, 1604

Love's Labour's Lost has all the marks of a highly sophisticated play, and a play that must have been physically close to a sharp-witted and attentive audience … The atmosphere is rather like that of a literary coterie, with everyone lost in admiration of his own wit and that of his close friends, and decrying the wit of others with the greatest possible malice.

Northrop Frye, 1961

For many contemporary Australians the theatre is an alien, even intimidating environment, where spectators are expected to be well dressed and well behaved. The local park, on the other hand, is a public space associated with recreation and repose. … Since Ingrid Ganley's excellent Love's Labours Lost in 2004, many productions have reflected the benefit of the company's extensive experience with garden Shakespeares.

Rosemary Gaby, 2014

It was no more or less 'aristocratic' in its appeal than other earlier plays … To focus on the mannered quality of Love's Labor's Lost, as many critics have done, is to miss its truly broad and sometimes gross humour, not beyond the reach of most twelve-year-olds, Renaissance or modern.

Mary Ellen Lamb, 1985

[Since] it is one of the worst of Shakespeare's plays, nay I think I may say the very worst, I cannot but think that it is his first …

Charles Gildon, 1710

And I should conjecture of some of the others (particularly Love's Labour's Lost, The Winter's Tale, and Titus Andronicus) that only some characters, single scenes, or perhaps a few particular passages were of his hand. … [Love's Labour's Lost is] the worst of his plays

Alexander Pope, 1725, 1743

But there are scattered, through the whole, many sparks of genius; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakespeare.

Samuel Johnson, 1765

2 Director (and star) Kenneth Branagh revisited 1930s Hollywood musicals to capture the wit, wordplay, and music of Love's Labour's Lost in this 2000 film.

2 Director (and star) Kenneth Branagh revisited 1930s Hollywood musicals to capture the wit, wordplay, and music of Love's Labour's Lost in this 2000 film.

The play is a satire, a comedy of affectations. The gymnastics, the jargon, and the antics are fun. Yet a play hardly lives by such brilliancies alone. While the humour of them is fresh and holds our attention, actors may lend it a semblance of life, for at least they are, alive in their kind! No play, certainly, can count on survival if it strikes no deeper root nor bears more perennial flowers. If its topical brilliance were all, Shakespeare's name tagged to this one would keep it a place on the scholar's dissecting table; in the theatre Love's Labour's Lost would be dead, past all question. But there is life in it. The satire beside, Shakespeare the poet had his fling. It abounds in the beauties of fancy and phrase, as beautiful today as ever. We find in it Shakespeare the dramatist learning his art. … The Shakespeare who sets out to write Love's Labour's Lost is a very clever young man, a wit, a sonneteer.

Harley Granville-Barker, 1930

Let us not confine ourselves within a pale of petty regulations––such is Shakespeare's teaching––but rather launch pg 775forth into the world, and have faith in that broad wisdom or good sense which comes by natural methods, a wisdom won through joy and pain, through frank dealing with our fellows, through the lore of life and love. In certain speeches of Biron we seem to hear the authentic voice of the youthful Shakespeare.

Edward Dowden, 1893

This play in reality contained in itself very little character. The dramatis personae were only the embryos of characters. Biron was afterwards seen more perfectly in Benedict and Mercutio, and Rosaline in Beatrice. … The old man Boyet came forward afterwards in Lafeu in All's Well That Ends Well. The poet in this play was always uppermost, and little was drawn from real life. His judgment only was shown in placing the scenes at such a period when we could imagine the transactions of the play natural.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1811

In Love's Labour's, the idea of the book begins a semantic and metaphysical journey through the terms and forms of represented and representative truth. From the outset, the play scrutinizes and fragments graphic and ideological performances of the book; from the angel knowledge of academia, through rhyme, prose, odes, and inscription to the very ink and page that form the text, each aspect and sign of the written word is subject to accusations of paucity or foppery.

Charlotte Scott, 2007

For Shakespeare, the immortality of the written word was illusory, the social role of the poet being to give his words to the actors who, in turn, thus giving them free circulation within the theater and, by extension, the community. … the English language is the hero of Love's Labour's Lost

Malcolm Evans, 1975

[In] cutting language which was very difficult to understand … I've chosen to replace that element which I, for better or worse, deemed impossible to carry off in the cinema, with songs, and songs from, arguably in twentieth-century terms anyway, equally witty writers––people like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, who played with verbal conceit.

