"The Nine Worthies". Engraving by R.A. Hillingford, from tne Imperial Edition of The Works of Shakespere 1873-1876. Courtesy Emory University.

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Love's Labour's Lost is one of William Shakespeare's early comedies, believed to have been written in the mid-1590's, and 1st published in 1598.


The title is normally given as Love's Labour's Lost. The use of apostrophes varies in early editions. In its first 1598 quarto publication it appears as Loues Labors Lost. In the 1623 First Folio it is Loues Labour's Lost and in the 1631 edition it is Loues Labours Lost. In the Third Folio it appears for the first time with the modern punctuation and spelling as Love's Labour's Lost.[1]

Date and textEdit

Most modern scholars believe the play was written in 1595 or 1596, making it contemporaneous with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.[2] Love's Labour's Lost was first published in quarto in 1598 by the bookseller Cuthbert Burby. The title page states that the play was "Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere," which has suggested to some scholars a revision of an earlier version.[3] The play next appeared in print in the First Folio in 1623, with a later quarto in 1631.


Love's Labours Lost is, along with The Tempest, a play without any obvious sources.[4] Cymbeline also falls into this category to some extent, although that play draws strands of its narrative from some texts agreed on by modern scholars. Some possible influences can be found in the early plays of John Lyly, Robert Wilson's The Cobbler's Prophecy (c.1590) and Pierre de la Primaudaye's L'Academie française (1577).[5]


The play opens with the King of Navarre and three noble companions, Berowne, Dumaine, and Longaville, taking an oath to devote themselves to three years of study, promising not to give in to the company of women — Berowne somewhat more hesitantly than the others. Berowne reminds the king that the princess and her three ladies are coming to the kingdom and it would be suicidal for the King to agree to this law. The King denies what Berowne says, insisting that the ladies make their camp in the field outside of his court. The King and his men meet the princess and her ladies. Instantly, they all fall comically in love.

The main story is assisted by many other humorous sub-plots. A rather heavy-accented Spanish swordsman, Don Adriano de Armado, tries and fails to woo a country wench, Jaquenetta, helped by Moth, his page, and rivaled by Costard, a country idiot. We are also introduced to two scholars, Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel, and we see them converse with each other in schoolboy Latin. In the final act, the comic characters perform a play to entertain the nobles, an idea conceived by Holofernes, where they represent the Nine Worthies. The four Lords — as well as the Ladies' courtier Boyet — mock the play, and Armado and Costard almost come to blows.

At the end of this 'play' within the play, there is a bitter twist in the story. News arrives that the Princess's father has died and she must leave to take the throne. The king and his nobles swear to remain faithful to their ladies, but the ladies, unconvinced that their love is that strong, claim that the men must wait a whole year and a day to prove what they say is true. This is an unusual ending for Shakespeare and Elizabethan comedy. A play mentioned by Francis Meres, Love's Labour's Won, is sometimes believed to be a sequel to this play.[6]


Ferdinand: King of Navarre

Princess of France

Berowne (or Biron), Longaville, and Dumaine (or Dumian): Lords, attending on the King

Boyet and Marcade (or Mercade): Lords, attending on the Princess of France

Rosaline, Maria, and Katharine: Ladies, attending on the Princess

Don Adriano de Armado: a fantastical Spaniard

Sir Nathaniel: a Curate

Holofernes: a Schoolmaster

Dull: a Constable

Costard: a Clown

Moth: Page to Armado

A Forester

Jaquenetta: a country Wench

Officers and Others, Attendants on the King and Princess


The earliest recorded performance of the play occurred at Christmas time in 1597 at Court before Queen Elizabeth. A second recorded performance occurred in the first half of January 1605, either at the house of the Earl of Southampton or at that of Robert Cecil, Lord Cranborne. The first known production after Shakespeare's era was not until a Covent Garden version in 1839, with Elizabeth Vestris as Rosaline.[7]


Love's Labour's Lost is often thought of as Shakespeare's most flamboyantly intellectual play. It abounds in sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms.(Citation needed) It is often assumed that it was written for performance at the Inns of Court, whose students would have been most likely to appreciate its style. This style is the principal reason why it has never been among Shakespeare's most popular plays; the pedantic humour makes it extremely inaccessible to contemporary theatregoers.(Citation needed)

Adaptations and cultural referencesEdit


Alfred Tennyson's poem The Princess is speculated by some criticsTemplate:Who to have been inspired by Love's Labour's Lost; the poem was parodied by W.S. Gilbert in his play of the same title.

