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Shakespeare's Works
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Love's Labor's Lost

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Love's Labor's Lost

For wisdom's sake, a word that all men love
Act 4, scene 3, line 351

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail

Act 5, scene 2, lines 986–989

At first glance, Shakespeare's early comedy Love's Labor’s Lost simply entertains and amuses. Four young men (one of them a king) withdraw from the world for three years, taking an oath that they will have nothing to do with women. The King of Navarre soon learns, however, that the Princess of France and her ladies are about to arrive. Although he lodges them outside of his court, all four men fall in love with the ladies, abandoning their oaths and setting out to win their hands.

The laughter triggered by this story is augmented by subplots involving a braggart soldier, a clever page, illiterate servants, a parson, a schoolmaster, and a constable so dull that he is named Dull. Letters and poems are misdelivered, confessions are overheard, entertainments are presented, and language is played with, and misused, by the ignorant and learned alike.

At a deeper level, Love's Labor’s Lost also teases the mind. The men begin with the premise that women either are seductresses or goddesses. The play soon makes it clear, however, that the reality of male-female relations is different. That women are not identical to men’s images of them is a common theme in Shakespeare's plays. In Love's Labor’s Lost it receives one of its most pressing examinations.

Most scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labor’s Lost in 1594–95. The play was published in quarto form in 1598; an earlier printed version probably existed, though it has not survived. Shakespeare’s sources for this play have been difficult to establish with certainty.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1996 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
Mark Breitenberg. Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Miriam Gilbert. Love’s Labour’s Lost. Shakespeare in Performance Series. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 1993.

Felicia Hardison Londré, ed. Love's Labour's Lost: Critical Essays. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997.

Love's Labours Lost (2000, Pathé Pictures, Intermedia Films, Arts Council of England, Le Studio Canal Plus, Miramax Films, Shakespeare Film Company). Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Cast includes Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone, and Nathan Lane.
Shakespeare. Love's Labor's Lost. London, 1598

Love's Labor's Lost

Folger Theatre

On Stage: Love's Labor's Lost

Inside the Collection

Folios and Quartos from the Collection: Love's Labor's Lost

Teacher Resources

Lesson Plan: It's Elementary! Stomping and Romping Through Shakespeare

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