Kenneth Branagh on his film version, 2000

Mocking pretentious verbal mannerisms to the paying audience at such a verbally mannered play as Love's Labour's Lost was an audacious act of brinksmanship on Shakespeare's part, calculated to let him have his fancy Euphuistic layer cake and … forswear it too. In fact, many of the words that characterize Armado's excess turn up elsewhere in Shakespeare's works in all earnestness. Love's Labour's Lost provides the interest of both high Latinate neologism (through the schoolmaster Holofernes) and the more free-wheeling continental variety (through Armado), while at the same time taking a dismissive commonsensical position against the vanity of such literary innovations when balanced against domestic common sense and the biological facts of life.

Robert N. Watson, 2012

The playwright asks us to recognize a fundamental paradox: for all the excesses and follies into which language can lead us, its faults are closely related to its attractions.

Russ McDonald, 2001

The characters delude themselves with their own language: the lords with the heroic style of proclamation and vows, and later with Petrarchanism; Armado by his stereotypical boasting and absurdity; Holofernes by his learning and pedantry. Synecdoche, one of the play's most frequent figures, mirrors the minds of the characters, particularly the lords who constantly mistake the part for the whole.

Karen Newman, 1985

The schoolmaster, the priest, and Armado, for all the absurdity of their pedantic obsession with neologisms and petty grammatical quibbles, have an acute sensitivity to the social responsibilities of the eloquent speaker, as the courtiers do not.

R. W. Maslen, 2005.

Male assumptions about the ease of conquest, the play seems to suggest, are not healthy for the men themselves, not realistic … [T]he women seem to feel they must help men understand that women are neither unattainably perfect nor attainably corrupt … Men must be disabused of their hyperbole in sexual imagining just as in their use of language.

David Bevington, 1990

The lords are not only narcissistic but also seductive. And seduction is an aggressive challenge and bid for dominance …

Jonathan Hall, 1995

pg 776When I first produced Love's Labour's Lost, I was impressed by its musicality, even though the play is loaded with linguistic inebriation and euphuistic exercises. I realized it could work if rendered as a piece of music. The play is structured like a musical composition, full of repetition and artifice. And the form Shakespeare uses in many of the long speeches is like that of a musical composer …

Michael Langham, on his Stratford, Ontario, production, 1984

In a roundabout way, Love's Labour's Lost makes fun of our recent history, the Taliban, who ruled us with their nonsense and cruel rules. Love's Labour's Lost is all about their nonsense rules.

Faisal Azizi (Dumaine in the production in Kabul, Afghanistan), 2012

Shakespeare acknowledges the theatre's limitations through Berowne's rueful comment, 'That's too long for a play' (5.2.835). Only within the world of the theatre do relationships blossom so quickly; in the real world, it is not perpetual springtime … [unlike other comedies] it is the main action which insists on the separation rather than the union of the young people.

Miriam Gilbert, 1993

[T]he change of mood imposed by Marcadé does not settle finally on death … but on comic correction of behaviour too precious and self-congratulatory to be a good foundation for wedlock.

René Graziani, 1986

Anyone who has seen Love's Labour's Lost acted will admit the powerful effect of Marcadé's entrance. … And yet this sudden enrichment of the texture has been anticipated again and again in earlier scenes, as in the tale of Katharine's sister or in Biron's set speeches. In a flash we are back to earth, and it is all the more solid and immaculate for our absence and for the suddenness of our return.

Richard David, 1951

[Marcadé] came into an artificial world to announce a piece of news that was real. He came on bringing death. And I felt intuitively that the image of the Watteau world was very close to this. I began to see that the reason the Watteau Age of Gold is so particularly moving is that although it's a picture of springtime, it's an autumn springtime, because every one of Watteau's pictures has an incredible melancholy. And if one looks, one sees that there is somewhere in it the presence of death, until one sees that in Watteau (unlike the imitations of the period, where it's all sweetness and prettiness) there is usually a dark figure somewhere …

Peter Brook, on his 1946 Stratford production, 1987

Normally, in a Shakespearean comedy, love triumphs over obstacles and the lovers' story concludes with marriage; here it doesn't. More importantly, repeatedly in this play the King and lords display hubris … and they are put in place by the women, who, generally, are seen as more constant and circumspect than the men; indeed, the men often resemble overgrown children.

Cedric Watts, 2000

The four women end up together after having actively rejected the men-––what is worse, having put them on hold for the space of a year. This thwarting of the play's comic ends is also a thwarting of heterosexual identity …

Madhavi Menon, 2011

None of Shakespeare's comedies confounds more effectively the still widespread view that they are congenitally disposed to disempower women and protract the subjection of placket to codpiece.

Kiernan Ryan, 2009

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