We ran a play-reading of Love’s Labour’s Lost on Sunday 10th April. We’ve published the play and you can find the script we used at Love’s Labour’s Lost. We were due to be 10 readers, but three people had to cancel at the last moment which brought us down to 7. Luckily, we had a play-reading casting for 7 players, but had to use the iCloud Configurator to get our parts – no nice links down the side of the play for 7 readers, only for 8, 9, or 10.
Before we go any further, let me advise you not to read LLL with only 7 players. There’s too many parts for seven. There’s 8 lovers for a start, plus Don Armado, the eccentric Spaniard, Moth his page, Jaquenetta, Costard, Holfornes and Nathaniel. All the players (except player 7) have a bit too much to do. We are given our roles by lot, and I was given player 5, which meant I played Holofernes, Costard, and Katherine. Luckily, I had recently seen the BBC Shakespeare Collection version of LLL, with John Wells as Holofernes, and I unashamedly plagiarized his interpretation. Costard wasn’t a problem – I played myself – and Katherine I got by with.
When I started editing the play, a month or so ago, I couldn’t really make much sense of it. Yes there were lots of witthy jokes, and some amusing play between the 4 lords (including a king), and the 4 ladies (including a princess), but what was the play about? After the editing, I read the play with my partner as usual, and we were both bemused by the play. So we watched a Globe production directed by Dominic Dromgoole, one of our favourite directors. Still no light. Meanwhile our sub-editor had written to say how much she loved the play so panic and incomprehension set in, and in desperation, we watched the BBC Shakespeare Collection production, with Maureen Lipman as the Princess of France, and Jenny Agguter as Rosaline. The penny finally dropped.
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 woman. The King of France dies and when the Princess finds out, she goes into mourning, with her ladies-in-waiting, and won’t marry the men whom they set 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 break their words 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 that out. When the King pleads to be granted their loves ‘Now, at the latest minute of the hour, Grant us your loves.’ the Princess replies:
A time methinks, too short,
To make a world-without-end bargain in.
No, no, my lord, your grace is perjured much,
Full of dear guiltiness…
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 we don’t have the same concern with keeping our word that C16 courtiers did. Our politicians mispeak, our marketers say the most misleading 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 play is fairly early (perhaps 1594), and the blank verse rhymes a lot, and has much stronger rhythms than later blank verse. For our play-reading we decide to 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. We used a technique, again taken from the BBC production, 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.
Two or three days before the play-reading, I was dreading it. I couldn’t believe we could have fun reading this play. Luckily I saw the BBC version two or three days before the reading and it became fun. And I was rather good with John Well’s interpretation of Holofernes!
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