Love’s Labor’s Lost
Asp, Carolyn. “Love’s Labour’s Lost: Language and the Deferral of Desire.” Literature and Psychology 35:3 (1989): 1–21.
Asp uses the theories of Lacan (especially his ideas of Imaginary and Symbolic and intra- and interpersonal development) to explain the play’s rejection of the conventional comic ending: marriage. Navarre and his courtiers, in pursuit of “an idealized image of ego unity,” defer their natural desires “into linguistic displacements [of] pedantic knowledge and courtly rhetoric.” The Princess and her ladies succeed in decoding this male behavior. At the end of the play, however, it is the women who defer desire by imposing “ascetic tasks” upon the men.
Barber, C. L. “The Folly of Wit and Masquerade in Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom, pp. 87–118. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.
In this anthropological reading, Barber applies to LLL the formula “through release to clarification” that he finds in the “native saturnalian traditions” (of Elizabethan holidays and the popular theater) lying behind Shakespeare’s early comedies. Clarification—the “heightened awareness” of man’s relationship with nature—comes with the “movement between the poles of restraint [responsibility] and release [playful liberation].” The unconventional ending is appropriate, Barber argues, given what is released by the preceding festivities: “. . . the folly of acting love and talking love, without being in love.” Moreover, the final songs, in their celebration of the rhythms of holiday and everyday, remind us of the “going-on power” of life.
Berry, Ralph. “The Words of Mercury.” Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969): 69–77. Rpt. in Shakespeare’s Comedies: Explorations in Form, pp. 72–88. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.
The form of LLL can best be described as a “movement toward reality,” reality being defined as “all those phenomena of life that are symbolized by the entrance of Mercade”—“the key fact” of the play. Berry reads the play as “a sustained inquiry into the nature and status of words” and their relationship to reality. The tidings Mercade brings of mortality “dissolve the world of illusion and announce the presence of a reality that must be mediated by words.”
Bevington, David. “ ‘Jack Hath Not Jill’: Failed Courtship in Lyly and Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Survey 42 (1990): 1–13.
Agreeing with Alfred Harbage that LLL is the most Lylyan of Shakespeare’s plays, Bevington compares it to Lyly’s Sappho and Phao (1584), which also ends without romantic union—Phao falls in love with Sappho but at the end, realizing that she is impossibly beyond his reach, leaves her court in disappointment. Bevington makes no claim for Lyly’s text as a source for LLL; his interest lies, instead, in probing the plays’ shared emphasis on “the hazards and uncertainties of courtship” and their implications for the “larger pattern of patriarchal control” operative in both.
Breitenberg, Mark. “The Anatomy of Masculine Desire in Love’s Labor’s Lost.” Shakespeare Quarterly 43 (1992): 430–49.
Breitenberg begins by citing Montaigne’s “Upon Some Verses of Virgil” (a “meditation” on masculine desire and its side effect of cuckoldry anxiety) and the male-empowering tenets of Petrarchanism to argue that the Petrarchan tradition underlies the “economy of masculine desire that structures [LLL] and shapes its action.” His probing of this economy’s fissures, paradoxes, and contradictions centers on the play’s pervasive cuckoldry anxiety, most pronounced in the final song of Spring. In LLL, “Shakespeare anatomizes masculine desire by reproducing and parodying its effects, providing an anatomy that exposes the very same limitations and contradictions it cannot fully escape.”
Burnett, Mark Thornton. “Giving and Receiving: Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Politics of Exchange.” English Literary Renaissance 23 (1993): 287–313.
Burnett counters the traditional reading of LLL as a light and witty courtly entertainment with the argument that it is “as much concerned with a contest over power, property, and financial debt.” Drawing upon cultural materialist and new historicist studies of Shakespeare, he examines the play as a series of exchanges, beginning with the central issue from which everything else springs: Aquitaine and the dispute over tribute payments. “The play manifests a range of responses toward money from cautious uncertainty to philosophical curiosity and excitement . . . and broaches but does not resolve a conflict between, on the one hand, exchanges that benefit donor and recipient and, on the other hand, naked self-interest.”
Calderwood, James L. “Love’s Labour’s Lost: A Dalliance with Language.” In Shakespearean Metadrama: The Argument of the Play in “Titus Andronicus,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Richard II,” pp. 52–84. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971.
