Skip to main content
Love's Labor's Lost /

An Introduction to This Text: Love’s Labor’s Lost

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

The earliest surviving printed version of Love’s Labor’s Lost (usually called the “First Quarto”) dates from 1598. However, scholars have long suspected that this printing is not the earliest printed version of the play. The title page of the First Quarto reads in part: “Loues labors lost. . . . Newly corrected and augmented. . . .” This language is closely similar to what is found on the title page of the Second Quarto of Romeo and Juliet (1599), which reads in part: “Romeo and Iuliet. . . . Newly corrected, augmented, and emended.” This Second Quarto of Romeo and Juliet replaced the Romeo and Juliet First Quarto of 1597 (which survives); and both the Second Quarto of Romeo and Juliet and the First Quarto of Love’s Labor’s Lost were published by the same bookseller, Cuthbert Burby. On these grounds, scholars have come to believe that the “First Quarto” of Love’s Labor’s Lost replaces an earlier printed version of its play (now lost), just as the Second Quarto of Romeo and Juliet did.

Explore the “First Quarto” of Love’s Labor’s Lost (1598) in the Folger’s Digital Collections.

Only recently, however, has the further possibility arisen that such an earlier lost printed version may have had a role to play in the printing not only of the Love’s Labor’s Lost First Quarto but also of the First Folio version of 1623. The traditional account of the printing of these two early versions says that the First Quarto of Love’s Labor’s Lost was printed directly from a manuscript and that the First Folio version was printed from a copy of the First Quarto that had been lightly annotated with reference to another manuscript, perhaps, in the opinion of some scholars, a playhouse manuscript. The suggestion about the kind of manuscript that might have been consulted in the printing of the Folio has now been questioned, since study of surviving manuscripts of non-Shakespearean plays indicates that there are no distinctive features peculiar to all playhouse manuscripts; this fact casts doubt on the possibility of identifying what kind of manuscript the printer of the First Folio might have consulted.

More significantly, recent research has called the traditional account of the play’s Quarto and Folio versions into question in a more fundamental way. Detailed, computer-assisted examination of typesetters’ spelling habits in the printing houses in which the First Folio and the Love’s Labor’s Lost First Quarto were set into type indicates that both these early printed versions may have been printed from copies of the lost printed text thought to have predated the First Quarto (1598). (For a preliminary report of this research, see Paul Werstine’s “The Editorial Usefulness of Printing House and Compositor Studies,” pp. 35–64 in Play-texts in Old-spelling: Papers from the Glendon Conference [New York: AMS Press, 1984].)

If such is the case, as we believe, then the First Folio and the First Quarto have equal authority as witnesses to the text of the play, since both stand at the same remove from an earlier lost printed version. It may therefore seem to make as much sense to base an edition of Love’s Labor’s Lost on the First Folio as it does to base it on the First Quarto, as we do in this edition (and as has usually been done in this century). It is important to remember, though, that the First Quarto version is much closer to the time of the play’s first production and its possible earlier printing than is the Folio version printed a quarter of a century later. There is, therefore, a greater likelihood that the Quarto may preserve features of the first production’s (and, possibly, first printing’s) language that became out-of-date by the time the Folio was printed in 1623. It is for this reason that the present edition is based directly on the Quarto printing of the play.1 But the present edition differs from other late-twentieth-century editions of the play in accepting several more Folio readings, since we believe that the Folio may stand at the same remove from an earlier lost printing as does the Quarto.

Love’s Labor’s Lost presents still further challenges to an editor. Both the Quarto and the Folio contain many brief passages and words in corrupt Latin. Editors are hard pressed to determine how to treat these corruptions. Are they to be understood as jokes at the expense of the characters in whose speeches the corruptions occur—jokes that may have been appreciated by playgoers and readers of the time who had a Latin grammar-school education? Or are they printers’ (or perhaps scribes’) errors that editors should correct? We differ from many other editors in regarding quite a few of the corruptions as jokes, and so have not corrected them. (For a rationale of this editorial policy, see Paul Werstine’s “Variants in the First Quarto of Love’s Labor’s Lost,” Shakespeare Studies 12 [1979]: 25–34 and J. W. Binns’s “Shakespeare’s Latin Citations: The Editorial Problem,” Shakespeare Survey 35 [1982]: 119–28.) There is also, in the opinion of most editors of the play, considerable confusion in the First Quarto, and, only slightly less often, in the First Folio, in the identification of particular roles both in speech prefixes and in dialogue. These are the roles of Rosaline and Katherine and of Holofernes and Nathaniel.

For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Quarto. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, when a means “he,” we change it to he; we change mo to more and ye to you. But it has not been our editorial practice in any of the plays to modernize some words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricokes or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if.

Whenever we change the wording of the Quarto or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in pointed brackets ( ) if the source of the change is the First Folio, or in superior half-brackets ( ) if the source of the change is an edition of the play after the First Folio, or if the change originates with the current edition. We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the Quarto does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change the Quarto’s wording or change its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We, like a great many editors before us, regularize a number of the proper names. In Love’s Labor’s Lost, one of the characters is called both “Costard” and “Costart” in the First Quarto; in our edition he is called simply “Costard.” We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader.) Stage directions for the entrances of characters in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the characters’ participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the -ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 How follows that?
BEROWNE  Fit in his place and time.


However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of the First Quarto provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.