Love’s Labour’s Lost is an early (1594) comedy which perhaps is not played so much as in earlier times.
The play is about four gentlemen (one the King of Navarre) who swear to study for three years, with no contact with women, and limited food and sleep. Of course, four women immediately turn up (a Princess of France, and three ladies-in-waiting). The men promptly fall in love, start writing sonnets, and giving gifts to the women, and soon start courting them seriously. The women have fun with the men, exchange tokens and wear masks, so the men make swear eternal love to the wrong women. The King of France dies and when the Princess finds out, she goes into mourning, with her ladies-in-waiting, and they all set the men a penance to do for a year and a day, before they can renew their courtship.
Well all nice, silly, stuff, but what’s the point? The point, dear reader, is that the men foreswear themselves seriously twice: they swear to study for three years, and promptly break that oath to court the French ladies. They swear eternal love to the wrong woman, and then break that oath as soon as they find out. What I find rather shocking is that this wasn’t obvious to me from the start. It was only when I saw the BBC version, set in a decadent French C17 court, that it become clear. It seems that, in the C21, we don’t have the same concern with keeping our word that C16 courtiers did. Our politicians mispeak, our marketers mislead things, and we accept that, and perhaps our words are no longer our bonds. We are all Machiavellians now.
There are other difficulties with the play: the blank verse rhymes a lot, and has much stronger rhythms than later blank verse. We recommend you just go with that and let the rhythms and the rhymes shine forth, keeping up a good pace (which always helps).
There are also an enormous numbers of witty jokes, mostly with some sexual content, but derived from archery, or other C16 topics which no longer make sense to C21 players. You might use a technique of laughing at anything which might remotely be a joke (particularly the men laughing at the men’s jokes; the women laughing at women’s jokes). Rather like Pascal, who suggested that if you get down on your knees and pray, you’ll end up believing in God, if you laugh at every possible joke in the play, it ends up becoming rather funny.
To make sense of the plot, it makes sense to play Berowne as possessed of a rather cruel sense of humour. The other gentlemen seem to fear his wit, and it makes sense of Rosaline’s punishment of him, sending him to a hospital to tell jokes to the dying.
You’ll find three castings of the play, on the right-hand sidebar, for 8, 9, and 10 players. There is a casting for 7 players, but you’ll have to configure that yourself, using the iCloud Configurator (the gear-wheel on the script page). We wouldn’t recommend using a casting for 7 if you can avoid it – there are just too many characters.
If you can’t get enough players together to read the whole play, you explore some scenes in the play with smaller groups. The scenes we provide are:
- A3S1: Berowne bemoans being in love (1 player):
We don’t often provide scenes with a monologue, but this monologue of Berowne’s has to be an exception – it’s the most marvellous evocation of the pain of being in love.
- A2S1: Armado and Moth play with words (2 players):
This scene provides some typical wit between Armado, a Spanish knight, and his page, Moth.
- A4S3: Four young men in love (4 players):
The four young men are all in love, all have written poems to their beloved, but none has confessed that they are in love to his fellows. Here they all find out.