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Shakespeare & Beyond

Love's Labor's Lost: The end of study

Love's Labor's Lost
Love's Labor's Lost
Love's Labor's Lost

The King of Navarre (Joshua David Robinson, left) listens to Berowne (Zachary Fine) with his companions Longaville (Matt Dallal) and Dumaine (Jack Schmitt). Love’s Labor’s Lost, Folger Theatre, 2019. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

“What is the end of study?” a nervous Berowne asks after the King of Navarre and two companions vow to swear off the company of women for three years in order to focus on fasting and intellectual pursuits. The King assumes Berowne’s asking about the goal of studying and replies, as if the answer is self-evident, “Why, that to know which else we should not know.” But as the title Love’s Labor’s Lost illustrates, and as Benedick says in Much Ado About Nothing (which may contain the remnants of Shakespeare’s long-rumored-and-lost sequel Love’s Labor’s Won), “There’s a double meaning in that.”

Parsing the meaning of words — testing them, defining them, attempting to live by them and woo with them — is both the subject and the action of Shakespeare’s early comedy. All of Shakespeare’s plays can be said to be in love with language, but Love’s Labor’s Lost is literally about language: about words and their definitions, and about how characters from every level of society play with words and tease and tempt each other with flights of rhetoric and literary wit. It’s a massive, wordy, and discursive play, and finding an emotional path through the verbal undergrowth is a tricky undertaking.


[…] Labor’s Lost, directed by Vivienne Benesch, Folger Theatre, 2019. I’ve written at length about this production, about how the director found an emotional path through the verbal […]

What's your favorite Shakespeare play? - Shakespeare & Beyond — June 25, 2021