LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
by William Shakespeare
All is peaceful in King Ferdinand's court, where he and his idealistic friends have resolved to dedicate themselves to three years of fasting, study—and no women. Peaceful, that is, until the beautiful princess of France and her ladies arrive. Could the lesson of this, one of Shakespeare's most delightful comedies, be that "young blood doth not obey an old degree?"
There’s something about the incredibly naïve King Ferdinand’s desire to devote his court to study that would be sweet if it wasn’t so obviously foolhardy. More than any other Shakespearean play I’ve seen, Love’s Labour’s Lost laughs at the follies of the young, that blind optimism that anything can be accomplished if one wishes hard enough. It tinges the entire story with a slight nostalgia. Ferdinand, Berowne, Longueville, and Dumaine quickly slip up and fail to maintain the impossibly high standards they set for themselves, and their immature antics to capture the hearts of the Princess of France and her ladies remind me most of a pack of frat boys desperately trying to impress the sweethearts of the local sorority. But these romantic plans, as ill-conceived as the original resolution to fast and study, fail just as hard. The girls smile, in their greater maturity, and enjoy the show, but they see right through the antics and pinpoint the potential problem: these young men may feel passion today, but how can they know if their vows of love are any more certain and stable than their previous vows of celibacy and study?
It’s a weird play, because even with all the main players coupled off at the end, there’s no grand wedding waiting. The Princess, called swiftly to take up her role as a mature adult upon learning of the death of her father, tells her lover Prince Ferdinand to return to his previous plan for a year and see if his feelings for her remain. Basically, she’s not giving up on their relationship, but she doesn’t trust his impulsive nature so she’s willing to wait and see how it all plays out. This puts the Princess several steps ahead of romantic heroines like Juliet, and I can’t help but like her for it.
It’s a beautiful play to listen to, but hard. The language is more intricate than other plays, and the constant wordplay and allusions to other literary sources kept me on my toes. I often felt as if there was another layer that I just wasn’t getting, and after reading a bit about the history of the play I realized that scattered throughout the play are pastiches of forms of poetry popular during Shakespeare’s time. For all my love of reading and literature, I am not big on poetry, so I never recognized what was going on to the extent that an Elizabethan audience would have done.
This particular production gave the show an Austenesque flair, dressing the characters in Regency costume and emphasizing the comedy of manners found in the original plot. I really enjoyed how beautiful the costumes were, and how well they matched the garden-like set. It made me think of youth and romance, and again that nostalgia just washed over me. Very pleasant.