Calderwood traces the dynamic of the play’s verbal action through three phases: the scholars’ aggrandizement of words in the formation of the academy, their debasing of words in its abandonment, and, with the entrance of Mercade, their growing awareness—thanks to instruction from the ladies—of language as a valid, reliable, and even moral “medium of exchange.” As for the metadramatic implications of his analysis, Calderwood declares that LLL “embodies Shakespeare’s discovery that drama is the literary form of true liberality and that drama achieves fulfillment when verbal celibacy and verbal prodigality give way to a genuine marriage of words to action.”
Carroll, William C. The Great Feast of Language in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.
In this full-length study of the “radical instability” of the play’s language, Carroll explores LLL’s central strategy: the setting of multiple perspectives in conflict to encourage “debate on the right use of rhetoric, poetry, and the imagination.” The first three chapters identify three distinct kinds of style: that of the prose passages belonging to the six low characters, the theatrical style of the three plays-within-the-play (the eavesdropping scene in 4.3 and the Masque of the Muscovites and Pageant of the Nine Worthies in 5.2), and the poetic style of the lunatics and lovers turned sonneteers. Chapter 4 takes up the play’s Ovidian strain as manifest in the way characters through their fantastic imaginations transform reality. Chapter 5 locates the schematizing structure that comprehends the whole in the basic dualism of art and nature. The final chapter discusses the closing songs as an emblematic resolution of all the contrarieties previously disclosed.
Donawerth, Jane. “Love’s Labor’s Lost: Creative Words.” In Shakespeare and the Sixteenth-Century Study of Language, pp. 141–64. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984.
Instead of focusing on the thematic dimension of language in LLL, Donawerth concentrates on the dramatic implications of its ideas about language: i.e., the ways in which such ideas define the world of the play and the kinds of people inhabiting it. As befits the artificial world of Navarre’s court, the emphasis in LLL is on the patterning of language as written rather than on its greater naturalness as spoken. Beginning with the entry of Mercade, however, Donawerth observes a significant shift in terms as “language” and “words” are replaced by “tongue” and “breath.” This abandonment of the graphic (artificial) aspect of language for the oral (more natural) dimension parallels “a growth in humanity in the characters.”
Elam, Keir. Shakespeare’s Universe of Discourse: Language Games in the Comedies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Although LLL receives no chapter-length analysis in this study of the “self-consciousness” of Shakespeare’s discourse—the playwright’s general word for “language in use” and his favorite linguistic term in the comedies—the play serves as a major point of reference, weaving in and out of Elam’s discussion of different kinds of linguistic games and frames: theatrical, world-creating, semantic, pragmatic, and figural. The author provides an eight-page glossary of terms derived from the “modes and instruments of contemporary linguistic enquiry” brought to bear on the plays: semiotics, philosophies and sociologies of language, speech-act analysis, conversational decorum, and rhetorical theory.
Evans, Malcolm. “The Converse of Breath.” In Signifying Nothing: Truth’s True Contents in Shakespeare’s Text, pp. 41–67, esp. 50–67. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
Like Donawerth (see earlier citation) but from a poststructuralist perspective, Evans examines the triumph of breath (speech) over letters (writing) in LLL; this victory, however, is ironically overturned when the “modern encounter” with the play is with something printed in book form. Evans frames his discussion of the play’s structural opposition of writing and speech—letters and sounds—within a commentary on the “postscript” significance of the 1598 Quarto’s printing of the lines “The Words of Mercury / Are harsh after the songs of Apollo.” Set without speech headings and in larger type than the rest of the play, the lines assume a “Delphic ambiguity and portentous tone,” calling attention to the central conflict between Mercury (the “inventor of letters” and patron of solitary learning) and Apollo (the god of rhyme and speech).
Gilbert, Miriam. Love’s Labour’s Lost. Shakespeare in Performance Series. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1993.
The story underlying Gilbert’s study of selected productions is “how scholars, directors, actors, and audiences have come to appreciate the play after more than three centuries of neglect, and what qualities they have found to appreciate.” Gilbert considers productions directed by Samuel Phelps (1857), Tyrone Guthrie (1936), Peter Brook (1946), Hugh Hunt (1949), John Barton (1965 and 1978), Michael Kahn (1968), David Jones (1973), Elijah Moshinsky (1984), Barry Kyle (1984), and Terry Hands (1990).
