Book Review: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare

The 2009 Globe production.

The 2009 Globe production.


Read my review of the 2014 RSC production here.

The university student is a strange creature, stuck in a curious limbo between adolescence and adulthood. It is said to be a time of great learning: you attend lectures on fascinating subjects (hopefully), figure out how to pay an electricity bill, and do your own laundry. There is the pursuit of knowledge, the desire to evolve, a search for that elusive wisdom that all proper adults seem to possess… But you’re not an adult yet. Instead, you find yourself having water balloon fights outside the lecture hall and drunkenly debating the finer details of The Samurai Pizza Cats at a party while wearing a penguin suit you don’t remember putting on. This delicate balance between work and play, between new responsibilities and having fun, is exactly what Love’s Labour’s Lost is about.

The play opens with four young men swearing to dedicate themselves to nothing but academia for the next three years, but it is clear that they are doomed to fail from the very start. Their vow includes only one meal a day, a mere three hours of sleep each night, and, most importantly, no women (ah yes, those pesky women, always distracting you from your studies). Berowne, the sharpest tool in this particular shed, is skeptical and only reluctantly agrees, saying that he will, “having sworn too hard-a-keeping oath / Study to break it, and not break my troth.”

Temptation arrives almost instantly in the form of a French princess and her three lovely companions. The young scholars last about 0.4 seconds before falling helplessly in love and the rest of the story consists of them trying to win the ladies over through lots of banter and disguises (of course). The women not only hold their own in this verbal battle of the sexes, but have the upper hand for most of the play. They mock their suitors relentlessly, toy with them, and laugh at their attempts at flirtation, leaving them baffled and desperate. A fair response when you were told to camp out in the garden because there are no girls allowed in the clubhouse castle.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is all about the language (plot? What plot?), a rhetorically impressive and very overwhelming work. There are so many jokes thrown at you that there is barely enough time to process them all and because the play warns against academics taking themselves too seriously, there is also plenty of untranslated Latin and the occasional scholarly pun. This is Shakespeare showing off his wit, creating a whirlwind of farce and satire that is difficult to keep up with sometimes.

The play ends rather abruptly with real life literally crashing through the door and breaking up the party, a very sober conclusion to all the madness. The women go back home to France and the men are left with another oath, one that would mean a definite end to playing around and the proper start of adulthood. It is left to the audience to decide whether they will keep their promise this time and finally decide to grow up.

Read my review of the 2014 RSC production here.

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