Friend’s, this is quite the late posting. Forgive me; I was visiting friends and we lost power last night after an intense thunderstorm. My beleaguered and ancient laptop doesn’t last five minutes without a power source anymore, so no typing (or reading) for me until I got home today.
Without much further ado, let’s jump into the play. It was a good one this week. I didn’t want to jump into the verse and slap anyone silly like I did last week, which I take as a good sign. And it was fun. Not the best comedy but thoroughly enjoyable, in my opinion.
The play opens with Ferdinand, the King of Navarre, speaking with the lords Biron, Longaville, and Dumain. All have agreed to stay with the King at court for three years in contemplative study, fasting, and without the company of women. Biron doesn’t seem too keen on the idea but eventually agrees.
(The King had decreed a few days earlier that no woman was to come within one mile of the court on pain of losing her tongue, but the King apparently forgot that the Princess of France and her ladies would be visiting the court in a few days. Oops.)
A messenger from Don Adriano de Armado then arrives and tells the King that Costard, who’s present at the court, had a tryst with a woman named Jaquenetta after the King announced his decree. The King sentences Costard to a week of fasting under the care of Armado. Armado, for his part, confesses his love for Jaquenetta to his page, Moth.
The Princess of France and her ladies, along with Boyet, arrive at the gates of the King’s court. Each lady appears to be in love with a different member of the King’s court. When the King, Longaville, Biron, and Dumain arrive the Princess reveals why they’ve arrived through a letter: the King of France apparently loaned the King’s father money for a war and wants either to be repaid or for the King give up any entitlement to Aquitaine. The King apparently isn’t aware of any debt. The King falls in love with the Princess and each of the King’s men fall in love with different ladies-in-waiting. Of course, that doesn’t stop the King from forcing the Princess and her entourage to camp in the field and not enter the city gates.
Armado has his page bring Costard to him and offers him both his freedom and some money to deliver a love letter from Armado to Jaquenetta. Costard happily agrees. Before he can get to her, though, he’s stopped by Biron with a similar request to bring Rosaline a love letter. Of course, this being a Shakespearean comedy, neither letter ends up with their intended recipient.
Costard brings Armado’s letter to Jaquenetta to Rosaline; the ladies and Boyet have a good time reading the letter, but it’s addressed to Jaquenetta from Armado so they know it’s not actually for Rosaline.
Jaquenetta and Costard then bring the letter from Biron to Rosaline to the scholars Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, who read the letter and instruct her to head straight to the King and show him the letter as proof of treason. (Remember, Biron isn’t supposed to be consorting with women, and he quite obviously addresses the letter to Rosaline from himself.)
Meanwhile, Biron is walking about outside lamenting his love for Rosaline when he spies the King coming his way. He hides in a bush and overhears the King reading his own love poetry for the Princess. The King then sees Longaville approach and hides and both he and Biron observe Longaville reciting his own love poetry written for Maria. Longaville then sees Dumain approaching and likewise hides. All three get to hear Dumain reciting his love poem for Kate.
Longaville pops out of his hiding place and confronts Dumain about forswearing his oath. The King then emerges and calls Longaville out on doing quite the same. Biron then emerges and informs everyone that the King himself has done the same. Jaquenetta and Costard then arrive with Biron’s letter, thus giving him away as being forsworn as well. The men rib each other, have a good laugh, decide they’re being foolish, and proceed to make plans to woo their respective ladies.
What happens next is…a bit unexpected. It all starts rather comically: the four gentlemen arrive at the Princess’s camp dressed as Muscovites to court the ladies in disguise. The ladies, alerted to the men’s arrival and ruse, are wearing masks and are each wearing a token of love given to someone else (for example, Rosaline is wearing the token the King gave to the Princess). The men proceed to woo the lady wearing their token rather than the lady they actually want to woo. They depart and then arrive again dressed as themselves. The ladies call them out and they confess to coming to the camp in disguise and apologize.
The group then watches Holofernes, Sir Nathanial, Costard, Moth, and Armado present the Nine Worthies (to much heckling and merriment). There’s nearly a brawl in the middle of the play when Costard announces to everyone that Armado has gotten Jaquenetta pregnant. The fight is forestalled by a messenger who announces that the Princess’s father has died.
The Princess, obviously upset, readies to depart. The men once more profess their love and the women tell the men that they must prove their true feelings by waiting one year and one day; if their feelings remain unchanged, the ladies will have them.
And thus the play ends. No marriages, no unions of any sort. It all feels a bit interrupted, as if there’s more to the play and this isn’t the true ending. Ah, but more on that in the Nota Bene below.
And that’s a wrap! Stay tuned next week for what is, perhaps, Shakespeare’s best-known play: Romeo and Juliet!
In case you hadn’t noticed, the entire play is about the desires of men. The King wants to seclude himself and his compatriots from women. Why? Because they cloud judgment and impede a man’s intellect. Of course, at the end they end up secluding themselves once more, but this time to prove their love is true.
When each of the men pines for the woman he loves the others mock him, even though each of them feels the same way about another woman. The women, for their part, mock them men for their feelings as well, although in this case the women don’t think the men are serious about their feelings so perhaps the mocking isn’t meant to be cruel. Still, the women are dangerous creatures here, holding power over the men, and this mirrors the Renaissance concern over female sexuality and the threat of wives cheating on their husbands. Female sexuality and its empowerment of women is seen as a threat to men. (Be still my modern sensibilities.)
So, about the abrupt ending of the play. It feels like there should be another part, right? Well, there may have been.
There’s mention in one source of a lost Shakespeare play called Love’s Labour’s Won. It’s quite possible, given the title, that this was a sequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost. It could be an account of what happens after the one year deferment of any marriages or further protestations of love between the main characters. This isn’t the only title of a lost Shakespeare play; a play called Cardenio has been attributed to Shakespeare but the play itself hasn’t been passed down.
There’s also a theory that Love’s Labour’s Won is an alternative title for an existing Shakespeare play, which would account for why it isn’t listed in the First Folio (although Cardenio isn’t listed in the First Folio, either). Based on the source for the title of Love’s Labour’s Won, critics believe it’s possible that this could have been an alternative title for The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Troilus and Cressida, or As You Like It. Sadly, we may never know.
Of course, there’s also the theory that the last few lines of Love’s Labour’s Won opened a vortex to an alien world that would have spelled the end of the human race had a madman in a blue box not stepped in and closed said-vortex, which sadly also consumed all copies of the play… (If you get that reference, you deserve a cookie. If you don’t get that reference, email me for the answer.)