Goldstien, Neal L. “Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Renaissance Vision of Love.” Shakespeare Quarterly 25 (1974): 335–50.
Goldstien reads the play as a satire on the two major components of the Renaissance love theory informing its dramatic situation, dialogue, imagery, and theme: namely, Petrarchanism and the Florentine Neoplatonism associated with Marsilio Ficino. Both Petrarch and Ficino were instrumental in effecting the spiritualization of love and beauty in the Renaissance: the first insisting upon the spiritual nature of womanly beauty; the second establishing the spiritual nature of love itself. In its strong sensual bias and its iconoclastic treatment of the conventions of the English vision of love and the spirituality underlying those conventions, LLL is part of a major poetic tradition in sixteenth-century English poetry. Yet what finally emerges is the realization that neither pole—sensuality or spirituality—is completely satisfying.
Granville-Barker, Harley. “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In Prefaces to Shakespeare, 2:413–39. Princeton: New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1947, 1978.
Describing LLL as a “fashionable play; now, by three hundred years out of fashion,” Granville-Barker brings his practical experience as a director to this discussion of staging, methods of acting, costumes, casting, music, and textual cuts (especially as relating to witty lines and jokes that pass over a modern audience’s head and confusing/redundant passages in 2.1, 4.3, and 5.2).
Hunter, Robert G. “The Function of the Songs at the End of Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Shakespeare Studies 7 (1974): 55–64.
Hunter sees the concluding songs of Spring and Winter as “more than pretty lyrics.” Taking his cue from C. L. Barber (see earlier citation), he argues for their “definite thematic relationship” to the central conflict between Lent and Carnival informing the play: the songs ultimately resolve this conflict by “strik[ing] a balance” between the devouring forces of linear Lenten time and the renewing powers of circular Carnival time. The result is an “alliance that will combine the seemingly irreconcilable strengths of both.” Lent may appear to return in the arrival of Mercade, but the songs deny its view as being the whole truth: Spring will come again.
Lamb, Mary Ellen. “The Nature of Topicality in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’.” Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985): 49–59.
In spite of critical opinion to the contrary, the author argues that LLL “was no more or less ‘aristocratic’ in its appeal than Shakespeare’s other earlier plays . . . [and] that what topicality it possesses was available to a wide audience.” The false identification of the play as an obscure piece of coterie drama stems from its intrinsic topicality: i.e., the fact that each of its major male characters has an historical counterpart against whom similarities and differences can be measured. Lamb does not “disparage topicality as a valid field of inquiry” but advocates a more evenhanded approach that insists on the locus of meaning in the play itself and not in its relation to topical sources; by way of illustration, she looks at the significance of the historical Navarre’s adulteries at Nerac for the play’s iterative pattern of oath-breach. Despite the usefulness of topical source hunting as a tool, the author concludes that “the topicality of Love’s Labour’s Lost is dead . . . It stands on its own, as recent directors and audiences have shown.” (For examples of such productions, see the Gilbert citation.)
Maus, Katharine Eisaman. “Transfer of Title in Love’s Labor’s Lost: Language, Individualism, Gender.” In Shakespeare Left and Right, ed. Ivo Kamps, pp. 205–23. New York and London: Routledge, 1991.
In a reading that combines feminism and formalism, Maus contends that linguistic issues informing the play—especially naming and reference—are “inseparable from its generic, comic concerns with sexual politics and with the construction of a gendered identity in a social context.” Navarre and his courtiers seek permanence by stabilizing their (aristocratic, paternally inherited) names in a way that “close[s] the gap between signifier and signified . . . word and world.” The arrival of the ladies, whose strategy of self-assertion involves “subverting the clarity and permanence” of such essentialist thinking, “confront[s] Navarre with everything he had tried to repress: the involvement of women in the title transfer, the dependence of the present generation upon the action of its predecessors, and the possibility that the title itself may be ambiguous, subject to conflicting claims.” The conceptual differences between the sexes are most evident at the end of Act 5; there the men’s view of truth as a masculine-authorized exercise of intellect is starkly set against the women’s understanding of it as “disciplined will,” as something social, contractual, and behavioral: “the keeping of a marital vow that demands submission to a patriarchal order.”