Thomas Mann in his novel Doctor Faustus (1943) has the fictional German composer Adrian Leverkühn attempt to write an opera on Love's Labour's Lost.


Main article: Love's Labour's Lost (2000 film)

Kenneth Branagh's 2000 film relocated the setting to the 1930s and attempted to make the play more accessible by turning it into a musical. However, the film was a box office and critical failure.


Gilbert and Sullivan's opera Princess Ida is indirectly inspired by Love's Labour's Lost.[8]

Gerald Finzi wrote incidental music to the play Love's Labour's Lost for a BBC live radio broadcast of the play in 1946. The music was subsequently converted into an orchestral suite.

An opera of the same title was composed by Nicolas Nabokov, with a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.


The play was one of the last works to be recorded for the BBC Television Shakespeare project, broadcast in 1985. It was unique in that the production set events in the eighteenth century, the costumes and sets being modelled on the paintings of Watteau. This was the only instance in the project of a work set in a period after Shakespeare's death.[9]

The play and its apocryphal sequel, Love's Labour's Won, are featured in a Doctor Who episode, "The Shakespeare Code". A reference to the play is found in the title of Futurama episode 104, Love's Labours Lost in Space, as well as the title of In Plain Sight episode 307, Love's Faber Lost.


BBC Radio 3. Aired 16 December 1946 Director: Noel Illif. Music by Gerald Finzi Cast: Paul Scofield, Thea Holme, Robert Marsden, Ernest Milton, others.

Radio adaptation of the Shakespeare play. A written transcript of the production is held at the Birmingham Central Library as part of their Shakespeare Collection. Gerald Finzi's Love's Labour's Lost Suite had its origins in this performance. "The small-scale radio context meant that it was originally scored for a small chamber orchestra." -Julie Sanders, Shakespeare and Music: Afterlives and Borrowings, Cambridge, UK 2007.

BBC Radio 3. Aired 22 February 1979. Director: David Spenser Music: Derek Oldfield Cast: Michael Kitchen-Ferdinand, King of Navarre; John McEnery- Berowne; Anna Massey Princess of France; Eileen Atkins- Rosaline; Paul Scofield- Don Adriano de Armado; Andrew Branch-Dumaine; Christopher Biggins Anthony-Dull; Clifford Abrahams-Moth; Clifford Rose-Nathaniel; Denise Coffey-Jaquenetta; Elizabeth Proud-Maria; Eric Allan-Monsieur Marcade; Frances Jeater-Katherine; Jeremy Clyde-Longaville; John Baddeley-Costard, John Rye-Boyet; Robert Stephens-Holofernes

See alsoEdit


  1. J. O. Halliwell-Phillips, Memoranda on Love's Labour's Lost, King John, Othello, and on Romeo and Juliet, READ BOOKS, 2008 (reprint), p.11.
  2. Woudhuysen, H. R., ed. Love's Labour's Lost (London: Arden Shakespeare, 1998): 59.
  3. [1] See title page of facsimile of the original 1st edition (1598)
  4. Woudhuysen, H.R., ed. Love's Labours Lost (London: Arden Shakespeare, 1998): 61.
  5. Kerrigan, J. ed. "Love's Labours Lost", New Penguin Shakespeare, Harmondsworth 1982, ISBN 0-14-070738-7
  6. Knutson, Roslynn, The Repertory of Shakespeare's Company, 1594-1613 (Fayatteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991): 75.
  7. F. E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964, Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; pp. 288-89.
  8. Joseph, Gerhard (1969). Tennysonian Love: The Strange Diagonal. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 79. ISBN 9780816658008. 
  9. Martin Wiggins, The (BBC DVD) Shakespeare Collection: Viewing Notes (booklet included with the DVD box-set)

External linksEdit



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