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Love's Labor's Lost

A scene from Love's Labor's Lost

Introduction to the play

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.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Love's Labor's Lost

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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

Love’s Labor’s Lost in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Love’s Labor’s Lost. Find more in our digital image collection

Ada Rehan as Princess of France in Augustin Daly's production of Love's Labour's Lost. Watercolor, 1891
John Drew as King of Navarre in Augustin Daly's production of Love's Labour's Lost. Photograph, 1891
Sidney Herbert as Don Adriano de Armado and Kitty Cheatham as Jaquenetta in Augustin Daly's production of Love's Labour's Lost. Photograph, 1891
The performance of the Nine Worthies

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Love’s Labor’s Lost

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Love’s Labor’s Lost

Early printed texts

The earliest surviving edition of Love’s Labor’s Lost is a quarto published in 1598 (Q1). Scholars, however, suspect there might have been an earlier printing, now lost, based in part on Q1’s claim on the title page that it has been “newly corrected and augmented.” The play was not reprinted until its appearance in the 1623 First Folio (F1). F1 differs from Q1 in a number of regards, but there is no consensus on the relationship between Q1 and F1 or the hypothetical Q0. Modern editors often base their texts on F1, although the Folger edition chooses Q1 as its base text.