Montrose, Louis A. “ ‘Sport by sport o’erthrown’: Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Politics of Play.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 18 (1977): 528–52.
In LLL, “playwright, actors, and audience are engaged in the purposeful playing of a play whose fictional action is generated almost entirely by characters at play”—the various dimensions of which include dressing up, songs, entertainments, flirtations, puns and conceits, allusions to specific children’s pastimes, and the game of the chase. Montrose’s treatment of the drama’s ludic quality is informed by the distinction between two species of play “related by inversion”: game and ritual—the former disjunctive in its effects, the latter conjunctive. One reason for the play’s failure to end in the weddings generically associated with comedy derives from the men’s turning the “ritual goal of union with the beloved into a game” which they must win.
Parker, Patricia. “Preposterous Reversals: Love’s Labor’s Lost.” Modern Language Quarterly 54 (1993): 435–82.
As evidence for her reading of LLL as “bodily or ‘obscene’ ” rather than bookish or esoteric (lowbrow rather than highbrow), Parker focuses on the excremental and scatalogical aspects of the comedy’s wordplay. From the opening scene, “the language of the ‘high’ . . . is contaminated . . . by the ‘low matter’ of the bodily and sexual.” On several levels—verbal, structural, generic, and genderic—the play is “a series of . . . ‘preposterous’ inversions—of male and female, high and low, prior and posterior, and their bodily counterparts.”
Roberts, Jeanne Addison. “Convents, Conventions, and Contraventions: Love’s Labor’s Lost and The Convent of Pleasure.” In Shakespeare’s Sweet Thunder: Essays on the Early Comedies, pp. 75–89. Ed. Michael J. Collins. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996.
Suggesting that Love’s Labor’s Lost “cannot be read by us as either a precociously feminist or a specifically satirical drama,” Roberts claims that it can be read as “at least a forerunner of feminism.” In support of this claim, she offers a comparison of Shakespeare’s play to The Convent of Pleasure, a play published in 1668 by Lady Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, which may have been inspired in part by Cavendish’s reading of Love’s Labor’s Lost. Roberts shows how Cavendish’s play begins by defying patriarchy’s assumption of the inevitability of marriage for women and then concludes with marriage, while Love’s Labor’s Lost appears from the beginning to be destined to end with marriages and then does not because of the control exerted by the play’s women.
Roesen, Bobbyann (Anne Barton). “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Shakespeare Quarterly 4 (1953): 411–26.
This seminal essay is called by Montrose—see earlier citation—“a landmark in the critical revaluation” of LLL. Focusing on the play’s fundamental opposition between art and nature, the author describes the dramatic movement as one from illusion to reality. In the artificial world of Navarre’s court, the reality of Death is introduced only to be forgotten in the program of the Academy, which will yield immortal fame against the ravages of “cormorant devouring Time.” With the arrival of the ladies, through whom “the voice of Reality speaks,” death is reintroduced, albeit in ritualized form, in the Princess’s killing of the deer (Act 4). Finally, Death’s “tremendous reality” is personalized in the entrance of Mercade: “In the space of four lines [5.2.793–96] the entire world of the play, its delicate balance of reality and illusion, all the hilarity and overwhelming life of the last scene has been swept away and destroyed as Death itself actually enters the park, for the first time. . . .” (See the Berry, Calderwood, Montrose, and Carroll citations for examples of Roesen’s influence on the art-nature debate.)
Turner, John. “Love’s Labour’s Lost: The Court at Play.” In Shakespeare: Out of Court. Dramatizations of Court Society, by Graham Holderness, Nick Potter, and John Turner, pp. 19–48. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
Turner’s focus (unlike Barber’s, see earlier citation) is not courtly pleasures but the dissonances and anxieties of court life as mirrored in LLL. Seizing upon the Renaissance double meaning of “competitor” (2.1.84) as partner or rival (and, by extension, the contrary feelings it evoked of exhilaration and entrapment), the author explores the threefold competitiveness structuring the play’s “unstable mixture of rivalry and fellowship”: the internal competition in Navarre’s court, the international competition between the court of Navarre and the court of France as represented by the Princess and her attendants, and (“most interestingly perhaps”) the pastoral competition between the court of Navarre and the country it rules.